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115. With The Lepers
A Baptist Missionary in England on furlough from India told a Daily News representative of an invitation he extended to Mahatma Gandhi to visit a leper colony in Orissa. Gandhiji came in a cab and a loin cloth. He addressed the lepers, and then at the end of his speech asked : "Why should I call those my brothers if I do not mix with them ?" And he insisted that each of the poor stricken lepers should be brought to him. Disregarding the signs and marks of this most loathesome of moral diseases, he shook each by the hand, patted their heads, and spoke words of comfort to them. "How many men, great or obscure, would do that ?" the missionary asked.
The late Shri Mahadev Desai too in his pen-pictures of the Mahatma's life at Sevagram has left the following on record :
"Among the patients in the Ashram at Sevagram there is a leper. He was a political jail-bird with us in Yeravda and got leprosy there, or had it diagnosed there, I forget which. He is a profound Sanskrit scholar and talks with you in Sanskrit, making you feel as though it was as easy as your mother tongue. After having wandered for years as a castaway, having even gone on an indefinite fast out of loathing for the fell disease which is now in a considerably advanced stage, he rolled in here one fine morning, saying he wanted to lay his bones here, that he knew he would have shelter here and would not go even if he was turned out.
'How can I say "no" to you ?' said Gandhiji. 'If I harbour a son-in-law suffering from tuberculosis, why should I not harbour you ? There is Ba to look after him. Of Valji Desai everyone is fond and I am sure he would be taken care of. But who will look after you if I don't ? I shall build you a hut right near my hut, and you may make the place your abode. Even if no one remains here you at least shall stay.' "