Back | Next

STUDENTS' PROJECTS > THE STORY OF MY LIFE > PART II : IN ENGLAND AS STUDENT > Changes
 

12. Changes

Let no one imagine that my experiments in dancing and the like marked a stage of indulgence in my life. The reader will have noticed that even then I knew what I was doing and my expenses were carefully calculated.

As I kept strict watch over my way of living, I could see that it was necessary to economize. So I decided to take rooms on my own account, instead of living any longer in a family, and also to remove from place to place according to the work I had to do, thus gaining expereince at the same time. The rooms were so selected as to enable me to reach the place of business on foot in half an hour, and so save fares. Before this I had always taken some kind of conveyance whenever I went anywhere, and had to find extra time for walks. The new arrangement combined walks and economy, as it meant a saving of fares and gave me walks of eight or ten miles a day. It was mainly this habit of long walks that kept me practically free from illness throughout my stay in England and gave me a fairly strong body.

Thus I rented a suite of rooms; one for a sitting room and another for a bedroom. This was the second stage. The third was yet to come.

These changes saved me half the expenses. But how was I to utilize the time? I knew that Bar examinations did not require much study, and I therefore did not feel pressed
for time. My weak English was a perpetual worry to me. I should, I thought, not only be called to the Bar, but have some literary degree as well. I inquired about the Oxford
and Cambridge University courses, consulted a few friends, and found that, if I elected to go to either of these places, that would mean greater expense and a much longer stay in England than I was prepared for. A friend suggested that, if I really wanted to have the satisfaction of taking a difficult examination, I should pass the London Matriculation. It meant a good deal of labour and much addition to my stock of general knowledge, without any extra expense worth the name. I welcomed the suggestion.

But the syllabus frightened me. Latin and a modern language were compulsory ! How was I to manage Latin? But the friend entered a strong plea for it : “Latin is very valuable to lawyers. Knowledge of Latin is very useful in understanding law-books. And one paper in Roman Law is entirely in Latin. Besides a knowledge of Latin means greater command over the English Language.” This appealed to me and I decided to learn Latin, no matter how difficult it might be. French I had already begun, so I thought that should be the modern language. I joined a private Matriculation class. Examinations were held every six months and I had only five months at my disposal.

It was an almost impossible task for me. I converted myself into a serious student. I framed my own timetable to the minute; but neither my intelligence nor memory promised to enable me to tackle Latin and French besides other subjects within the given period.

The result was that I failed in Latin. I was sorry but did not lose heart. I had acquired a taste for Latin; also I thought my French would be all the better for another trial and I would select a new subject in the science group. Chemistry which was my subject in science had no attraction for want of experiments, whereas it ought to have been a deeply interesting study. It was one of the compulsory subjects in India and so I had selected it for the London Matriculation. This time, however, I chose Heat and Light instead of Chemistry.

It was said to be easy and I found it to be so.

With my preparation for another trial, I made an effort to simplify my life still further. I felt that my way of living was still beyond the modest means of my family. The thought of my struggling brother, who nobly responded to my regular calls for monetary help, deeply pained me. I saw that most of those who were spending from eight to fifteen pounds monthly had the advantage of scholarships. I had before me examples of much simpler living. I came across a fair number of poor students living more humbly than I. One of them was staying in the slums in a room at two shillings a week and living on two pence worth of cocoa and bread per meal from Lockhart’s cheap Cocoa Rooms. It was far from me to think of copying him, but I felt I could surely have one room instead of two and cook some of my meals at home. That would be a saving of four to five pounds each month. I  also came across books on simple living. I gave up the suite of rooms and rented one instead, invested in a stove, and began cooking my break-fast at home. The process scarcely took me more than twenty minutes for there was only oatmeal porridge to cook and water to boil for cocoa. I had lunch out, and for dinner bread and cocoa at home. Thus I managed to live on a shilling and three pence a day. This was also a period of intensive study. Plain living saved me plenty of time and I passed my examination.

Let not the reader think that this living made my life by any means a dreary affair. On the contrary the change suited me beautifully. It was also more in keeping with the
means of my family. My life was certainly more truthful and my soul knew no bounds of joy.

As soon as, or even before, I made alterations in my expenses and my way of living, I began to make changes in my diet. I stopped taking the sweets and spices I had got from home. The mind having taken a different turn, the fondness for spices wore away, and I now relished the boiled spinach which in Richmond tasted insipid, cooked without spices. Many such experiments taught me that taste depended much on one’s attitude of mind rather than on the tongue.

The economic consideration was of course constantly before me.

There was in those days a body of opinion which regarded tea and coffee as harmful and favoured cocoa. And as I was convinced that one should eat only articles that nourished the body, I gave up tea and coffee as a rule and took cocoa instead.

There were many minor experiments going on along with the main one : as for example, giving up starchy foods at one time, living on bread and fruit alone at another, and once living on cheese, milk and eggs. This last experiment is worth noting. It lasted not even a fortnight. The reformer who advocated starchless food had spoken highly of eggs and held that eggs were not meat. It was apparent that there was no injury done to living creatures in taking eggs. So I took eggs in spite of my vow. But the lapse was momentary. I had no business to put a new interpretation on the vow. The interpretation of my mother who administered the vow was there for me. I knew that her definition of meat included eggs. And as soon as I saw the true import of the vow I gave up eggs and the experiment alike.

Full of a new convert’s zeal for vegetarianism, I decided to start a vegetarian club in my locality. The club went well for a while, but came to an end in the course of a few months. For I left the locality, according to my custom of moving from place to place periodically.

But this brief and modest experience gave me some little training in organizing and conducting institutions.