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STUDENTS' PROJECTS > THE STORY OF MY LIFE > PART VI : BACK IN SOUTH AFRICA > A Recollection and Penance

 

27. A Recollection and Penance

When I was practising in Durban, my office clerks often stayed with me, and there were among them Hindus and Christians, or to describe them by their provinces, Gujaratis and Tamilians. I do not recollect having ever regarded them as anything but my kith and kin. One of the clerks was a Christian, born of so-called untouchable parents.

The house was built after the Western model and the rooms rightly had no outlets for dirty water. Each room had therefore chamber-pots. Rather than have these cleaned by a servant or, a sweeper, my wife or I attended to them. The clerks who made themselves completely at home would naturally clean their own pots, but the Christian clerk was a newcomer, and it was our duty to attend to his bedroom. My wife managed the pots of the others, but to clean those used by one who had been ‘untouchable’ seemed to her to be the limit, and we fell out. She could not bear the pots being cleaned by me, neither did she like doing it herself. Even today I can recall the picture of her scolding me, her eyes red with anger and tears streaming down her cheeks, as she descended the staircase, pot in hand. But I was a cruelly kind husband. I regarded myself as her teacher, and so troubled her out of my blind love for her.

I was far from being satisfied by her merely carrying the pot. I would have her do it cheerfully. So I said, raising my voice : “I will not stand this nonsense in my house.” The words pierced her like an arrow.

She shouted back : “Keep your house to yourself and let me go.” I forgot myself, and the spring of compassion dried up in me. I caught her by the hand, dragged the helpless woman to the gate, which was just opposite the staircase, and proceeded to open it with the intention of pushing her out. The tears were running down her cheeks in torrents, and she cried : “Have you no sense of shame ? Must you so far forget yourself? Where am I to go? I have no parents or relatives there to shelter me. Being your wife, you think I must put up with your cuffs and kicks? For Heaven's sake behave yourself, and shut the gate. Let us not be found making scenes like this !”

I put on a brave face, but was really ashamed and shut the gate. If my wife could not leave me, neither could I leave her. We have had numerous quarrels, but the end has always been peace between us. The wife, with her matchless powers of endurance, has always been the victor.