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145. All Over Beef Tea and Salt
When the Zulu 'rebellion' of 1906 had been quelled and Gandhiji's duties in connection with the ambulance corps raised by him came to an end, he prepared to settle down with his family at Phoenix. But before he actually removed himself there Kasturba fell seriously ill at Durban.
Her condition grew worse day by day and Gandhiji consented to an operation after Kasturba had agreed. She was very weak and the doctor had to perform the operation without chloroform. While she was convalescing, Gandhiji, who was at Johannesburg, received a telephone call from the doctor telling him that his wife's condition was getting worse. The doctor told Gandhiji that unless she received some beef tea, she might die and asked Gandhiji's permission to give her the beef diet. Gandhiji refused to give such permission, but told the doctor that if Kasturba consented to take it, then he had no objection. The doctor, however, told Gandhiji that he refused to consult the patient, having regard to her condition. He asked Gandhiji to come over to Durban at once.
When Gandhiji arrived at Durban he was told by the doctor that he had already given Kasturba the beef tea.
"Now, doctor, I call this a fraud," exclaimed Gandhiji, deeply pained.
"The question of fraud does not arise," the doctor replied. "In fact we doctors consider it a virtue to deceive patients or their relatives, if thereby we can save our patients."
Gandhiji was deeply pained, but kept cool. He knew that the doctor meant well, besides being his personal friend, but he was not prepared to put up with his medical morals. Thus, after consultation with his son and Kasturba he removed her to Phoenix, where, by the simple expedience of a prescription by Gandhiji himself, she was finally cured.
After a brief respite since her removal to Phoenix, Kasturba began to suffer again from haemorrhage. Gandhiji remembered reading in some books on vegetarianism that salt was not a necessary article of diet for man, that on the contrary saltless diet was better for health. So, he suggested to his wife that she went on saltless diet. She would not agree to this and when Gandhiji persisted, she challenged him, saying that even he could not give up salt as an ingredient in his diet although he was advising her to do so.
Gandhiji's reaction to this challenge may best be described in his own words:
"I was pained and delighted at the same time — delighted in that I got an opportunity to shower my love on her. I said to her, 'You are mistaken. Were I ailing and advised to give up salt or any other article, I would unhesitatingly do so. But there, without any advice, medical or otherwise, I give up salt and pulses for one year, whether you do so or not.' "
Kasturba was shocked at this and begged forgiveness of him. She knew that her husband always meant what he said. She begged him to take back his vow and promised to abstain from salt, explaining, 'This is too hard on me.'
Gandhiji was not annoyed with her and ponsoled her. He told her that his abstaining would assist her and would strengthen him. On this Kasturba broke down in tears, knowing that Gandhiji would not retreat.
And believe it or not, Kasturba began to pick up in health. The haemorrhage stopped completely and soon she regained her usual robust health and, as Gandhiji humorously observed, he added somewhat to his reputation as a 'Quack'.