While the name of Bapu reminds us of his disinterested service to humanity, with Ba is associated her indefatigable faith in God and her intense devotion for Him. Her day began early in the morning with prayers, and with worship of the Family God, the Kuldeo. She never relaxed in this rigorous devotional routine of her life.
Reminiscences of the Phoenix Ashram
Some awareness of the moral splendor of Ba and Bapu began to penetrate into my mind between 1906 and 1909, when I was in the Phoenix Ashram in South Africa. The knowledge of their uncanny effulgence percolated not only into my mind, it also dawned upon my two elder brothers and Devadas, my younger brother. Phoenix is thirteen miles from Durban. These days, communication between Phoenix and Durban is easy, and there has been a lot of new settlement in the stretch of land lying between the two cities. But when Bapu was in Phoenix, things were different. Tall grass used to grow all around the town. It all looked like a vast forest. Living in such a secluded spot was rather queer and inconvenient not only for Ba, but also for those who had taken the pledge of social service along with Bapu. It was hard test for all of us. It is a proof of the fearless mettle of Ba and Bapu that they carried on their social experiments here, and also created bonds of love and sympathy amongst all their Ashram colleagues.
I was 10 years old then. Ba's devotion to God and to Kuldeo left a deep impress upon my mind. She used to be the first to rise in the morning, and the earliest to take, her holy bath and get ready for the morning. There was a small room near her bedroom and although it occasionally housed convalescing patients, it was Ba's prayer room. Here she used to pour Ghee into a beautiful brass lamp-stand, make wicks out of a swab of cotton, and light the lamp. Here she recited the prayers and songs she had learnt from her grand mother. This was followed by offerings to the Sun of holy water, rice and Kumkum. Through happy days and through unhappy ones she followed this pattern rigorously-even while she fell sick. This infallible, invincible regularity almost like that of the moon and the stars, could not but leave a deep mark on our lives.
If Bapu had so wished, he could have arranged for our education in an European school. But while he was writing 'Hind Swaraj' he had clearly realised that the prevailing curriculum was positively harmful for Indians. It was therefore decided that we received our early education at home. The responsibility for arranging this came on the shoulders of illiterate Ba. Bapu used to do the pedagogue when he got time. Chhaganlal bhai also tutored us at times. But our more regular tutors were Kashiben Gandhi and Santoshben Gandhi. Like every mother, Ba was worried about our progress in education, and she was specially worried when Bapu was absent from Ashram. Although Ba was full of love, she was something of a disciplinarian as well. When she came to learn that I am lagging behind in my studies, she fretted and fumed and cursed herself. She was all set to deliver me harsh words and a hearty spanking, I kept avoiding her for hours, and played hide and seek till lunch. Her temper had cooled off by then. Bapu used to assert that there always was a noble purpose underlying Ba's anger, and one who has seen her heart of gold would always respect her anger too.
The jail term in Agha Khan Palace is indelibly impressed on my mind. Bapu was on a twenty-one days fast and was bed ridden due to extreme weakness. His family was vast indeed, including as it did the entire nation. Friends, colleagues and political opponents all came to enquire after his health. There was a cause for real alarm during the last days of the fast. Dr. Sushila Nayar, General Kendy the Surgeon, and Dr. B. C. Roy, all were present. Their faces betraying intense anxiety. But if there was any person whose anxiety and solicitude permeated the atmosphere, and affected everyone around, it was Ba. Every morning and evening she dedicated her soul to God in prayer and worship. She had only one thought in her mind, only one request to make-may Bapu come through his ordeal unscathed. Who knows how much Ba's inner strength helped Bapu in tiding over those difficult days. Ba was convinced that Bapu would service the fast, whatever the doctors might think or say.
She was a paragon of motherly love. Twenty-seven years ago Devadas was fallen ill. Ba and Bapu and all of us were worried. Ignoring his poor physical condition, Devdas came to Bombay on a certain Hindustan Times business. Laxmi Bahen, his wife, was with him. She was all of a sudden taken severely ill, I do not remember why. Devdas not caring for his own illness-tended on his wife day and night. I was with him. Devdas faced the situation with anxious-fatigue. Just about that time Ba came to Bombay from Wardha. Her arrival opened up the floodgates of Devadas's heart, and all his manly restraint was swept away. He cried like a child on Ba's shoulders. Her mere presence was reassuring. She was patience and fortitude personified. She took all responsibility of looking after the patient herself.
"The Tender Touch. I myself fell ill in 1934. It was more of a psychological affliction, and so despite nature-cure and all that, my condition steadily worsened. Ba decided to look after me personally and she came to me at Harijan Ashram, Sabarmati. Ba served me in my illness like a small child. She was attending on me from the time I brushed my teeth right until I went to sleep. But the climate of Sabarmati being unwholesome to me, we went to Wardha. Bapu also wanted it so. There too Ba continued to nurse me. We stayed in Bajajwadi while Bapu was in Mahilashram. He used to come and see me once or twice a day without fail. I had barely recovered from illness. When I planned to go to Bombay and to make myself economically self-sufficient, there was a lot of consultation amongst us on this point. Ba and Bapu did not like the plan. Relatives also were not inclined to put their seal of consent. But I was determined on taking a decision. I could not sleep that night and was tossing and turning in my bed. Ba of course observed this and once she asked too--are you still awake? In the morning when I could not leave my bed in time she asked me, "What are you thinking?" "Nothing", I said. But Ba knew everything. She put her hand on my forehead and tried to make me go to sleep as she used to do in our childhood days. with the touch of her cold hands, all my turmoil and perplexity evaporated and I could go to sleep in peace. I slept for two hours. When I was given a hot cup of tea by her on waking, I was forcibly reminded of our South Africa days.
When Bapu was practicing in South Africa, four Negro sweepers used to come and clean the latrines. It was Bapu's practice to get up early and light the stove and give hot tea to these lowly people. They never missed their cup of tea on a single day. As they were given their tumblers of tea, these Negros turned their faces towards the sky and said in their Zulu vernacular we are told God is above; but here we are being given hot tea by God incarnate.
Ba and Bapu's parental love was soothing and charming in all its aspects. They were actually much more than mere parents to me.