AS a young man he stepped off the ship in Southampton, nervous and unsure in a foreign land - totally unaware of his destiny to become one of the most important political and spiritual leaders of the 20th century.

Nobody would have guessed this anxious man in his late teens would go on to negotiate with world leaders, become the “Father of India’’, and take tea with Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy of the British Raj.

With his use of “satyagraha” – resistance to authority through mass civil disobedience – firmly founded on total non-violence, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.

Standing on the Southampton dockside in September 1888, obviously uneasy and uncomfortable in strange European clothes, it was the first time that the teenage passenger had ever been away from his home, thousands of miles away, halfway around the globe.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi arrived in Southampton after the long voyage from India to begin studying to become a barrister, with a knowledge and understanding of the law that would be the bedrock of his principles throughout his controversial life, that would eventually be ended by an assassin’s bullet.

It was more than 150 years ago, on October 2 1869, the child, who would become internationally known as Gandhi, entered the world in the coastal town of Porbandar, where his family was politically well connected.

After his schooldays, Gandhi, who then neither ate meat nor drank alcohol because of his religious beliefs, decided he would like to travel to Britain and qualify as a lawyer.

Gandhi in his younger days.

Gandhi in his younger days.

Despite his community elders forbidding the voyage “over dark waters’’, the 18- year-old set sail for Southampton.

Gandhi’s own words recall a Victorian era of long ago: “I had to equip myself for the voyage. There was a friend who had experience in the matter. He got clothes and other things ready.

“Some of the clothes I liked and some I did not like at all. The necktie, which I delighted in wearing later, I then abhorred. The short jacket I looked upon as immodest.

“I did not feel at all seasick. But as the days passed, I became fidgety. I felt shy even in speaking to the steward. I was quite unaccustomed to talking English, and all the other passengers in the second saloon were English. I could not speak to them.

“For I could rarely follow their remarks when they came up to speak to me, and even when I understood I could not reply. I had to frame every sentence in my mind before I could bring it out.

“I hid myself in the cabin the whole day, only venturing up on deck when there were but few people. Nothing could make me conquer my shyness.’’ However, Gandhi’s diary, written during the voyage, goes on to show he persevered with his new language and made the acquaintance of a British passenger.

Gandhi with Lord Mountbatten, who was the last viceroy of the British Raj.

Gandhi with Lord Mountbatten, who was the last viceroy of the British Raj.

Gandhi wrote: “An English passenger, taking kindly to me, drew me into conversation. He was older than I. He asked me what I ate, what I was, where I was going, why I was shy, and so on.

“He also advised me to come to table. He laughed at my insistence on abjuring meat, and said in a friendly way when we were in the Red Sea: ‘It is all very well so far but you will have to revise your decision in the Bay of Biscay.

“And it is so cold in England that one cannot possibly live there without meat’.’’ Gandhi replied: “But I have heard that people can live there without eating meat.’’ The older man said: “Rest assured it is a fib. No one, to my knowledge, lives there without being a meateater.”

The Father of India as the world remembers him.

The 'Father of India' as the world remembers him.

In his autobiography, Gandhi noted: “We reached Southampton, as far as I remember, on a Saturday.

“On the ship I had worn a black suit, but the white flannel one having been kept especially for wearing when I landed.

“I had thought that white clothes would suit me better when I stepped ashore, and therefore I did so in white flannels.

“Those were the last days of September, and I found I was the only person wearing such clothes.

“The shame of being the only person in white clothes was already too much for me.”

Two years later, Gandhi left Britain and returned to India to practise law, beginning a political life that eventually led him to South Africa, where he was imprisoned for his activities.

In 1947, Gandhi finally saw the establishment of the independent state of India but a year later the renowned leader was murdered by a fanatic on January 30, at a prayer meeting in Dehli.