"I told you how, right from the days of his childhood, Bapu looked upon untouchability as a shameful evil. It hurt him and filled his heart with sorrow. He believed that all men were equal, and that no one had the right to think he was superior to others. A man was high or low in the eyes of God by his actions and not by his birth. Distinctions of class and caste were set up by interested people.
Gandhiji had always believed in
practicing himself whatever he preached to others. He started another Ashram at Wardha in the year 1936. This came to be known as the Sevagram Ashram, and was open to people of all castes and creeds. There were, of course, certain conditions which everyone in the Ashram had to fulfill. Each one had to do everything for himself-like grinding the flour, cooking the food, sweeping the rooms, and cleaning the lavatories. Even Gandhiji and Kasturbai would do everything with their own hands: they were no exception to the discipline of the Ashram. The food would be cooked in a common kitchen and all would sit down to their meals together. They would first pray for God's blessings and for peace and then eat the food.
Bapu was in the habit of inspecting every nook and comer of the Ashram everyday, and if he saw any dirt or rubbish anywhere, he would sweep it away himself. If any of the inmates fell ill, he would sit with him up and cheer him with his inimitable humour and wit. He was himself quite an expert in nursing and treating the sick.
A Madrasi lad once had an attack of dysentery in the Ashram. He had just recovered when he longed to drink South Indian coffee. He had become used to the plain and boiled food which everyone in the Ashram ate, but he had always missed his coffee. The rules of the Ashram, however, forbade coffee, tea, cigarettes, and even pan31
How, then, could the Madrasi boy get any coffee ? He was lying in his bed, dreaming about his coffee, when he heard Bapu's footsteps. Bapu came and stood near his bed and looked at him in his usual kind and smiling manner. ' You are looking much better today', he said, ' I hope you have got back your appetite. What would you like to ear? How about a few dhoshas?" Gandhiji knew how very fond the South Indians were of dhoshas."
"What are dhoshas, mother?" asked Hari.
"They are a kind of savoury pancakes," continued the mother, "which are made only in the South of India. The eyes of the young boy began to sparkle, as he heard Bapu talk of food. He faltered for a while, and then took courage to ask, 'Could I have a cup of coffee, Bapu ?' 'You old sinner !' said Bapu, and laughed affectionately. 'Since you are so keen, you will certainly have coffee. In fact, a light cup of coffee may be good for you. But you must have something to eat with your coffee. It may not be possible to get dhoshas made here, but perhaps a hot toast will go very well with your coffee. I shall go and see to it at once.'
And then Bapu went away. The young boy knew that tea and coffee were forbidden inside the Ashram, and he was wondering whether Gandhiji had promised him the coffee in a moment of absent-mindedness. He could hardly believe that he could be so lucky as to get coffee inside the Ashram, and that too from Gandhiji's own hands. A little later, Bapu's footsteps were heard again coming nearer and nearer his room. He now feared that Bapu was coming to tell him that he had made a mistake in promising him coffee, and that coffee was really impossible inside the Ashram. But to his great surprise he saw Gandhiji walking in with a tray covered with a khadi napkin. He could hardly believe his ears, when Gandhiji placed the tray near his bed and said, 'Here is your coffee and toast. I have made it myself, and even a South Indian like you will agree that it is well made. '
'Bapu, Bapu,' faltered the boy, 'why didn't you tell someone else to make the coffee ? I am so sorry that you had to take all this trouble for my sake.' 'Let it be,' replied Gandhiji, most affectionately. Don't let the coffee get cold. Ba was asleep and I did not like to wake her up. You had better drink it now. I should be going now. I'll send someone to take away the tray.' And with these words, Gandhiji walked away. The coffee was really very good, and the boy enjoyed it thoroughly. Coming from Bapu's hands, that coffee was like divine nectar itself."
"But, mother, when no one was allowed to drink coffee or tea inside the Ashram, how did the coffee get there so quickly? '"
"You see, son, Rajaji and Mr. Andrews often used to come to see Gandhiji, and Kasturbai always kept some coffee and tea for them, though for no one else. That was how Gandhiji was able to prepare the coffee for the boy.
All kinds of people would come to the Sevagram Ashram to meet Bapu. Someone would bring a sick child to be healed, another would come to have a dispute about property settled. Sometimes a husband and wife would come and tell Bapu of their quarrels and seek his help in settling them. One day there walked in a man who seemed to be slightly mad. It was later found that he was a very well-read man and had been a professor in some college. He had also been to jail a number of times, and had now become a sadhu.32
He had roamed the jungles for many years without any clothes at all. He had fasted foe weeks at a time; he had at one time taken a vow of silence and had gone so far as to stitch his lips with a copper wire. For a long time he lived only on neem33
leaves and unbaked flour. In the course of his wanderings, he came to the Sevagram Ashram and he wanted to meet Bapu. Bapu looked after him with great affection and care and succeeded in bringing him back to the world of normal human beings.
In the beginning he disliked work, but, in course of time, he began to work for seventeen hours at a stretch. He would spin for eight to ten hours, and teach the inmates of the Ashram for another seven or eight hours. He became a fully normal and active human being, and, whereas he had formerly gone about with sealed lips and avoided human society, he would now make the whole Ashram ring with his hearty laughter. He even agreed to wear a short dhoti, but more than this he would not keep anything else with him. He would walk fearlessly to a place full of snakes and scorpions. Sometimes, however, he would get into one of his old moods, and then he would go to Mahatmaji, troubled and upset, and ask for permission to hang himself upside down in a well. Of course he was never allowed to do anything so foolish; for Bapu's word was law to him and he would obey it unquestioningly like a child.
In those days Bapu was working from his Ashram to remove untouchability, ignorance and superstition from the country. He started the Charkha34
Institute, the Education Institute, and the Institute for the Protection of Cows. It was his wish to provide occupation for the villagers, when they were idle and had no work to do in the fields and thus add to their income. Such occupation, he thought, could be found in spinning, weaving newar35
or some other similar handicraft. At the same time he also wanted the villagers to learn to read and write, and thus prepare themselves for the final battle for freedom. He wanted to get them freedom not only from the British, but also from poverty, diseases and ignorance.''
Hari had begun to yawn and so, the mother asked, "You seem to be tired and sleepy. I have come nearly to the end of my story, but I shall continue it tomorrow."
"No," said Hari, "I am not at all sleepy. In fact, I am all attention and I don't think I can go to sleep before I have heard the entire story. Do please go on, mother dear."
31. Betel leaf
32. A holy man or a hermit
33. A tree common in India.
34. Spinning wheel.
35. A broad rough tape.