Gandhi could never tolerate a lie. Unlike intellectual high-brows who will say they can tolerate a scoundrel but not a fool, he would bear with a fool sometimes, but never with a liar. In his Satyagraha Ashram he had set up very exacting standards of rectitude, and even children had to conform to them.
This little event happened in 1926. A certain
young man who had just passed out of the University had come to stay at the
Ashram. Gandhi, as a first step in his Ashram course, had prescribed three
months expert scavenging for him. The young fellow was fond of children, and he
became a general favorite with them. One day he started having some fun with a
little Ashram girl, she was eight years of age. This little girl was trying to
snatch a big round yellow lemon that he held temptingly before her. He led her a
perfect dance, and she screamed with laughter as she jumped about in vain to get
at the golden fruit. The child, however, suddenly grew tired of the game and
burst into tears. The young man who was taking the lemon to a patient in the
Ashram had to find a way out; he made as if he were throwing the lemon away into
the Sabarmati River and deftly thrust it into his pocket.
The child quickly brightened up and inquired,
'Now, what will happen to the lemon in the river'? She wanted to run out into
the shallow waters and look for it.
But the young man said, 'No, it has drowned.' In a
moment they were friends again and walked off together to the patients' room. On
the way as the young man pulled out his handkerchief, the lemon rolled out on
the ground. But to his astonishment the little girl, instead of dashing to seize
the lemon stood rooted to the spot looking at him with childish indignation.
She said , 'So you told me a lie! You hid the
lemon in your pocket and told me that you threw it into the river. All right, I
will tell Bapu you are a liar.'
And with that she marched away. She went straight
to Gandhi, who was at work in his room overlooking the river, and unburdened the
story of the lie to him.Gandhiji promised her he would look into the matter.
Later in the evening after prayers Gandhi spoke to
the young man. The latter related the story, taking care to justify himself on
the score that the whole thing had beenpure fun.
Gandhi too enjoyed the joke, but he said
smilingly, 'You had better be warned, young man. Let the children have no lies
even in fun. What is begun in fun may continue as an easy habit with children
and once they take lies lightly, then the thing will become serious.'
But the matter did not end there. The young like
most University graduates was argumentative. He discussed the ethics of 'Lies'
uttered in pure fun with a number of members of the Ashram. There was a subdued
controversy among the teachers of the Ashram school. Some one asked, if innocent
lies were to be taboo, how could one tell children fairy tales or even stories
from the Ramayana or the Mahabharata. Kaka Kalelkar got wind of the controversy
and clinched the issue in his characteristic way.
He said, 'Do not mix the question of lies in daily
life with mythology and legend. If University graduates will think more and talk
less, they will see at once that it is better to tell no lie to a child and to
accustom children to speak the truth in everything.'