The time of which I am now speaking is my sixteenth year. My father, as we have seen, was bed-ridden, suffering from a fistula. My mother, an old servant of the house, and I were his principal attendants. I had the duties of a nurse, which mainly consisted in dressing the wound, giving my father his medicine, and compounding drugs whenever they had to be made up at home. Every night I massaged his legs and retired only when he asked me to do so or after he had fallen asleep. I loved to do this service. I do not remember ever having neglected it. All the time at my disposal, after the performance of the daily duties, was divided between school and attending on my father. I would only go out for an evening walk either when he permitted me or when he was feeling well.
This was also the time when my wife was expecting a baby – a circumstance
which, as I can see today, meant a double shame for me. For one thing I
did not restrain myself, as I should have done, whilst I was yet a
student. And secondly, this carnal lust got the better of what I
regarded as my duty to study, and of what was even a greater duty, my
devotion to my parents, Shravana having been my ideal since childhood.
Every night whilst my hands were busy massaging my father's legs, my
mind was hovering about the bed-room – and that too at a
time when religion, medical science and commonsense alike forbade sexual
intercourse. I was always glad to be relieved from my duty, and went
straight to the bed-room after doing obeisance to my father.
At the same time my father was getting worse every day. Ayurvedic physicians had
tried all their ointments, Hakims their plasters, and local quacks their
nostrums. An English surgeon had also used his skill. As the last and
only resort he had recommended a surgical operation. But the family
physician came in the way. He disapproved of an operation being
performed at such an advanced age. The physician was competent and well
known, and his advice prevailed. The operation was abandoned, and
various medicines purchased for the purpose were of no account. I have
an impression that, if the physician had allowed the operation, the
wound would have been easily healed. The operation also was to have been
performed by a surgeon who was then well known in Bombay. But God had
willed otherwise. When death is imminent, who can think of the right
remedy? My father returned from Bombay with all the paraphernalia of the
operation, which were now useless. He despaired of living any longer. He
was getting weaker and weaker, until at last he had to be asked to
perform the necessary functions in bed. But up to the last he refused to
do anything of the kind, always insisting on going through the strain of
leaving his bed. The Vaishnavite rules about external cleanliness are so
Such cleanliness is quite essential no doubt, but Western medical science has
taught us that all the functions, including a bath, can be done in bed
with the strictest regard to cleanliness, and without the slightest
discomfort to the patient, the bed always remaining spotlessly clean. I
should regard such cleanliness as quite consistent with Vaishnavism. But
my father's insistence on leaving the bed only struck me with wonder
then, and I had nothing but admiration for it.
The dreadful night came. My uncle was then in Rajkot. I have a faint recollection
that he came to Rajkot having had news that my father was getting worse.
The brothers were deeply attached to each other. My uncle would sit near
my father's bed the whole day, and would insist on sleeping by his
bedside after sending us all to sleep. No one had dreamt that this was
to be the fateful night. The danger of course was there.
It was ten-thirty or eleven p.m. I was giving the massage. My uncle
offered to relieve me. I was glad and went straight to the bed-room. My
wife, poor thing, was fast asleep. But how could she sleep when I was
there? I woke her up. In five or six minutes, however, the servant
knocked at the door. I started with alarm. 'Get up,' he said, 'Father is
very ill.' I knew of course that he was very ill, and so I guessed what
'very ill' meant at that moment. I sprang out of bed.
'What is the matter? Do tell me!'
'Father is no more.'
So all was over! I had but to wring my hands. I felt deeply ashamed and
miserable. I ran to my father's room. I saw that, if animal passion had
not blinded me, I should have been spared the torture of separation from
my father during his last moments. I should have been massaging him, and
he would have died in my arms. But now it was my uncle who had this
privilege. He was so deeply devoted to his elder brother that he had
earned the honour of doing him the last services! My father had
forebodings of the coming event. He had made a sign for pen and paper,
and written: 'Prepare for the last rites.' He had then snapped the
amulet off his arm and also his gold necklace of tulasi- beads
and flung them aside. A moment after this he was no more.
The shame, to which I have referred in a foregoing chapter, was this shame of my
carnal desire even at the critical hour of my father's death, which
demanded wakeful service. It was a blot I have never been able to efface
or forget, and I have always thought that, although my devotion to my
parents knew no bounds and I would have given up anything for it, yet it
was weighed and found unpardonably wanting because my mind was at the
same moment in the grip of lust. I have therefore always regarded myself
as a lustful, though a faithful, husband. It took me long to get free
from the shackles of lust, and I had to pass through many ordeals before
I could overcome it.
Before I close this chapter of my double shame, I may mention that the poor mite
that was born to my wife scarcely breathed for more than three or four
days. Nothing else could be expected. Let all those who are married be
warned by my example.