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STUDENTS' PROJECTS > BA AND BAPU > Public Service and Gifts
04. Public Service and Gifts
In 1901, Bapu made plans to return to India, on the completion of his work in South Africa. The Indians living in Natal, decided, therefore, to bid him a befitting farewell. He was, accordingly, presented with a large number of valedictory addresses and costly gifts. The lat­ter included a gold necklace worth fifty guineas, which was given to Ba for her personal use. But Bapu was greatly troubled in his mind at receiving these gifts and, consequently, spent a sleepless night. For, he believed that a public servant had no right to recognition or re­compense in this mercenary manner. Further­more, an acceptance of the gifts might have an adverse effect on Ba and the children, who were at the time being trained for a life of service, on the principle that service is its own reward. He finally decided, however, to convert all the gifts, that had been given to him, into a trust for the service of the Indian community, and to this end, appointed Parsi Rustomji and some others as trustees. He drafted, accordingly, a letter to this effect. But he thought he should consult also Ba and the children in the matter. As regards the children he felt that they would readily consent to his proposal, but what of Ba? He asked the children, therefore, to plead with their mother. They volunteered to do so in the full hope that they would be able to win her over. But Ba argued, as says Bapu in his Autobiography:
" 'You may not need them, your children may not need them. Cajoled, they will dance to your tune. I can understand your not per­mitting me to wear them. But what about my daughters-in-law? They will be sure to need them. And who knows what will happen tomorrow? I would be the last person to part with gifts, so lovingly given.'
And thus the torrent of argument went on, reinforced in the end by tears. But the children were adamant. And I was unmoved.
I mildly put in: 'The children have yet to get married. We do not want to see them married young. When they are grown up, they can take care of themselves. And surely we shall not have, for our sons, brides who are fond of ornaments. And if, after all, we need to provide them with ornaments, I am there. You will ask me then.'
'Ask you? I know you by this time. You deprived me of my ornaments; you would not leave me in peace with them. Fancy you offering to get ornaments for the daughters-in-law! You, who are trying to make sadhus of my boys from today! No, the ornaments will not be returned. And, pray, what right have you to my necklace?'
'But,' I rejoined, 'is the necklace given you for your service or for my service?'
'I agree. But service rendered by you is as good as rendered by me. I have toiled and moiled for you day and night. Is that no service? You forced all and sundry on me, making me weep bitter tears, and I slaved for them!'
These were pointed thrusts, and some of them went home. But I was determined to return the ornaments. I somehow succeeded in extorting a consent from her. The gifts received in 1896 and 1901 were all returned.
I have never since regretted the step, and as the years have gone by, my wife has also seen its wisdom. It has saved us from many temptations."