Summary of Imitating the English Gentleman or Playing the English Gentleman: The chapter Imitating the English Gentleman, which is a part of class 10 English syllabus of students studying under Nagaland Board of School Education is an account of Mahatma Gandhi’s struggle to mix with the English and the English society while he was studying law in London.
In the chapter, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi talked about how his life in London was not an easy one because he was a vegetarian and his friend did not appreciate this. His friend would find vegetarianism a hurdle in his development. One day when Gandhiji was hesitant to eat in a restaurant because he was not sure whether the food was vegetarian or not, his friend became angry and told him that he was too clumsy for a decent society. This provoked Gandhiji to take measures and make himself suitable for English society. He changed his dressing style and took a few classes, only to realise later that all these would not make him a true gentleman but if he ever would become a gentleman, it would be because of his character.
After that, he gave up his prospects of becoming an English gentleman and emphasized building a good character, reminding himself that he was there in London to study and he was not supposed to stay there all his life.
A. Reference to Context
1. ‘If you cannot behave yourself, you had better go.’
a) Who said these words and to whom?
b) Where was the speaker at this point of time?
c) What had the other person done?
d) Make a new word with ‘behave’ by adding a suffix or prefix.
Answer: a) Gandhiji’s friend said these words to Gandhiji.
b) The speaker was at the Holborn Restaurant.
c) The other person, i.e., Gandhiji had summoned the waiter to ask if the soup they had been served was vegetarian which he didn’t find fitting for a decent society.
2. My ambitions also grew like the family of the recluse.
a) What were the ambitions of the speaker?
b) Who is the ‘recluse’ referred to in the line?
c) The speaker is referring to a past incident. Is his tone one of approval or criticism?
d) ‘Recluse’ is a noun. Derive the adjective form of the word.
Answer: a) The ambition of the speaker was to become a refined English gentleman.
b) The ‘recluse’ referred to in the line was Gandhiji who was doing one thing after another to solve one supposed problem.
c) His tone was of criticism. He was introspecting his false pursuit of becoming an English gentleman.
d) The adjective for recluse is ‘reclusive’.
B. Read and Write
1. What prompted Gandhiji to take up vegetarianism?
Answer: Gandhiji studied different books on health and hygiene like “Salt’s book”, Howard Williams’ “The Ethics of Diet”, Dr Anna Kingsford’s “The Perfect Way in Diet” and Dr Allinson’s writings on health and hygiene. He was also highly influenced by great people like Pythagoras and others who wear vegetarians. He realised that health and religion take an important place in one’s life. The above belief reaffirmed his vegetarianism.
2. Why was his friend concerned about his becoming a vegetarian?
Answer: Gandhiji’s friend thought that if he persisted in his objections to meat, he would not only develop a weak constitution but also remain a duffer in modern society. When he came to know that Gandhiji had begun to interest himself in books on vegetarianism, he was afraid lest these studies should muddle Gandhiji’s head and he fritter his life away in experiments forgetting work and become a crank.
3. What did Gandhiji do to please his friend and reassure him that he was fit for English society?
Answer: To please his friend and to make up for vegetarianism, Gandhiji tried to cultivate other habits to become an English gentleman. He bought new clothes suitable for English society; a chimney-pot hat, an evening suit made in Bond Street and a double watch chain of gold. He started spending 10 minutes every day before a huge mirror parting his hair and arranging his tie. He also started taking lessons in dancing, violin, French and elocution.
4. Gandhiji took up various activities to make himself an accomplished man. What were these activities? Did they help him in becoming an English gentleman? What makes you say so?
Answer: Gandhiji decided to alter his style of dressing. He used to wear the Bombay cut clothes which, he thought, were not suitable for English society. So he bought new clothes in English fashion from the Army and Navy stores. He got himself a Chimney pot hat for 19 shillings. He wasted 10 pounds on an evening suit made in Bond Street and asked his brother to send him a double watch-chain of gold. He also learnt the art of tying a tie for himself. Apart from changing his clothes, Gandhiji also tried to imbibe other aspects of British culture. He started taking lessons in dancing, violin, French and elocution.
They did help him become a gentleman but not in the way he thought they would. I completely agree with Gandhiji’s conclusion that he was chasing false ideals. Gandhiji was trying to please his friend and make up for his vegetarianism when he should have been concentrated on his studies as he was not going to stay in England forever. Though he did not become an English gentleman like the way he imagined, the introspection that he received after he had gone through all the fruitless physical transformation did make him a refined gentleman in the truest sense.
5. Briefly describe the incident at Holborn restaurant.
Answer: Gandhiji had gone to Holborn restaurant with his friend. His friend had thought that in the midst of other diners, Gandhiji’s modesty would forbid him from asking any question. It was a fancy place and a new experience for Gandhiji. He and his friend shared the same table and the first course of meal was soup. Gandhiji wondered that if the soup was a vegetarian soup and summoned the waiter immediately. His friend became irritated and asked him to leave the restaurant and wait for him outside. Gandhiji went out and searched for a vegetarian restaurant but unfortunately, the nearest restaurant of his choice had already been closed. Without a word, he accompanied his friend to the theatre.
6. What is the ‘infatuation’ that Gandhi says lasted about three months?
Answer: The “infatuation” that Gandhiji mentioned that lasted for 3 months was his endeavour to become an English gentleman. He understood his infatuation and that he was pursuing a false ideal after reading Bell’s Standard Elocutionist.
C. Think and Answer
1. True friendship is based on mutual respect and understanding. Would you consider this story an instance of true friendship? Discuss.
Answer: No, I did not think that it was the story an instance of true friendship. Gandhiji’s friend had no respect for the choices of Gandhiji. He was determined to make Gandhiji a non-vegetarian when Gandhiji clearly did not want that. If he was the true friend of Gandhiji, he would have respected Gandhiji and his choices. His friend also had insulted him at the restaurant when Gandhiji tried to ask the waiter whether the soup was vegetarian which he was very unlikely of a true friend.
2. ‘Mr Bell rang the bell of alarm in my ear and I awoke.’ Explain.
Answer: Gandhiji had decided to take lessons in elocution to become an English gentleman and he was told to get Bell’s Standard Elocutionist as the text-book. But as he started reading the book he understood that he was chasing a false ideal. He realised that he was in England to study and all the things that he was getting himself engaged in instead were nothing to do with studies but to fit in in the English society why he was not going to be forever. It became clear to him that he should rather be a man of character.
EXTRA QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
1. Why did Gandhiji eventually give up?
Answer: After reading Bell’s Standard Elocutionist, Gandhiji realised that he was pursuing a false ideal because he was not going to spend a lifetime in England. So, it was useless to learn elocution and dancing. He realised that he was a student and should go on with his studies to qualify himself to join the inns of court. He declared that a character could make him a true gentleman otherwise he should forget the ambition. Thus, Gandhiji eventually gave up.
2. What did Gandhiji’s friend do in his bid to transform him?
Answer: In his bid to transform Gandhiji, his friend made the last effort. Even they invited him to go to the theatre. Before the play, they were to dine together at the Holborn Restaurant. It was a palatial place for Gandhiji and the first big restaurant. The friend had planned to take him to that restaurant evidently imagining that modesty would forbid him from asking any question.
3. How did Gandhiji decide to alter his style of dressing?
Answer: Gandhiji decided to alter his style of dressing by changing the Bombay cut he was wearing. He got new ones at the Army and Navy stores. He went in for a chimney-pot hat costing 19 shillings. He wasted 10 pounds on an evening suit made in Bond Street. He understood that it was not correct to wear a readymade tie so he learned the art of tying one for himself.
4. “But henceforward I became a student.” Why does Gandhiji say this? What does he mean?
Answer: Gandhiji says this because he tried to become an English gentleman by adopting the British culture and his ambition grew like the family of the recluse. He wasted time, money, and energy in his endeavors of becoming an English gentleman, which were not related to his studies for which he was in England. He tried to take lessons in dancing, french and elocution which were beyond his means of studies. By this statement, Gandhiji means that he deviated from the false ideals he was pursuing and started focusing on the ambition for which he was in England in the first place.
5. Would you agree with Gandhiji’s view on giving up attempts to absorb the British culture? Give reasons.
Answer: Yes, I would agree with Gandhiji’s views on giving up attempts to absorb the British culture as Gandhiji was in England to complete his studies and he was eventually to return to India where the British culture would be of no use. All his attempts to absorb the British culture was indeed deviating him from his primary focus of completing his studies. Further, more than the outward show of becoming a gentleman, manners make a man. Gandhiji understood it eventually and thus his views on giving up attempts to absorb the British culture stands correct.
Ron’e Dutta is the Co-Founder and Editor of Online Free Notes. He is a journalist, a blogger, a creative writer, and a teacher. He is currently writing his first thriller novel on time-travelling. Read the prologue of the novel here. Connect with him on social media.