Upon the Farm oranges, apricots and plums grew in such abundance that during the season the Satyagrahis could have their fill of the fruit and yet have a surplus.
The spring was about 500 yards away from our quarters and the water had
to be fetched on carrying poles.
Here we insisted that we should not have any servants either for the household
work or as far as might be even for the farming and building operations.
Everything therefore from cooking to scavenging was done with our own
hands. As regards accommodation for families, we resolved from the first
that the men and women should be housed separately. The houses therefore
were to be built in two separately. The houses therefore were to be built
in two separate blocks, each at some distance from the other. For the
time it was considered sufficient to provide accommodation for ten women
and sixty men. Then again we had to erect a house for Mr. Kallenbach and
by its side a school house, as well as a workshop for carpentry, show
The settlers hailed from Gujarat, Tamilnad, Andhradesh and North India,
and there were Hindus, Musalmans, Parsis and Christians among them. About
forty of them were young men, two or three old men, five women and twenty
to thirty children of whom four or five were girls.
The Christian and other women were meat-eaters. Mr. Kallenbach and I thought
it desirable to exclude meat from the firm. But how could we ask people,
who had no scruples in the matter, who had been habituated to taking meat
since childhood and who were coming over here in their days of adversity,
to give up meat even temporarily? But if they were given meat, would not
that swell our cost of living? Again should those who were accustomed
to take beef be given that too? How many separate kitchens must be run
in that case? What was my duty on this point? Having been instrumental
in giving monetary help to these families, I had already given my support
to meat-eaters as well as beef-eating. If I made a rule that meat-eaters
should not be helped, I would have to prosecute the Satyagraha struggle
through vegetarians only, which was absurd as the movement had been organized
on behalf of all classes of Indians. I did not take long clearly to visualize
my duty in these circumstances. If the Christians and Musalmans asked
even for beef, that too must be provided for them. To refuse them admission
to the Farm was absolutely of the question.
But where love is, there God is also. The Musalman friends had already
granted me permission to have a purely vegetarian kitchen. I had now to
approach Christian sisters whose husbands or sons were in jail. I had
often come in such intimate contact with the Christian friends who were
now in jail and who had on similar occasions consented to having a vegetarian
dietary.But this was the first time that I had to deal at close quarters
with their families in their absence. I represented to the sisters the
difficulty of housing accommodation as well as of finance and my own deep
rooted sentiment in the matter. At the same time I assured them that even
beef would be provided for them if they wanted it. The sisters kindly
consented not to have meat, and cooking department was placed in their
charge. I with or without another man was detailed to assist them. My
presence acted as a check upon petty bickering. The food was to be the
simplest possible. The time as well as the number of meals was fixed.
There was to be one single Kitchen, and all were to dine in a single row.
Everyone was to see to the cleaning of his own dish and other things.
The common pots were to be cleaned by different parties in turn. I must
state that Satyagrahis lived on Tolstoy Farm for a long time, but neither
the women nor the men ever asked for meat. Drink, smoking, etc. were of
course totally prohibited.
As I have already stated, we wanted to be self-reliant as far as possible
even in erecting buildings. Our architect was Mr. Kallenbach of course,
and he got hold of a European mason. A Gujarati carpenter, Narayandas
Damania, volunteered his services free of charge and brought other carpenters
to work at reduced rates. As regards unskilled labour, the settlers worked
with their own hands. Some of us who had supple limbs literally worked
wonders. A fine Satyagrahi of the name of Vihari did half of the carpenter’s
work. The lion-like Thambi Naidoo was in charge of sanitation and marketing
for which he had to go to Johannesburg.
One of the settlers was Pragji Khandubhai Desai who had never been accustomed
to discomfort all his life, but who had here to put up with bitter cold,
a hot sun and sharp rains. In the beginning we lived in tents for about
two months while the buildings were under construction. The structures
were all of corrugated iron and therefore did not take long to raise.
The timber too could be had ready-made in all sizes required. All we had
to do was to cut it to measure. There were not many doors or windows to
be prepared. Hence it was that quite a number of buildings could be erected
within such a short space of time. But all this labour was a heavy tax
on Pragji’s physical constitution. The work on the Farm was certainly
harder than in jail. One day Pragji actually fainted thanks to fatigue
and heat. But he was not the man to give in. He fully trained up his body
here, and in the end he stood abreast as a good worker with the best of
Then there was Joseph Royeppen a barrister free from a barrister’s
pride. He could not undertake very hard work. It was difficult for him
to take down loads from the railway train and to haul them on the cart,
but he did it as best he could.
The weak became strong on Tolstoy Farm and labour proved to be a tonic
Everyone had to go to Johannesburg on some errand or other. Children liked
to go there just for the fun of it. I also had to go there on business.
We therefore made a rule that we could go there by rail only on the public
business of our little commonwealth, and then too travel third class.
Anyone who wanted to go on a pleasure trip must go on foot, and carry
home-made provisions with him. No one might spend anything on his food
in the city. Had it not been for these drastic rules, the money saved
by living in a rural locality would have been wasted in railway fares
and city picnics. The provisions carried were of the simplest: home-baked
bread made from coarse wheat flour ground at home, from which the bran
was not removed, groundnut butter also prepared at home, and home-made
marmalade. We had purchased an iron hand-mill for grinding wheat. Groundnut
butter was made by roasting and then grinding groundnuts, and was four
times cheaper than ordinary butter. As for the oranges, we had plenty
of them on the Farm. We scarcely used cow’s milk on the Farm and
generally managed with condensed milk.
But to return to the trips. Anyone who wished to go to Johannesburg went
there on foot once or twice a week and returned the same day. As I have
already stated, it was a journey of 21 miles and back. We saved hundreds
of rupees by this one rule of going on foot, and those who thus went walking
were much benefited. Some newly acquired the habit of walking. The general
practice was that the sojourner should rise at two o’clock and start
at half past two. He would reach Johannesburg in six to seven hours. The
record for the minimum time taken on the journey was 4 hours 18 minutes.
The reader must not imagine that this discipline operated upon the settlers
at all as a hardship. On the other hand it was accepted cheerfully. It
would have been impossible to have a single settler if force had been
employed. The youngsters thoroughly enjoyed the work on the Farm and the
errands to the city. It was difficult to prevent them from playing their
planks while engaged in work. No more work was given to them than what
they willingly and cheerfully rendered, and I never found that the work
thus done was unsatisfactory either in quantity or in quality.
A paragraph may be devoted to our sanitary arrangements. In spite of the
large number of settlers, one could not find refuse of dirt anywhere on
the Firm. All rubbish was buried in trenches sunk for the purpose. No
water was permitted to be thrown on the roads. All waste water was collected
in buckets and used to water the trees. Leavings of food and vegetable
refuse were utilized as manure. A square pit one foot and a half deep
was sunk near the house to receive the night soil, which was fully covered
with the excavated earth and which therefore did not give out any smell.
There were no files, and no one would imagine that night soil had been
buried there. We were thus not only spared a nuisance but the source of
possible nuisance was converted into invaluable manure for the Farm. If
night soil was properly utilized, we would get manure worth lakhs of rupees
and also secure immunity from a number of diseases. By our bad habits
we spoil our scared river banks and furnish excellent breeding grounds
for flies with the result that the very flies which through our criminal
negligence settle upon uncovered night soil defile our bodies after we
have bathed. A small spade is the means of salvation from a great nuisance.
Leaving night soil, cleaning the nose or spitting on the road is as in
against God as well as humanity, and betrays, and betrays a sad want of
consideration for others. The man who does not cover his waste deserves
a heavy penalty even if he lives in a forest.
The work before us was to make the Farm a busy hive of industry, thus
to save money and in the end to make the families self-supporting. If
we achieved this goal, we could battle with the Transvaal Government for
an indefinite period. We had to spend some money on shoes. The use of
shoes in a hot climate is harmful, as all the perspiration is absorbed
by the feet which thus grow tender. No socks were needed in the Transvaal
as in India, but we thought that the feel must be protected against thorns,
stones and the like. We therefore determined to learn to make sandals.
There is at Marian hill near Pine town a monastery of German catholic
monks called the Trappists, where industries of this nature are carried
on Mr. Kallenbach went there and acquired the art of making sandals. After
he returned, he taught it to me and I in my turn to other workers. Thus
several young men learnt how to manufacture sandals, and we commenced
selling them to friends. I need scarcely say that many of my pupils easily
surpassed me in the art. Another handicraft introduced was that of carpentry.
Having founded a sort of village we needed all manner of things large
and small from benches to boxes, and we made them all ourselves. The selfless
carpenters already referred to helped us for several months. Mr. Kallenbach
was the head of the carpentry department, and as such every moment gave
us the evidence of his mastery and exactitude.
A school was indispensable for the youngsters and the children. This was
the most difficult of our tasks and we never achieved complete success
in this matter till the very last. The burden of teaching work was largely
borne by Mr. Kallenbach and myself. The school could be held only in the
afternoon, when both of us were thoroughly exhausted by our morning labour,
and so were our pupils. The teachers therefore would often be dozing as
well as the taught. We would sprinkle water on the eyes, and by playing
with the children try to pull them up and to pull up ourselves, but sometimes
in vain. The body peremptorily demanded rest and would not take a denial.
But this was only one and the least of our many difficulties. For the
classes were conducted in spite of these dozing. What were we to teach
pupils who spoke three languages, Gujarati, Tamil or Telugu, and how?
I was anxious to make these languages the medium of instruction. I knew
a little Tamil but no Telugu. What could one teacher do in these circumstances?
I tried to use some of the young men as teachers, but the experiment was
not altogether a success. Pragji’s services were of course requisitioned.
Some of the youngsters were very mischievous and lazy and were always
on bad terms with their books. A teacher could not expect to make much
headway with such pupils. Again we could not be regular in our teaching.
Business sometimes took Mr. Kallenbach as well as me to Johannesburg.
Religious teaching presented another tough problem. I would like Musalmans
to read the Koran, and Parsis the Avesta. There were one Khoja child,
whose father had laid upon me the responsibility of teaching him a small
pothi of that sect. I collected books bearing on Islam and Zoroastriansim.
I wrote out the fundamental doctrines of Hinduism according to my lights,
I forget now whether it was for my own children or for the Tolstoy Farmers.
If this document was now in my possession, I should have inserted it here
as a landmark in my spiritual progress. But I have thrown away or burnt
many such things in my life. I destroyed such papers as I felt it was
not necessary to preserve them or as the scope of my activities was extended.
I am not sorry for this, as to have preserved all of them would have compelled
to keep cabinets and boxes, which would have been an eyesore to one who
has taken the vow of poverty.
But this teaching experiment was not fruitless. The children were saved
from the infection of intolerance, and learnt to view one another’s
religions and customs with a large-hearted charity. They learnt how to
live together with blood-brothers. They imbibed the lessons of mutual
service, courtesy and industry. And from what little I know about the
late activities of some of the education which they received there has
not been in vain. Even if imperfect, it was thoughtful and religious experiment,
and among the sweetest reminiscences’ of Tolstoy Farm, the reminiscences
of this teaching experiment are no less sweet than the rest.
But another chapter must be devoted to these reminiscences.