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08. Lover of Cleanliness
Bapu was always very particular about cleanliness. He was certainly keen about external cleanliness but inner cleanliness was one of his unique requirements. Whenever he found anything done in an unclean manner, then rather than find fault with the person concerned, he would teach him cleanliness by doing the thing himself.
Noakhali was full of narrow paths; some were so narrow that Bapu and I could not walk abreast. So he held a staff for support. He could not bear to see dirt anywhere and yet sometimes he had to walk along very dirty tracks. Once he began cleaning up with leaves some spittle, excreta, rubbish, etc. I was taken aback for a while. The villagers also looked on in amazement.
I protested in a fit of anger, "Bapu, why do you put me to shame? Why did you start cleaning this yourself instead of calling me to do it when I was just behind?" At this he laughed and said, "You have no idea of the enjoyment I derive from such work. And is it not less troublesome for me to do it than to order someone else?" I retorted, "But the people are watching you." Bapu said, "You will see that from tomorrow I shall not have to clean such dirty roads, for the people will realize that this type of work is not derogatory. And I would be pained if they were to do it only to please me." I said, "Suppose they clean it only tomorrow, then what?" Turning the tables on me he said, "I shall send you to inspect it and if the road is dirty I myself will come and clean it. To clean what is unclean is my work."
And it turned out just as he had predicted. On the following day when I went back to see the road, I found it dirty, but instead of telling Bapu I cleaned the road myself. Then I reported, "Bapu. I have cleaned the road. The villagers joined me and have promised that hereafter they would clean it themselves and I need not go." He said, "You have robbed me of merit. I wanted to clean the road myself, but it does not matter now. Two things, have been accomplished: first, the people have to this extent learnt cleanliness and secondly, if they adhere to their promise they will have learnt to keep to their word." The road was kept clean thereafter.
Referring to the above incident Bapu said to me after a few days, "Do not think that only the people of Noakhali have the habit of committing nuisance and spitting in the lanes and bypaths. People of our Kathiawad also have the same habit of dirtying the roads. This bad practice prevails in many parts of India. More so in Kathiawad. I had a desire in my youth to eradicate this unhygienic habit but as fate would have it, I could not stay long enough in Kathiawad. Your anger with me was uncalled for. Just as one's hunger is satisfied only when one oneself eats, so I am happy only when I myself engage in sanitary work. I derive infinite pleasure from the work of sanitation."