Gandhi Comes Alive


-Sir Purshotamdas Thakurdas

APART from learning from newspapers about the fame of Gandhiji in connection with his satyagraha in South Africa, my first knowledge about his firm views was when he returned from overseas and there was a move on the part of the orthodox members of the Modh Bania community in' Bombay to put Gandhiji out of the caste. There were many who did not approve of this. When. mention was made qf this move to Gandhiji: he simply said: "Why take the trouble of passing a resolution put' ting me out of the caste? I am prepared to go out of the caste myself." This deservedly curt treatment of the orthodox element in the caste has had its own effect, and those who felt that they would in the least degrade him by their resolution, if carried, reconciled .themselves to,doing nothing. Gandhiji's attitude regarding matters concerning his caste of Modh Banias has been a consistently cold and indifferent one all through, without bring in any way. provocative or disrespectful. The net result today is that the Modh Bania community feel proud of him, and caste restrictions are slowly but most definitely being worn out, if not effaced.

My first contact with Gandhiji was in 1920, when' he was about to launch the non-cooperation movement for the first time then saw him by appointment through the late Revashankar Jagjivan, who used to be his host in Bombay at Mani Bhavan. I was Wing to Understand from Gandhiji how the non-cooperation movement could at all succeed under the circumstances of the country and the people at the time.' Gandhiji's one reply, after I explained my point of, view to him, was: "I will make this experiment with such as choose to follow me. There is such dire poverty in the country that I shall get my following from the masses, even though I may not get it from the classes." As I was leaving Gandhiji after the interview, Pandit Motilal Nehru came in to see him,' and' that was the first time I met the Panditji. He enquired of Gandhiji about me, and Gandhiji said that I was the Sheriff of Bombay. Panditji, half jocularly, remarked: "He will have to give this up now;" and Gandhiji, without waiting for me to ,say a word, rejoined: "He will do it more thoroughly than many, but he will only do it when he is convinced of our line of action being the correct one." As Revashankarbhai said good-bye to me at the threshold of the staircase of the second floor of his building, he asked if I felt that the interview had been a useful one. I replied in all earnestness: "It is a serious move and will require to be watched at every turn!'

My next interview with Gandhiji was in 1921 immediately after the landing of the Prince of Wales at Bombay when commotion took place in Bombay and Gandhiji went on fast. It was decided that, when Gandhiji was to break his fast, a few friends should be present. I was specially invited to this, and there were a few speeches requesting Gandhiji to break the fast and assuring him of the loyalty of all India to him. At the end of these speeches, he asked me to say a few words. This took me by surprise, as nothing in that direction was indicated to me. But on his repeating his request, I referred to what I felt was most lacking in Indian public life or private, namely discipline. A few friends from the Congress circle were upset by my few words, but I was given to understand that Mahatmaji said to them: "Purshotamdas touched the correct thing, and I am glad he said it on this occasion."

Gandhiji's father had been Dewan of Rajkot; and during the agitation against that State, which developed just before the Tripuri session of the Congress over which Subhash Babu presided, Gandhiji decided to follow Kasturba who had gone to Rajkot, having been brought up at Rajkot though her birth-place was Porbandar. When I heard about this, I particularly asked friends in Bombay to arrange that I should be able to see Gandhiji in Bombay on his way to Rajkot. It was a Monday, his silence day, and he was to be in Bombay only for a few hours. As soon as he learnt that I was anxious to see him, he very kindly sent a message back saying that he would start his silence an hour or two later, so that I might go and see him at his host's place in Juhu. I particularly appreciated this, and had about half-an-hour's talk with him at Juhu. I suggested to him that in my opinion Rajkot was-too small a problem for him to go personally to solve. Gandhiji's only reply was: "I know it, but I feel. that, if I can go, I should not avoid it." I reminded him of the divided loyalty which was bound to worry him, and he said quite seriously: "That is exactly why I am going. The people are not in the wrong, and the Dewan has a great hold over the young Thakore. Perhaps I may be able to render a small service to the State which was served by my father." I left Gandhiji convinced that he would, with his tact and usual resourcefulness, bring about the best solution permissible under the circumstances there. And so it did happen. Gandhiji has proved that whenever he wills it so, he can stretch a thing without making it snap.

The last incident that I may refer to is what took place during my recent illness in 1945. He had kind enquiries made after my health fairly regularly, and on the very first day after his arrival in Bombay, after the evening prayers, he told his host, Mr. Birla, that he was calling on me. When Mr. Birla said that at about 8.30 p.m. I might not be able to see him, all that Gandhiji said was: "Anyway I will see him, if he cannot see me." He called at my residence with Dr. Sushila Nayyar and another friend. My daughter and grandson had left me for the evening just a few minutes before, and the nurse was preparing me for the night's rest. A servant brought the message that Mahatmaji had arrived. My wife was wondering what to say to him, but she forthwith went down to meet him. Gandhiji at once asked: "Is Purshotamdas in?" When my wife said: "I am afraid he cannot come down, but he is a little better," Gandhiji smilingly said: "Oh, I can go up and, if you like, I will take you up with me to convince you that I can go up the stairs comfortably." Without waiting any more, he started going up the stairs, and as soon as he was at the entrance of my bed-room, he said in his cheerful voice: "Don't move at all. I will come and sit by you." He was one of the very few who, instead of enquiring of me as to the why and wherefor of my illness, kept on talking to me merely, as if bracing me to the course of recovery. He left me after twenty minutes, and the nurse in attendance, who saw him for the first time, said: "If only I could be, sure that patients would have such visitors calling on them, they would do more for a patient's recovery than doctors themselves."


July 1946.