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Gandhi learnt to weave cloth on a handloom from the yarn supplied by mills. This did not satisfy him as it was not self sufficiency. He wanted to master the complete process of cloth-making starting right from cotton growing, ginning an discarding. He made search of for the discarded charkha which once hummed in every village home. One woman worker first spotted a charkha working in a village and informed Gandhi of it. Gandhi employed an expert spinner to teach the use of a charkha to the ashramites. the music of a humming wheel soothed Gandhi when he was convalescing from an illness. He learnt to ply a charkha soon after. He took a vow of not taking his food, till he spun for half an hour every day. to him spinning was a sacrament. He struck to this vow to the end of his life for 30 years. While traveling, he span on a moving train or a rocking ship. If he kept busy the whole day in meeting people, discussing important issues or speaking at public gatherings, Gandhi once had pain in his right arm but continued spinning with his left hand.
He also span in public meetings seated on a dais. Tagore once had a long talk with Gandhi and said he must have wasted his time. Gandhi replied : " No. I have been spinning away without a break in the conversation. For every minute I spin, i feel that I am adding to the nation's wealth. If one crore spin for an hour every day, we would add Rs. 50,000 each day to the national wealth. the spinning wheel is not meant to oust a single man or woman from his or her occupation."
Gandhi wanted the poor to become self-sufficient by using khadi made from their own yarn and the rich to spin as ritual and to donate their yarn for the poor. He did not leave out any Indian from doing the Karmayajna of this age and expected men Raman and Tagore to do the symbolic spinning. Gandhi believed that just as both the prince and the peasant must eat and clothe themselves, so they must labour. He remarked; ' It is my conviction that with every thread I draw, I am spinning the destiny of India. Without the spinning wheel there is no salvation for this country of ours." to the students he said: " Every yard of khadi that you wear will mean some coppers going into the pockets of the poor. Coarse hand-spun signifies simplicity of life. Khadi has a soul about it."
During his lifetime, he did not encourage any basing of the quality of khadi, nor pandering of the baser tastes of their customers. He disliked bleaching of khadi and asked the khadi bhandars not to pamper the popular fancy but to cultivate a new taste in people. He wanted the villagers, who kept idle for four to six months a year, to ply the charkha. Critics laughed at Gandhi's attempt to revive this ancient art in this machine age. Gandhi argued: " Needle has not yet given place to sewing-machine, nor has the hand lost its cunning in spite of the typewriter. spinning mills and spinning wheels may co-exist. Spinning wheel could be made universal and could reach interior villagers, a mill cannot reach a fraction of the population."
Just before launching the non--co-operation movement and boycott of foreign cloth in 1921, when visitors came to him, he sat down and worked on his charkha to show how he and his wife span their own cloth. Day in and out he and wife span their own cloth. Day in and day out he talked about it and wrote about it and inspired the whole country. Motilal Nehru burnt his foreign cloths, took t wearing khadi and once hawked khadi on the streets of Allahabad. thousands followed suit.
In 1925 the Charkha Sangh was formed and 50,000 charkhas began working. About 50,000 spinners in 15,00 villages, besides weavers, printers, dyers and tailors found work. Manufacture of taklis and charkhas provided work to village carpenters and black-smiths. The charkha again became the giver of life to the masses, protector of women's chastify and filler of hungry mouths.
In the next five years' time, production and sale of khadi increased and more than 100,000 spinners were employed. Training in all the processes of khadi-making was given to the trainees. Gandhi claimed; " I see nothing in the world which can compete with this mill in miniature. Show me another industry or corporation that has in the course of 18 years put four crores of rupees in the pocket of lakhs of the neediest men and women with the same capital expenditure that the Charkha Sangh has done." there were families which started spinning by investing one pice for cotton. this was doubled the next day by the sale of the yarn spun and thus slowly the spinners were able to have their own cloth.
A prize of one lakh of rupees was announced for a charkha that would yield good yarn at a low cost. A box-model charkha was given the proper shape by Gandhi in Yeravda Chakra. Another cheap and very simple spinning mechanism dhanush takli was later popularized by Gandhi. he found he could spin equally fine and strong yarn on it with the same speed as on a charkha. He also span on a takli. His yarn was not very fine but well twisted and even . He presented Kasturba saris made from yarn. Kasturba too was a regular spinner.
Somebody pointed out that spinning adds only an anna or two a day to a spinner's income. Gandhi said; " The average income is hardly three pice per head per day in India. If I can supplement that income by even three pice with the help of charkha, am I not right in calling the charkha my cow of plenty?"
Gandhi insisted on a living wage being paid to the village women and other spinners who sometimes walked ten miles a day to earn the scanty wage of two pice per hour. The minimum was fixed at three annas a day.
Gandhi did not measure the charkha's worth, in terms of money only, but in terms of the strength it could generate among the masses. Charkha increases power of organisation and makes people feel akin to one another. it recognises dignity of labour and is a symbol of non-violence and humility, independence and service. It is made of cheap simple material, is capable of being easily mended and develops deftness of hand which agriculture, as a basic craft, cannot make it, nor highly specialized teachers to teach this beautiful creative art., It can be worked in the cottages by the weak, the aged and by a boy or girl of five.
One critic asked why Indians, who span such fine counts that no machine could produce and who met not only their own immediate needs but also those of far-away lands, became poor and enslaved. Gandhi replied;" In ancient times, charkha had nothing to do with independence. It had a background pf slavery. Poor women span to get a piece of dry bread or cowrie shells thrown at them by the government of those days. We have to spin intelligently and must spinning. Turning of the charkha in a lifeless way is like the turning of the beads of a rosary. This mechanical use of it deserves to be destroyed."
Stressing the educative value of spinning he said to the teachers of basic education that charkha was an instrument of service, not one of the professions they teach like carpentry, clay-modelling and painting. He likened the charkha to the sun round which all the other handicrafts revolved. Gandhi told them how by counting the rounds of yarn a pupil could learn arithmetic. Again, geography, history and nature study could be taught by explaining how and when cotton was first grown , in what kind of soil it grew and the stages of development of cotton trade between different countries. Takli-spinning could teach a student why takli was now made out of steel spindle and brass disc of a particular diameter and so on and would go into the mathematics of the thing.
Gandhi allowed his birthday celebration to be observed on a nation-wide scale only when it got connected with the Charkha Jayanti. He did not miss a single opportunity of popularizing khadi and self-spinning. When it became the Congress President, he introduced khadi franchise in place of the four-anna subscription for Congress membership. Every member was asked to spin regularly for half an hour a day and to send a fixed quota of hand-spun yarn to the khadi Board every month. In the late years of his life, he advised the Charkhas Sangh to make every buyer of Khaddar submit a nominal quota of hand-spun yarn When people grumbled that they could not produce the yarn, Gandhi asked where from was khadi to come if people did not spin?
He brushed aside any reference to cloth famine in India. He believed India produced more cotton than she required and there was large man-power . Cloth shortage could be remedied planting a miniature mill in every home in the form of a spinning wheel or a takli. Spinning became more and more an inner need with him. He felt he was thus coming nearer to the poorest of the poor and in them to God. He affirmed: "it will take me many incarnations to become disillusioned with the slowness of the charkha. I would not forsake the charkha, if you were to forsake me or kill me."