On the tide page of the book Shri Mukulbhai has put in a beautiful invocatory line:
"May Ba and Bapu occupy the place of parents in my heart!"
To me they really occupied the place of parents. My mother passed away when I was only 11 and my father when I was 16. Before his death which came on suddenly he scribbled a short note saying: "I am entrusting my sons to Kashibhai (an uncle of mine). He will look after their education." Thus my dear uncle and my aunt brought me up till I was 21 when I left the college and joined the Satyagraha Ashram at Sabarmati. My uncle's words, when I departed from him, were: "Now I entrust you into Gandhiji's hands.''
Thus Ba and Bapu came to be my parents. As I go over these vignettes, gleaned from the accounts of their married life a number of sacred incidents spring up afresh before my eyes. And there are quite a few which bring tears—tears in memory of the invaluable moments now gone beyond recall. Those who were given to witness their married life will all have a similar experience. But how many of them are left with us today in 1961! That, however, only enhances the value of the book in so far as it enables those who did not have the good fortune of seeing Ba and Bapu in life, to share this experience in some measure.
Lately new and strange ideas of marriage and conjugal life and of the relationship between man and woman have come to the fore in the modern world. Even India, the home of ancient wisdom, has not escaped their ominous shadow. And if the drift continues, before long in India too a generation—foreseen by Einstein in a slightly different context — might appear which would exclaim: "It is difficult to believe that such a couple (i.e. Ba and Bapu) having such an extraordinary conjugal life lived in flesh and blood in the 20th century. Is it possible for a phenomenon like this to happen in this age of reason and science?"
That Bapu's life and work were extraordinary is now well known. This book, however, presents an important aspect of it which is likely to be slurred over in the rich mass of his achievements. For his married life was as remarkably extraordinary as, say, his philosophy of Satyagraha and Sarvodaya and non-attachment (anasakti) which have drawn greater public attention. Bapu aimed at excellence—at perfection, in whatever he did. We cannot, therefore, afford to neglect any parjt of his life. In his married life too he strove after the same ideal of perfection and what is more, he achieved it. I cannot describe it except by a comparison with the figures of our legendary history.
Of the many couples in our ancient history Ba and Bapu remind me most of Sage Vasishtha and Arundhati. Legend has immortalized them by transforming them into two eternally conjoined stars studded in the infinite expanse of the sky. And in the marriage ritual of the Hindus the bride and the bridegroom are even to this day asked to behold these two stars in the firmament before they embark on the life of the householder. Obviously the ritual is meant to convey an important truth and one should be able to discover it as one goes through this account of Ba and Bapu's married life. Just as Gandhiji's fight for freedom revivified as it were the stories of the heroic deeds of the prophets of old, even so his married life provides a living example of the scriptural sayings in regard to the ideal of the Hindu householder's life.
Rama had seen the disastrous result of his father Dasharatha's polygamous life. He therefore lived a strictly monogamous life and inscribed that ideal on the Hindu mind for all time to come. Something similar happened in Bapu's life. His father married more than once. And Bapu who detects in this an attachment to carnal pleasures has criticized him for it. He has also confessed to a similar failing in himself in his earlier years which incidentally was the reason why he was not by his father's side at the time of his death. It seems that the incident left a strong impact on his mind and indignant with himself over this weakness he might have well resolved that it should be his job in life that the sex urge which man has in common with the brute and is inherent in the flesh must be sublimated. As he advanced in his sadhana for such conquest of sex he discovered the ideal of brahmacharya in married life and placed it before the world for its acceptance. He said that indulgence in sex is permissible for progeny, but otherwise the married life of the husband and the wife must be a life of brahmacharya. He added that his experience showed that this was also the culmination of true conjugal love and happiness.
An examination of the ashrama system of Hindu life would reveal that this teaching is implicit in it. The life of the householder, truly lived, evolves duly into that of a Vanaprastha, i.e. an anchorite wedded to the service of the society and ultimately into that of a Sannyasi wedded to knowledge. Bapu's life provides a concrete example of this process. It is curious that this Hindu idea of the four ashramas for right ordering of the human life has hardly been discussed in his writings except indirectly. But his life was shot through and through with the essence of its teaching.
Again, he did not accept the Sannyasa ideal with its accent on knowledge in its popular sense of an external renunciation of the household and its responsibilities, but in the sense in which the Gita interprets it—an internal renunciation based on tyaga or non- attachment for the service of the society. He included both these things—observance of brakmacharya in married life and the life of Sannyasa, in the special sense which he had given to it, in the vows of the Satyagraha Ashram. One may say that this was something which only a rare man or woman could practise. But is that not the essential mark of an ideal? It is the function of a yuga-purush— the Representative Man of the Age or the Pioneer—to live the ideal, to concretise it in life and thus to make of it an example for others to follow. Speaking on this point Bapuji had once said: "I have not prescribed Sannyasa as popularly understood in Hinduism. But what might be called a new edition of Sannyasa has certainly been incorporated in the vows. This new edition is meant for the married."
Bapu fashioned this new edition of Sannyasa in the course of his search for a way of life based on truth and non-violence, and valuable for our age. And Ba played the role of a real helpmate to him in this arduous task. In the passages collected here we see Ba and Bapu engaged in this search and helping each other in the process.
And in this lies Ba's great merit. Hinduism calls wife sahadharmacharini, i.e. a partner in the performance of duty. Today we have reduced her almost to the position of sahakamarthacharini, i.e. a partner in the enjoyment of pleasures. These glimpses of Ba and Bapu's life have a special significance at a time like this. In Bapu's life too we meet with incidents characterized by the same pitiless allegiance to duty as in Rama who banished Sita for the sake of dharma. His public denunciation of Ba for her lapse in the pursuit of the vow of non-possession is an instance in point. This may seem wicked to us, but the Hindu ideal of conjugal life is to enjoy pleasure and wealth only in accordance with dharma without ever transgressing it. In introducing this ideal in the life of the Ashram Ba and Bapu were only setting an example of how a married couple, inspired by the ideals of the highest patriotism and human brotherhood, should live. In practising this ideal Ba gradually became the mother of a vast family of the entire nation. It is hardly necessary to say how difficult was the path they had chosen to follow. It was this which made Ba and Bapu the parents of our nation.
A question which would seem to deserve consideration is: Did Bapu learn or acquire anything from Ba? To this question a student of the inner development of Bapu cannot but return the answer that Bapu without Ba would not have been the Bapu as we know him. Stri-shakti, i.e. the peculiar power — the distinctive virtues and capabilities of a woman he discovered only through Ba. And that enabled him to awaken and activise the women of India. Again, it was from Ba that he learnt the lesson of humility which is like a string supporting all the pearls in the garland of his vows. Ba was the very image of humility. The mother's heart is the key to the reservoir of power which lies shut in a woman. At a certain stage in her life the wife becomes like a mother even to her husband. The Sanskrit word 'Jaya' for wife, I suppose, has that implication. By his insistence on the practice of brahmacharya in married life, he was pointing out the same truth. This charming facet of Ba and Bapu's life provided a glimpse of the noble sublimity of the Hindu ideal of married life. This was also the reason why Bapu's heart rebelled against the use of artificial means of birth-control. He saw in it crass insult to woman and all that she stands for. He pours forth the agony of his heart on this point in one of his letters to Shri Premabehn Kantak thus:
"To the modern mind brahmacharya is adharma—a thing to be shunned as something horrible. And so by birth-control through artificial means they seek free indulgence of sex which they regard as dharma. My soul rebels against this. The hunger for sex will not be, cannot be, obliterated from the world. All the same, the world is founded on brahmacharya and will so remain forever."
The Hindu scriptures have described the wife as sahadharmacharini—a partner in the performance of dharma. She takes to the life of a householder with a view to enjoying such kama (i.e. sexual pleasures) and artha (i.e. worldly prosperity) as are compatible with dharma. Kama and artha Opposed to dharma become respectively the source of ill-health and strife. What is the ideal the modern woman has set before herself? Equality of man and woman? Now, this, ideal is right so far as it goes, but this equality, according to the old Hindu view, pertains to the performance of dharma and not to the enjoyment of pleasures. Though a sahabhogacharini (a partner in the enjoyment of pleasure) she is essentially a sahadharmacharini. The following in Miss Manu Gandhi's diary dated 29-7-'47 records what Bapuji said to a visitor on this subject, in the critical days of 1947:
"Has anyone seriously thought who the woman is? She is a goddess, for she is the very image of the spirit of sacrifice. She has such tremendous power that if she only makes up her mind to do a thing and earnestly applies herself to it she can shake even the mountains. Women are not men's slaves. They are men's equal or partners in the religious venture of life. Men must, therefore, look on them as their friends and helpmates. To call them abala or weak is to insult the goddess in her.
“. . .The underlying intent in our ancestors' introducing in our daily routine the custom to offer worship to goddesses is simply this that we accord our women-folk a high place in our society. Look at their spirit of sacrifice. What sufferings does a woman willingly go through in order to bring up her young child! In moral courage women far surpass men. The woman is the very embodiment of non-violence, patience and endurance. But what do we see today? People do not shrink even from violating their modesty! What scripture sanctions such heinous deeds? Know for certain that the home, the society or the nation which does not give due respect and honour to her women-folk is doomed."
With these words of Bapu, reminiscent of the well-known saying of Manu1, the progenitor of the Hindu race and its supreme law-giver, I close with this my humble homage:
बा-बापू ब्रह्मचारिणी ।
राष्ट्रस्य पितरी वन्दे