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50. Near Death's Door

In those days my food principally consisted of groundnut butter and lemons. I knew that it was possible to eat too much butter and injure one's health, and yet I allowed myself to do so. This gave me a slight attack of dysentery. There was some festival that day, and although I had told Kasturba that I should have nothing for my midday meal, she tempted me and I yielded. As I was under a vow of taking no milk or milk products, she had specially prepared for me a sweet wheat porridge with oil added to it instead of ghee. She had reserved too a bowlful of mung for me. I was fond of these things, and I readily took them, hoping that without coming to grief I should eat just enough to please Kasturba and to satisfy my palate. But the devil had been only waiting for an opportunity. Instead of eating very little I had my fill of the meal. This was sufficient invitation to the angel of death. Within an hour the dysentery appeared in acute form.

I would take no medicine, but preferred to suffer the penalty for my folly. I must have had thirty to forty motions in twenty-four hours. I fasted, not taking even fruit juices in the beginning. The appetite had all gone, I felt that I was at death's door.

Whilst I lay thus ever expectant of death, Shankerlal Bankar constituted himself the guardian of my health, and pressed me to consult Dr. Dalal. Dr. Dalal was called accordingly. His capacity for taking instantaneous decisions captured me.

He said : “I cannot rebuild your body unless you take milk. If in addition you would take iron and arsenic injections, I would guarantee fully to make you well.” “You can give me the injections,” I replied, “but milk is a different question; I have a vow against it.”

“What exactly is the nature of your vow ?” the doctor inquired. I told him the whole history and the reasons behind my vow, how, since I had come to know that the cow and the buffalo were subjected to the process of phuka, I had taken a strong disgust for milk. Moreover, I had always held that milk is not the natural diet of man. I had therefore given up its use altogether. Kasturba was standing near my bed listening all the time to this conversation. “But surely you cannot have any objection to goat's milk then,” she said.

The doctor added : “If you will take goat's milk, it will be enough for me.”

I gave in. My intense eagerness to take up the Satyagraha fight had created in me a strong desire to live, and so I contended myself with adhering to the letter of my vow only, and sacrificed its spirit. For although I had only the milk of the cow and the she-buffalo in mind when I took the vow, by natural implication it covered the milk of all animals. Nor could it be right for me to use milk at all, so long as I held that milk is not the natural diet of man. Yet knowing all this I agreed to take goat's milk. The memory of this action even now fills me with remorse, and I am constantly thinking how to give up goat's milk. But I cannot yet free myself from that subtlest of temptations, the desire to serve, which still holds me. Soon after I began taking goat's milk, Dr. Dalal performed on me a successful operation. As I was getting better, my desire to live revived, especially because God had kept work in store for me.