It was a typical day at Alfred High School in Rajkot, Gujarat. The school had a big ground. Boys were running about. Some were playing football.
One boy shouted, “Look!” The boys saw an Englishman riding a bicycle. Behind him was a peon who had to run to keep pace with the rider. As they entered the school compound, the headmaster came out to receive the guest.
The visitor shook hands with the headmaster and both walked in. Someone whispered, “That’s the school inspector, Mr Giles.” The boys were nervous. They were afraid of inspection. Just then the school bell rang. It was a signal for all students to go to their classes.
“I want to go around and see what the boys have learnt,” Mr Giles said as he walked briskly. The headmaster started walking towards the class with the brightest students. But Inspector Giles stopped him, “You attend to your work. I’ll find my way.”
Mr Giles entered the first classroom he came across. The students sprang to their feet and greeted him in unison, “Good morning, Sir.”
“What’s going on?” Mr. Giles asked the teacher.
“This is the English class, Sir,” replied the teacher.
“Boys, I’m going to give you a dictation test. Take out your slates and chalks,” said Mr Giles. The boys immediately took out the slates and looked at him with rapt attention. Mr Giles dictated ten words.
The English teacher was nervous. He would be blamed if the boys made too many mistakes. He went around the class as the boys got busy writing the words on the slate. The teacher stopped at a desk. A boy named Mohandas was writing, trying hard to get the spellings right.
The teacher looked at the word he had just written. He could see that Mohandas had made a mistake. He had spelt the word ‘kettle’ as K-E-T-A-L.
The teacher coughed and tapped the floor with his foot to get his attention. But Mohandas did not look up. The teacher tried a couple of times more but got no response.
Meanwhile, Mr Giles was finished with the dictation. The boys lined up to show him what they had written. The inspector was happy to see that most boys had spelt all the words correctly.
“You’ve done a good job, boys,” said Mr Giles. Turning to the teacher, he said, “You’ve taught them well.”
The teacher broke into a smile.
Just then Mohandas stepped forward showing his slate. Mr Giles took one look and frowned. “You got this word wrong, my boy,” he said circling a word. The teacher’s face fell. “The correct spelling is ‘K-E-T-T-L-E. Kettle.”
“Thank you, Sir,” said Mohandas, “I’ll work hard and improve.”
Mr Giles patted Mohandas and moved on to the next classroom. But the English teacher was furious. “I’m sorry, Sir,” said Mohandas. “I didn’t know the spelling of that word.”
The teacher frowned, “You could have looked at what the boy sitting next to you had written. He got all the words right.” Mohandas looked down. “I even drew your attention by tapping the floor. But you paid no attention,” said the teacher.
When Mohandas went home, he told his mother what had happened in school.
“You did the right thing by not copying the answer,” said his mother, “If Raja Harishchandra were in your place, he too would have done the same thing.”
Mohandas beamed. He loved the play ‘Harishchandra the Truthful’.
This is the story of young Mohandas Karmachand Gandhi, who later became well known as Mahatma Gandhi.