35. King Alfred
Gandhiji always insisted that everyone should learn the language spoken in the neighbouring region. When I was appointed in the Ashram School, Gandhiji included Marathi in the school syllabus along with Gujarati, Hindi and Sanskrit. Once he told me, “I learned Tamil in South Africa so that I could serve the ‘Girmits’. How can we do without knowing Marathi, here in Bombay region?” He got the opportunity to learn Marathi in Yerawada jail. He asked me to help him. We got a few textbooks from the library for the general prisoners. We started with them. Bapu used to read and I would explain the meaning. Whenever he fumbled, he would immediately ask the meaning. He would allot a few minutes for Marathi, everyday. Once in a lesson, a poem by Ramdas from ‘Dasbodh’ had a few lines about handwriting. Bapuji loved them. He wrote them and read them many a times. He asked the meaning whenever he couldn’t grasp; yet it did not satisfy him. At last he wrote down the complete lesson and sent it to the weekly of his Ashram. He instructed that all the inmates of the Ashram should read it seriously. His own handwriting was not at all good. That is why he cared for good handwriting. While learning Marathi he came across a lesson named ‘Alfred the Great’. After loosing a battle, this King of England was leading the life of a recluse, with an old woman. Once, the old woman asked him to bake bread. While doing it he became so engrossed in his thoughts that the bread was burned. The old woman reproached him for that. We read the lesson together. After that whenever I committed a mistake or forgot something, Bapuji would call me ‘King Alfred’.