Gandhi Comes Alive

Lessons From His Life

-J. C. Kumarappa
  • IN the year 1929 I returned from the United States where I had made a study of public finance, and wrote out the story of the British exploiting India through their taxation policy in the form of an essay. It was suggested that I should publish this. I was negotiating with some of the publishers in India in this regard when I was told that the subject was one in which Gandhiji would be intensely interested, and I was urged to submit the manuscript to him first. At that time Gandhi was merely a name to me. at was hardly associated with any definite ideas. The person who was responsible for this suggestion was very persistent about my getting into touch with Gandhiji. Gandhiji was passing through Bombay towards the end of April that year after his South Indian tour. I was then practising as an Auditor in Bombay. I was directed to go and see Gandhiji at Mani Bhavan, Laburnum Road, Gamdevi, which was his usual Bombay residence at that time. I went in European clothes up the staircase, and the door was answered by someone whom I took to be a servant clad in dhoti and shirts. I asked him if I could see Gandhiji, and I was told that Gandhiji was busy in a Working Committee meeting, and that he would not be able to see me just then. I had taken my manuscript with me, and marking that the person who was talking to me was able to speak good English,. and thinking he might be worthy of taking a message, I left the manuscript with him and asked him to give it to Gandhiji. (This person later turned out to be Gandhiji's Secretary Pyarelal.) , Pyarelal telephoned to my office address later to say that Gandhiji would want to see me in Ahmedabad after he had had a look at the essay, and suggested that I see him at Sabarmati on the 9th of May, 1929 at 2-30 p.m. I reached Sabarmati accordingly that morning, and went to the Ashram where I was horrified at the emptiness of the 80 called guest room. It was devoid of all furniture excepting a charpai, though glorified by the designation of a guest, room. Squatting toilet arrangements further made me anxious to get away from the place at the earliest moment. With these personal difficulties, my appointment being in the afternoon, I anxiously waited to get it over. The house where Gandhiji stayed was pointed out to me, and I was told that was the place where I should report myself at the appointed time. With a walking stick in one hand and the manuscript in the other I walked down the bank of the Sabarmati at about 2 p.m., and after enjoying the beauty of the bed of the river, walked up the bank again towards Gandhiji's house.

    On the way up, I saw an old man seated under a tree on a neatly cleaned cow-dunged floor, spinning. Having never seen a spinning wheel before, I leaned on my walking stick and standing akimbo was watching, as there were still ten minutes for the appointment. This old man after about five minutes opened his toothless lips, and with a smile on his face enquired if I was Kumarappa. It suddenly dawned on me that my questioner might be no other than Mahatma Gandhi. So I, in my turn, asked him if he was Gandhiji; and when he nodded I promptly sat down on the cow-dunged floor regardless of the well-kept crease of my silk trousers! Seeing me sitting without stretched legs, more or less in a reclining position, someone from the house came rushing down with a chair for me, and Gandhiji asked me to get up and sit in the chair more comfortably. I replied that since he was seated on the floor I did not propose to take the chair.

    Gandhiji told me that he was interested in the essay I had written, and that he proposed to publish that in a series in his journal Young India. Then he enquired if I would undertake a rural survey for him in Gujarat, as he found that the approach that I had to economics was almost exactly the same as his, and that I was about the first student of economics he had come across with that same view point. I raised the difficulty of language, but he quickly got over that by saying that he would place the professors of economics of the Gujarat Vidyapith with all their students at my disposal to help me with the survey, and suggested that I go and see the Vice-Chancellor of the Gujarat Vidyapith, Kaka Kalelkar, who, Gandhiji informed me, was the very person who came running down the steps' with a chair for me!

    In the afternoon I went to the Gujarat Vidyapith to see Kaka Kalelkar. Seeing that I was a young man dressed in the most fashionable Western style, Kakasaheb did not feel that I would fit into the sort of work that Gandhiji wanted me to do, and he made my ignorance of Gujarati to be a great handicap and discouraged me. I got into a huff and, even without taking leave of Gandhiji, returned to Bombay, and wrote to him that I should be glad to help him with any work that he wanted done, and reported that Kakasaheb did not feel that I could be of any Use. By return post I got 'back a letter from Kakasaheb to say that he would be most happy if I would go back and do the work that Gandhiji wanted. (Years later Gandhiji, in the course of a conversation on the study of characters, referred to this incident and said: "You remember Kakasaheb} was not able to size you up when he first met you. On the other hand, the moment I saw you I felt here is a I young man I must grab." And he succeeded in doing so, as the later events proved.) While I was doing the survey later, Gandhiji started off on the Dandi march as the first stage of the salt satyagraha, and after his arrest the trustees of the Navajivan Trust invited me to conduct the paper Young India in the absence of Gandhiji and Mahadev Desai. My writings in Young India ultimately landed me in jail, after which it became impossible for me to go back to resume my practice as an auditor in Bombay, as a great many of my clients were European and Parsi firms who would not tolerate a man with Gandhian sympathies. It was after this that I threw in my lot with Gandhiji.

  • When Gandhiji was on the Dandi March my articles on 'Public Finance and our Poverty' were published in a series. Gandhiji wished them, to be collected together in the form of a pamphlet, and I desired that it should bear a foreword from Gandhiji. To discuss this matter he invited me to meet him at Karadi where he was camping then. In my own 'efficient' way I had prepared a foreword for him, and took it all typewritten and ready for him to sign! Gandhiji looked at it and smiled and put it aside saying: "My foreword will be my foreword and will not be written by Kumarappa."

    He then said he had called me there not to discuss the question of the foreword but to ask if I would write regularly for his paper Young India when he was arrested. He informed me that the arrangement was that when he was arrested Mahadev Desai was to take over charge and he, therefore, wished me to help Mahadevbhai. I replied that I knew nothing about Gandhian philosophy nor what had gone before in Young India, neither did I know how to . occupy a journalistic chair! I told him that I understood auditing dusty ledgers much better, and if there was any work in that line I would gladly undertake, and asked him to spare me from doing any writing work. Then Gandhiji replied: "As regards your qualifications to write, I, the Editor of the paper, have to sit in judgment and not you, and, therefore, I invite you to write to this paper. We have the tradition of publishing the name of the writer under each article. If you write any trash, the public will Say Mahatma Gandhi's paper publishes trash. But if you write anything that is appreciated, they will give all credit to this Kumarappa who is writing in Gandhiji's paper." This presentation of the appeal was irresistible. It was then I promised Gandhiji that I would send some articles as soon as I heard that he had been arrested. (It may here be stated that as the events came about, Mahadevbhai was arrested before Gandhiji, and later when Gandhiji was arrested I was required not only to contribute articles to Young India but to take up its editorial charge.) This incident indicates the masterly way in which Gandhiji makes his appeal irresistible.

  • Gandhiji's sense of humour often saves the temper of people around him. When he finds danger coming ahead he immediately brings the ludicrous into play, and thus glances off at a tangent and avoids friction.

    When the All India Village Industries Association was formed Gandhiji came to live with us at Maganvadi .so as to be on the spot to guide the policy of the Association. One. of our rules at that time was that everyone should take part in all our daily activities. This included washing of heavy kitchen utensils coated with soot and dirt. One day it fell to Gandhiji's lot to clean the kitchen pots: I was his partner. So we both sat down together, near the well, with cocoanut fibre in our hands, and ashes and mud by our side, and we were scrubbing the black stuff off.

    Suddenly, Kasturba Gandhi appeared on the scene. She could not tolerate the sight of the great Mahatma with his hands up to the elbow in dirt, She watched him for a few minutes and burst out in Gujarati, telling Gandhiji that this was no work for a person like him, and that he ought to be engaged in better work. In a rage she asked him to get up and go away, leaving the work to be done by others; and, swiftly suiting her action to her words, snatched off the dekchi from his hands, leaving Gandhiji bewildered at the quickness of her action. With the cocoanut fibre in one hand and the other hand all full of dirt, he looked at me with open mouth and laughed, saying: "Kumarappa, you are a happy man. You have no wife to rule you this way. However, I suppose I have to obey my wife to keep domestic peace. So you will excuse me if I go away leaving her to partner your washing of the kitchen pots!"

  • The greatness of a man does not consist in the power he wields to control the life of others, though it may result in such powers being granted to. him as a result of his greatness. The real greatness comes in the personal humility of the individual and self-discipline imposed on himself. Consequently, this alone brings us the so-called 'power' over our fellow-men. Power so obtained is a responsibility rather .than a privilege. It should make us cautious in using that power. Gandhiji's life is full of incidents which show the great humility and the iron discipline he imposes on himself.

    During the relief work in Bihar, after the earthquake of 1934, I was functioning as the financial adviser of the Bihar Central Relief Committee. Later Gandhiji arrived ,in Patna for a tour in Bihar. In order to check a tendency to be extravagant and spend much on the upkeep of volunteers and their expenses, I had made a rule that the daily allowance for food of volunteers should not exceed three annas. I myself was eating in the volunteers' camp on this basis. It became a little embarrassing when Gandhiji with his entourage arrived. Gandhiji's milk, fruit and the various requirements of his entourage, which called for provision of dates and nuts and other articles of food which would ordinarily be regarded as luxuries, would cost much more than the daily provision we had made for the volunteers, and, therefore, I told Mahadevbhai that I was not prepared to feed Gandhiji and his group. Again, I had a strict register kept recording the mileage of the cars, time when used, by whom used, and required sanction for every trip that the cars made. Naturally all these restrictions caused a certain amount of dissatisfaction. When Gandhiji came I suggested to Mahadevbhai that they should. obtain their own supply of petrol for themselves, and disallowed Gandhiji's bills in regard to food and motor car travel. When this was reported to Gandhiji he was a little puzzled. He sent for me and said: "I am coming all the way to Patna to help with the relief work. It is my one and only object in coming to Patna. That being so I fail to see why you should not debit my expenses to the Relief Committee." I explained to him my delicate position where I was faced on one side with checking the expenses of thousands of volunteers. Even an increase of an anna per day would involve the Relief Committee in lacs of rupees in the course of our work and, therefore, I suggested that Gandhiji should bear his own expenses so that they would not stand in contrast to the austere life I was suggesting to the volunteers and would also check the extravagant use of motor travel. Gandhiji appreciated my point, and told Mahadevbhai that not a pice was to be charged to the Bihar Relief on his account. He was willing to subject himself to the discipline that the administration called for, even though his rights arising out of duty done would have given him the right to claim for the expenses incurred in the execution of his work. This mode of sub- mission to rules requires a great deal of humility and wise understanding of the situation, taking into consideration the difficulties of those who are engaged in the field work.

    Similarly, early in 1947, when I was invited by the Congress President to become a member of his Working Committee, Gandhiji wrote to me, saying that he would be happy to watch my career in this new. responsibility that had been placed on me, thus in a sense giving roe his approval to take up the membership of the Working Committee. He had written this after seeing the reports in the newspapers. I immediately replied and said that one of the rules of the All India Village Industries Association, of which I was the Secretary, required us not to take part in politics, and if we wished to do so, we had to resign from the All India Village Industries Association. I pointed out that my life-work was connected with the Village Industries Association, and if I had to join the Working Committee, I should give up my connection with the Association according to our rules. Gandhiji thanked me for drawing his attention to the rules of the Association and said that his memory had failed him, though he was the President of the Association, in regard to this rule and that the rule was a wholesome one and we must respect it at all costs; and, therefore, he undertook to advise the Congress President not to saddle me with this additional responsibility's .

    Here again we see his greatness. He definitely said that it was an alluring offer; but in spite of the needs in other fields we must resist the temptation and confine ourselves to the work before us, if we wish to forge ahead with the development of our country .

  • When the National Planning Committee was formed in 1938 by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, the then President of the Indian National Congress, with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as Chairman, I was asked to contribute my share as a member of that Committee. Pandit Nehru invited me to attend its deliberations in Bombay. Looking at the personnel of the Committee I was doubtful of any good results, as I found in: it all kinds of heterogeneous elements. It included practical industrialists, academic economists, laboratory scientists, men of the world, and business magnates. In a group of this nature I felt that all efforts would result in nothing and, therefore, I declined to go and waste my time in endless discussions which would bear no fruit. On tills Panditji wired to Gandhiji asking him to use his influence in sending me to Bombay. Gandhiji called me for an interview to discuss this subject. I pointed out the reasons why I felt my time would be ill- spent in merely trying to fence with the other interests. Gandhiji explained that it was inconsistent with the principles of satyagraha to prejudge our colleagues. He said: "Why do you think that you will not be able to persuade the whole committee to accept your policy? This shows a lack of faith in yourself and in your colleagues that they will be open-minded enough to listen to you!" I replied: "The view may be strictly correct; but though we may be innocent as doves, we have also got to be wise as serpents, and we' should not attempt the impossible. Knowing the personnel as I do, I feel that it would be merely dashing one's head against a wall." To this Gandhiji replied: "This is not the approach of a satyagrahi. You must give your opponent the fullest chance; and when the time comes that your position in the committee will not serve any purpose, you can always resign and come away. Having done your part in good faith you will have done your duty, and it will then become your duty to resign and not to waste your, time. The time that you spend in trying to satisfy yourself and your fellow-members will not be' wasted. It will develop you and widen your range of view; and, therefore, I suggest that you go and attend the committee meetings until such time when your work would. prove to be futile. Then you. can with a clean conscience resign. and come away." With this advice I went and worked with the National Planning Committee, and, remained on the Committee for about three months. Afterwards, finding that they were driven into all forms of discussions which would not benefit the country, I got Gandhiji's permission to resign and get away.

    This shows that the duty of a Satyagrahi is limitless in regard to extending co-operation to whosoever calls for it, and it is wrong for one who wishes to lead the life of a Satyagrahi to prejudge anybody.

  • The kaleidoscopic variety of activities that Gandhiji indulges in cover practically all professions, and his contributions are by no means mean. He calls himself a quack where the medical profession is concerned, but it has not yet been decided whether the professionals are quacks or Gandhiji. He brings to bear on the case before him profound wisdom and commonsense which often outwit the technical advantages that the professionals have.

    Some years ago when it was discovered that I was suffering from blood pressure, the reason for the malady was to be ascertained. I was taken to Bombay to be examined by some of the best doctors. I was thoroughly 'overhauled', and I was at the mercy of the specialists for three or four days. After this examination all that they could declare was that they could find nothing wrong organically, and therefore by the process of elimination they decided that my blood pressure was due to nervous strain.

    With this report I came back to Gandhiji. He immediately set about finding the cause of even that nervous strain. He said: "We have to trace the cause of the strain, able to treat the disease or prevent its recurring." He thought the cause might be either physical fatigue or mental tiredness, and therefore he wanted to locate the actual difficulty with me.

    At that time there was a professor from the Kinnaird College, Lahore, who had come to discuss certain difficulties with Gandhiji. He sent her to discuss some of these with me, and instructed Dr. Sushila Nayyar to take my blood pressure both before the discussion and after it. The discussion was limited to a period of fifteen minutes. The result showed that my blood pressure went up by 15 points.

    The next day Gandhiji called the manager of the workshop and asked him to draw a line on a plank of wood and get me to saw it exactly on that line, and directed that my blood pressure should be taken before and after. The result again was a rise in blood pressure of 20 points this time.

    The third day the physical instructor was asked to run a furlong with me and observe. my pulse and also have my blood pressure taken before and after the exercise. The result this time was a fall of 15 points, and the pulse remained more or less normal.

    With these three results before Gandhiji he said he was fairly positive that my blood pressure was due to concentrated work of the brain and not physical fatigue, and the results also showed the way of cure and prevention. He said to me: "Whenever you get symptoms of blood pressure you have simply to walk it off. As regards mental strain, to prevent its accumulation you should relax between your periods of work. You may work in the morning till 11 or 12 and take a complete relaxation for about a couple of hours before you begin to work again in the afternoon. Combining this with a regulation of the diet so that digestion and brain work do not, go together. you should be able to control your blood pressure more or less completely."

    I took Gandhiji's treatment as being scientific both in regard to diagnosis and in regard to treatment, and have followed his instructions carefully for the last seven years, with the result that excepting when this regime is upset by unforeseen circumstances the plan has worked satisfactorily.

    In the same way his approach to the various ailments is both simple and efficacious. He looks upon disease as caused by man's deviation from Nature's ways, and his attempt is to bring back our life into alignment with the requirements of Nature. This should be the aim of every physician.

  • A few years ago when he was staying at Maganvadi a young man about 17 or 18 years of age appeared before him suffering from St. Vitus dance which is a nervous disorder(choria) making the sufferer unable to control the shaking of his hands and feet. The young man said to Gandhiji that he found life heavy on him as he was unable to be of any use to anybody. So he requested Gandhiji to let him stay with him. Gandhiji told him that it was impossible for him, as he was situated, to take charge of every disabled person, and therefore he must seek else where for shelter. But the young man was adamant, and would not go away under any circumstances. He sat down on the steps and remained there from morning till evening. One of Gandhiji's party reported to him in the evening that the young man was still sitting at the door-step, and suggested that he should be sent away. Gandhiji turned round and said: "If I turn him away, whom will he go to? Let him stay, and I shall consider how best to utilize him." The result was, the young man stayed, and he was put on by Gandhiji to do some work which the shaking of his hands and feet would not prevent him from doing reasonably satisfactorily. Of course he could not card or spin. but he was asked to wash vegetables and help in the kitchen work as far as possible. By will power the boy was able to control his limbs to a certain extent. Even the washing -of vegetables was a difficult process for him to begin with. Later on he started cutting the vegetables and handling the knife, and little by little in the course of a few months he was almost normal. He was then well enough to go to America for technical studies

    With the all-pervading love Gandhiji. elicits the capacity in an individual to the best advantage. He was able to develop in the young man will power sufficient to over- come the lack of control of his nerves. This was done by sympathetic understanding of the individual's case and dealing with him gently.

    Gandhiji's decision to let the young man stay, as he would have nowhere else to go, reminded me of the invitation given by' Jesus: "Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. My yoke is easy and my burden is light."

  • One of the features that makes Gandhiji great is his ability to accept everyone just as they come to him, without waiting 10 mould, the person according to his own specifications. Of course his leaven works slowly and secretly as in a mass of dough. He believes in letting each person express his personality in the best way suitable the individual. This accounts for the range of variety of men and women who cluster round the Mahatma. You have Rajen Babus and Sardars, Sarojinis and,Miras, Birlas and Vinobas, Rajajis and Bhansalis. ,He exploits the good points in each to the fullest on the principle "he that is not against us is for us." When I was in editorial charge of Y Dung India, some overzealous person who was anxious to attain non-violence, in a hurry, in his own fashion, in thought, word and deed; suggested that my language of criticism was very severe, and that Gandhiji should ask me to tone down. Gandhiji replied with a smile: . "Kumarappa comes from Madras. You must allow for the chilies in his blood!"

  • No scientist has a greater thirst for knowledge than Gandhiji. He is ever experimenting though not in an elaborately equipped laboratory. Changes in his food are often dictated by the desire to find out something new. At Maganvadi we have a number of neem trees. So he started taking about ten tolas of neem leaves ground down to a paste, to find the effect it has on health. One day at the midday meal I was seated to Gandhiji's right and Sardar Vallabhbhai to his left. As Gandhiji was going to gormandize on 'the neem chutney, he took out a spoonful and placed it for me on my 'thali'. The Sardar was watching this parental act. Then he winked at me cynically and said: "You' see, Kumarappa, Bapu started with drinking goat's milk, and now he has come to goat's food!"

    Calcutta, 24-12-1947.