I must have been about
seven when my father left Porbandar for Rajkot, to become a member of the
Rajasthanik Court. There I was put into a primary school, and I can well
recollect those days, including the names and other particulars of the
teachers who taught me. As at Porbandar, so here, there is hardly anything
to note about my studies. I could have been only a mediocre student. From
this school I went to the suburban school and thence to the high school,
having already reached my twelfth year. I do not remember having ever told
a lie, during this short period, either to my teachers or to my schoolmates.
I used to be very shy and avoided all company. My books and my lessons
were my sole companions. To be at school at that stroke of the hour and
to run back home as soon as school closed--that was my daily habit. I literally
ran back, because I could not bear to talk to anybody. I was even afraid
lest anyone should poke fun at me.
There is an incident which occured
at the examination during my first year at the high school, and which is
worth recording. Mr. Giles, the Educational Inspector, had come on a visit
of inspection. He had set us five words to write as a spelling exercise.
One of the words was 'kettle'. I had mis-spelt it. The teacher tried to
prompt me with the point of his boot, but I would not be prompted. It was
beyond me to see that he wanted me to copy the spelling from my neighbour's
slate, for I had thought that the teacher was there to supervise us against
copying. The result that all the boys except myself were found to have
spelt every word correctly. Only I had been stupid. The teacher tried later
to bring this stupidity home to me, but without effect. I never could learn
the art of 'copying'.
Yet the incident did not
in the least diminish my respect for my teacher. I was, by nature, blind
to the faults of elders. Later I came to know many other failings of this
teacher, but my regard for him remained the same. For I had learnt to carry
out the orders of elders, not to scan their actions.
Two other incidents belonging
to the same period have always clung to my memory. As a rule I had a distaste
for any reading beyond my school books. The daily lessons had to be done,
because I disliked being taken to task by my teacher as much as I disliked
deceiving him. Therefore I would do the lessons, but often without my mind
in them. Thus when even the lessons could not be done properly, there was
of course no question of any extra reading. But somehow my eyes fell on
a book purchased by my father. It was Shravana Pitribhakti Nataka
(a play about Shravana's devotion to this parents). I read it with intense
interest. There came to our place about the same time [some] itinerant
showmen. One of the pictures I was shown was of Shravana carrying, by means
of slings fitted for his shoulders, his blind parents on a pilgrimage.
The book and the picture left an indelible impression on my mind. 'Here
is an example for you to copy,' I said to myself. The agonized lament of
the parents over Shravana's death is still fresh in my memory. The melting
tune moved me deeply, and I played it on a concertina which my father had
purchased for me.
There was a similar incident
connected with another play. Just about this time, I had secured my father's
permission to see a play performed by a certain dramatic company. This
my heart. I could never be tired of seeing it. But how often should I be
permitted to go? It haunted me and I must have acted Harishchandra
to myself times without number. 'Why should not all be truthful like Harishchandra?'
was the question I asked myself day and night. To follow truth and to go
through all the ordeals Harishchandra went through was the one ideal it
inspired in me. I literally believed in the story of Harishchandra. The
thought of it all often made me weep. My commonsense tells me today that
Harishchandra could not have been a historical character. Still both Harishchandra
and Shravana are living realities for me, and I am sure I should be moved
as before if I were to read those plays again today.