Gandhi is a rare combination of exquisite gentleness and unbreakable hardness. His mind possesses at once the softness of arose petal and the sternness of steel. The late Mr. C.F. Andrews was in some ways a perfect contrast too. It was not in him ever to be stern or hard. Sometimes his generosity outran his wisdom.
It was some time in 1926, Andrews was staying with Gandhi in the Satyagraha Ashram at Sabarmati. Now and again he liked nothing better than to come and take rest with Gandhi, cutting all public engagements and doing only what writing pleased him. On this occasion when he was in the Satyagraha Ashram, a Congress worker from a district in South Africa arrived at Sabarmati. He was a young man and was in sore trouble. He had held the office of Secretary to his District Committee. A large sum of money had come into his hands for Congress work in his district, and he like a good Secretary, had spent it all most generously on the various items of work entrusted to him. There had been only one little flaw. He had not kept anything like proper accounts, much less issued receipts or obtained vouchers. The consequence of it all was he had to account for nearly one thousand rupees to his committee or find that amount for them. He was astounded when he was called upon either to submit accounts or make good the amount. He had certainly not taken a penny for himself. The whole amount had been spent on congress work. There was no doubt at all about this. He admitted he should have kept regular accounts, but where was the question even of finding one thousand rupees for the committee, or for anybody else for that matter? He had undertaken the work of Secretary of the District Congress as a pure labour of love, and that too after resigning his post as a teacher in the local High school . In the midst of his perplexity he suddenly made up his mind he would go to Gandhi, tell him everything, and ask for protection from an ungrateful committee!
Gandhi heard the whole story patiently. Andrews was seated by his side listening to the piteous recital of the troubled and indignant District Secretary. Gandhi gently but persistently asked him several searching questions and had the position fully elucidated. There was no doubt that the young man had not misappropriated any money. He was guilty only in that he had not maintained proper accounts.
'What do you expect me to do for you?' asked Gandhi.
The young man wanted Gandhi to write to his District Committee asking them to exonerate him. Andrews was all sympathy , but there was a hard look on Gandhi's face.
'No, I shall write no such letter,' said Gandhi, 'On the contrary, I have no doubt your conduct was inexcusable, Every paisa of public funds is a sacred trust. To me every such paisa unaccounted for is a paisa misappropriated. Proper account-keeping is for a public worker not merely a matter of rupees and annas, but part of his character. You must be able even now to get most of the a accounts in writing and produce the necessary vouchers. Otherwise your Committee has a perfect right to demand the money from you. If necessary you should sell any property or other possessions you may have to discharge such a debt'.
The young man was shocked to his depths. He had never been in the Mahatma's presence before. He had expected saintly sympathy and
compliance. He broke down and wept like a child.
Andrews was very much disturbed. He began reasoning with Gandhi that this was not the way to deal with a 'repentant' young man.
'Yes, I want him to repent,' said Gandhi,' and he can repent only by full self-correction. Mere mental repentance will be of no avail. The test of repentance is the setting right of the wrong done. In the present case his Committee is right in demanding full accounts or the entire sum. He is a Congressman. He is educated. That he took no salary and was doing the work voluntarily only adds to his responsibility. On him, as on every single Congressman rests the fair name of the congress. No, he must go back at once, raise the money and pay back every paisa. It is only after that, that I can be of any help to him.'
Then there arose another difficulty. The young man had not enough money to pay the railway fare back home. He needed atleast thirty-five rupees for this.
Andrew's heart melted . Well, Bapu, let us give him that sum, and let him get back home as quickly as he can and raise the money.'
'No', came Gandhi's clear voice again, 'from where can I or you give him thirty-five rupees? We are both penniless. We could only take the money from the public funds entrusted to our care. To do that would be wholly wrong. If he has no money he must walk back home in easy stages. He is already in debt to his Committee. He should not add to it by borrowing from us. And who knows if he is really going to do the right thing. His first act of atonement must be to resist the temptation to borrow or to ask for any more money'
Andrews was now frankly put out. He said it was nonsense for Gandhi to suggest that the young man should walk back to his distant home. But Gandhi was adamant, and the young man had to leave after supper and a night's rest in the Ashram.
Gandhi's last words were, 'Go home, act right, and then write to me. God bless you: I expect to hear from you soon'
But Deenbandhu Andrews characteristically figured in the last scene again. He offered to walk with the young man to the Sabarmati Station, a mile away from the Ashram.
At the railway station Andrews drew out of his pocket thirty five rupees that he had, in the meantime, procured from a friend, and thrust the money into the young's man hands, and then saw him off.
Back at the Ashram, he went straight to Gandhi and said with a smile ,'Bapu, I have a confession to make '.
Gandhi quickly interrupted him with a laugh and said, 'Yes-I Know-you must have paid money to that young man. Don't I know you? You are incorrigible'.
Mr. C.F. Andrews joined heartily in the laughter like a schoolboy discovered in some act of innocent mischief.