I read Gandhiji’s famous autobiography, The Story of My Experiments With Truth almost a year ago. I had been told by my friends who had read it before, that it wasn’t really that good and they found it boring. But since I was intrigued and curious from what I had read about Gandhiji’s philosophy, I decided to read it myself. I discovered that it was an unremarkable piece of literature.

But I was simply fascinated by the ideas that originated in his undoubtedly remarkable mind, and presented themselves to me from the book. It was inspiring to read about his experiments with life. How he thought and reasoned and created standards that seemed logical and worked for him, in matters such as diet, medicine, faith, economy and politics. My friends seem at best amused and sometimes even repelled that I find his ideas attractive. Some of them have opined that they are archaic and possibly relevant only to the particular social context that he lived in. If anything, I think they are timeless and as relevant today as they were a century ago.

Apart from this, I found it inspiring that a person who lived such an extraordinary life, and possessed such an extraordinary character, was plain unremarkable during his childhood. Some people might find it hard to associate the shy twenty year old who had to get a friend read out his speech at a meeting of people with a special interest, with the philosopher who would go on to influence the thoughts of billions of people, even decades after his death. I firmly believe that the “achievements”, academic or otherwise, of children really don’t mean anything. What really matters is that their characters are nurtured and they are encouraged to think freely.

The ideal childhood is one which affords the child a lot of freedom and interaction with nature, where he learns how to learn, so that when he grows up he can look at the world with an integrated view and decide for himself what to believe, or pursue. I think this is an important point because of the fuss being made today regarding child prodigies and celebrities. I feel that the long years a child spends learning moribund facts, will be more fruitful if they are let out to play in the mud or climb mango trees instead. When they reach the right age, I’m sure they will have developed a taste for worthy pursuits and a hunger to take on the world.

P.S. Playing in the mud or climbing mango trees have nothing to do with Gandhiji’s childhood(!). They were just my figure of speech in a call for giving more opportunity for children to communicate with nature.