The Man Before Mahatma: A Well Researched Book

All of us have read many articles, essays and even books on the life history of Mahatma Gandhi.  His autobiography “my experiment with truth” has been one of the most popular books not only in India but throughout the world. Mahatma Gandhi himself has written that he was a ‘very timid and shy person’ in the early days of his life. One hardly finds any outstanding quality in him in his younger days. But as they say, patience and perseverance can even shake the mountains. This was more or less true about Mahatma Gandhi.  His resolve and determination have always been very unique and inimitable.
He left Indian shores, at the age of 18, for England to study law and came back to his country exactly after four years with an enviable degree of Barrister at Law. He had still not completed his 22 years of age when he started his legal practice at Rajkot, but it was no less than a disaster for him because nobody was ready to engage him for two reasons. Firstly, nobody wanted to give his case to a raw lawyer like him, whose understanding of the local judicial system was untested and secondly; since he was a Barrister at Law, a very intimidating degree for the people of Rajkot, as they thought that they might have to pay unaffordable fees to him. So, he shifted from Rajkot to Bombay High Court. Here also he was a failure because he was not ready to pay any cuts to the touts A tout was (and is still) a who would hunt down litigation to bring it to the barrister for the payment of a fee.  While this practice was considered unethical, it was nonetheless employed even by some of the most successful members of the Bombay bar.
Not getting any success as a lawyer Gandhi even tried to get a job of a part-time teacher of English in a well-known school of Bombay for a paltry remuneration ( yes, it was a paltry sum for a barrister) but here also the failure was in store for him because he was not a Graduate. He pleaded that his passage of the London matriculation examination should qualify him to teach, but the school refused his entreaty. So again, he returned to Rajkot, where his younger brother Laksmandas was having very good connections with some successful Gujrati businessmen settled in South Africa. Incidentally, an Indian company in South Africa was in search of a legally trained person, who knew Gujrati and English both. Thus, his brother helped him to get a decent job as a lawyer in South Africa. Here also initially he had to eat humble pie, humiliation and embarrassment on many occasions in the courtroom as well as outside the court. However, the same Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi became one of the most respected Indians in South Africa within a very short span of time. A person who used to tremble and sweat in the courtrooms became one of the most impressive speakers and the crowd of many thousands used to listen with rapt attention.
Look at the incredible change in a person, who used to avoid even placing orders in the kitchens of his hostels during his stay in London because of his lack of confidence in the English language, became one of the best petition writers in simple,  succinct and elegant English was a matter of wonder and amazement. This transformation came in him during his long stay in South Africa. Thus, we see that South Africa became a furnace, which made a man of clay into a strong and steely pillar of strength for a very large section of teeming, toiling and suffering masses of humanity.
The new book on Mahatma Gandhi titled as ‘The Man Before Mahatma ‘by Professor Charles D Salvo of the West Virginia University makes very fascinating reading. As a teacher of law on Civil Disobedience, the Professor was impressed by the life of Mahatma that he decided to write a book on him before he became a mahatma. The amount of research and the angle of his looking at Gandhiji will be a matter of amazement and wonder for anybody even to we Indians, who are about the feats, principled stands on Satya (truth) and Ahimsa (non-violence) from our childhood. The Professor must be congratulated for his zeal, enthusiasm and obsession to dig out many hitherto unknown facts about Gandhiji and presenting them in gripping language and highly coherent style. It is good to know that an unusual subject like Civil disobedience is prescribed in the curriculum of the law in an American university. This is not only a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi but also pleasure and pride for Indians.  The Professor is also well-versed in the Public Interest Law, which has been attracting the attention of the people across the globe, where democracy is the fulcrum of governance.
This book also throws light on the fact with his painstaking research that the legal profession has never been a bed of roses even if one has obtained the best education from the best institutions. Even a Barrister like Mahatma Gandhi had to toil very hard to establish a stable practice in law. This is the reason that although the talented young boys and girls have been opting for the law, they fear to tread the path of legal practice, which is obviously a loss to the profession. Only a small fraction of them opt for the litigation as the majority of them prefer to work as paralegals in the companies and firms.  This needs to be seriously considered by those who are in the helms of affairs to stop the draining of budding lawyers.  Even today we find that the small oligarchy provides passport of success to s fraction of lawyers. Anyway, it is a different issue, which needs to be raised at the appropriate forum.
Coming to the book, we are told that Gandhi’s life in South Africa was mainly divided into steams. One was the ‘law and the legal practice’ and the other was the ‘civil disobedience’. In fact, it was the fertile ground for Gandhi ji for the training and the practice as a leader and the lawyer. He carried out in both streams with diligence, sincerity and utmost honesty.  After some time, Gandhi ji came to India when he met several stalwarts of public life and leading legal figures including Firoz Shah Mehta. However, he again went back to South Africa in  1896 to fulfil his unfinished task for promoting the cause of South African Indians. By the time he returned to India in 1914, never to go back to South Africa, he had already become an accomplished and very respected leader of Indians over there.
He was working with extraordinary ease in for providing legal help mostly to rich Indian clients but the other aspect of his life in South Africa was to work for the poor Indians, who were known as hawkers, indentured labourers and coolies,  which got him blossomed as the mass leader. In due course of time when the legal profession was becoming a stable source of income, the destiny distanced from it to be drawn into the rough and tumble of political leadership.  He had to, many times, undergo to jails for the cause of Indians in South Africa.  He suffered the insults of being thrown away from the train compartment despite having the bonafide ticket of the first-class journey.  He was once badly beaten by a fellow Indian Muslim client for losing a case in the court of law and would never have survived if a Christian Pastor had not saved him by taking him to a hospital but Gandhi ji never nourished any rancour for that person. Signs of greatness and firm resolution had started emerging in a more pronounced manner in him from that time onward. He did not leave any occasion slip away without fighting. His identity in South Africa for nearly twenty years was that of barrister Gandhi, advocate Gandhi, solicitor Gandhi and a mass civil disobedient leader.  People have a very erroneous impression about Gandhiji not having lucrative legal practice. In fact, after some initial years of struggle, his practice was so roaring that he could funnel enough money for different causes in India as well as in South Africa.
The book is worth reading by all those who are really interested to know about the making of Mahatma in Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.  The other aspect of his life that he was a prolific writer, a distinguished journalist and a powerful speaker with original ideas.