18. Beggar

Gandhi as Beggar

Gandhi got more and more involved in public work and could not devote much time or attention to his family or legal work. He realised that he if he wanted to serve the people, he must lead a life of voluntary poverty spurning luxury and comfort, discarding all wealth , all possession. A time came when possession seemed to him to be a crime and it became a matter of positive joy to him to give it up. One after another things slipped away from him. He laid no claim to his paternal property, allowed his insurance policy to lapse. He gave up his legal work fetching Rs. 4,000 per month. He made to him by his South African colleagues and also of the Phoenix Settlement valued at Rs. 65,000 for public causes. He himself denied a life of security and was equally hard on his wife, sons and relatives.

The last 40 years of his life he lived on voluntary donations from his friends and admirers. The expense incurred by Gandhi and his family at the Tolstoy Farm were borne by his German friend Kallenbach. The ashrams in India were run the help of sympathisers.

Pandit Malviya was called the prince of beggars, Gandhi was the king of beggars. In the history of begging for public cause, Gandhi created a world record. He discovered this capacity in him in south Africa, when he was in charge of collection on subscriptions from the members of the Natal Indian Congress. Late in the evening, he went to a wealthy donor and expected him to pay Rs. 80. All persuasion failed and he was offered Rs. 40. Gandhi was hungry, tired yet tenacious. He sat up the whole night and at daybreak received Rs. 80.

During the epic struggle of the Indian settlers in South Africa, he was mainly responsible for raising funds for the support and relief of 5, 000 resisters and their families. The daily expense was Rs. 3,200. india generously responded to Gandhi's appeal made through a cable. Princes and rich merchants sent money. An appeal for helping his campaign was made in a Congress session and the audience showered notes and gold and silver.

Gandhi sent a receipt of the gifts and submitted a detailed account of all expenditure. He respected the sentiment of the donors and id not use a pie to meet other needs from the money donated for relief work. He was very particular about the spending of public money. When challenged, he invited the critics to examine the audited accounts of the Tilak Swaraj Fund. For the Tilak Swaraj Fund he set up target of one crore of rupees to be collected in three months. A friend pleaded that if he agreed to attend a professional dramatic performance for ten minutes only, the actors could subscribe Rs. 50,oooo on that night. Gandhi denied, still the total collection amounted to Rs.1,15,00,000. He often said that " through the thousands of the rich are welcome, it is the coppers and single rupees of the poor people that bless a cause. Every pice knowingly given will be a token of determination of the giver to establish Swaraj." He could never forget there sight of poor old people with their trembling fingers untying the knots which firmly held their pies. He appreciated their willing surrender of their savings to him. Besides the Tilak Swaraj Fund, Gandhi raised memorial funds for the girl martyrValiamma, for Gokhale, Lajpat Rai, Deshbandhu Das, Andrewa and the Jallianwalla Bagh victims. He told the people that if the necessary fund for raising a memorial in Jallianwalla Bagh was not found collected within the time limit set by him, he could sell his ashram and give all he could . In two months , ten lakhs of rupees were collected for the the Deshbandhu Memorial Fund. When Gandhi came to know that Tagore was touring India to collect money for Santiniketan by staging public performances of his dramas, he Entreated staging public performances of his dramas, he entreated the aged poet to discontinue the venture and handed to him a donation of Rs. 50, 000 as a first installment.

when floods, famines or earthquakes ravaged the land, the Mahatma went out a begging. For the spread of khadi work and for wiping out the sin of untouchability, he made whirlwind tours all over India. For the Harijan Fund, he collected more than two crores of rupees. If money was given to feed the needy, he refused to accept it. He believed the real hunger of a man was not for a morsel of food, but for decent living as a self-respecting human being: " I must refuse to insult the naked by giving them clothes they do not need instead of giving them work which they sorely need. I would give them neither crumbs , nor cast-off clothing."

A Jail doctor once asked Gandhi : " Gandhiji, don't you think able-bodied men should be prevented from begging? Would you make a law to that effect?" Gandhi replied :" Certainly , but men like me would be free to beg." He defied the proverbial saying" Beggars should not be choosers". Gandhi's slogans, his approach to donors and his dictation of terms fro acceptance of charity were uncommon. Standing on a beggar's bowl to the audience. Usually there was a scramble for giving alms to him. Hundreds of rustics, aged and infirm, men and women, walked miles to offer their mite to him. Some brought bringals, pumpkins and others vegetables from their gardens. The students of a model residential school presented him with a heap of hand-spun yarn, apiece of khadi woven by them and a small sum of money that they saved by denying themselves of ghee, milk and wheat for some days. Once a widow borrowed a two-anna bit and gave it to Gandhi. When asked," I did not give it to help the cause but to fulfill my life's dream of giving alms to the Mahatma who has renounced all."

Top collect a few lakhs of rupees was a child's play to Gandhi who sent his appeal through microphones, cables and newspaper columns. He once whisked the hat of a journalist and used it as a begging bowl. The bewildered journalist was the first victim of Gandhi's begging bowl.

When Gandhi went to Burma on a begging mission, his cry was:" It is after 14 years that I am visiting in Burma. You do not mind even a famine coming once in 14 years and to face it as bravely as you can. I hope that you will satisfy the hunger of this representative of Daridranarayan, who may never come again in the midst of you." He twitted at the miserly donation from rich merchants: " scrap this list of subscription and start afresh. I will certainly dig my hands deeper into the Gujarati's pocket than of others. I am a Gujarati chetty." This rebuke doubled the subscription on the spot. To the ceylonese he said: " When Mahendra came to Ceylon, the children of the motherland were not starving, our star was in the ascendant and you partook of the glory. If you do not disown the kinship with them, but take pride in it, then you must give not only money, but your jewellery." He rejected the plea of the Cutchees to spend their contribution only for the Cutchees: " If you trust me with money , you must do so in the fullest consciousness that I know how to use it and when to use it."

In a moment of anguish he remarked: " I have none of the power of Hanuman to tear open my heart. I assure you, you will find nothing there but love for Rama whom I see face to face in the starving millions of India." He often attended more than twelve meetings a day and pleaded : " Give me a quarter-anna, half an anna, anything you can it may be even a pie." In a civic reception, he would accept an address and ask: " where is the purse?" If he ever got no money, he thus persuade the people to contribute. Sometimes the surging crowd kept waiting till midnight to make a gift of houses, ornaments, cheques, notes, gold, silver and copper coins, heaps of yarn and khaddar. On his 78th birthday he was presented with 78 lakhs of hanks of yarn.

a cowrie was once found in the collection. To Gandhi it was a symbol of the greatest sacrifice, more precious than gold. A murderer's last instruction, while going to the gallows, was to give all his money Rs. 100 to Gandhi for national work.

As a rule, Gandhi needed the help of three to four workers to count the money or to carry the load from a meetings. At the end of the collection, mostly of copper coins, a volunteer once came to Gandhi and showed his palms marked with green stain by handling of copper coins which the poor folk kept buried under ground for years. Gandhi said: " This gift is blessed one. For us it is a dedication, for them it is a gleam of hope in a world darkened by despair. It is a symbol for them of better things to come.'

To discourage professional begging was one of the paradoxical gestures of Gandhi. A beggar's desperate struggle for bread decrying all feelings of decency and self-respect was revolting to him and he disapproved the custom of giving alms instead of work to the poor. Gandhi deplored the growing number of mendicants in India exceeding 56 lakhs. He did not want a single individual, barring the physically unfit, to live on charity without doing some useful work for society. He thought it was wrong both to accept and to offer alms. For the able-bodied to beg was to become thieves.

He asked the victims of Bihar earthquake and the refugees in camps to work for the food, shelter and clothing they got there, otherwise they might develop a mentality of willing dependence on public charity. It was wrong for anyone to live on public doles. To them his advice was: " Do honest good work. I want no beggars. Ask for work to do and do it faithfully. Work, work, do not beg."