So Bapu mothered me. He had, no doubt, brought up quite a number of girls but to me he often said, "Have I not become your mother? I have been father to many but only to you I am mother. A father does of course concern himself with the bringing up of his children but the real education of a girl comes from her mother. If a girl does not know some household work, the mother-in-law or the sister-in-law rebukes her saying, 'Your mother does not seem to have taught you anything.' No one finds fault with her father."
I was in the Nagpur jail in 1942 when Kasturba2 also was in jail. I was then only fourteen. My mother left this world when I was 12, but by her blessing I got a mother like Kasturba who never let me feel the want of my own mother. I was separated from Kasturba too, when during the '42 revolution the Government arrested her and Bapu. But by God's grace I obtained the rare chance of serving her again after nine months when I was transferred from the Nagpur jail. When I was at Nagpur I did not think that I would be able to meet Ba3 in this life again, since she used to have frequent heart-attacks after Bapu's fast. But devotion was not without its reward.
Everyone was surprised that of all persons I was called to her side, and they wondered why they who had stayed with Ba and Bapu for years, should have been passed over in my favour. They argued, "How could this chit of a girl serve Ba?" But ever since my childhood, I had as much faith in Ba and Bapu as I had in God. Ba said, "If Manu is available I want none else." Just at that time she had a severe heart-attack. Dr. Gilder and Dr. Sushi la Nayar required a helping hand as they had to look after both Ba and Bapu. They asked for me as a nurse. But the Government was in a perverse mood. I cannot imagine what danger the Government scented in sending me to Bapu when I was a stripling of 14 then, and quite innocent of all politics. Shri Rajaji and Shri Devadas had heated discussions with Lord Linlithgow and Mr Tottenham. The former, however, prevailed and at last I was removed to the Agakhan Palace from the Nagpur Jail.
When my father went to see Bapu during his fast, Ba had inquired after me. My father told her that I had become very weak and had spoilt my eyes. So she was waiting anxiously for me as a mother would for her daughter. She was standing at the gate when I entered the Agakhan Palace and her eyes were full of love. She was so anxious for me that she had requested the Superintendent to take my key and let me in before the inspection of my luggage was finished. It was my rare fortune to be allowed to serve such a loving mother day and night for thirteen months. All my daily work was now done under her guidance as before. My heart bowed to God for all this favour. If Ba could not sleep on account of severe cold or asthma, she would either come and lie down with me or take me to her bed and say, "My child, you must be tired; you may certainly go to sleep. I have brought you to my side only because I am not able to sleep." She would pat me and put me to sleep as if I were a baby to be lulled.
On the 22nd February, 1944, God took away this darling mother of mine from me. That whole day, with tears trickling down my eyes, I stood almost transfixed and gazed at Ba as she lay with her head on Bapu's lap, bidding adieu to this world for ever, amidst the holy sounds of Ramadhun and the recitation of the Gita. Before she died she begged pardon of us all. She said to me, "My child, you have served me a lot. May God bless you," and to Bapu, "Now, I am going." Even Bapu could not help shedding two drops of tears. She told my father, "Take Manu away. Let her study further."
This was the first occasion in the Fifteen years of my life when I saw anybody on a deathbed, or a corpse and a funeral pyre. The second occasion was at the time of Bapu's death. People remarked, "How fortunate this girl is to have been with Ba and Bapu till their last breath." But I do not know if after all that can be called good fortune.
For a time I was so depressed that I lost faith in God for taking away from me one who had tenderly mothered me till her last moment. Bapu asked me to sing a hymn. In a reckless spirit of childishness, I said, "I am not going to utter the name of the Lord. He has snatched away my Ba." My experience is that sometimes wonderful results come out of such childishness. On returning from the cremation ceremony that night, Bapu gave me some of Ba's things, such as a pair of ivory bangles, a necklace of tulsi - a symbol of Vaishnava faith -, the string with which she tied her hair, her saffron and her sandals. He said, "As Ba wanted you so much, you are the rightful owner of these things. You should draw inspiration from them as Bharat did from Rama's sandals which he installed on the throne in the absence of Rama. And how godly Ba was! These five bangles remained intact amidst the huge fire, bearing witness to her saintliness." There is a custom in Maharashtra, according to which, when a woman passes away before her husband, five glass bangles, a coconut and some sesame and barley seeds are tied round her stomach. We had followed that custom. But all the five green glass bangles had remained undamaged. One of them I have kept as a memento of that saintly soul.
The question of my further stay with Bapu was discussed by the Government as I was taken there only for the sake of Ba. I was released by the C. P. Government much earlier but they had allowed me to stay on with Ba as I wanted to serve her in illness.
I was now distressed over the thought of a possible separation from Bapu in addition to that from Ba. All that night I woke up at intervals with a start. So Bapu and Sushilabehn had often to put me to sleep by patting me. To console me Bapu wrote a chit to me at 4 a.m. during his silence. The chit runs thus:
You did not sleep well. I wrote a long letter yesterday to have you and Prabhavati (Jai Prakash Narain's wife) con≠tinue here, but I lay awake thinking till at last I saw light. It is improper to make such a request. For if we do, what is the point of jail life? We ought to bear far greater separation. You are sensible enough. Forget your grief. You have great things to do. Give up this weeping and cheer up. Learn whatever you can after you are out of prison. In Whatever condition of life, you will always be happy that you rendered us so much service. I am very anxious about you. You are, just like yourself - innocent, simple and helpful. You have made service your religion. But you are un≠educated and even foolish. If you remain uneducated, you would regret it and so would I if I continued to live. I shall miss you, but I do not like to keep you any longer here. It would be wrong. It would be a foolish kind of affection. It seems to me that you should go to Rajkot. There you will get the ennobling guidance of Naraindas. You will probably learn the art of work and certainly music, and whatever else you can pick up. If you stay there at least for a year, you will gain understanding. Then you can go lo Karachi or anywhere else. (I was at Karachi with my father, studying in the fifth standard before I went to Bapu.) Gurdial Mallik is indeed there but he will not stay there for long. So there you will get only schooling. Even that is useful. But what you can gain at Rajkot you can gain nowhere else. More when I break my silence. I am indeed your mother, am I not? If you grasp this much it is enough.
Blessings from Bapu
Agakhan Palace, Poona
Preserve this letter."
But fortunately I did not have to be separated from Bapu. I came out of the Agakhan Palace only when he did.
Ever since then he began to bring me up just as a mother would bring up her own daughter of 14 or 15. A girl of that age wants to be with her mother and to be even closer to her mother than ever before. So he kept me very close to him and took interest in the minutest details of my life, such as food, clothes, sickness, my visits and companions, my studies, and even as to whether I thoroughly washed my hair every week, and he continued to do so till the end.
When he went to Bengal I was at Mahuva. But on my request to go with him to Noakhali he sent me his permis≠sion by wire. When I got to Bapu I was wearing a sari. As usual I kept my head covered, but as I bowed down to greet him, the sari slipped off my head and I was not aware of it, because as I put my head in his lap. He affectionately pulled my ear and said, "So you have come?" The same night at Shrirampur he told me, "Gujarati saris are for rich women who have nothing else to do but to loll in sofas or drive about in cars. Moreover, a Gujarati sari with head uncovered looks so immodest that one cannot bear to see it. So if one wears Gujarati saris, one must always be careful like Ba and other ladies of old not to let the sari slip off the head, and to readjust immediately if it does." I could not understand Bapu's real purpose in telling me all this, but lie went on, "I know you can't be as careful as Ba in this matter. So if you want to stay here, you will have to wear Panjabi dress as you did in the Agakhan Palace. It is not becoming to keep the head uncovered in that dress too; but in a girl of your age it may not seem as bad or as immodest as in Gujarati dress. You know I have become your mother and I ought to tell you this. Why do girls move about with uncovered heads nowadays? If they cover their heads, how can they show off their hair, made to appear long by woollen padding or false hair? I am one of those who move freely among women. I am engaged in bringing them into public life. Once I myself taught Ba to wear shoes and socks to make her look like a Parsi lady during our stay in South Africa. She, poor thing, did not know all this. There is no beauty in wearing false hair as there is none in paper-flowers as compared with real flowers. Natural beauty lies in keeping the hair just as God gave it. (From this talk he sudden digressed to spiritual matters.) I have no doubt that our women are molested only because of the artificiality that has crept into their lives. Jewels of false stones may shine for a time, but are sure to lose their lustre sooner or later. And this craze for false things has affected the purity of our inner self. I can never believe that persons who are false in their dress can be pure within. Hence this fall of our women - even their rot. How would they oppose molestation with≠out weapon when they are incapable of doing so even with weapons? Even so powerful a being as Ravana, who could finish off anyone in a moment, dared not touch Sita, though frail and unarmed. What was the reason? Her purity was so powerful. Where do you find that saintliness today? If an attack is made on a woman's chastity nowadays, she simply submits. There have been so many such instances here. Many goonckis have forced women to submit under the threat of death. Our women have preferred submission to death. Even if we do not believe in the historicity of Rama and Sita, and take the story to be imaginary, how magnificent and noble is the conception! It should be practised by women today. The character of Sita should be valued by all our girls. (What a turn Bapu gave to his talk on artificial jewelry!) And what do they call this newfangled fashion of painting the nails and lips?" I burst out laughing saying. "Bapu, I would have learnt the names had you asked me to. Lips are coloured by what they call lipstick. I do not know the name for the nail dye." "Oh yes, those poor girls paint their lips and nails, and the result is that they have no opportunity of seeing how pale and weak they are getting. Our women of old had such blood in the body that their lips and nails were naturally red. But we copied the West blindly. Both men and women are to blame for it. Women can by no means be excused for it. One ought to learn many things from Westerners such as discipline, good manners, becoming modesty, punctuality, energy and drive in action, perseverance, ardent desire to learn new things, sociability, etc. We have discarded all these and many other good things and rushed after vanities like powder and puff. I say from housetops that if anyone can bring both self-rule and good rule in the country, it is our women. Just as a house is not a home without a housewife, so also our independence will be incomplete without the co-operation of women. But that co-operation can come only when our women attain purity. Do you know what I mean by purity? I am against our purdah system but certainly there should be modesty. All these good qualities are summed up in the little word 'purity'. Without modesty, internal and external cleanliness, decency, love of truth, freedom from hypocrisy, self-respect, and yearning to serve, there is no purity. The word connotes many more such noble qualities. And there is no doubt that wherever there is purity, there God is manifest. If our women can secure this weapon, they do not need a sword or a spear. But this weapon of purity requires far more training than the iron ones do. At the same time it must be understood that it is quite easy to learn this art.
"See what a useful lesson I have taught you from an ordinary chat regarding saris, and I have done nothing more than I ought to. Your father or grandfather can lake up the role of your teacher, but as for me I shoulder the responsi≠bilities of your mother. You have to practise the lesson in your life throughout. So write down in your diary tomorrow, and show it to me." Bapu used to examine my diary and sign it daily. He had awakened me that night at 12-30 and it was 1.15 a.m. when he concluded by saying, "Now you can go to sleep. I woke you up as I could not sleep. I felt that as I had taken on myself the responsibility of keeping you here I should teach you."
Such was my dear mother who lost "her" sleep in worrying over me and who gave me lessons by waking me up when "she" could not refrain from giving them.
God has now snatched away ail the three mothers I had.
Here is a stanza from our Gujarati poet Botadkar, who sang thus of the glories of the mother:
But its water knows an ebb.
But mother's love is even
And none so sweet as she.