If you had lots of money, what would you choose for yourself: a piece of coarse cloth or colourful fine clothes?
There was a time when Gandhi would have chosen the latter. At school as a child and later as a student of law in England, he bought the best of clothes, in tune with the fashion of the time.
How then did the change to a mere loin cloth occur? Well, it did not happen overnight but in phases. The first phase in this shedding began during his stay in South Africa. Having suffered at the hands of the British rulers he came to feel that if Asians and Africans were to win over humiliation, they needed to stop imitating Europeans at once.
At the same time, Gandhi was also influenced by the book Unto This Last. Real beauty, he learnt from this book, comes from within rather than from that which is outside. In Africa, therefore, his western clothes gave way to his native Kathiawari dress: dhoti, kurta and a turban.
It was in this elaborate Indian dress that Gandhi returned to India in 1915. Soon after, he went on an extensive tour of India. It was during this tour that he came to realise what poverty meant.
Once, in Madurai, he addressed a public meeting attended by a large number of men and women. That night, the picture of those half clad men and women filled his thoughts.
Next morning, Mr. Rajan who was translating Gandhiji's English speeches into Tamil, came to fetch him. Finding Gandhi in a loin cloth, Mr. Rajan said, "It is time for the meeting. Please get ready soon." "I'm ready," said Gandhi.
Surprised, Mr. Rajan asked again, "Are you not getting dressed to go?" At which Gandhi said, "From today, this is what I am going to wear - the dress that every Indian wears."