On September 4, 1887, Mahatma Gandhi stepped on board a boat bound for England with the intention to further his academic career. Naïve and intensely shy, young Gandhi did not fully appreciate the extent to which his beliefs were to be challenged, transformed and eventually strengthened during this sojourn into the unknown. Nearly all aspects of his identity, including diet, social traditions, culture and religion, were scrutinized by Westerners and, in turn, as he adopted their perspective, judged unmercifully by Gandhi himself.
Yet though threatened by the new environment, Gandhi recovered a sense of identity in his Indian culture and heritage stronger than he previously experienced. His encounter with the West lent him incredible confidence in his ability to govern himself and thus, enable him to be the remarkable leader India came to cherish and adore.
Even as Gandhi began his journey to the West, he met with considerable challenges. After various difficulties with finance and transport, the voyage to England from Bombay proved to be a significant trial for the unsuspecting Mahatma. He developed ringworm from washing with soap and seawater, remained painfully shy of stewardesses and passengers and, more over, was heavily encumbered by his diet. In keeping with his beliefs and honoring the sacred vow to his mother, Gandhi declared himself a strict vegetarian and, as it may be imagined, the scorn received from Westerners was only equal in intensity to their fervor in encouraging him to eat meat.
Yet “…a vow is a vow, it cannot be broken” (Autobiography ~ pg 47) and he held fast to his diet. Though Gandhi’s decision left him literally starving, as there were few vegetarian dishes available in the West at this time, ...
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...ith all the principal religions...” (pg 69). Gandhi’s life long quest for religious understanding and knowledge distinguished him among the greats of his time.
Truly, as is often the case when one is thrown into a threatening and new situation, Gandhi found the strength within himself to survive in England, and a surprising desire and love for his own cultural heritage. Though faced with a culture that challenged his faith and sense of identity, he aquired formidable pride in his Indian difference and refused to be down trodden by new experience or challenge. Gandhi came to see the benefits of honesty, discipline and tolerance; a combined education not taught in Universities. Thus, he was molded into a person of content and considerable intellect and became a person worthy of advising the whole population of India. Thus was the experience of the Indian in England.
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