THE SELECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Vol. II - SATYAGRAHA IN SOUTH AFRICA > Tolstoy Farm - III
35. Tolstoy Farm - III
In this chapter I propose to string together a number of Tolstoy Farm reminiscences which are rather disjoined and for which therefore I must crave the reader’s indulgence.
A teacher hardly ever had to teach the kind of heterogeneous class that fell to my lot, containing as it did pupils of all ages and both the sexes, from boys and girls of about 7 years of age to young men of twenty and young girls 12 or 13 years old. Some of the boys were wild and mischievous.
What was I to teach this ill-assorted group? How was I to be all things to all pupils? Again in what language should I talk to all for them? The Tamil and Telugu children knew their own mother-tongue or English and a little Dutch. I could speak to the only in English. I divided the class into two sections, the Gujarati section to be talked to in Gujarati and the rest in English. As the principal part of the teaching. I arranged to tell or read to them some interesting stories. I also proposed to bring them into close mutual contact and to lead them to cultivate a spirit of friendship and service. Then there was to be imparted some general knowledge of history and geography and in some cases of arithmetic. Writing was also taught, and so were some bhajans which formed part of our prayers, and to which therefore I tried to attract the Tamil children as well.
The boys and girls met freely. My experiment of coeducation on Tolstoy Farm was the most fearless of its type. I dare not today allow, or train children to enjoy, the liberty which I had granted the Tolstoy Farm class. I have often felt that my mind them used to be more innocent than it is now, and that was due perhaps to my ignorance. Since then I have had bitter experiences, and have sometimes burnt my fingers badly. Persons whom I took to be thoroughly innocent have turned out corrupt. I have observed the roots of evil deep down in my own nature; and timidity has claimed me for its own.
I do not repent having made the experiment. My conscience bears witness that it did not do any harm. But as a child who has burnt himself with hot milk blows even into when my present attitude is one of extra caution.
A man cannot borrow faith in courage from others. The doubter is marked out of destruction, as the Gita puts it. My faith and courage were at their highest in Tolstoy Farm. I have been praying to God to permit me to re-attain that height, but the prayer has not yet been heard, for the number of such suppliants before the Great White Throne is legion. The only consolation is that God has as many years as there are suppliants. I therefore repose full faith in Him and know that my prayer will be accepted when I have fitted myself for such grace.
This was my experiment. I sent the boys reputed to be mischievous and the innocent young girls to bathe in the same spot at the same time. I had fully explained the duty of self-restraint to the children, who were all familiar with my Satyagraha doctrine, I knew and so did the children, that I loved them with a mother’s love. The reader will remember the spring at some distance from the Kitchen. Was it a folly to let the children meet there for bath and yet to expect them to be innocent? My eye always followed the girls as a mother’s eye would follow a daughter. The time was fixed when all the boys and all the girls went together for a bath. There was an element of safety in the fact that they went in a body. Solitude was always avoided. Generally I also would be at the spring at the same time.
All of us slept in an open verandah. The boys and the girls would spread themselves around me. There was hardly a distance of three feet between any two beds. Some care was exercised in arranging the order of the beds, but any amount of such care would have been futile in the case of a wicked mind. I now see that God alone safeguarded the honour of these boys and girls. I made the experiment from a belief that boys and girls could thus live together without harm, and the parents with their boundless faith in me allowed me to make it.
One day one of the young men made fun of two girls, and the girls themselves or some child brought me the information. The news made me tremble. I made inquiries and found that the report was true. I remonstrated with the young men, but that was not enough. I wished the two girls to have some sign on their person as a warning to every young man that no evil eye might be cast upon them, and as a lesson to every girl that no one dare assail their purity. The passionate Ravana could not so much as touch Sita with evil intent while Rama was thousands of miles away. What mark should the girls bear so as to give them a sense of security and at the same time to sterilize the sinner’s eye? This question kept me awake for the night. In the morning. I gently suggested to the girls that they might let me cut off their fine long hair. On the Farm we shaved and cut the hair of one another, and we therefore kept scissors and clipping machines. At first, the girls would not listen to me. I had already explained the situation to the elderly women who could not bear to think of my suggestion but yet quite understood my motive, and they were both of them noble girls. One of them is alas! now no more. She was very bright and intelligent. The other is living and the mistress of a house hold of her own. They came round after all, and at once the very hand that is narrating this incident set to cut off their hair. And afterwards analyzed and explained my procedure before my class, with excellent results, I never heard of a joke again. The girls in question did not lose in any case; goodness knows how much they gained. I hoped the young men still remember this incident and keep their eyes from sin.
Experiments such as I have placed on record are not meant for imitation. Any teacher who imitated them would be incurring grave risk. I have here taken note of them only to show how far a man can go in certain circumstances and to stress the purity of the Satyagraha struggle. This very purity was a guarantee of its victory. Before launching on such experiments, a teacher has to be both father and mother to his pupils and to be prepared for all eventualities whatever, and only the hardest penance can fit him to conduct them.
This act of mine was not without its effect on the entire life of the settlers on the Farm. As we had intended to cut down expenses to the barest minimum, we changed our dress also. In the cities, the Indian men including the Satyagrahis put on European dress. Such elaborate clothing was not needed on the Farm. We had all become labourers and therefore put on labourers’ dress but in the European style, viz. workingmen’s trousers and shirts, which were imitated from prisoners’ uniform. We all used cheap trousers and shirts which could be had ready made out of coarse blue cloth. Most of the ladies were good hands at sewing and took charge of the tailoring department.
As far food we generally had rice, dal, vegetable and rotlis with porridge occasionally superadded. All this was served in a single dish, which was not really a dish, but a kind of bowl such as is supplied to prisoners in jail. We had made wooden spoons on the Farm ourselves. There were three meals in the day. We had bread and home-made wheaten ‘coffee’1 at six o’clock in the morning, rice, dal and vegetable at eleven, and wheat pap and milk, or bread and ‘coffee’ at half past five in the evening. After the evening meal we had prayers at seven or half past seven. At prayers we sang bhajans and sometimes had readings from the Ramayana or books on Islam. The bhajans were in English, Hindi and Gujarati. Sometimes we had one bhajan (Hymn) from each of the three languages and sometimes only one. Every one retired at 9 o’clock.
Many observed the Ekadashi fast on the Farm. We were joined there by Shri P.K. Kotval who had much experience of fasting, and some of us followed him to keep the chaturmas. Ramzan also arrived in the meanwhile. There were Musalman youngsters among us, and we felt we must encourage them to keep the fasts. We arranged for them to have meals in the evening as well as in the early morning. Porridge etc. were prepared for them in the evening. There was no meal of course, nor did anyone ask for it. To keep the Musalman friends company the rest of us had only one meal a day in the evening. As a rule we finished our evening meal before sunset; so the only difference was that the others finished their supper about when the Musalman boys commenced theirs. These boys were so courteous that they did not put anyone to extra trouble although they were observing fasts, and the fact that the non-muslim children supported them in the matter of fasting left a good impression on all. I do not remember that there ever was a quarrel much less a split, between the Hindu and the Musalman boys on the score of religion. On the other hand I know that although staunch in their own beliefs, they all treated one another with respect and assisted one another in their respective religious observances.
Although we were living far from the amenities of city life, we did not keep even the commonest applications against the possible attacks of illness. I had in those days as much faith in the nature cure of disease as I had in the innocence of children. I felt that there should not be disease as we lived a simple life, but if there was, I was confident of dealing with it. My booklet on health is a note-book of my experiments and of my living faith in those days. I was proud enough to believe that illness for me was out of the question. I held that all kinds of disease could be cured by earth and water treatment, fasting or changes in diet. There was not a single case of illness on the Farm, in which we used drugs or called in a doctor. There was an old man from North India 70 years of age who suffered from asthma and cough, but whom I cured simply by changes in diet and water treatment. But I have now lost the courage, and in view of any two serious illnesses I feel that I have forfeited even the right, to make such experiments.
Gokhale arrived in South Africa while we were still living on the Farm. His tour must be described in another chapter, but I will place here on record a half sweet, half bitter reminiscence. The reader has now some idea of the sort of life we were leading. There was no cot on the Farm, but we borrowed one of Gokhale. There was no room where he could enjoy full privacy. For sitting accommodation we had nothing beyond the benches in our school. Even so, how could we resist the temptation of bringing Gokhale in spite of his delicate health to the Farm? And how could he help seeing it, either? I was foolish enough to imagine that Gokhale would be able to mile and a half from the station to the Farm. I had asked him beforehand, and he had agreed to everything without bestowing any thought upon it, thanks to his simplicity and overwhelming confidence in me. It rained that day, as fate would have it, and I was not in a position suddenly to make any special arrangement. I have never forgotten the trouble to which I put Gokhale that day in my ignorant affection. The hardship was too much for him to bear and he caught a chill. We could not take him to the kitchen and dining hall. He had been put up in Mr. kallenbach’s room. His dinner would get cold we brought it from the kitchen to his room. I prepared special soap, and kotval special bread for him, but these could not be taken to him hot. We managed as best we could. Gokhale uttered not a syllable, but I understood from his face what a fully had committed. When Gokhale came to know that all of us slept on the floor, he removed the cot which had been brought for him and had his own bed too spread on the floor. This whole night was a night of repentance for me. Gokhale had a rule in life, which seemed to me a bad rule. He would not permit anyone expect a servant to wait upon him. He had no servant with him during this tour. Mr. Kallenbach and I entreated him to let us massage his feet. But he would not let us even touch him, and half jocularly, half angrily said: ‘You all seem to think that you have born to suffer hardships and discomforts, and people like myself have been born to be pampered by you. You must suffer today the punishment for this extremism of yours. I will not let you even touch me. Do you think that you will go out to attend to nature’s needs and at the same time keep a commode for me? I will bear any amount of hardship but I will humble your pride.’ These words were to us like a thunderbolt, and deeply grieved Mr. Kallenbach and me. The only consolation was, that Gokhale wore a smile on his face all the while. Krishna no doubt was often deeply offended by Arjuna, ‘unknowing of His majesty and careless in the fondness of his love,’ but he soon forgot such incidents. Gokhale remembered only our will to serve, though he did not accord us the high privilege of serving him. The deeply affectionate letter he wrote me from Mombasa is still imprinted upon my heart. Gokhale bore everything cheerfully, but till the last never accepted the service which it was in our power to render. He had to take the food etc., from our hands, but that he could not help.
The next morning he allowed no rest either to himself or to us. He corrected all his speeches which we proposed to publish in book form. When he had to write anything, he was in the habit of walking to and from and thinking it out. He had to write a small letter and I thought that he would soon have done with it. But no. As I twitted him upon it, he read me a little homily: ‘You do not know my ways of life. I will not do even the least little thing in a hurry. I will think about it and consider the central area. I will next deliberate as to the language suited to the subject and then set to write. If everyone did as I do, what a huge saving of time would there be? And the nation would be saved from the avalanche of half-baked ideas which now threatens to overwhelm her.’
As the reminiscences of Tolstoy Farm would be incomplete without an account of Gokhale’s visit thereto, so would they be if I omitted to say something about the character and conduct of Mr. Kallenbach. It was really a wonder how he lived on Tolstoy farm among our people as if he were one of us. Gokhale was not the man to be attracted by ordinary things. But even he felt strongly drawn to the revolutionary change in Kallenbach’s life. Kallenbach had been brought up in the lap of luxury and had never known what privation was. In fact, indulgence had been his religion. He had had his fill of all the pleasures of life, and he had never hesitated to secure for his comfort everything that money could buy.
It was no commonplace for such a man to live, move and have his being on Tolstoy farm, and to become one with the Indian settlers. This was an agreeable surprise for the Indians. Some Europeans classed Kallenbach either as a fool or a lunatic, while others honoured him for his spirit of renunciation. Kallenbach never felt his renunciation to be painful. In fact, he enjoyed it even more than he had enjoyed the pleasures of life before. He would be transported with rapture while describing the bliss of a simple life, and for a moment his hearers would be tempted to go in for it. He mixed so lovingly with the young as well as the old, that separation from him even for a short time left a clearly felt void in their lives. Mr. Kallenbach was very fond of fruit trees and therefore he reserved gardening as his own portfolio. Every morning he would engage children as well as grown-up people in tending the fruit trees. He would make them work hard, but he had such a cheerful temper and smiling face, that everyone loved to work with him. Whenever a party of tourists left the Farm for Johannesburg at 2 a.m., Mr. Kallanbach would always be one of them.
Mr. Kallenbach and I had frequent talks on religion, which usually centered on fundamentals like non-violence or love, truth, and the like. When I said that it was a sin to kill snakes and such other animals, Mr. Kallenbach was shocked to hear it as well as my numerous other European friends. But in the end he admitted the truth of that principle in the abstract. At the very beginning of my intercourse with him, Mr. Kallenbach had seen the propriety and the duty of carrying out in practice every principle of which he was convinced intellectually, and therefore he had been able to effect momentous changes in his life without a moment’s hesitation. Now if it was improper to kill serpents and the like, we must cultivate their friendship, thought Mr. Kallenbach. He therefore first collected books on snakes in order to identify different species of reptiles. He there read that not all snakes are poisonous and some of them actually serve as protectors of field crops. He taught us all to recognize different kinds of snakes and at last tamed a huge cobra which was found on the Farm. Mr. Kallenbach fed it every day with his own hands. I gently argued with him: ‘Although you do all this in a friendly spirit, your friendliness may not be quite clear to the cobra, especially as your kindness is not unalloyed with fear. Neither you nor I have the courage to play with it if was free, and what we should really cultivate is courage of that stamp. Therefore, though there is friendliness, there is not love in this act of taming the cobra. Our behavior should be such that the cobra can see through it. We see every day that all animals grasp at once whether the other party loves or fears them. Again you do not think the cobra to be venomous, and have imprisoned it in order to study its ways and habits. This is a kind of self-indulgence for which there should be no room in the case of real friendship.’
My argument appealed to Mr. Kallenbach, but he could not bring himself all at once to release the cobra. I did not exercise any pressure upon him. I too was taking interest in the life of the cobra, and the children, of course, enjoyed it immensely. No one was allowed to harass the cobra, which however was casting about for some means of escape. Whether the door of the cage was inadvertently left open, or whether the cobra managed to open it, in a couple of days Mr. Kallenbach found the cage empty as he one morning proceeded to call upon his friend. Mr. Kallenbach was glad of it and so was I. But thanks to this taming experiment, snakes became a frequent subject of our talk. Mr. Kallenbach brought to the Farm a poor and disabled German names Allbreht who was so hump-backed that he could not walk without supporting himself on a stick. Albrecht had boundless courage, and being an educated man, took deep interest in recondite problems. He too had become one with the Indian settlers and mixed freely with all. He began fearlessly to play with snakes. He would bring young snakes in his hand and let them play on his palm. If our stay on Tolstoy Farm had been further prolonged, goodness knows what would have been the upshot of Albrecht’s adventures.
As a result of these experiments we did not fear snakes as much as we otherwise might have, but it must not be supposed that no one on the Farm feared serpents or that there was a total prohibition against killing them. To have a conviction that there is violence or sin in a certain course of conduct is one thing; to have the power of acting up to that conviction is quite another. A person who fears snakes and who is not ready to resign his own life cannot avoid killing snakes in case of emergency. I remembered one such incident, which occurred on the Farm. The reader must already have seen that the Farm was pretty well infested with snakes. There was no human population on the Farm when we occupied it, and it had been in this deserted condition for some time. One day a snake was found in Mr. Kallenbach’s own room at such a place that it seemed impossible to drive it away or to catch it. One of the students saw it, and calling me there, asked me what was to be done. He wanted my permission, to kill it. He could have killed it without such permission, but the settlers, whether students or others, would not generally take such a step without consulting me. I saw that it was my duty to permit the student to kill the snake, and I permitted him. Even as I am writing this, I do not feel that I did anything wrong in granting the permission. I had not the courage to seize the serpent with the hand or otherwise to remove the danger to the settlers, and I have not cultivated such courage to this day.
Needless to say, there was on the farm an ebb and flow of Satyagrahis, some of whom would be expecting to go to prison while others had been released from it. Once it so happened that there arrived at the Farm two Satyagrahis who had been released by the Magistrate on personal recognizance and who had to attend the court the next day to receive the sentence. They were engrossed in talk, while time was up for the last train they must catch, and it was a question whether they would succeed in taking that train. They were both young men and good athletes. They ran for all that they were worth along with some of us who wanted to see them off. While still on the way, I heard the whistle of the train as it steamed into the station. When there was a second whistle indicating its departure, we had reached the precincts of the station. The young men increased their speed every moment, and I lagged behind them. The train started. Fortunately, the station master saw them running up and stopped the moving train, thus enabling them to take it after all. I tendered my thanks to the station master when I reached the station. Two points emerge out of this incident; first, the eagerness of the Satyagrahis in seeking jail and in fulfilling their promises, and secondly, the sweet relations cultivated by the Satyagrahis with the local officers. If the young men had missed that train, they could not have attended the court the next day. No surety had been required of them, nor had they been asked to deposit any money with the court. They had been released only on the word of gentlemen. The Satyagrahis had acquired such prestige that magistrates did not think necessary to ask them for bail as they were courting jail. The young Satyagrahis therefore were deeply pained at the prospect of missing the train, and ran as swiftly as the wind. At the commencement of the struggle Satyagrahis were somewhat harassed by officials, and the jail authorities in some places were unduly severe. But as the movement advanced we found that the bitterness of the officials was softened and in some cases even changed to sweetness. And where there was long continued intercourse with them, they even began to assist is like the station master I have referred to. The reader must not imagine that Satyagrahis bribed these officials in any shape or form in order to secure amenities from them. The Satyagrahis never thought of purchasing such irregular facilities. But where facilities were offered through courtesy, they were freely accepted, and the Satyagrahis had been enjoying such facilities in many places. If a station master is ill-disposed, he can harass passengers in a variety of ways, keeping himself all the while within the four corners of the rules and regulations. No complaint can be preferred against such harassment. On the other hand of if the official is well disposed, he can grant many facilities without violating the rules. All such facilities we had been able to secure from the stationmaster, Lawler, and the because of the courtesy, the patience and the capacity for self-suffering of the Satyagrahis.
It will not perhaps be amiss here to take note of an irrelevant incident. I have been fond for about the last thirty-five years of making experiments in dietetics from the religious, economic and hygienic standpoints. This predilection for food reform still persists. People around me would naturally be influenced by my experiments. ‘Side by side with dietetics, I made experiments in treating diseases with natural curative agents only such as earth and water and without recourse to drugs. When I practiced as barrister, cordial relations were established with my clients so that we looked upon one another almost as members of the same family. The clients therefore made me a partner in their joys and sorrows. Some of them sought my advice being familiar with my experiments in nature cure. Stray patients of this class would sometimes arrive at Tolstoy Farm. One of these was Lutavan, an aged client who first came from North India as an indentured labourer. He was over seventy years old and suffered from chronic asthma and cough. He had given long trials to vaidyaas’ powders and doctors’ mixtures. In those days I had boundless faith in the efficacy of my indeed to treat him but to try my experiments upon him if he lived on the farm and observed all my conditions. Lutavan complied with my conditions. One of these was that he should give up tobacco to which he was strongly addicted. I made him fast for 24 hours. At noon every day I commenced giving him a kuhne bath in the sun, as the weather then was not extra warm. For food he had a little rice, some olive oil, honey, and along with honey, porridge and sweet oranges sometimes and at other times grapes and wheaten coffee. Salt and all condiments whatever were avoided. Lutavan slept in the same building as myself but in the inner apartment. For bed everyone was given two blankets, one for spreading and the other for covering purposes, and a wooden pillow. A week passed. There was an accession of energy in Lutavan’s body. His asthma and cough gave less trouble, but he had more fits at night than by day. I suspected he was smoking secretly, and I asked him if he did. Lutavan said he did not. A couple of days passed and as still there was no improvement, I determined to watch Lutavan secretly. Everyone slept on the floor, and the place was full of snakes. Mr. Kallenbach had therefore given me an electric torch and kept one himself. I always slept with this torch by my side. One night I resolved to lie in the bed awake. My bed was spread on the verandah just near the door. Lutavan slept inside but also near the door. Lutavan coughed at midnight, lighted a cigarette and began to smoke. I slowly went up to his bed and switched on the torch. Lutavan understood everything and became nervous. He ceased smoking, stood up and touched my feet. ‘I have done a great wrong,’ he said. ‘I will never smoke again henceforth. I have deceived you. Please excuse me.’ So saying he almost began to sob. I consoled him and said that it was in his interest not to smoke. His cough should have been cured according to my calculations, and when I found that he was still suffering from it, I had suspected that he was smoking secretly. Lutavan gave up smoking. His asthma and cough grew less severe in two or three days, and in a month he was perfectly cured. He was now full of vigour and took his leave of us.
The station master’s son, a child of two years, had an attack typhoid. This gentleman too knew about my curative methods, and sought my advice. On the first day I gave the child no food at all, and from the second day onwards only half a banana well mashed with a spoonful of olive oil and a few drops of sweet orange juice. At night I applied a cold mud poultice to the child’s abdomen, and in this case too my treatment was successful. It is possible that the doctor’s diagnosis was not a case of typhoid.
I made many such experiments on the Farm, and I do not remember to have failed in even a single case. But today I would not venture to employ the same treatment. I would now shudder to have to give banana and olive oil in a case of typhoid. In 1918, I had an attack of dysentery myself and I failed to cure it. And I cannot say to this very day, whether it is due to my want of self-confidence or to the difference in climate that the same treatment which was effective in South Africa Is not equally successful in India. But this I know that the home treatment of disease and the simplicity of our life on Tolstoy farm were responsible for a saving of at least two to three lakhs of public money. The settlers learned to look upon one another as members of the same family, the Satyagrahis secured a pure place of refuge, little scope was left for dishonesty or hypocrisy and the wheat was separated from the tares. The dietetic experiments thus far detailed were made from a hygienic standpoint, but I conducted a most important experiment upon myself which was purely spiritual in its nature.
I had pondered deeply and read widely over the question whether as vegetarians we had any right to take milk. But when I was living on the farm, some book or newspaper fell into my hands, in which I read about the inhuman treatment accorded to cows in Calcutta in order to extract the last drop of milk from them, and came across a description of the cruel and terrible process of phuka. I was once discussing with Mr. Kallenbach the necessity for talking milk, and in course of the discussion, I told him about this horrible practice, pointed out several other spiritual advantages flowing from the rejection of milk, and observed that it was desirable to give up milk it was possible. Mr. Kallenbach with his usual spirit of a knight-errant was ready at once to launch upon the experiment of doing without milk, as he highly approved of my observations. The same day both he and I gave up milk, and in the end we came to restrict ourselves to a diet of fresh and dried fruit, having eschewed all cooked food as well. I may not here go into the later history of this experiment or tell how it ended, but I may say this, that during five years of a purely fruitarian life I never felt weak, nor did I suffer from any disease. Again during the same period I possessed the fullest capacity for bodily labour, so much so that one day I walked 55 miles on foot, and 40 miles was an ordinary day’s journey for me. I am firmly of opinion that this experiment yielded excellent spiritual results. It was always been a matter of regret for me that I was compelled somewhat to modify my fruitarian diet, and if I were free from my political preoccupations, even at this age of my life and at a risk to my body I would revert to it today further to explore its spiritual possibilities. The lack of spiritual insight in doctors and vaidyas has also been an obstacle in my path.
But I must now close this chapter of pleasant and important reminiscences. Such dangerous experiments could have their place only in a struggle of which self-purification was the very essence. Tolstoy Farm proved to be a centre of spiritual purification and penance for the final campaign. I have serious doubts as to whether the struggle could have been prosecuted for eight years, whether we could have secured larger funds, and whether the thousands of men who participated in the last phase of the struggle would have borne their share in it, if there had been no Tolstoy Farm. Tolstoy Farm was never placed in the limelight, yet an institution which deserved in attracted public sympathy to itself. The Indians saw that the Tolstoy Farmers were doing what they looked upon in the light of hardship. This public confidence was a great asset to the movement when it was organized afresh on a large scale in 1913. One can never tell whether such assets give an account of themselves, and if yes, when. But I do not entertain and would ask the reader not to entertain, a shadow of a doubt that such latent assets do in God’s good time become patent.

1. A harmless and nutritious substitute for tea, coffee or cocoa can be prepared as follows. Even connoisseurs of coffee have failed to perceive any difference in taste between coffee and this substitute. Bake well-cleaned wheat on the fire, until it has turned quite red and begun to grow dark in colour. Then powder it like coffee. Take a spoonful of this powder in a cup and pour boiling water over it. Preferably keep it over the fire for a minute, and add milk and sugar to taste, but it can be taken without them also’ from the author’s Gujarati booklet on health, Chapter V. Indian Opinion, XI-10, March 8, 1913.

V.G.D.