33. LITERARY TRAINING
It was seen in the last
chapter how we provided for the physical training on Tolstoy Farm, and
incidentally for the vocational. Though this was hardly done in a way to
satisfy me, it may be claimed to have been more or less successful.
Literary training, however,
was a more difficult matter. I had neither the resources nor the literary
equipment necessary; and I had not the time I would have wished to devote
to the subject. The physical work that I was doing used to leave me thoroughly
exhausted at the end of the day, and I used to have the classes just when
I was most in need of some rest. Instead, therefore, of my being fresh
for the class, I could with the greatest difficulty keep myself awake.
The mornings had to be devoted to work on the farm and domestic duties,
so the school hours had to be kept after the midday meal. There was no
other time suitable for the school.
We gave three periods at the
most to literary training. Hindi, Tamil, Gujarati, and Urdu were all taught,
and tuition was given through the vernaculars of the boys. English was
taught as well. It was also necessary to acquaint the Gujarati Hindu children
with a little Samskrit, and to teach all the children history, geography,
I had undertaken to teach Tamil
and Urdu. The little Tamil I knew was acquired during voyages and in jail.
I had not got beyond Pope's excellent Tamil handbook. My knowledge of the
Urdu script was all that I had acquired on a single voyage, and my knowledge
of the language was confined to the familiar Persian and Arabic words that
I had learnt from contact with Musalman friends. Of Samskrit I knew no
more than I had learnt at the high school, even my Gujarati was no better
than that which one acquires at the school.
Such was the capital with which
I had to carry on. In poverty of literary equipment my colleagues went
one better than I. But my love for the languages of my country, my confidence
in my capacity as a teacher, as also the ignorance of my pupils, and more
than that, their generosity, stood me in good stead.
The Tamil boys were all born
in South Africa, and therefore knew very little Tamil, and did not know
the script at all. So I had to teach them the script and the rudiments
of grammar. That was easy enough. My pupils knew that they could any day
beat me in Tamil conversation, and when Tamilians not knowing English,came
to see me, they became my interpreters. I got along merrily, because I
never attempted to disguise my ignorance from my pupils. In all respects
I showed myself to them exactly as I really was. Therefore in spite of
my colossal ignorance of the language, I never lost their love and respect.
It was comparatively easier to teach the Musalman boys Urdu. They knew
the script. I had simply to stimulate in them an interest in reading, and
to improve their handwriting.
These youngsters were for the
most part unlettered and unschooled. But I found in the course of my work
that I had very little to teach them, beyond weaning them from their laziness,
and supervising their studies. As I was content with this, I could pull
on with boys of different ages and learning different subjects in one and
the same class room.
Of text-books, about which we
hear so much, I never felt the want. I do not even remember having made
much use of the books that were available. I did not find it at all necessary
to load the boys with quantities of books. 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.
Children take in much more and
with less labour through their ears than through their eyes. I do not remember
having read any book from cover to cover with my boys. But I gave them,
in my own language, all that I had digested from my reading of various
books, and I dare say they are still carrying a recollection of it in their
minds. It was laborious for them to remember what they learnt from books,
but what I imparted to them by word of mouth, they could repeat with the
greatest ease. Reading was a task for them, but listening to me was a pleasure,
when I did not bore them by failure to make my subject interesting. And
from the questions that my talks prompted them to put, I had a measure
of their power of understanding.