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130. A Sermon on Trifles

Gajaraj is a bright little boy of nine. His widowed mother joined the Ashram (at Sevagram) some time back. The boy was put to school in the Nai Talim Shala of Shri Aryanayakam. He agreed to attend school but on con­dition that Gandhiji would pay a visit to it. "Not to your school," Gandhiji replied, "but I will come and visit the dormitory in the hostel, where you are to sleep." Accor­dingly two days before he left Sevagram (in December 1945) he paid the promised visit.

"What I saw this morning made my sight, ache," he wrote in a note which he addressed to the school autho­rities before he left Sevagram, summing up his impressions of his visit. In front of the room which was used for the children's dispensary he found the ground all wet. On inquiry he found that the children washed their hands and faces there. In the dormitory where the children slept the mats were untidily kept. A pen and inkstand had been left lying on a mat in the middle of the room. He examined the ink-pots and the pens. They were messy. He opened one of the beddings. The bed clothes were unwashed. The bed-sheet was torn in many places and an indifferent attempt at mending had been made only at a few. The stuffing in the mattress had become limpy and hard from long use. Under the mattress was a heap of unwashed rags. Bamboo screens had been put up in the verandah to provide extra accommodation for more students.

He had intended to give not more than five minutes to the visit. He actually spent three-quarters of an hour in inspecting and explaining things to the superintendent of the hostel.

"There should have been a receptacle to collect the water from the ablutions at the foot of the tree. Other­wise much precious water is wasted. Besides it breeds mosquitoes. The torn bed-sheet should have been patched up or doubled and turned into a quilt. I did much blanket quilting whilst I was in prison in the Transvaal. Such blankets are warm and lasting. Torn rags should not be treated as waste. They should be properly washed and kept. They can be used for mending clothes and in a variety of other ways.

"Some boys, I found, had not sufficient winter clothing. Why should not those who have more than their require­ments be taught to part with their superfluous clothing for those who were insufficiently provided? That would be a fine object-lesson in mutual aid.

"And why bamboo screens in the verandah? A verandah is meant to let in air and sunshine. The screens shut both out. I was told this was done to improvise accommodation for more students, but then why admit more students than there is accommodation for?

"All these may appear to be trifles," he proceeded, "but all things are made up of trifles. My entire life has been built on trifles. To the extent that we have neglected to inculcate attention to details on our boys we have failed. Rather I should say, I have failed. For it was I who launched the experiment of Nai Talim but could not find time to conduct it myself and had to leave it to others.

"A sense of cleanliness, tidiness and sanitation, in my opinion, constitutes the very core of Nai Talim. To cultivate it involves no expense. All it needs is a keen, observant eye and an artistic sense. If you tell me that in this way you cannot do justice to more than one or two boys," he concluded, "I will say 'then have one or two and no more.' By undertaking more than we can properly manage we introduce into our soul the taint of untruth."

- Shri Pyarelal in Harijan.