My first experience of jail life was in 1908. I saw that some of the regulations that the prisoners had to observe were such as should voluntarily be observed by a brahmachari, that is, one desiring to practise self-restraint. Such, for instance, was the regulation requiring the last meal to be finished before sunset. Neither the Indian nor the African prisoners were allowed tea or coffee. They could add salt to the cooked food if they wished, but they might not have anything for the mere satisfaction of the palate. When I asked the jail medical officer to give us curry powder, and to let us add salt to the food whilst it was cooking, he said: 'You are not here for satisfying your palate. From the point of view of health, curry powder is not necessary, and it makes no difference whether you add salt during or after cooking.'
Ultimately these restrictions were modified, though not without
much difficulty, but both were wholesome rules of self-restraint.
Inhibitions imposed from without rarely succeed, but when they are
self-imposed, they have a decidedly salutary effect. So, immediately
after release from jail, I imposed on myself the two rules. As far
as was then possible, I stopped taking tea, and finished my last
meal before sunset. Both these now require no effort in the
There came, however an occasion which compelled me to give up salt
altogether, and this restriction I continued for an unbroken period
of ten years. I had read in some books on vegetarianism that salt
was not a necessary article of diet for man, that on the contrary
saltless diet was better for the health. I had deduced that a
brahmachari benefited by a saltless diet. I had read and realized
that the weak-bodied should avoid pulses. I was very fond of them.
Now it happened that Kasturbai, who had a brief respite after her
operation, had again begun getting haemorrhage, and the malady
seemed to be obstinate. Hydropathic treatment by itself did not
answer. She had not much faith in my remedies, though she did not
resist them. She certainly did not ask for outside help. So when all
my remedies had failed, I entreated her to give up salt and pulses.
She would not agree, however much I pleaded with her, supporting
myself with authorities. At last she challenged me, saying that even
I could not give up these articles if I was advised to do so. I was
pained and equally delighted – delighted in that I got an opportunity
to shower my love on her. I said to her: 'You are mistaken. If I was
ailing and the doctor advised me to give up these or any other
articles, I should unhesitatingly do so. But there! Without any
medical advice, I give up salt and pulses for one year, whether you
do so or not.'
She was rudely shocked and exclaimed in deep sorrow:
'Pray forgive me. Knowing you, I should not have provoked you. I
promise to abstain from these things, but for heaven's sake take
back your vow. This is too hard on me.'
'It is very good for you to forego these articles. I have not the
slightest doubt that you will be all the better without them. As for
me, I cannot retract a vow seriously taken. And it is sure to
benefit me, for all restraint, whatever prompts it, is wholesome for
men. You will therefore leave me alone. It will be a test for me,
and a moral support to you in carrying out your resolve.'
So she gave me up. 'You are too obstinate. You will listen to none,'
she said, and sought relief in tears.
I would like to count this incident as an instance of Satyagraha,
and it is one of the sweetest recollections of my life.
After this Kasturbai began to pick up quickly – whether as a result of
the saltless and pulseless diet or of the other consequent changes
in her food; whether as a result of my strict vigilance in exacting
observance of the other rules of life, or as an effect of the mental
exhilaration produced by the incident, and if so to what extent, I
cannot say. But she rallied quickly, haemorrhage completely stopped,
and I added somewhat to my reputation as a quack.
As for me, I was all the better for the new denials. I never craved
for the things I had left, the year sped away, and I found the
senses to be more subdued than ever. The experiment stimulated the
inclination for self-restraint, and I continues the abstention from
the articles until long after I returned to India. Only once I
happened to take both the articles whilst I was in London in 1914.
But of that occasion, and as to how I resumed both, I shall speak in
a later chapter.
I have tried the experiment of a saltles and pulseless diet on many
of my co-workers, and with good results in South Africa. Medically
there may be two opinions as to the value of this diet, but morally
I have no doubt that all self-denial is good for the soul. The diet
of a man of self-restraint must be different from that of a man of
pleasure, just as their ways of life must be different. Aspirants
after brahmacharya often defeat their own end by adopting courses suited to a life of