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04. Extravagance is Violence
Gandhiji was to meet Lord Mountbatten on the 30th March 1947 for the first time. This was his first journey after he had plunged in the ordeal of Noakhali and Bihar.
He declined to go by 'plane offered to him by the Viceroy. He decided to travel by train, saying that he could not travel in a vehicle which could not be used by crores of poor people, and that the train would do as well for him. It was very warm and it was a twenty-four hour journey, and as usual there were crowds of people at every station for darshan of their beloved Bapu. But did he ever mind the discomforts he had to undergo? He called me and said:
"Now mind you, you are my only companion in this ordeal; and I am going to Delhi for the first time. When I decided to go to Noakhali, I had resolved to do or die there and had sent away from me all my companions. But I allowed you to join me in this sacrifice. You are with me here as you were there. Devprakash and Hunar (a Muslim friend) are also here, but they will stay with Mridulabehn, who will look after the work on my behalf, but I am duty bound not to leave you. You also would not wish me to leave you, and so you are coming with me. But remember this will be a severe test for you. You have to take the least possible luggage and choose the smallest third class compartment."
I took the least possible luggage but chose a double compartment because I thought that it would not be possible for Bapu to have sufficient rest in a single compartment. There would be a lot of noise on account of hordes of people coming to have his darshan at every station, and I would have to keep account of collections at every station for the Harijan Fund. So I got the luggage put in one of the two compartments and arranged the other for Bapu's use.
The railway train for Delhi leaves Patna at 9.30 in the morning. We (Bapu and I) came to the station at 9.25. There was an immense crowd but we managed to get into the compartment. As customary with him Bapu utilized every minute at his command, and collected money for the Harijan Fund in the remaining few minutes. The train left the station exactly at half-past nine.
As Bapu used to take his midday meals at 10 a.m. during summer I went to the other compartment to unpack the luggage in order to prepare meals for him. After sometime I came back to his compartment. He was busy writing. He asked me, "Where were you all this while?" I replied, "I was preparing your food over there." He looked out of the window and asked me to look also. I sensed that I had committed some mistake. I looked out and saw passengers hanging on to the footboards. I got a gentle rebuke. "Did you ask for this second compartment?" He questioned me. "Yes, Bapu," I replied. "I asked for it as I thought you would be disturbed by my heating the milk on the primus, cleaning the vessels, etc."
"What a lame excuse? This is what is called blind (undiscerning) love. You do know that to save me trouble the Government offered me a special train if I did not want to go by 'plane. How many trains would be held up and what a lot it would cost to run a special train? How can I tolerate it? I am very cost-minded. You asked only for a second compartment, but had you asked for a saloon you would surely have got it. But would it become you? Your request for an extra compartment is like asking for a saloon. I know that you did it out of love but I have to teach you to rise lo greater heights, and not to descend. So you must not shed tears like that. Now the only way of repentance is to remove all the luggage into this compartment and to request the station-master to see me at the next station."
I was trembling all over. I removed the luggage indeed but was worried about Bapu, for it often happened that he abandoned a meal as vicarious suffering for a mistake, however small, committed by others. At the same time he would do all his usual voluminous work such as writing, reading, spinning, and teaching me, in the train.
When we reached the next station, I called the station-master. Bapu acquainted him with the situation. "She is my grand-daughter," he said: "but she is a simple soul. She does not understand me fully as yet. Hence she occupied two compartments. It is not her fault. The fault is mine, for there must be something lacking in my training of her. Now we both have got to repent for the mistake and so we have vacated the other compartment. I would partly be relieved of my pain if you use it for the passengers hanging on to the footboards."
The station-master tried to plead with him. but Bapu would not listen to him. The station-master offered to attach another bogie for the passengers. But Bapu said. "Of course, you ought to get an extra bogie attached, but you should utilize this compartment too. To use for oneself what is not essential is violence. Do you want to spoil this girl by letting her misuse the privileges she gets?" The poor station-master was nonplussed and had to comply with his wishes.
Bapu was the father of the nation. How could he ever bear to travel in comfort when his children had to hang on to the train? Thus they got sitting accommodation and I learnt a valuable lesson, namely, to take as little as possible of the good things of life for myself. Of course I was deeply hurt by the rebuff I received at the time; but today, I realize its immense value. Thus did Bapu live minding the minutest details of conduct based on non-violence, and howsoever little I may have been able to learn from him, it is bound to remain with me all my life.