Book Review:”My Experiments With Truth” By M.K.Gandhi

Today Features Food for thought.

My thirst to know Indian history has led me to a very significant book– “My Experiments With Truth” By M.K.Gandhi.This was my must read book for this year.
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<From Wikipedia>
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (pronounced [ˈmoːɦənd̪aːs ˈkərəmtʃənd̪ ˈɡaːnd̪ʱi] ( 2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948) was the preeminent leader of Indian nationalism in British-ruled India. Employing nonviolent civil disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.
<From Wikipedia>

Being an Indian,it has pained me that I have meager knowledge on his life history.And thus I read this book vivaciously. 

This book is so beautifully written in layman terms.The reader is able to visualise the pre-independence era and will need to know basic Indian History to able to understand the refernced incidents.However I will add a word of caution,please use discernment while reading this book.I do not share his thoughts with regards to brahmacharya vows,diets ,physical intimacy or not getting treated by doctors.
My primary focus was to understand the freedom struggle of India.

I love his Ethics and definition for many a words ‘Integrity’,’Service’.

Before reading this book,my knowledge was limited to .
“Gandhiji was the Father of our Nation.He used Ahimsa or Nonviolence to free India.
He was from Porbandar,Gujarat”.
While reading this book,I could see his life being played out in my mind.

Gandhi-ji -ji added for respect, as in Sir.

Below are my observations,excerpts and notes:

I would say Gandhiji was from a family with means as he was well educated and had studied in England for a government job.

He was firm believer in physical exercises:

“Today I know that physical training should have as much place in the curriculum as mental training.”

I believed then, and I believe even now, that no matter what amount of work one has, one should always find some time for exercise, just as one does for one’s meals. It is my humble opinion that, far from taking away from one’s capacity for work, it adds to it.


As the elephant is powerless to think in the terms of the ant, in spite of the best intentions in the world, even so is the Englishman powerless to think in the terms of, or legislate for, the Indian.

No matter how explicit the pledge, people will turn and twist the text to suit their own purposes. 

Experience has taught me that silence is part of the spiritual discipline of a votary of truth. Proneness to exaggerate, to suppress or modify the truth, wittingly or unwittingly, is a natural weakness of man, and silence is necessary in order to surmount it.A man of few words will rarely be thoughtless in his speech; he will measure every word.

He fought for Indians in South Africa for a very long time before he entered india.More than 50% of his book talks about his concern for south african indians:

Think of the poverty of the land. Our people in South Africa are no doubt in difficulty, but I do not want a man like you to be sacrificed for that work. Let us win self-government here and we shall automatically help our countrymen there. I know I cannot prevail upon you, but I will not encourage any one of your type to throw in his lot with you.’
I did not like this advice, but it increased my regard for Mr. Pestonji Padshah. I was struck with his love for the country and for the mother tongue. The incident brought us closer to each other.
A patriot cannot afford to ignore any branch of service to the mother land.

Following ones own path:
the text of the Gita was clear and emphatic:   ‘Finally, this is better, that one do His own task as he may, even though he fail, Than take tasks not his own, though they seem good. To die performing duty is no ill: But who seeks other roads shall wander still.

It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow-beings.

‘Hate the sin and not the sinner’ is a precept which, though easy enough to understand, is rarely practised, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world.

I cannot forbear from recording a sweet reminiscence of how human nature shows itself at its best in moments of trial.

We had proposed to come in after the tommies(englishmen) had finished. But they would not begin first and urged us to do so, and for a while a pleasant competition went on for giving precedence to one another.

I had made the religion of service my own, as I felt that God could be realized only through service.

Service which is rendered without joy helps neither the servant nor the served. But all other pleasures and possessions pale into nothingness before service which is rendered in a spirit of joy.

The voice of the people is the voice of God, and here the voice of friends was too real to be rejected.

I am definitely of opinion that a public worker should accept no costly gifts.

I now realize that a public worker should not make statements of which he has not made sure. Above all, a votary of truth must exercise the greatest caution. To allow a man to believe a thing which one has not fully verified, is to compromise truth.

Gandhiji regarding his children.
They were being trained to a life of service, and to an understanding that service was its own reward.

The children readily agreed to my proposal. ‘We do not need these costly presents, we must return them to the community, and should we ever need them, we could easily purchase them,’ they said. A trust-deed was prepared, and they were deposited with a bank, to be used for the service of the community, according to my wishes or to those of the trustees.I have never since regretted the step, and as the years have gone by, my wife has also seen its wisdom. It has saved us from many temptations.–  Gandhiji returning all his gifts for service


Affection for South Indians:
affection that the Dravidians in South Africa showered on me has remained a cherished memory. Whenever I see a Tamil or Telugu friend, I cannot but recall the faith, perseverance, and selfless sacrifice of many of his compatriots in South Africa.But I wanted to requite their affection by learning Tamil and Telugu. In Tamil, as I have said, I made some little progress, but in Telugu, which I tried to learn in India, I did not get beyond the alphabet.

About Learning Indian History and Language:

It is only the English-speaking ones who will not learn it, as though a knowledge of English were an obstacle to learning our own languages.

“You have no knowledge of the world, a sine qua non for a vakil. You have not even read the history of India. A vakil should know human nature. He should be able to read a man’s character from his face. And every Indian ought to know Indian History. This has no connection with the practice of law, but you ought to have that knowledge.” — Spoken by a british professor to Gandhiji

Gandhiji at one point believed in the British Constitution:

Hardly ever have I known anybody to cherish such loyalty as I did to the British Constitution. I can see now that my love of truth was at the root of this loyalty.Not that I was unaware of the defects in British rule, but I thought it was on the whole acceptable. In those days I believed that British rule was on the whole beneficial to the ruled.

I felt that if I demanded rights as a British citizen, it was also my duty, as such, to participate in the defence of the British Empire. I held then that India could achieve her complete emancipation only within and through the British Empire.

In South Africa the public departments were maintained for the good of the people and were responsible to public opinion. Hence officials in charge had a certain courtesy of manner and humility about them, and coloured people also got the benefit of it more or less.

Gandhiji’s European Friends:

As a youngster as I read about the freedom struggle,you always picture the worst said about the englishman,as I read through this book,many of Gandhiji’s friends were europeans.This book shows how life is full of Good and Bad,balanced out.

Mr. Saunders, editor of The Englishman, claimed me as his own.It is no exaggeration to say that a friendship grew up between us. He promised to render me all the help he could, carried out the promise to the letter, and kept on his correspondence with me until the time when he was seriously ill.

The wife of the police superintendent, who knew me, happened to be passing by. The brave lady came up, opened her parasol though there was no sun then, and stood between the crowd and me. This checked the fury of the mob, as it was difficult for them to deliver blows on me without harming Mrs. Alexander.The police superintendent, Mr. Alexander, sent a posse of men to ring me round and escort me safely to my destination. They arrived in time.

Europeans of Durban were ashamed of their conduct.

Dr. Booth was the head of the St. Aidan’s Mission. He was a kind-hearted man and treated his patients free.

Other Europeans:

I came across a Scots girl called Miss Dick, who had just come fresh from Scotland. She had no objection to earning an honest livelihood, wherever available, and she was in need. So the agent sent her on to me. She immediately prepossessed me.
‘Don’t you mind serving under an Indian?’ I asked her.       ‘Not at all,’ was her firm reply.
She sought my advice in the final choice of her husband, and I had the privilege to give her away in marriage. As soon as Miss Dick became Mrs. Macdonald, she had to leave me, but even after her marriage she did not fail to respond, whenever under pressure I made a call upon her.

Miss Schlesin :
Colour prejudice was foreign to her temperament. She seemed to mind neither age nor experience. She would not hesitate even to the point of insulting a man and telling him to his face what she thought of him. Her impetuosity often landed me in difficulties, but her open and guileless temperament removed them as soon as they were created. I have often signed without revision letters typed by her, as I considered her English to be better than mine, and had the fullest confidence in her loyalty.When I urged her to take more, she would give me a scolding and say, ‘I am not here to draw a salary from you. I am here because I like to work with you and I like your ideals.’

Her courage was equal to her sacrifice. She is one of the few women I have been privileged to come across with a character as clear as crystal, and courage that would shame a warrior.She knew neither night nor day in toiling for the cause. She ventured out on errands in the darkness of the night all by herself, and angrily scouted [=rejected] any suggestion of an escort. Thousands of stalwart Indians looked up to her for guidance. When during the Satyagraha days almost every one of the leaders was in jail, she led the movement single-handed. She had the management of thousands, a tremendous amount of correspondence, and Indian Opinion in her hands, but she never wearied.

He(Gokhlae) gave the first place to Miss Schlesin amongst all the Indian and European co-workers. ‘I have rarely met with the sacrifice, the purity, and the fearlessness I have seen in Miss Schlesin,’ said he. ‘Amongst your co-workers, she takes the first place in my estimation.’

Dr. William Godfrey, who was practising in Johannesburg, ran to the rescue as soon as he got the news, and became both nurse and doctor to the patients. But twenty-three patients were more than three of us could cope with….

Mr. West might have left when he discovered that there was no profit, and I could not have blamed him. In fact, he had a right to arraign me for having described the concern as profitable without proper proof. But he never so much as uttered one word of complaint. I have, however, an impression that this discovery led Mr. West to regard me as credulous. I had simply accepted Sjt. Madanjit’s estimate without caring to examine it, and told Mr. West to expect a profit.(Worked at the Indian Opinion Newspaper founded by Gandhiji)


I replied: ‘I hope God will give me the courage and the sense to forgive them and to refrain from bringing them to law. I have no anger against them. I am only sorry for their ignorance and their narrowness. I know that they sincerely believe that what they are doing today is right and proper. I have no reason therefore to be angry with them.

Gandhiji acquitting two government officials and later helping them:

However, the guilt of both these officers was so patent that in spite of their acquittal the Government could not harbour them.I must say that though these officers were so bad, I had nothing against them personally. They were aware of this themselves, and when in their straits they approached me, I helped them too.though I had often to fight with their department and use strong language, they remained quite friendly with me. I was not then quite conscious that such behaviour was part of my nature. I learnt later that it was an essential part of Satyagraha, and an attribute of ahimsa.

I treated them as members of my family, and had unpleasantness with my wife if ever she stood in the way of my treating them as such. — Gandhiji’s tender care for his co workers

These observations were made in 1902,it will be very sad to report these conditions have not changed even in 2014

The charge had often been made that the Indian was slovenly in his habits and did not keep his house and surroundings clean.

The indifference of the railway authorities to the comforts of the third class passengers, combined with the dirty and inconsiderate habits of the passengers themselves, makes third class travelling a trial for a passenger of cleanly ways. These unpleasant habits commonly include throwing of rubbish on the floor of the compartment, smoking at all hours and in all places, betel and tobacco chewing, converting of the whole carriage into a spittoon, shouting and yelling, and using foul language, regardless of the convenience or comfort of fellow passengers. I have noticed little difference between my experience of the third class travelling in 1902..

I can think of only one remedy for this awful state of things–that educated men should make a point of travelling third class and reforming the habits of the people, as also of never letting the railway authorities rest in peace, sending in complaints wherever necessary, never resorting to bribes or any unlawful means for obtaining their own comforts, and never putting up with infringements of rules on the part of anyone concerned. This, I am sure, would bring about considerable improvement.

When I reached the temple, I was greeted at the entrance by a stinking mass of rotten flowers. The floor was paved with fine marble, which was however broken by some devotee innocent of aesthetic taste, who had set it with rupees serving as an excellent receptacle for dirt.

About Indian Congress:

The Congress would meet three days every year, and then go to sleep. What training could one have out of a three days’ show once a year?


Satyagraha would probably have been impossible without Indian Opinion.The newspaper press is a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges whole countrysides and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy.


To see Gokhale at work was as much a joy as an education. He never wasted a minute. His private relations and friendships were all for public good.

All his talks had reference only to the good of the country and were absolutely free from any trace of untruth or insincerity.

But he gave every one of them the same reply: ‘You do the thing yourself. Let me do my own work. What I want is freedom for my country. After that is won, we can think of other things. Today that one thing is enough to engage all my time and energy.’

I have always felt that the true text-book for the pupil is his teacher. I remember very little that my teachers taught me from books, but I have even now a clear recollection of the things they taught me independently of books.


The grinding poverty and starvation with which our country is afflicted is such that it drives more and more men every year into the ranks of the beggars, whose desperate struggle for bread renders them insensible to all feelings of decency and self-respect. And our philanthropists, instead of providing work for them and insisting on their working for bread, give them alms.

India right before Independence:

Leaders were put under arrest, martial law, which in other words meant no law, was proclaimed, special tribunals were set up. These tribunals were not courts of justice, but instruments for carrying out the arbitrary will of an autocrat. Sentences were passed unwarranted by evidence and in flagrant violation of justice.

The Last few chapters show the fine working details of the sathyagraha and how the organized strikes took place.

The Most Important thing that I learnt from this book.The Power of Education and his knowledge of the law(he was a lawyer) and rules of the government which were the key aides for him, to help in winning freedom.

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images used are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material.The opinions expressed are  my very own.)