He was born 143 Octobers ago as Mohandas K. Gandhi and came to be known as Mahatma, a great soul. According to him, his father was a “truthful” man and his mother the vow-keeper.
When he was about seven, Mohandas and his family moved from Porbandar, where he was born, to Rajkot. He was a shy boy and wrote, “I do not remember having ever told a lie, during this short period [from primary through high school], either to my teachers or to my schoolmates.” He recorded an incident in which an education inspector came to his class to conduct an assessment during his first year of high school and asked students to write the spelling of five words. He misspelled the word ‘kettle’. Mohandas wrote that the inspector “tried to prompt me with the point of his boot, but I would not be prompted. It was beyond me to see that he wanted me to copy the spelling from my neighbour’s slate…I could never learn the art of ‘copying.’”
Mohandas did not like to read. He read school books, mostly to do his homework. However, he once stumbled upon two plays. One was Shravana Pitribhakti Nakak, a play about young boy named Shravan and his devotion to his blind parents; and the other was Harishchandra, a story of a king who never uttered a lie and never broke a promise and how his life tested him. Every child in India knows of these two plays.
The play and the image of walking Shravan carrying his parents on pilgrimage by means of two slings, each one fitted on a side of a wooden bar that rested on his shoulder like a balance scale with two pans, left “an indelible impression on me.” Mohandas told himself, “Here is an example for you to copy.”
The play Harishchandra captured the heart of Mohandas. He could go and see the play again and again, but, “How often would he be permitted to go to see it?” So, he acted out Harishchandra to himself “times without number,” and asked, “Why should we not all be truthful like Harishchandra?”
The plays, the parental qualities, and his own determination to do what was right molded the character of Mohandas. Later, people recognized him as a man of compassion, courage, honesty, humility, and justice. So, it is no wonder that the public shouted “Mahatmaji”, “Mahatmaji” every time he appeared before them.
The rest of us know what is right; however, doing what is right is where we often fall short.