Gandhi had some traits of character that were quite western. One should not forget that in England as a student, and in South Africa, as a lawyer, and a public worker, he came into close contact with Europeans of all sorts. He was unsentimental even while he was capable of profound sympathy for those in suffering.
Once there came to the Satyagraha Ashram in Sabarmati a blind woman. She was a middle aged Tamilian. She had just the one red and yellow saree she wore. She possessed absolutely nothing else. She arrived in an afternoon - how exactly none could say. The Ashram inmates only knew she was there seated quietly on the verandah of the weaving shed. Beggars were strictly disallowed in the Ashram precincts. She was immediately questioned as to her business in the Ashram. She was a cool hand though.
"Don't you see I am blind? " she asked.
She was reported to see Shree Maganlal Gandhi, the Ashram manager, who was a stern upholder of all Ashram rules.
He went to her and said, "'Sister, we can do nothing for you. You must go away.'
He found in a moment that he had caught a Tartar in this Tamil woman.
'Go away? What! Is this Mahatma Gandhi's Ashram or some police station? I am starving, I want food. I have no home: I want shelter in this Ashram. Who are you? Where is Gandhi ?"
For once in his life someone was talking back to Shree Maganlal! But he was a good man. He reasoned with her. He told her Gandhi was very busy, that the Ashram never entertained a beggar, that everyone in the Ashram had to work eight hours a day for their food, that her place was in some 'Home for the Blind', and that he would send her to the one in the city nearby. She let him finish. And then she had her say. If Gandhi was busy, she was not; she would wait, she was blind, and she could not work, and she certainly was not going away anywhere just yet. Shree Maganlal had to admit he was beaten. Later, he informed Gandhi.
Gandhi, after a brief conversation with her, said, 'Let her stay for the night. Give her food and a place to sleep in. We shall see what we can do with her in the morning.'
Next morning Gandhi told her, 'You will be taught spinning. Even the blind can spin beautifully, I shall give you time. After that you will get only what you earn through the spinning wheel, You can stay here on that condition, and you will be looked after.'
She looked sullen and displeased. But she learnt the art quickly, in three days. But before the week was out refused to spin any more. She liked to pick her way about the Ashram. She was restless and would obey no instructions. She began to quarrel with people in the Ashram and abuse them in choice Tamil or in broken Hindustani. Gandhi tried to calm her down twice or thrice but with only temporary success. She went from bad to worse, would do no work and became frightfully quarrelsome. Then, on the tenth day, Gandhi gave
her an ultimatum.
He summoned her and said in quite firm accents, 'I have decided you must leave tomorrow morning. I shall have a letter ready for the Superintendent of the "Home for the Blind" in the city. You must go there. If you wish I shall send a worker along with you to the home.'
She lost her temper. 'Are you really a Mahatma? Who said you were a Mahatma? You would drive a poor blind woman away-would you'?
Gandhi was unmoved. Next morning, after prayers, he asked her to leave. She flatly refused. Gandhi's stenographer, also a Tamilian was asked to escort her. She stormed at this fellow-Tamilian. She would not allow him to come near her or take her hand to lead her away.
Then came Gandhi's unruffled voice, 'All right, I shall lead her out myself. Explain to her I am going to take her hand and walk with her to the gate'.
When she was told this, she suddenly quietened down. Gandhi quickly went up to her, took her by the hand and walked with her to the gates of the Ashram. She walked beside him, meek and subdued.
At the gates he spoke to her gently, 'Be a good woman in the Home. They will take every care of you. God bless you!'
He then asked the Tamilian friend to accompany her. This person returned after a time with a strange story. After proceeding a little distance she had turned upon him, asking him to keep Gandhi's letter to the
Superintendent for himself, adding that she needed nobody's help. She had then walked briskly away. Later on, it became known that she was not stark blind as she had pretended to be, and that she was not of a good character.