“Why have you fared so badly in the exams?” ,”These are just not good!”. How often have you been at the receiving end of such remarks made by parents, teachers or both? But there is hope for us for weren’t many famous people very ”mediocre” in school?
Mahatma Gandhi was one of the most influential men of twentieth century. But what kind of student had he been in school? Our curiosity is understandable and the answers can be found in his own autobiography, ”My Experiments with Truth” and some carefully preserved records of one of the schools in which he studied.
Gandhi had changed many schools before the age of ten but spent seven years in a high school in Rajkot, Gujrat. In his autobiography he tells us that he certainly was not regarded as dunce. His certificates of progress and character were never bad. He even won prizes at the end of second standard and scholarships in classes four and five. And yet he says with characteristic modesty that was only due to luck and not merit.
In the later years however, his attendance became lax – a mere 110 days out of 238 in standard III for example. His marks in annual examinations normally averaged between 45 percent to 55 percent. He then became a serious student and got an overall score of 66.5%. He could no longer be called a mediocre student. The matriculation Exam saw him secure the 404th rank out of 799 successful candidates. His mark sheet read:
English : 89/200
Gujrati : 45.5/100
Mathematics : 59/175
General Knowledge : 54/150
So much for his academic records. But did he cope well with all the subjects he had to study? In his own words, ”English became the medium of instruction in most subjects from the fourth standard. I found myself completely at sea. Geometry was a new subject in which I was not particularly strong, and the English medium made it still more difficult for me. The teacher taught the subject very well but I could not follow him. Often I would lose heart and think of going back to the third standard. When however, with much effort I reached the thirteenth proposition of Euclid , the utter simplicity of the subject was suddenly revealed to me……….Sanskrit proved a harder task, where every thing had to be learnt by heart”.
Did the frail but agile Gandhi enjoy physical education and sports? In the higher classes ,the headmaster of his school made gymnastics and cricket compulsory but he disliked both. He never took part in any exercise, cricket or football before they were made compulsory. ”My shyness,” he says, ”was one of the reasons for this aloofness, which I now see was wrong. Today I know that physical training should have as much place in the curriculum as mental training……” .
Despite his rather ordinary performance in examinations, Gandhi’s middle school teacher marked his conduct as “very good”. The records also provide glimpses of some of the writing that Gandhi did in his English papers. For 25 marks he had been asked to paraphrase a poem which described how Jesus would reveal himself only to the poor peasant, not to the rich men whose chariots went “whirling past”. Might not this exercise have stroked an early awareness of exploitation and injustice?
Such are the records relating to a student who later exerted an influence on countless Indians and turned ordinary teachers, lawyers, clerks and the like into nationalists with heroism and a spirit of self sacrifice. It has been said that Gandhi could fashion heroes out of common clay. His first and undoubtedly his most successful experiment was with himself.