AFTER MATRICULATING from the high school, Mohandas joined the Samaldas College in Bhavnagar, where he found the studies difficult and the atmosphere uncongenial, Meanwhile, his father had died in 1885. A friend of the family suggested that if the young Gandhi hoped to take his father’s place in the state service he had better become a barrister which he could do in England in three years. Gandhi jumped at the idea. The mother’s objection to his going abroad was overcome by the son’s solemn vow not to touch wine, women and meat.
Gandhi went to Bombay to take the boat for England. In Bombay, his caste people, who looked upon crossing the ocean as contamination, threatened to excommunicate him if he persisted in going abroad. But Gandhi was adamant and was thus formally excommunicated by his caste. Undeterred, he sailed on September 4, 1888, for Southampton-aged eighteen. A few months earlier Kasturbai had borne him a son.
The first few days in London were miserable. “I would continually think of my home and country. . . Everything was strange-the people, their ways and even their dwellings. I was a complete novice in the matter of English etiquette, and continually had to be on my guard. There was the additional inconvenience of the vegetarian vow. Even the dishes that I could eat were tasteless and insipid.”
The food difficulty was solved when one day he chanced upon a vegetarian restaurant in Farringdon Street where he also bought a copy of Salt’s Plea for Vegetarianism and was greatly impressed by it. Hitherto he had been a vegetarian because of the vow he had taken. From now on he became a vegetarian by choice. He read many more books on vegetarianism and diet and was delighted to discover modern science confirm the practice of his forefathers. To spread vegetarianism became henceforward his mission, as he put it.
During the early period of his stay in England Gandhi went through a phase which he has described as aping the English gentleman. He got new clothes made, purchased a silk hat costing nineteen shillings, “wasted ten pounds on an evening dress suit made in Bond Street” and flaunted a double watch-chain of gold. He took lessons in French and in elocution and spent three guineas to learn ball-room dancing. But he soon realized-and here is foreshadowed the real Gandhi-that if he could not become a gentleman by virtue of his character, the ambition was not worth cherishing.
Towards the end of his second year in London, he came across two theosophist brothers who introduced him to Sir Edwin Arnold’s translation in English verse of the Gita-The Song Celestial priceless worth. He was deeply impressed. “The book struck me as one of priceless worth. This opinion of the Gita has ever since been growing on me, with the result that I regard it today as the supreme book for knowledge of Truth. It has afforded me invaluable help in my moments of gloom.”
About the same time a Christian friend whom he had met in a vegetarian boarding house introduced him to the Bible. He found it difficult to wade through the Old Testament which put him to sleep, but he fell in love with the New Testament and specially with the Sermon on the Mount. He also read Sir Edwin Arnold’s rendering of Buddha’s life-The light of Asia-as well as the chapter on the Prophet of Islam in Carlyle’s Heroes and Hero Worship. The attitude of respect for all religions and the desire to understand the best in each one of them were thus planted in his mind early in life.
Having passed his examinations Gandhi was called to the Bar on June10, 1891, and sailed for India two days later.