Did Gandhi tell this story
It seems doubtful
- He was a vegetarian, did not drink tea or coffee and preferred uncooked food.
- He was willing to lead by example but not always in advance of his advice.
- There is no obvious source or references for the origin of this story.
- The story has an enormous amount of variation.
Gandhi was a strict vegetarian, it seems unlikely he was in the habit of sprinkling sugar on his food.
From his writings about the food of India it is clear that he had on occasion eaten end enjoyed sweets made with sugar
Lastly, nuts take the place of English sweets. Children eat a great quantity of sugared nuts. They are also largely used on "fruit days". We fry them in butter, and even stew them in milk. Almonds are supposed to be very good for the brain. I will just point out one of the various ways in which we use the cocoanut. It is first ground and then mixed with clarified butter and sugar. It tastes very nice. I hope some of you will try at home those coconut sweet balls as they are called.
However it seems very unlikely that a strict vegetarian, living mostly on uncooked vegetables, who (at least later in life) endured many long fasts, would have had any doubts that he could give up sugar for a week.
Leading by example
The Times of India tells a related story
Throughout Gandhi's correspondence, this is a constant thread; in one letter he'd be writing to the Viceroy, in the next he would be telling one of his followers what to eat.
Gandhi never forced anyone to follow his diets. On the contrary, he advised a follower who had been inspired by him to turn vegetarian, but whose wife was resisting, that it was his duty to buy his wife meat. Gandhi was adamant that people could not be forced but could be persuaded, by extremely strong emotional blackmail if necessary. He did exactly that once when Kasturba fell sick. He told her to stop eating pulses and salt. She asked him sarcastically if he was capable of doing that. He replied that he would do just that for a year, at which Kasturba pretty much had to acquiesce.
So if Gandhi didn't give up pulses and salt for a period before advising Kasturba to do so, it seems inconsistent that he would need to prove to himself or to others in advance that he could give up sugar.
I checked a few of the stories, none of which say exactly where or when Gandhi said this. They tend to vary considerably
The period is any of: three days, one week, two weeks or three months.
Usually the child is a boy but in at least one example it is a girl.
What Gandhi says to the child varies quite a bit
- "Young man, you must stop eating sugar. It is not good for you, and it is very troubling to your mother when you eat it."
- "My boy, you must stop eating sugar"
- "You must stop eating sugar."
- "you must stop eating sugar. It’s very bad for you."
- "You must stop eating sugar immediately."
- "You really should stop eating sugar, as your mother wishes."
- "Don’t eat sugar."
- Gandhi told him it would be best if he quit eating so much sugar.
- "Boy, you should stop eating sugar. It is not good for your health."
It seems almost every reporting of this story has unique embelishments.
It is probable that Gandhi spoke in a language other than English (It has been reported he knew half a dozen languages used in India) - so it's plausible the story would have been translated into English several times. Even so, the variations seem excessive.
These variations suggest that there isn't a single written source that has been accurately repeated.
One blogger reports the following sources:
- The story is in Al Gore's book "Earth in the Balance". 1992. which references
- "The Great Turning", by Craig Schindler and Gary Lapid (Bear and Company, 1989).
Apparently the latter doesn't give a specific reference but the bibliography mentions Gandhi's autobiography - however the blogger can find no trace of the story in Gandhi's autobiography.