Gandhi Comes Alive

Khadi Cap And Earth Poultice

- Kamalanayan Bajaj

IT was in 1920 that Bapuji came to Wardha for the first time. I was about 5 or 6 then. For the day my elder sister, and I had been dressed, in silk clothes with gold embroidery. Bapuji had his. bath, and was having his breakfast when we were taken to him. We bowed to him. After giving us his blessings and a couple of fondling slaps on the cheeks, he smiled and asked us whether we liked our dress better, or his. (He then used to wear a dhoti, a shirt and a whitecap.) We remained quiet, But when he repeated the question, Kakaji (my father, Shri Jamnalal Bajaj) encouraged, me to answer him. I told him with a childish pride that I liked my dress better: He took my cap in one hand and placed a white khadi cap in the other, and told us how the white cap was simple and beautiful. The point that appealed to me most was that it could be washed and could be kept clean. He asked me whether my cap could be washed. I nodded "No". Then he put the question again: "Now will you tell me which is better-the one which can become dirty, or the one which is washable?" I agreed with him that the white cap was better. The next question was that, if it was better, whether I would.1iketo exchange my cap with the one he had in his hand. I knew I was caught. I agreed to the exchange. As I was returning with my sister, Bapuji called us back and asked us to sit down near him. He told us that the cap I had given to him in exchange was such as only the rich could wear. He pointed a finger towards Kakaji, and told us that only Jamnalalji could afford, a cap like that for his children; that there were many children in the country who could not get such a cap; and that what other children could not get, we our- selves should not wear. "Children's clothes, he added, should be simple, "beautiful, cheap, and yet washable. He pointed to our dress and said that, though our dress" appeared to be bright and colorful, it was in fact not beautiful. He said that the colour hit the dirt and the brightness, was only a show.

In December, 1928, on his way to Calcutta for the annual session of the Congress, Bapuji came to Wardha for convalescence and also for a stay at Shri Vinoba's Satyagraha ashram, on the site of the present Mahilashram. He was housed on the upper storey of the central building. A temporary bath room was put up on the terrace. He had a quiet rest for a few weeks, and his health" improved. With the exception of Mahadev Kaka, Kakaji (my father), Mirabehn, and a few personal attendants, no one, was allowed to see Bapuji unless the matter was very urgent. Kakaji ,himself had taken charge of the gates, and no one could go in without his permission. National leaders and other visitors, who came to Wardha, remonstrated and sometimes even got annoyed with Kakaji. But he was very strict, and did not allow anybody even a couple of, minutes more than the allotted time. Even after Bapuji completely recovered and resumed his normal work, Kakaji did not relax the strictness about the interviews; and the leaders and visitors affectionately began to call him a jailor.

One fine morning a group of leaders collected near Bapuji's residence; expecting him to come out for the morning walk. Among those who had come were Pandit Jawaharlalji, Sardar Patel, Dr. Ansari, Shri Shankarlalji Banker, Seth Ghanshyamdasji Birla and a few others. It seemed most of them had sought an interview directly, in disregard of the jailor's authority; and everyone had been given an appointment, individually, at the time of the morning walk. Kakaji could not imagine how any interview could be arranged without his knowledge; and the leaders top were very much surprised as to how they were given the same time when every one of them had specifically asked for a separate interview! Everyone thought that his own appointment was the fixed one, and that there was some mistake about the others. Someone said his interview had been fixed through Mahadev Kaka; others said they had got their appointments through Mirabehn or some other member of Bapuji's entourage. Kakaji, on the other hand, said emphatically that none of these had any business to fix up any appointment without consulting him, and that any appointment fixed up in this manner was not valid. While the leaders were joking, gossiping, discussing, arguing, and some of them even boasting that whatever happened their own appointments had been fixed, and that they were surely going to have a private talk with Bapuji. Some said they had to leave Wardha that evening or the following morning. Presently the laughter and the heat of the argument both increased. Every one of those present was in a state of eager animation. Then Bapuji descended the steps and loudly said: "I have heard you all. Everybody is right in his own contention. Jamnalalji is right in saying that interviews cannot be fixed without his consent. At the same time everybody else is also right in saying that his interview has been fixed. Come on, I shall now hear no grievance or complaint!" (I have paraphrased his words.) Having said this, he discarded his sandals and began to walk very fast, and told them that only those who could keep pace with him would have the interview that morning. There was practically a race among the leaders to keep pace with him. The sandals which were left by him were immediately picked up by Mirabehn. The road was unable even and strewn with small pebbles. Mirabehn followed Bapuji with a singular devotion; and although tears flowed from her eyes, she was very calm. We children also were running after the leaders! In those days Bapuji used to go for a walk from the Ashram on the Sevagram road up to the railway crossing and then return. So far as I recollect, only Jawaharlalji, .Ghanshamdasji and Mirabehn kept company with Bapuji till the end of the walk. Others tried for a while. For some time they kept actually running. Even Bapuji and Jawaharlalji why, practically everybody else-ran! .. But when the others found the distance between Bapuji and themselves considerably increased, they slowed down; and when Bapuji and the advance guard returned, some of these, taking a roundabout turn, jocularly remarked: "Look here, we are actually ahead of you!" By the time they all returned to the Ashram. most of them had perspired, and they were all laughing and talking and passing remarks about one another's style of running. Everybody was trying to show as if his own effort was practically the best, taking everything else into consideration. It was a scene we youngsters enjoyed immensely! For us it was a great fun!. That morning passed off in joy and laughter. No one had imagined that Bapuji would play such a practical joke with them all. In spite of the fact 'that additional hours were given that evening for interviews, some leaders and others had to postpone their departure for a day or two.

After the Dandi March Bapuji went and stayed at Karadi on the sea-coast with his batch of salt satyagrahis. I wanted to join them at Sabarmati but could not do so because of high fever. When I joined the party later, I had a temperature of 1040; yet, because of my insistence, he took me into the party. Previously for a year and a half I was on milk and fruit diet. I had malignant malaria, which still persisted. Bapuji asked me to continue my own diet in spite of the rules laid down for members of the party. But I refused to take any special food or treatment. He also advised me not to walk, and said he would arrange for some conveyance for me. But I refused to avail of the concession. In about two weeks my fever was gone, my weight increased, and I felt much better. I had to report to Bapuji every day as to my temperature, diet, activity, etc. By the time we reached Karadi my body could not bear the strain any longer, and I was down with high fever. My eyes were severely affected. They became very sticky and swollen. Bapuji made me fast, and earth poultices were applied to the eyes. The fever got under control, but the eyes kept going from bad to worse. He became very anxious, and informed my father about my illness. The latter was busy with the salt satyagraha at Vile Parle. He replied that whatever treatment Bapuji thought best should be given to me; and that, if necessary, he would send some,. body to take me to Vile. Parle. I declined to go home, for we were under' a pledge. Meanwhile Kakasaheb, ac- companied by an- eye-specialist from Ahmedabad, had come to . see Bapuji. He got my .eyes examined by the doctor" who thought that I had, lost my left eye, or at least it was beyond repair, and if. proper care was immediately taken, I might lose the right .one also. Bapuji asked me to go with Kakasaheb to the Gujarat Vidyapith and put myself under the treatment .of the eminent doctor. I said to Bapuji: "Though I respect the doctor's opinion, I have complete faith in you and your treatment." Bapuji said: "I am ready to experiment on you, but are you ready to lose your eyes? Though the earth poultices have not given any encouraging results as far as the eyes are concerned, your general health has improved, and if you have faith in nature care, you should continue it even after going to the Gujarat Vidyapith, get yourself periodically examined by the doctor, and send me regular reports about your health." I went to the Gujarat Vidyapith with Kakasaheb: For nearly three weeks I lived an milk and thereafter an a liquid diet .of curd and fruit juice, and applied earth poultices to the eyes and the stomach. In nearly 'six weeks I completely recovered. The eyes were as good as, .or perhaps better than, they were ever before; and the malignant malaria, which had persisted for about two years, also left me. It had arrested my growth when I was just 16 or 17. But after my arrival at the Vidyapith, during the first month I put on 33 lbs., and in six months I gained 70 lbs. Before that I used to weigh bet- ween 80 and 85 lbs. Within six months I went upto 155 to 160 lbs. I have narrated this incident as a personal testimony to the I efficacy of nature cure methods, and especially the 'earth treatment' on which Bapuji pinned his faith to such a great extent.

Bombay, 27-9-1948