ONCE, Gandhiji was sailing in a big British ship to attend a conference in England. Sitting at a desk on the deck, he was writing a letter. A well-dressed young Englishman was amused to see Gandhiji, who appeared to him quite different from all other passengers, on the ship.

The vain Englishman went to his room and, taking some bits of paper, wrote nasty sentences and drew funny pictures to annoy Gandhiji. He wondered why a half-naked, bald-headed, and toothless old man should go to England at all. He advised Gandhiji to give up this ‘madness’ of going abroad. He neatly pinned all the bits of paper together and returned to the deck.

Walking proudly, he came to the desk where Gandhiji sat writing. As Gandhiji looked up, the Englishman handed over to him the pinned bits of paper expressing his disrespect ‘for the black Indians’. “You will find this interesting and useful. Read it and keep it with you,” he said to Gandhiji.

He then went and stood at some distance to see Gandhiji’s reaction to what he had done. Gandhiji calmly read every word written by him, raised his head and looked for a moment at the young Englishman. Then, he slowly took off the pin and threw away the bits of paper into the waste-paper basket under the desk. “I have done just what you asked me to do,” he said, giving the young man his usual smile. “I have kept with me your pin which is the only interesting and useful thing you gave me. Thank you.”

The young Englishman at once realised his mistake. He had expected that, on seeing what he had written Gandhiji would fly into a rage and create a scene which all the white passengers on board the ship would enjoy. Now, Gandhiji’s short and sweet reply went straight to his heart. He realised how intelligent, cultured, and humble Gandhiji was. He hung his head in shame and went back the way he had come. This lesson, which he learnt from Gandhi, must have put down his vanity forever thereafter.


  1. What was the young Englishman’s mistake?
  2. What lesson did Gandhiji teach him?
  3. Suppose a vain student in your class calls you an ignorant fool. What will you do?
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