Meanwhile my friend had not ceased to worry about me. He one day invited me to go to the theatre. Before the play we were to dine together at the Holborn Restaurant.
The friend had planned to
take me to this restaurant evidently imagining that
modesty would prevent me from asking any questions. And
it was a very big company of diners in the midst of
which my friend and I sat sharing a table between us.
The first course was soup. I wondered what it might be
made of, but did not dare ask the friend
about it. I therefore summoned the waiter. My friend saw
the movement and sternly asked across the table what was
the matter. With considerable hesitation I told him that
I wanted to inquire if the soup was a vegetable soup.
“You are too clumsy for decent society,” he angrily
exclaimed. “If you cannot behave yourself, you had
Feed in some other
restaurant and await me outside.” This delighted me. Out
I went. There was a vegetarian restaurant close by, but
it was closed. So I went without food that night. I
accompanied my friend to the theatre, but he never said
a word about the scene I had created. On my part of
course there was nothing to say.
That was the last friendly
quarrel we had. It did not affect our relations in the
least. I could see and appreciate the love underlying
all my friend’s efforts, and my respect for him was all
the greater on account of our differences in thought and
But I decided that I
should put him at ease, that I should assure him that I
would be clumsy no more, but try to become polished and
make up for my vegetarianism by cultivating other
accomplishments which fitted one for polite society. And
for this purpose I undertook the all too impossible task
of becoming an English gentleman.
The clothes after the
Bombay cut that I was wearing were, I thought,
unsuitable for English society, and I got new ones at
the Army and Navy Stores. I also went in for a
chimney-pot hat costing nineteen shillings – an
excessive price in those days. Not content with this, I
wasted ten pounds on an evening suit made in Bond
Street, the centre of fashionable life in London; and
got my good and noble-hearted brother to send me a
double watch chain of gold. It was not correct to wear a
readymade tie and I learnt the art of tying one for
myself. While in India the mirror had been a luxury
permitted on the days when the family barber gave me a
Here I wasted ten minutes
every day before a huge mirror, watching myself
arranging my tie and parting my hair in the correct
My hair was by no means
soft, and every day it meant a regular struggle with the
brush to keep it in position. Each time the hat was put
on and off, the hand would automatically move towards
the head to adjust the hair, not to mention the other
civilized habit of the hand every now and then doing the
same thing when sitting in polished society.
As if all this were not
enough to make me look the thing, I directed my
attention to other details that were supposed to go
towards the making of an English gentleman. I was told
it was necessary for me to take lessons in dancing,
French, and elocution or speechmaking.
French was not only the
language of neighbouring France, but it was a language
understood all over Europe where I had a desire to
I decided to take dancing
lessons at a class and paid down £ 3 as fees for a term.
I must have taken about six lessons in three weeks.
But it was beyond me to
achieve anything like rhythmic motion. I could not
follow the piano and hence found it impossible to keep
time. What then was I to do? The recluse in the fable
kept a cat to keep off the rats, and then a cow to feed
the cat with milk, and a man to keep the cow and so on.
My ambitions also grew
like the family of the recluse. I thought I should learn
to play the violin in order to cultivate an ear for
Western music. So I invested £ 3 in a violin and
something more in fees.
I sought a third teacher
to give me lessons in elocution and paid him a
preliminary fee of a guinea. He recommended Bell’s
Standard Elocutionist as the textbook, which I
purchased. And I began with a speech of Pitt’s.
But soon I began to ask
myself what the purpose of all this was.
I had not to spend a
lifetime in England, I said to myself. What then was the
use of learning elocution?
And how could dancing make
a gentleman of me? The violin I could learn even in
India. I was a student and ought to go on with my
studies. I should qualify myself to become a barrister.
If my character made a gentleman of me, so much the
better. Otherwise I should give up the ambition.
These and similar thoughts
possessed me, and I expressed them in a letter which I
addressed to the elocution teacher, requesting him to
excuse me from further lessons.
I had taken only two or
three. I wrote a similar letter to the dancing teacher,
and went personally to the violin teacher with a request
to dispose of the violin for any price
it might fetch. She was rather friendly to me, so I told
her how I had discovered that I was pursuing a false
idea. She encouraged me in my decision to make a
This infatuation must have
lasted about three months. Being particular about dress
persisted for years. But henceforward I became a