Stealing and Atonement by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

Following text is an adaptation from ‘My Experiments with Truth’ by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

A relative and I became fond of smoking. Not that we saw any good in smoking, or were very fond of the smell of a cigarette. We simply imagined a sort of pleasure in emitting clouds of smoke from our mouths. My uncle had the habit, and when we saw him smoking, we thought we should copy his example. But, we had no money. So we began to collect stubs of cigarettes thrown away by my uncle.

The stubs, however, were not always available and could not emit much smoke either. So we began to steal coins from the servant’s pocket money in order to purchase Indian cigarettes. In the meantime we heard that the stalks of a certain plant were porous and could be smoked like cigarettes. We got them and began this kind of smoking.

But we were far from being satisfied with such things as these. Our want of independence began to upset us. It was unbearable that we should be unable to do anything without the permission of our elders. At last, in sheer disgust, we decided to commit suicide!

But how were we to do it? From where were we to get the poison? We heard that dhatura seeds were an effective poison. Off we went to the jungle in search of these seeds, and we got them. Evening was thought to be an auspicious hour. We went to Kedarjee Mandir, put ghee in the temple lamp, had the darshan and then looked for a lonely corner. But our courage failed us. Supposing we were not instantly killed? And what was the good of killing ourselves? Why not rather put up with the lack of independence? But we swallowed two or three seeds nevertheless. We dared not take more. Both of us fought shy of death and decided to go to Ramji Mandir to compose ourselves, and to dismiss the thought of suicide.

I realised that it was not as easy to commit suicide as to think about it. The thought of suicide ultimately resulted in both of us bidding good-bye to the habit of smoking stubs of cigarettes and of stealing the servant’s coppers for the purpose of smoking.

Ever since I have grown up, I have never desired to smoke and always regard the habit of smoking as barbarous, dirty and harmful. I have never understood why there is such a rage for smoking throughout the world. I cannot bear to travel in a compartment full of people smoking. I become choked.

But much more serious than this was the theft I was guilty of a little later. I stole the coins when I was twelve or thirteen, possibly less. The other theft was committed when I was fifteen. In this case I stole a bit of gold out of my brother’s armlet. This brother had run into a debt of about twenty-five rupees. He had on his arm an armlet of solid gold. It was not difficult to clip a bit out of it.

Well, it was done, and the debt cleared. But this became more than I could bear. I resolved never to steal again. I also made up my mind to confess it to my father. But I did not dare to speak. Not that I was afraid of my father beating me. No. I do not recall his ever having beaten any of us. I was afraid of the pain that I should cause him. But I felt that the risk should be taken; that there could not be a cleansing without a confession.

I decided at last to write out the confession, to submit to my father, and ask for his forgiveness. I wrote it on a slip of paper and handed it to him myself. In this, not only did I confess my guilt, but I asked adequate punishment for it, and closed with a request to him not to punish himself for my offence.

I also pledged myself never to steal in future. I was trembling as I handed the confession to my father. He was then confined to bed. His bed was a plain wooden plank. I handed him the note and sat opposite the plank.

He read it through, and tears trickled down his cheeks, wetting the paper. For a moment he closed his eyes in thought and then tore up the note. He had sat up to read it. He lay down again. I also cried. I could see my father’s agony. If I were a painter I could draw a picture of the whole scene today. It is still so vivid in my mind.

Those tears of love cleansed my heart, and washed my sin away. Then I could read in it nothing more than a father’s love; but today, I know that it was pure Ahimsa. When there is such Ahimsa, it changes everything it touches. There is no limit to its power.

This kind of sublime forgiveness was not natural to my father. I had thought that he would be angry, say hard things, and strike his forehead. But he was so wonderfully peaceful, and I believe this was due to my clean confession. A clean confession, combined with a promise never to commit the sin again, is the purest type of repentance. I know that my confession made my father feel absolutely safe about me, and increased his affection for me beyond measure.


In every country, there are some great men and women who have done a lot for their country. For India, Mahatma Gandhi was one such person who worked very hard to get freedom for India.

As a child, Gandhiji and his friend tried to imitate a family member and took to smoking. They enjoyed the fun in blowing out clouds of smoke. They stole money from the servant’s purse to fulfil their desire of smoking cigarettes. Gandhiji knew that to do anything, they had to take permission from their elders. Like all teenagers, they too wanted freedom. They felt that life was not worth living and they should die.

Gandhiji and his friend obtained poisonous seeds but could not muster the courage to eat them. They went to a temple where they realised their mistake. They gave up the thought of suicide and decided never to smoke and steal. After some time, Gandhiji took some gold from his brother’s armlet to repay his debt.

He felt guilty for the act of stealing and wanted to confess about this to his father. Gandhiji knew that on hearing it his father would be pained. Still he wrote a letter in which he admitted his mistake and asked for punishment. He also requested his father not to punish himself. He saw his father in tears which were not only of pain but also of love and forgiveness. Gandhiji learnt his first lesson of Ahimsa.