Gandhi Comes Alive

Lessons - Big And Small

-Kantilal Harilal Gandhi

WE were travelling in a third class railway compartment during Bapu's tour in the D. P. in 1929. Even in a moving train he used to attend to his' correspondence or write for his weeklies, Young India and Navajivan. It was about five o'clock in the evening. His watch was lying among the papers in front of him. I was sitting with a watch on my wrist just opposite to him. He asked me what the time was. I looked at my watch and told him it was five o'clock. He also saw my watch through his spectacles and noticed there was still one minute to five. Even looking at a watch for time was not a trivial thing for him. He would not do that in a cursory way. But in this case it was not lack of proper observation on my part. I had also noticed that there was one minute to five. Only I did not attach much value. to that minute. He stopped writing and exclaimed: "Is it five?" I replied with a guilty conscience: "No, Bapu, it is one minute to five." "Well, Kanti," he said, "what is the use of keeping a wrist watch? You have no value of time. Do you know how many days or months thirty crores of minutes would make? What a colossal waste of time it would mean for our poor country? It seems you have not even understood why I talk of the Charkha. Again, you don't respect truth as you know it, Would it have cost more energy to say: 'It is one minute to five,' than to say: 'It is five o'clock'?" Thus he went on rebuking me for about fifteen, to twenty minutes till it was time for his evening meals.

It was in Juhu, sometime in 1935, that the following incident took place. Bapu and party had planned to leave for Wardha by the evening train. I was one of the party. y maternal aunt had come down to Bombay from Rajkot for meeting me. We had not met for the past several years., Bapu asked me after the morning prayer if I was accompanying him to Wardha that evening. He had thought I would like to stop for a day or two more in Bombay in order to have some time with my aunt. But I could not catch his purpose in asking me this question. Moreover, I myself did not think of my aunt and said: "Yes, I am going with you." After the prayer, at my aunt's request, I agreed to stay on for a couple of days more, and went to inform Bapu accordingly. He was in the bathroom. I announced to him the change of my decision across the closed doors.

He gave me the permission, but added: "Now listen. Why did I ask you after the morning prayer whether you were going with me or not? 1 knew your aunt would like to have some time with you. Could you not think of this before answering me that you were going with me to Wardha? And if you had thought about it, you should not now change your mind. Once you make in your mind you should carry out the resolve at any cost unless of course you feel that to do so would be p sin. Don't think I am scolding you. I" tell you this for your future guidance. You can never achieve great things if you neglect this advice. You must cultivate the habit of sticking to your decisions and learning from your mistakes." "Yes, Bapu, I understand what you say, and I shall..." "No," Bapu at once interrupted, "You can stay on with your aunt. This is a matter now between you and her. But you can't serve people if you don't develop the habit of thinking well and acting with courage upon your decisions."

Once while going to Bombay from Poona Bapu asked the headmaster of Bombay high school, who had come to see him at Kalyan, who was more intelligent among the two boys studying in his school and in whom Bapu was interested. The headmaster gave the name of one of them, whereupon Bapu enquired about the character of he two, and said: "Yes, character is more important in my view. We have no dearth of intelligent men among our educated classes; but we are very short of men with character. "

It was sometime in 1935 just after the establishment of the All India Village Industries Association by the Congress. Whenever Bapu placed before the Congress any new scheme the work had to begin with his ashram. So village industries began with Maganvadi at Wardha. Bapu called Mahadevbhai, Kanubhai and myself, and entrusted to us the work of organising the grinding of flour which we required in the kitchen. At 'this time he used to look carefully into everything we did in Maganvadi. Once Kanubhai and I were cleaning vessels at a well.. Bapu happened to pass that way and saw us pouring, water profusely over a small vessel to wash it. He came to us and said: "Look here, Kanti, how much water you are wasting! Even now you don't know how to lean vessels." It was not that we did not know how to clean vessels. We had several lessons from the same guru at Sabarmati. It was our carelessness, or rather our inability to think of our actions in terms of millions of people, He continued: "How much water you are wasting!" "Well, Bapu, it is our energy that is spent in drawing more water, and in the well the water is inexhaustible," we argued. He gently said: "Quite right, but why do you forget that here we live for the service of others? Can you waste your energy like this? No, you must preserve it for the service of our country." Then he sat down and showed us how to clean vessels with a minimum quantity of water. As he went on cleaning another vessel he said: "See, take a small quantity of wet earth and rub all over the vessel; then pour plenty of dry earth in the vessel and clean the vessel dry; after this you don't require a large quantity of water to wash it. Now, will you do like this?" he said finally. We promised to do so thence- forth. But Bapu did not leave us until he saw that we could perform the operation well.

In Wardha I was one of his stenographers. He dictated to me letters which I took down in shorthand. Sometimes I could not hear a word here or a word there, but I filled the gap. by looking at the context. Once I could not do so, and there were some bad mistakes. For this he rebuked me so severely for nearly an hour that I went to Mahadevbhai at night ,and told him with tears in my eyes that I did hot want to stay with Bapu. Mahadevbhai tried to pacify me for a long time, and promised to speak to Bapu. Next day when he asked Bapu not to rebuke me so much for mistakes which even the professional typist, who was employed there, made. "Besides," he added, "now Kanti is more afraid and commits more mistakes! I have to correct a lot of them. So the purpose of your rebuke is not served."

Bapu said: "Mahadev, don't .compare him to the typist employed by us. We pay the latter for his work, and there the matter ends. It is not so with Kanti. I want to train him up. I can't tolerate any mistake in his work. He can sit very near me and ask me if he cannot follow me. He should be more vigilant in his work."

Only once did I see him losing his temper. It was at Sabarmati in 1926. The second bell at 4-20 in the morning had gone. The prayer had to begin. Bapu looked by his side. Lakshmi, the Harijan girl who stayed with us, was not present.. He asked: "Where is Lakshmi? Has she got up?" "Yes," I said. The prayer could not begin unless Lakshmi came there. In those days Bapu used to make her sit by his side. We all sat silently for several minutes. At last Lakshmi came and took her seat by Bapu's side. Bapu inquired why she was late. The girl was of a very shy nature. She would not open her mouth. Bapu repeated the question several times. Each repetition was exhausting Bapu's patience. In the' moonlight we were observing Bapu's face. Even the voice was getting firmer and stronger. But the girl wouldn't reply. Guilty conscience had aided her shyness to seal her lips. Bapu never knew defeat. After asking. her. half a dozen times why she was late, he got very angry when she did not reply. He lifted his hand in the attitude of giving a slap, but the hand did not come down. For me it was a surprise to see Bapu about to slap someone! Then, fortunately, the girl murmured that she was combing her hair. That was enough for Bapu. He swallowed 4all his anger. The prayer began. Soon after the prayer we went to our house. Bapu called Lakshmi and gently explained to her the need of removing her hair which came in the way of her attending the prayer in time. Lakshmi was too young to be given a chance to decide. A pair of scissors was sent for, and Lakshmi's hair was bobbed by Bapu himself!

This reminds me of another incident at Maganvadi, Wardha. I was late in the prayer. .Of course the prayer did not wait for me. But I was asked by Bapu after the prayer why I was late. I said I was waiting to ease my-self and the latrine was not vacant. In Maganvadi we had no brick-wall latrines. They were shifting superstructures made of bamboo-mat and placed over a small, narrow and long trench. Hearing my reply he said: "You could have dug out a small pit by hand somewhere in the field where the place was ploughed and eased yourself. after all, the night soil should not lie uncovered and outside the field. It should be made into manure. The darkness of the night dispenses with the need of any screening. We should use our common sense in all that we do. Don't do anything without thinking why you do it."

Bapu's hosts during his tour had always a hard task to look after his party which consisted of an assorted lot. Often we wouldn't go in time for meals. The kitchen would have to run all the day long. As if we were smaller "Bapus", some of us would have their idiosyncrasies in the matter of food. Some invalids also swelled the party occasionally. Bapu could realise the difficulties of his hosts. So he saw to it that we gave the minimum of trouble to them. Once during his tour in the U.P. in 1929, we were guests of Rajasaheb of Kalakankar. Several rooms were placed at our disposal. Even though our host had many servants Bapu went round all the rooms we had occupied, at the time of our departure. He was sorry to note in one of the rooms flowers, bits of paper, and the skin of oranges scattered here and there. He said with sorrow: "Look at this, Kanti, you have made this room look like a third class railway carriage." I promptly replied: "No, Bapu, I did not do it." He said, "Yes, I know you may not have thrown those skins of oranges there. But whosoever has done this belongs to our party, and we have all to share the blame." Then he asked me to take up the duty of inspecting our lodgings wherever we went, during the rest of the tour, before starting off for another place.

At Sabarmati when my younger brother, Rasik, and I were yet children, I remember Bapu taking us on his shoulder and throwing us into the trough in front of a well. Once during the rainy season the Sabarmati was in spate. We used to jump into the river at a ghat up the stream and would be carried by water to the ghat down the stream. Then we would walk along the bank back to the first ghat. Our house was. just on the bank of the river between the two ghats. The path joining the two ghats passed through our compound. Bapu used to, sit in the open verandah facing the path. One morning. we, brothers, were performing our trips in swimming from one ghat to the other as usual. Rasik just called out, while passing across our compound: "Bapuji, come on with us to jump into the river; it is so pleasant to swim on the waves of the flood." It was just the time for Bapu's bath also. He left off writing, got up and said: "Come along, let us see who swims better. Don't think I am old." (He was over fifty five then.) All the inmates of the Ashram who were staying along the bank came to know this and ran to have the unique sight of Bapu swimming in the flooded river. I had the good luck to witness a similar incident of Bapu's ride on a bicycle while going from the Ashram to the Gujarat Vidyapith in 1928. We had reached half .way to the Vidyapith when Bapu asked one of the inmates of the Ashram, who was returning from the Ahmedabad city, to give him his cycle because it was getting late for him to reach the Vidyapith. He got on the bicycle and asked me to follow him slowly.

Once at Maganvadi I was about to take a vow of eating only three things and only thrice, for a year or so. Ba came to know of this. She of course could not dissuade me. She therefore complained to Bapu about my pro- posed vow. He was walking after the evening meals on the terrace. He called me, and exchanged one of his 'sticks' for me. (Bapu often used to support himself on shoulders of two persons while having his walks. These were known as his 'sticks'.) Then he exclaimed: "Kanti, is Ba's complaint about you true?" I said: "Yes." "No, no," said Bapu, "you should not take such. vows, and that too at this age. (I was about 25 then.) We in the ashram do not cook anything for our taste. Our food is quite sattvika, and meant for body-building. I don't want you to practise such asceticism now. You must have an ideal of eating well and then serving well. Do you know I used to take a dozen plaintains, besides other things, in break- fast alone, and then used to walk 8 to 10 miles for my work, in South Africa? Don't take such vows. I may understand your doing such things when you are old but' not now. All right, go, don't take such vows." There was no scope for argument. I had to obey him.

In January 1936 he went. to the Gujarat Vidyapith Ahmedabad, to recoup his health. The party included, be- sides Mahadevbhai and Ba, Kanu Gandhi, Prabhavati Devi Mrs. Jayaprakash Narayan-and myself. My birthday fell during this period. I made my obeisance to Bapu, Ba, and other elders and got their blessings. After the morning walk as I was massaging Bapu's feet with ghee as usual, I said to him: "Bapuji, half my life is over. When I look back across all these years I do not feel very happy, for I have rendered little service to anybody. I don't know what I shall be able to do in the coming years." Bapu said: "Oh, you think half of your life is over! No, no, I think only a quarter of it is over. Why should you think it to behalf?" 'Is not India's average longivity much less than 50?" I asked. Bapu said: "It certainly does not apply to you! You should always expect to live as long as you can and serve." Afterwards I went to the city for some work. When I came back to the Vidyapith rather late, Prabhavatibehn served me my meals, and to my surprise there were two small sweet balls in the plate. It was almost impossible for us to have such delicacies while we were with Bapu. On my inquiry Prabhavatibehn told me how Bapu had asked her to prepare those sweet balls from his own wheat flour and jaggery with a sprinkling of milk. It had been always a rare thing to have such indulgence from Bapu. Therefore whenever it came, it was all the more welcome and was long remembered.

Mysore, 27-9-1948.