I very nearly ruined my constitution during the recruiting campaign. In those days my food principally consisted of groundnut butter and lemons. I knew that it was possible to eat too much butter and injure one's health, and yet I allowed myself to do so. This gave me a slight attack of dysentery. I did not take serious notice of this, and went that evening to the Ashram, as was my wont every now and then. I scarcely took any medicine in those days. I thought I should get well if I skipped a meal, and indeed I felt fairly free from trouble as I omitted the morning meal next day. I knew, however, that to be entirely free I must prolong my fast and, if I ate anything at all, I should have nothing but fruit juices.
There was some festival that day, and although I had told Kasturbai
that I should have nothing for my midday meal, she tempted me and I
succumbed. As I was under a vow of taking no milk or milk products,
she had specially prepared for me a sweet wheaten porridge with oil
added to it instead of ghi. She had reserved too a bowlful of
mung for me. I was fond of these things, and I readily took them,
hoping that without coming to grief I should eat just enough to
please Kasturbai and to satisfy my palate. But the devil had been
only waiting for an opportunity. Instead of eating very little I had
my fill of the meal. This was sufficient invitation to the angel of
death. Within an hour the dysentery appeared in acute form.
The same evening I had to go back to Nadiad. I walked with very
great difficulty to the Sabarmati station, a distance of only ten
furlongs. Sjt. Vallabhbhai, who joined me at Ahmedabad, saw that I
was unwell, but I did not allow him to guess how unbearable the pain
We reached Nadiad at about ten o'clock. The Hindu Anathashram where
we had our headquarters was only half a mile from the station; but
it was as good as ten for me. I somehow managed to reach the
quarters, but the griping pain was steadily increasing. Instead of
using the usual latrine which was a long way off, I asked for a
commode to be placed in the adjoining room. I was ashamed to have to
ask for this, but there was no escape. Sjt. Fulchand immediately
procured a commode. All the friends surrounded me deeply concerned.
They were all love and attention, but they could not relieve my
pain. And my obstinacy added to their helplessness. I refused all
medical aid. I would take no medicine, but preferred to suffer the
penalty for my folly. So they looked on in helpless dismay. I must
have had thrity or forty motions in twenty-four hours. I fasted, not
taking even fruit juices in the beginning. The appetite had all
gone. I had thought all along that I had an iron frame, but I found
that my body had now become a lump of clay. It had lost all power of
resistance. Dr.Kanuga came and pleaded with me to take medicine. I
declined. He offered to give me an injection. I declined that too.
My ignorance about injections was in those days quite ridiculous. I
believed that an injection must be some kind of serum. Later I
discovered that the injection that the doctor suggested was a
vegetable substance, but the discovery was too late to be of use.
The motions still continued, leaving me completely exhausted. The
exhaustion brought on a delirious fever. The friends got more
nervous, and called in more doctors. But what could they do with a
patient who would not listen to them?
Sheth Ambalal with his good wife came down to Nadiad, conferred with
my co-workers and removed me with the greatest care to his Mirzapur
bungalow in Ahmedabad. It was impossible for anyone to receive more
loving and selfless service than I had the privilege of having
during this illness. But a sort of low fever persisted, wearing away
my body from day to day. I felt that the illness was bound to be
prolonged and possibly fatal. Surrounded as I was with all the love
and attention that could be showered on me under Sheth Ambalal's
roof, I began to get restless and urged him to remove me to the
Ashram. He had to yield to my importunity.
Whilst I was thus tossing on the bed of pain in the Ashram, Sjt.
Vallabhbhai brought the news that Germany had been completely
defeated, and that the Commissioner had sent word that recruiting
was no longer necessary. The news that I had no longer to worry
myself about recruiting came as a very great relief.
I had now been trying hydropathy which gave some relief, but it was
a hard job to build up the body. The many medical advisers
overwhelmed me with advice, but I could not persuade myself to take
anything. Two or three suggested meat broth as a way out of the milk
vow, and cited authorities from Ayurveda in support of their advice.
One of them strongly recommended eggs. But for all of them I had but
one answer – no.
For me the question of diet was not one to be determined on the
authority of the Shastras. It was one interwoven with my course of
life which is guided by principles no longer depending upon outside
authority. I had no desire to live at the cost of them. How could I
relinquish a principle in respect of myself, when I had enforced it
relentlessly in respect of my wife, children and friends?
This protracted and first long illness in my life thus afforded me a
unique opportunity to examine my principles and to test them. One
night I gave myself up to despair. I felt that I was at death's
door. I sent word to Anasuyabehn. She ran down to the Ashram.
Vallabhbhai came up with Dr. Kanuga, who felt my pulse and said
'Your pulse is quite good. I see absolutely no danger. This is a
nervous breakdown due to extreme weakness.' But I was far from being
reassured. I passed the night without sleep.
The morning broke without death coming. But I could not get rid of
the feeling that the end was near, and so I began to devote all my
waking hours to listening to the Gita being read to me by the
inmates of the Ashram. I was incapable of reading. I was hardly
inclined to talk. The slightest talk meant a strain on the brain.
All interest in living had ceased, as I have never liked to live for
the sake of living. It was such an agony to live on in that helpless
state, doing nothing, receiving the service of friends and
co-workers, and watching the body slowly wearing away.
Whilst I lay thus ever expectant of death, Dr. Talvalkar came one
day with a strange creature. He hailed from Maharashtra. He was not
known to fame, but the moment I saw him I found that he was a crank
like myself. He had come to try his treatment on me. He had almost
finished his course of studies in the Grant Medical College without
taking the degree. Later I came to know that he was a member of the
Brahmo Samaj. Sjt. Kelkar, for that is his name, is a man of an
independent and obstinate temperament. He swears by the ice
treatment, which he wanted to try on me. We gave him the name of
'Ice Doctor'. He is quite confident that he has discovered certain
things which have escaped qualified doctors. It is a pity both for
him and me that he has not been able to infect me with his faith in
his system. I believe in his system up to a certain point, but I am
afraid he has been hasty in arriving at certain conclusions.
But whatever may be the merits of his discoveries, I allowed him to
experiment on my body. I did not mind external treatment. The
treatment consisted in the application of ice all over the body.
Whilst I am unable to endorse his claim about the effect his
treatment had on me, it certainly infused in me a new hope and a new
energy, and the mind naturally reacted on the body. I began to have
an appetite, and to have a gentle walk for five to ten minutes. He
now suggested a reform in my diet. Said he: 'I assure you that you
will have more energy and regain your strength quicker if you take
raw eggs. Eggs are as harmless as milk. They certainly cannot come
under the category of meat. And do you know that all eggs are not
fertilized? There are sterilized eggs on the markket.' I was not
however, prepared to take even the sterilized eggs. But the
improvement was enough to give me interest in public activities.