A friend was discussing with Gandhiji the other day the recent
gruesome happenings in Calcutta. His sensitive and refined spirit
shrank from the very idea of narrow communalism. What filled him
with anguish was not the loss of life so much, deplorable as it was,
as the degradation of the human spirit that had resulted from the
Calcutta happenings. "Even those who never thought in terms of
communalism are now becoming communal-minded. But that was not all.
The madness has spread."
As Gandhiji sat listening to the stories that came from Bengal, his
mind was made up. "If I leave Delhi," he remarked, "it will not be
in order to return to Sevagram but only to go to Bengal. Else, I
would stay here and stew in my own juice."
He consulted two friends from Bengal that evening about it. "Allow
us to go there first and report," said they. "Give us a chance to do
our bit and then, if necessary, you can come." Gandhiji agreed.
In the course of the talk, one of them asked Gandhiji whether he
would recommend fasting to check the orgy of communal madness that
was spreading in Bengal. Gandhiji's reply was in the negative. He
narrated how a valuable colleague from Ahmedabad had invited him to
immolate himself. "We believe in the non-violent way but lack the
strength. Your example would steady our wavering faith and fortify
us." The logic was perfect and the temptation great. "But I resisted
it and said 'no'. There is no inner call. When it comes, nothing
will keep me back. I have reasoned with myself too about it. But I
need not set forth my reasons. Let people call me a coward if they
please. I have faith that when the hour arrives God will give me the
strength to face it and I won't be found unready."
The Way of the Gross
"Fasting cannot be undertaken mechanically," he proceeded. "It is a
powerful thing but a dangerous thing if handled amateurishly. It
requires complete self-purification, much more than what is required
in facing death without retaliation even in mind. One such act of
perfect sacrifice would suffice for the whole world. Such is held to
be Jesus' example."
"The idea is," he continued, "that you appropriate to yourself and
assimilate the essence of his sacrifice, symbolically represented
by the bread and wine of the Eucharist. A man who was completely
innocent offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others,
including his enemies and became the ransom of the world. It was a
perfect act. "It is finished" were the last words of Jesus, and we
have the testimony of his four disciples as to its authenticity.
"But whether the Jesus tradition is historically true or not I do
not care. To me it is truer than history because I hold it to be
possible and it enshrines an eternal law — the law of vicarious and
innocent suffering taken in its true sense."
He then proceeded to show how the lesson of Jesus could be applied
to the present situation. "A Hindu and a Mussalman braved the fury
of the maddened crowd in Bombay and went down together literally
clasped in a fatal embrace but refused to desert each other. Rajab
Ali and Vasantrao Hegishte similarly fell to mob frenzy in the
attempt to quell it. "What came out of it?" people might ask, "the
fire still continues to rage." I do not think for a moment it has
gone in vain. We may not see the effect today. Our non-violence is
as yet a mixed, affair. It limps. Nevertheless, it is there and it
continues to work like a leaven in a silent and invisible way, least
understood by most. It is the only way." As a further illustration
of his remarks he recalled the history of the Champaran Satyagraha.
There had been several bloody risings within half a century
preceding it against the infamous compulsory indigo plantation. But
each attempt had only resulted in fastening the rivets tighter than
ever before. Then came the Champaran mass Satyagraha, untainted by
acts of violence, and a century-old evil was overthrown in less than
"Go forth, therefore," he concluded. "I have done. I won't detain
you for a day longer. You have my blessings.
And I tell you there will be no tears but only joy, if tomorrow I
get the news that all the three of you are killed."
"It will be pure joy to be so killed" they echoed.
"But mark my words," he resumed. "Let there be no foolhardiness
about it. You should go because you feel you must and not because I
ask you to."
"That goes without saying," they answered together as they took
leave to go forth and face the flames.
In God's Hands
Remarked Gandhiji at the evening prayer gathering that day that he
had received numerous messages from Bengal inviting him to go there
and still the raging fury. Whilst he did not believe that he had any
such capacity, he was anxious to go to Bengal. Only he thought it
was his duty to wait till Pandit Nehru's return and the meeting of
the Working Committee. But he was in God's hands. If he clearly felt
that he should wait for nothing, he would not hesitate to anticipate
the date. His heart was in Bengal.
New Delhi, 18-10-'46