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Quest for learning

Gandhi’s England stay was not just about studying law.

education Updated: Sep 29, 2011 13:58 IST
Hindustan Times

Mahatma Gandhi passed the matriculation examination in 1887. Though a below-average student, Mahatma Gandhi was the first person in his family to complete high school education. He studied at Samaldas College since it is the least expensive. However, he quickly realised that he didn’t like it and returned home after the first semester

“I went, but found myself entirely at sea. Everything was difficult. I could not follow, let alone take interest in, the professors’ lectures. It was no fault of theirs. The professors in that college were regarded as first-rate. But I was so raw. At the end of the first term, I returned home,” he wrote in his autobiography.

An old family friend, Mavji Dave, convinced Gandhi and his older brother that Gandhi should be sent to England to become a barrister.

On September 4, 1888, Gandhi set sail for Southampton. On the steamer he found it very difficult to mix with other passengers. He was befriended by an elderly Englishman who urged him to eat meat. Gandhi politely refused and survived mainly on food that he had brought from home. Gandhi had been asked to collect certificates from people confirming that he was a vegetarian and he asked the elderly gentleman to write him one, which the latter did.

Gandhi had several introductory letters for London, including one from Dadabhai Naoroji. Gandhi stayed at the Victoria hotel in London. In his autobiography he wrote that though he was of small build he had a voracious appetite. Gandhi maintained a daily log of every expenditure during his stay abroad. This was a practice he continued throughout his life, something that helped him handle public funds later on in life and be frugal with his spending. Then Gandhi decided he could live more cheaply on his own and found lodgings within a 30-minute walk from the places he frequented to save on transportation costs.

He decided to sit for the London matriculation since he could not afford classes at Oxford or Cambridge and studied Latin, French and other subjects. He still felt guilty about spending money, thinking about his brother back in India who was working hard to support him. Because of this guilt, he looked for other ways to further tighten his living budget and later moved into a one-room accommodation.

From Gandhi, an Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments With Truth

First Published: Sep 27, 2011 13:15 IST