First US edition (1948)
|Author||Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi|
|Original title||સત્યના પ્રયોગો અથવા આત્મકથા|
ISBN 0-8070-5909-9 (United States – authorised edition with foreword by Sissela Bok, Beacon Press 1993 reprint)
ISBN 0-486-24593-4 (Dover Publications 1983 reprint of 1948 Public Affairs Press edition)
|Translation||The Story of My Experiments with Truth at Wikisource|
The Story of My Experiments with Truth is the autobiography of Mohandas K. Gandhi, covering his life from early childhood through to 1921. It was written in weekly installments and published in his journal Navjivan from 1925 to 1929. Its English translation also appeared in installments in his other journal Young India. It was initiated at the insistence of Swami Anand and other close co-workers of Gandhi, who encouraged him to explain the background of his public campaigns. In 1999, the book was designated as one of the "100 Best Spiritual Books of the 20th Century" by a committee of global spiritual and religious authorities.
This section is written by Mahadev Desai who translated the book from Gujarati to English in 1940. In this preface Desai notes that the book was originally published in two volumes, the first in 1927 and second in 1929. He also mentions that the original was priced at ₹1 (1.4¢ US) and had a run of five editions by the time of the writing of his preface. 50,000 copies had been sold in Gujarati but since the English edition was expensive it prevented Indians from purchasing it. Desai notes the need to bring out a cheaper English version. He also mentions that the translation has been revised by an English scholar who did not want his name to be published. Chapters XXIX-XLIII of Part V were translated by Desai's friend and colleague Pyarelal.
The introduction is written by Gandhi himself mentioning how he has resumed writing his autobiography at the insistence of Jeramdas, a fellow prisoner in Yerwada Central Jail with him. He mulls over the question a friend asked him about writing an autobiography, deeming it a Western practice, something "nobody does in the east". Gandhi himself agrees that his thoughts might change later in life but the purpose of his story is just to narrate his experiments with truth in life. He also says that through this book he wishes to narrate his spiritual and moral experiments rather than political.
The first part narrates incidents of Gandhi's childhood, his experiments with eating meat, smoking, drinking, stealing and subsequent atonement. There are two texts that had a lasting influence on Gandhi, both of which he read in childhood. He records the profound impact of the play Harishchandra and says,"I read it with intense interest...It haunted me and I must have acted Harishchandra to myself times without number." Another text he mentions reading that deeply affected him was Shravana Pitrabhakti Nataka, a play about Shravana's devotion to his parents. Gandhi got married at the age of 13. In his words, "It is my painful duty to have to record here my marriage at the age of thirteen...I can see no moral argument in support of such a preposterously early marriage." Another important event documented in this part is the demise of Gandhi's father Karamchand Gandhi. Gandhi wrote the book to deal with his experiment for truth. His disdain for physical training at school, particularly gymnastics has also been written about in this part.
After a long history of antagonism, the British and the Dutch shared power in South Africa, with Britain ruling the regions of Natal and Cape Colony, while the Dutch settlers known as the Boers taking charge in the Orange Free State and the Transvaal, two independent republics. The white settler and the independent Boer states continued to engage in volatile interactions with the British, so a threat of violent eruptions always loomed large. In order to placate both the Boer and other white settlers, the British adopted a number of racist policies, and while the Indians, most of them working on sugar and coffee plantations, did not suffer as much as the black population, they clearly experienced a treatment as second-class citizens. The initial story of Gandhi’s travails in South Africa and of his systematic struggle against oppression is well known. Gandhi repeatedly experienced the sting of humiliation during his long African sojourn. The incident at Maritzburg, where Gandhi was thrown off the train has become justly famous. When Gandhi, as a matter of principle, refused to leave the first class compartment, he was thrown off the train. Later, Gandhi also had difficulty being admitted to hotels, and saw that his fellow-Indians, who were mostly manual laborers, experienced even more unjust treatment.
Very soon after his arrival, Gandhi's initial bafflement and indignation at racist policies turned into a growing sense of outrage and propelled him into assuming a position as a public figure at the assembly of Transvaal Indians, where he delivered his first speech urging Indians not to accept inequality but instead to unite, work hard, learn English and observe clean living habits. Although Gandhi's legal work soon start to keep him busy, he found time to read some of Tolstoy's work, which greatly influenced his understanding of peace and justice and eventually inspired him to write to Tolstoy, setting the beginning of a prolific correspondence. Both Tolstoy and Gandhi shared a philosophy of non-violence and Tolstoy's harsh critique of human society resonated with Gandhi's outrage at racism in South Africa.
Both Tolstoy and Gandhi considered themselves followers of the Sermon on the Mount from the New Testament, in which Jesus Christ expressed the idea of complete self-denial for the sake of his fellow men. Gandhi also continued to seek moral guidance in the Bhagavad-Gita, which inspired him to view his work not as self-denial at all, but as a higher form of self-fulfillment. Adopting a philosophy of selflessness even as a public man, Gandhi refused to accept any payment for his work on behalf of the Indian population, preferring to support himself with his law practice alone.
But Gandhi's personal quest to define his own philosophy with respect to religion did not rely solely on sacred texts. At the time, he also engaged in active correspondence with a highly educated and spiritual Jain from Bombay, his friend Raychandra, who was deeply religious, yet well versed in a number of topics, from Hinduism to Christianity. The more Gandhi communicated with Raychandra, the more deeply he began to appreciate Hinduism as a non violent faith and its related scriptures. Yet, such deep appreciation also gave birth to a desire to seek inner purity and illumination, without solely relying on external sources, or on the dogma within every faith. Thus, although Gandhi sought God within his own tradition, he espoused the idea that other faiths remained worthy of study and contained their own truths.
Not surprisingly, even after his work assignment concluded, Gandhi soon found a reason to remain in South Africa. This pivotal reason involved the "Indian Franchise Bill", with which the Natal legislature intended to deprive Indians of the right to vote. No opposition existed against this bill, except among some of Gandhi's friends who asked him to stay in South Africa and work with them against this new injustice against Indians, who white South Africans disparagingly called "coolies." He found that racist attitudes had become deeply entrenched, especially in the Dutch-ruled regions, where they lived in the worst urban slums and could not own property or manage agricultural land. Even in Natal, where Indians had more influence, they were not allowed to go out after 9 p.m. without a pass, while in Cape Colony, another British territory, they were not allowed to walk on the sidewalk. The new bill which prohibited Indians from voting in Natal only codified existing injustice in writing.
Although a last-minute petition drive failed to the Indian Franchise Bill from passing, Gandhi remained active and organized a much larger petition, which he sent to the Secretary of State for the Colonies in London, and distributed to the press in South Africa, Britain and India. The petition raised awareness of the plight of Indians and generating discussions in all three continents to the point where both the Times of London and the Times of India published editorials in support of the Indian right to the vote. Gandhi also formed a new political organization called the Natal Indian Congress (a clear reference to the Indian National Congress), which held regular meetings and soon, after some struggles with financing, started its own library and debating society. They also issued two major pamphlets, An Appeal to Every Briton in South Africa, and The Indian Franchise–An Appeal, which offered a logical argument against racial discrimination. He was also thrown of the Train when he didn't agree to move from his first class seat which he paid for.
Though, at first, Gandhi intended to remain in South Africa for a month, or a year at most, he ended up working in South Africa for about twenty years. After his initial assignment was over, he succeeded in growing his own practice to about twenty Indian merchants who contracted manage their affairs. This work allowed him to both earn a living while also finding time to devote to his mission as a public figure. During his struggle against inequality and racial discrimination in South Africa, Gandhi became known among Indians all around the world as "Mahatma," or "Great Soul."
In South Africa with the Family, the Boer War, Bombay and South Africa Again.
In 1896, Gandhi made a brief return to India and returned to his wife and children. In India, he published another pamphlet, known as the Green Pamphlet, on the plight of Indians in South Africa. For the first time, Gandhi realized that Indians had come to admire his work greatly and experienced a taste of his own popularity among the people, when he visited Madras, an Indian province, where most manual laborers had originated. Although his fellow-Indians greeted him in large crowds with applause and adulation, he sailed back to South Africa with his family in December 1896.
Gandhi had become very well known in South Africa as well, to the point where a crowd of rioters awaited him at Port Natal, determined that he should not be allowed to enter. Many of them also mistakenly believed that all the dark-skinned passenger on the ship that took Gandhi to Natal were poor Indian immigrants he had decided to bring along with him, when, in reality, these passengers were mostly returning Indian residents of Natal. Fortunately, Gandhi was able to establish a friendly relationship with the British in South Africa so the Natal port's police superintendent and his wife escorted him to safety. After this incident, local white residents began to actually regard him with greater respect.
As Gandhi resumed his work at the Natal Indian Congress, his loyalty to the British guided him to assist them in the Boer War, which started three years later. Because Gandhi remained a passionate pacifist, he wanted to participate in the Boer War without actually engaging in violence so he organized and led an Indian Medical Corps which served the British in a number of battles, including the important battle of Spion Kop in January 1900.
At the time, Gandhi believed that the British Empire shared the values of liberty and equality that he himself embraced and that, by virtue of defending those principles, the British constitution deserved the loyalty of all British subjects, including Indians. He viewed racist policy in South Africa as a temporary characteristic aberration, rather than a permanent tendency. With respect to the British in India, at this point in his life, Gandhi considered their rule beneficial and benevolent.
The armed conflict between the British and Dutch raged on for over three years of often brutal fighting with the British conquering the Transvaal and Orange Free state territories. Gandhi expected that the British victory would establish justice in South Africa and present him with an opportunity to return to India. He wanted to attend the 1901 meeting of the Indian National Congress, whose mission was to provide a social and political forum for the Indian upper class. Founded in 1885 by the British, the Congress had no real political power and expressed pro-British positions. Gandhi wanted to attend its meeting nevertheless, as he was hoping to pass a resolution in support of the Indian population in South Africa. Before he left for Bombay, Gandhi promised the Natal Indian Congress that he would return to support their efforts, should they need his help.
As Gandhi attended the 1901 Indian National Congress, his hopes came true. G.K. Gokhale, one of the most prominent Indian politicians of the time, supported the resolution for the rights of Indians in South Africa and the resolution passed. Through Gokhale, in whose house Gandhi stayed for a month, Gandhi met many political connections that would serve him later in life.
However, his promise to always aid his friends in Natal soon prompted him to return to South Africa, when he received an urgent telegram informing him that the British and Boers had now formed a peaceful relationship and often acted together to the detriment of the Indian population, as Britain was planning to live local white individuals in power in South Africa, much like it had done in Canada and Australia.
Gandhi travelled back to South Africa immediately and met with Joseph Chamberlain, Secretary of State for the Colonies, and presented him with a paper on the injustice against the Indian population but Chamberlain indicated that the Indians would have to obey the new rulers of South Africa, now called the "Afrikaners," which included both Dutch and British local settlers.
Gandhi began to organize a fast response to this new South African political configuration. Instead of working in Natal, he now established a camp in the newly conquered Transvaal region and began helping Indians who had escaped from the war in that region, and now had to purchase overly expensive re-entry passes. He also represented poor Indians whose dwellings in a shantytown the authorities had dispossessed. Gandhi also started a new magazine, Indian Opinion, that advocated for political liberty and equal rights in South Africa. The magazine, which initially included several young women from Europe, expanded its staff around the country, increasing both Gandhi's popularity and the public support for his ideas.
At round same time, Gandhi read John Ruskin's book Unto This Last, which maintained that the life of manual labor was superior to all other ways of living. As he adopted this belief, Gandhi chose to abandon Western dress and habits, and he moved his family and staff to a Transvaal farm called the Phoenix, where he even gave renounced the use of an oil-powered engine and printed Indian Opinion by hand-wheel, and performed agriculture labor using old, manual farming equipment. He began to conceive of his public work as a mission to restore old Indian virtue and civilization, rather than fall prey to modern Western influence, which included electricity and technology.
Between 1901 and 1906, he also changed another aspect of his personal life by achieving Brahmacharya, or the voluntary abstention from sexual relations. He made this choice as part of his philosophy of selflessness and self-restraint. Finally, he also formulated his own philosophy of political protest, called Satyagraha, which literally meant "truth-force" in Sanskrit. In practice, this practice meant protesting injustice steadfastly, but in a non-violent manner.
He put this theory into practice on September 8, 1906, when, at a large gathering of the Indian community in Transvaal, he asked the whole community to take a vow of disobedience to the law, as the Transvaal government had started an effort to register every Indian child over the age of eight, which would make them an official part of the South African population.
Setting a personal example, Gandhi became the first Indian to appear before a magistrate for his refusal to register, and he was sentenced to two months in prison. He actually asked for a heavier sentence, a request, consistent with his philosophy of self-denial. After his release, Gandhi continued his campaign and thousands of Indians burned their registration cards, crossing the Transvaal-Natal border without passes. Many went to jail, including Gandhi, who went to jail again in 1908.
Gandhi did not waiver when a South African General by the name of Jan Christian Smuts promised to eliminate the registration law, but broke his word. Gandhi went all the way to London in 1909 and gathered enough support among the British to convince Smuts to eliminate the law in 1913. Yet, the Transvaal Prime Minister continued to regard Indians as second-class citizens while the Cape Colony government passed another discriminatory law making all non-Christian marriages illegal, which meant that all Indian children would be considered born out of wedlock. In addition, the government in Natal continued to impose crippling poll tax for entering Natal only upon Indians.
In response to these strikingly unjust rules, Gandhi organized a large-scale satyagraha, which involved women crossing the Natal-Transvaal border illegally. When they were arrested, five thousand Indian coal miners also went on strike and Gandhi himself led them across the Natalese border, where they expected arrest.
Although Smuts and Gandhi did not agree on many points, they had respect for each other. In 1913, Smuts relented due to the sheer number of Indians involved in protest and negotiated a settlement which provided for the legality of Indian marriages and abolished the poll tax. Further, the import of indentured laborers from India was to be phased out by 1920. In July 1914, Gandhi sailed for Britain, now admired as "Mahatma," and known throughout the world for the success of satyagraha.
Part IV. Mahatma in the Midst of World Turmoil
Gandhi was in England when World War I started and he immediately began organizing a medical corps similar to the force he had led in the Boer War, but he also faced health problems that caused him to return to India, where he met the applauding crowds with enthusiasm once again. Indians continued to refer to him as "Mahatma" or "Great Soul," an appellation reserved only for the holiest men of Hinduism. While Gandhi accepted the love and admiration of the crowds, he also insisted that all souls were equal and did not accept the implication of religious sacredness that his new name carried.
In order to retreat into a life of humility and restraint, as his personal principles mandated, he decided to withdraw from public life for a while spending his first year in India focusing on his personal quest for purity and healing. He also lived in a communal space with untouchables, a choice which many of his financial supporters resented, because they believed that the very presence of untouchables defiled higher-caste Indians. Gandhi even considered moving to a district in Ahmedabad inhabited entirely by the untouchables when a generous Muslim merchant donated enough money to keep up his current living space for another year. By that time, Gandhi's communal life with the untouchables had become more acceptable.
Although Gandhi had withdrawn from public life, he briefly met with the British Governor of Bombay (and future Viceroy of India), Lord Willington, whom Gandhi promised to consult before he launched any political campaigns. Gandhi also felt the impact of another event, the passing of G.K. Gokhale, who had become his supporter and political mentor. He stayed away from the political trend of Indian nationalism, which many of the members of the Indian National Congress embraced. Instead, he stayed busy resettling his family and the inhabitants of the Phoenix Settlement in South Africa, as well as the Tolstoy Settlement he had founded near Johannesburg. For this purpose, on May 25, 1915, he created a new settlement, which came to be known as the Satyagraha ashram ( derive from Sanskrit word "Satya" means "truth" ) near the town of Ahmedabad and close to his place of birth in the western Indian province of Gujarati. All the inhabitants of the ashram, which included one family of untouchables, swore to poverty and chastity.
After a while, Gandhi became influenced by the idea of Indian independence from the British, but he dreaded the possibility that a westernized Indian elite would replace the British government. He developed a strong conviction that Indian independence should take place as a large-scale sociopolitical reform, which would remove the old plagues of extreme poverty and caste restrictions. In fact, he believed that Indians could not become worthy of self-government unless they all shared a concern for the poor.
As Gandhi resumed his public life in India in 1916, he delivered a speech at the opening of the new Hindu University in the city of Benares, where he discussed his understanding of independence and reform. He also provided specific examples of the abhorrent living conditions of the lower classes that he had observed during his travels around India and focused specifically on sanitation.
Although the Indians of the higher-castes did not readily embrace the ideas in the speech, Gandhi had now returned to public life and he felt ready to convert these ideas to actions. Facing the possibility of arrest, just like he always did in South Africa, Gandhi first spoke for the rights of impoverished indigo-cultivators in the Champaran district. His efforts eventually led to the appointment of a government commission to investigate abuses by the indigo planters.
He also interfered whenever he saw violence. When a group of Ahmedabad mill workers went on strike and became violent, he resolved to fast until they returned to peace. Though some political commentators condemned Gandhi's behavior as a form of blackmail, the fast only lasted three days before the workers and their employers negotiated an agreement. Through this situation, Gandhi discovered the fast as one of his most effective weapons in late years and set a precedent for later action as part of satyagraha.
As the First World War continued, Gandhi also became involved in recruiting men for the British Army, an involvement which his followers had a difficult time accepting, after listening to his passionate speeches about resisting injustice in a non-violent manner. Not surprisingly, at this point, although Gandhi still remained loyal to Britain and enamored with the ideals of the British constitution, his desire to support and independent home rule became stronger. As time passed, Gandhi became exhausted from his long journey around the country and fell ill with dysentery. He refused conventional treatment and chose to practice his own healing methods, relying on diet and spending a long time bedridden, while in recovery in his ashram.
In the meantime, India’s unrest was overwhelming at the prospect of the British destroying the world's only Muslim power, the Ottoman Empire. While the British alleged that they fought to protect the rights of small states and independent peoples from tyranny, in India, an increasing number of people found this alleged commitment less than genuine.
After the end of the war, the British government decided to follow the recommendations of the Rowlatt Committee, which advocated the retention of various wartime restrictions in India, including curfews and measures to suppress free speech. Gandhi was still sick when these events took place and, although he could not protest actively, he felt his loyalty to the British Empire weaken significantly.
Later, when the Rowlatt Act actually became law, Gandhi proposed that the entire country observe a day of prayer, fasting, and abstention from physical labor as a peaceful protest against the injustice of the oppressive law. Gandhi's plea generated an overwhelming response as millions of Indians did not go to work on April 6, 1919.
As the entire country stood still, the British arrested Gandhi, which provoked angry crowds to fill the streets of India's cities and, much to Gandhi's dislike, violence erupted everywhere. Gandhi could not tolerate violence so he called off his campaign and asked that everyone return to their homes. He acted in accordance with his firm belief that if satyagraha could not be carried out without violence, it should not take place at all.
Unfortunately, not all protesters shared Gandhi's conviction as ardently. In Amritsar, capital of the region known as the Punjab, where the alarmed British authorities had deported the local Hindu and Muslim members of the Congress, the street mobs became very violent and the British summoned Brigadier-General Reginald E.H. Dyer to restore order. Dyer prohibited all public meetings and instituted public whippings for Indians who approached British policemen. Despite these new regulations, a crowd of over ten thousand protesters gathered in the center of Amritsar, and Dyer responded with bringing his troops there and opening fire without warning. Tightly packed together, the protesters had nowhere to run from the fire, even when they threw themselves down on the ground the fire was then directed on the ground, ceasing only when the British troops no longer had ammunition. Hundreds died and many more were wounded.
This unfortunate occurrence became known as the Amritsar Massacre, it outraged the British public almost as much as Indian society. The authorities in London eventually condemned Dyer's conduct, forcing him to resign in disgrace. The effect the massacre had on Indian society became even more profound as more moderate politicians, like Gandhi, now began to wholeheartedly support the idea of Indian independence, creating an intense climate of mutual hostility. After the massacre, Gandhi eventually obtained permission to travel to Amritsar and conduct his own investigation. He produced a report months later and his work on the report motivated him to contact a number of Indian politicians, who advocated for the idea of independence from British rule.
After Amritsar, Gandhi attended the Muslim Conference being held in Delhi, where Indian Muslims discussed their fears that the British would suppress Caliphs of Turkey. Muslims considered the Caliphs as heirs of Mohammed and spiritual heads of Islam. While the British considered such suppression a necessary effort to restore order after World War I, the Muslim populations viewed it as slap in the face. Gandhi urged them not to accept the actions of the British. He proposed a boycott of British goods, and stated that if the British continued to insist on the elimination of the Caliphate, Indian Muslims should take even more drastic measures of non-cooperation, involving areas such as government employment and taxes.
During the months that followed, Gandhi continued to advocate for peace and caution, however, since Britain and Turkey were still negotiating their peace terms. Unlike more nationalistic politicians, he also supported the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms for India, as they laid the foundation for constitutional self-government. Eventually, other politicians who thought the reforms did not go far enough had to agree with Gandhi simply because his popularity and influence had become so great that the Congress could accomplish little without him.
As the British remained determined to put an end to the Muslim Caliphate, they enforced the Rowlatt Act resolutely. Even Gandhi became less tolerant towards British practices and in April 1920, he urged all Indians, Muslim and Hindu, to begin a "non-cooperation" protest against the British rule by giving up their Western clothing and British jobs. As a personal example, on August 1, he returned the kasar-i-hind medal that he had received for providing medical service to the Boer War's wounded British army in South Africa. He also became the first president of the Home Rule League, a largely symbolic position which confirmed his position as an advocate for Indian Independence.
In September 1920, Gandhi also passed an official constitution for the Congress, which created a system of two national committees and numerous local units, all working to mobilize a spirit of non-cooperation across India. Gandhi and other volunteers traveled around India further establishing this new grass roots organization, which achieved great success. The new British Viceory in India, Lord Reading, did not dare to interfere because of Gandhi's immense popularity.
By 1922, Gandhi decided that the initiative of non-cooperation had to transform into open civil disobedience, but in March 1922, Lord Reading finally ordered Gandhi's arrest after a crowd in the city of Chauri Chaura attacked and killed the local representatives of British authority. Gandhi, who had never encouraged or sanctioned this type of conduct, condemned the actions of the violent crowds and retreated into a period of fasting and prayer as a response to this violent outburst. However, the British saw the event as a trigger point and a reason for his arrest.
The British authorities placed Gandhi on trial for sedition and sentenced him to six years in prison, marking the first time that he faced prosecution in India. Because of Gandhi's fame, the judge, C.N. Broomfield, hesitated to impose a harsher punishment. He considered Gandhi clearly guilty as charged, despite the fact that Gandhi admitted his guilt and even went as far as requesting the heaviest possible sentence. Such willingness to accept imprisonment conformed to his philosophy of satyagraha, so Gandhi felt that his time in prison only furthered his commitment and goals. The authorities allowed him to use a spinning wheel and receive reading materials while in prison, so he felt content. He also wrote most of his autobiography while serving his sentence.
However, in Gandhi's absence, Indians returned to their British jobs and their every day routines. Even worse, the unity between Muslims and Hindu, which Gandhi advocated so passionately, had already begun to fall apart to the point where the threat of violence loomed large over many communities with mixed population. The fight for Indian independence could not continue while Indians themselves suffered disunity and conflict, all the more difficult to overcome in a huge country like India, which had always suffered religious divisions, as well as divisions by language, and even caste.
Gandhi realized that Independence and that the British had lost the will and power to sustain their empire, but he always acknowledged that Indians could not rely simply on the weakening of Britain in order to achieve independence. He believed that Indians had to become morally ready for Independence. He planned to contribute to such readiness through his speeches and writing, advocating humility, restraint, good sanitation, as well as an end to child marriages.
After his imprisonment ended, he resumed his personal quest for purification and truth. He ends his autobiography by admitting that he continues to experience and fight with "the dormant passion" that lie within his own soul. He felt ready to continue the long and difficult path of taming those passions and putting himself last among his fellow human beings, the only way to achieve salvation, according to him.
"That is why the worlds' praise fails to move me; indeed it very often stings me. To conquer the subtle passions is far harder than the physical conquest of the world by the force of arms,"
Gandhi writes in his "Farewell" to the readers, a suitable conclusion for an autobiography that he never intended to be an autobiography, but a tale of experiments with life, and with truth.
After its initiation, The Story of My Experiments with Truth remained in the making for 4–5 years (including the time while Gandhi was imprisoned at Yerwada Central Jail near Pune, Maharashtra), and then it first appeared as a series in the weekly Gujarati magazine Navjivan during 1925–1928, which was published from Ahmedabad, India.
Gandhi wrote in his autobiography that the three most important modern influences in his life were Leo Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God Is Within You, John Ruskin's Unto This Last, and the poet Shrimad Rajchandra (Raychandbhai).