Gandhi And The Zamindar

It had been Gandhi's experience to be the guest of a most startling variety of the persons. The semi-naked Fakir had often been the guest of Rajas, zamindars and millionaires; it was only rarely, as in the Harijan Colony at Delhi, that he was fortunate enough to live among the ordinary workers and the poor people. But Gandhi was unruffled, wherever he might have been. He would put up with ostentation and magnificence with a detachment that, curiously enough, went unnoticed by those who offered him such hospitality. The secret was that Gandhi hid his detachment under a cloak of the most disarming good humour and charm.

Once during a tour of Bengal, Gandhi happened to be the guest of a big Zamindar. It was a palatial mansion, with liveried servants running hither and thither at the master's commands, issued in a loud and strident voice.

The evening prayers were held on the terrace. These prayers were like a Durbar to which crowds flocked. They came mostly to have darshan (a glimpse) of Gandhi; the prayers were often merely an excuse that gave them the chance to gaze on his saintly face. That evening there was a very large gathering of men and women. They squeezed themselves into every nook and corner of the terrace. When all were seated, Gandhi came out on the terrace with his host, and the two sat beside the wall right at the back. It was a custom with Gandhi to have the lights switched off before prayers.

So, very softly, Gandhi said: 'Lights off, please'

The switch happened to be just above the host's head, where he sat on the carpet, heavy and stolid. Would he bestir himself to comply with the Mahatma's behest? Certainly not! He shouted as usual for one of his servants. Then an amazing thing happened . Gandhi lightly sprang to his feet and, before the astonished zamindar could realize what was happening, he had quietly switched the lights off and sat down again. Gandhi then gave the word for the prayers to begin. A number of people noticed this little incident.

The prayers came to an end. Then, as often happened on such occasions, people began to ply Gandhi with questions on all manner of subjects connected with Congress work. Someone asked a question about spinning. Gandhiji, in answer, dwelt at length on the disinclination among the educated and the wealthy to perform any sort of manual labour. He referred to the teaching of the Gita that he who ate his food without laboring for it was a thief. There were many more questions and answers.

Then something astonishing occurred. As the crowd was dispersing someone upset a little table, and a china vase on it crashed to the floor. With an athlete's agility the Zamindar jumped up and started clearing up the broken fragments. Had he suddenly forgotten that he had servants at his beck and call? Two of them rushed up, only to witness the bewildering spectacle of their master on his knees! He had taken the gentle unspoken hint of his exalted guest. Gandhi, who had left the terrace, did not see the miracle! But his example of manual labour had gone home.