In 1938 I was in poor health: my weight had gone down to eighty-eight pounds, and it seemed that the hour had come for the Lord to take me to Himself. I was quite content, but my friends were unhappy. Bapu heard about it; I received a summons and obeyed. ‘Stay here,’ he said. ‘I shall look after you.’ ‘I have no faith in your nursing,’ said I. ‘You have fifty-odd jobs to do, and looking after the sick is only one of them. Besides, I should only be one of your fifty-odd patients—what good would that do?’ Bapu began to laugh. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘Go to a doctor.’ ‘Rather than that,’ I replied, ‘I’d better go to Yamaraj !’1 ‘Then,’ said Bapu, ‘go to some place for a change of air.’ He went on to suggest a number of places, such as Nainital and Mussoorie, and described them with gusto. ‘All right,’ I said at last. ‘I’ll agree to go somewhere to restore my health; but my choice is different. Jamnalalji’s bungalow at Paunar (six miles from Wardha) is lying empty. I’ll go there.’ ‘Very well,’ said Bapu. ‘Those cool places are for the rich; how can poor folk like us go so far for change of air? You may go to Paunar, provided that you leave behind your whole load of work, and leave it completely, without any anxiety or worry about the Ashram or anything else.’ ‘All right,’ I said. ‘That is what I will do.’
I had become so weak that I could not walk, so I went from Nalwadi
to Paunar by car. The car reached the village and began to cross the
bridge over the river Dham. As it did so, in accordance with my
promise to Bapu, I repeated to myself three time over: ‘I have
renounced—renounced—renounced.’ So when I reached the bungalow, on
March 7th 1938, my mind was completely vacant. I spent the days
doing nothing in particular; I just walked in the hall and did a
little digging in the field. My main occupation was to sit in the
field picking out the stones and collecting them into heaps. That
would easily have kept me busy for about two years, and if anyone
came to meet me he too would join in the task.
In the middle of the day I spent some time watching the traffic on
the Wardha-Nagpur road. I made a game of it, counting the number of
cars, bullock-carts, cycles and pedestrians going by between eleven
o’clock and twelve o’clock, and then again between twelve and one,
and so on.
I did this without putting my mind into it. This detachment of mind
was no activity. Otherwise I should have had to exert myself twice
over, first to do the job, and second to prevent myself thinking
about it. It is certainly better to bear the burden of one rather
than two activities.
I started the digging for the sake of physical exercise. On the
first day I spent only five minutes at it, on the second day two
minutes more, and two minutes more again on the third day, so that
in the end I was digging two hours every day. I did it
scientifically. I would dig for an hour at a stretch, but during the
course of it I would pause for a few seconds from time to time so
that I did not become exhausted. This exercise was very beneficial;
I gained forty pounds in ten months and my weight increased to a
hundred and twenty-eight pounds.
Paunar village was on one side of the river Dham and I was staying
on the other. I therefore named it Paramdham, ‘beyond the Dham.’ The
word occurs in the Gita: ‘From my Paramdham, once reached, no man
returns.’ There, as my health steadily improved, I had more and more
contact with the village. I started a workshop there, where the
village people came to spin. I also built a shed in Paramdham and
set up looms for weaving there. Boys from Paunar and Kanhapur
villages began to come to learn weaving, and they are still doing
various kinds of work at Paramdham.
On one occasion I went to the market in Paunar to buy a blanket. The
woman who was selling asked one and a half rupees for it. I began
asking questions: how much did the wool cost, how long had the
weaving taken, what was the cost of keeping the sheep? She
recognized me as the man from the Ashram, so she answered my
questions readily. I did some calculations. ‘This blanket,’ I said,
‘has cost you not less than five rupees. Why are you selling it for
only one and a half?’ ‘How could I ask five rupees?’ she replied.
‘Even when I ask one and a half, people try to beat me down to one
and a quarter !’ I took the blanket, gave her five rupees, and left
her wondering whether she was still living in this world of sin, or
whether the long-lost golden age had returned !2
And what happened next? The boys who came to spin in the workshop or
weave in the Ashram earned three or four annas a day, whereas at
that time a labourer’s wage was normally only two or two and a
quarter annas. I told these boys about the blanket. ‘You must learn
to raise the market rates,’ I said. ‘Otherwise, we are stealing from
the poor. You boys are getting three or four annas in wages, so do
one thing. In this rainy season women bring head-loads of grass to
sell; go and buy one, and pay two annas for it.’ Off they went to
the market. A woman was there asking three pice (three quarters of
an anna) for her grass. ‘No, two pice,’ said the buyer. ‘The proper
price is two annas,’ said our boy. ‘What nonsense !’ said the buyer.
‘Who is going to pay two annas for it?’ ‘I am,’ said one of the
boys, and he paid the money and took it.
We are all guilty of this kind of theft, because we have no feeling
for the common good. In the Gita the Lord tells us to care for one
another and so take our part in the common welfare. That was what I
was teaching the boys, and that is the kind of feeling which we
ought to promote in our society.