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04. A Tragic Friendship
Amongst my few friends at the high school I had, at different times, two who might be called intimate. One of these friendships did not last long, though I never gave up my friend. He gave me up, because I made friends with the other. This latter friendship I regard as a tragedy in my life. It lasted long. I formed it in the spirit of a reformer.
This companion was originally my elder brother’s friend. They were classmates. I knew his weaknesses, but I regarded him as a faithful friend. My mother, my eldest brother, and my wife warned me that I was in bad company. I was too proud to heed my wife’s warning. But I dared not go against the opinion of my mother and my eldest brother. Nevertheless I pleaded with them saying, “I know he has the weakness you attribute to him but you do not know his virtues. He cannot lead me astray, as my association with him is meant to reform him. For I am sure that if he reforms his ways, he will be a splendid man. I beg you not to be anxious on my account.”
I do not think this satisfied them, but they accepted my explanation and let me go my way.
A wave of ‘reform’ was sweeping over Rajkot at the time when I first came across this friend. He informed me that many of our teachers were secretly taking meat and wine. He also named many well-known people of Rajkot as belonging to the same company. There were also, I was told, some highschool boys among them.
I was surprised and pained. I asked my friend the reason and he explained it thus: “We are a weak people because we do not eat meat. The English are able to rule over us, because they are meat-eaters. You know how hardy I am, and how great a runner too. It is because I am meat-eater. Meat-eaters eaters do not have boils, and even if they sometimes happen to have any, these heal quickly. Our teachers and other distinguished people who eat meat are no fools. They know its virtues. You should do likewise. There is nothing like trying. Try, and see what strength it gives.”
All these pleas on behalf of meat-eating were not made at a single sitting. They represent the substance of a long and elaborate argument which my friend was trying to impress upon me from time to time. My elder brother had already fallen. He therefore supported my friend’s argument. I certainly looked feeble-bodied by the side of my brother and this friend. They were both hardier, physically stronger, and more daring. This friend’s exploits cast a spell over me. He could run long distances and extraordinarily fast. He was an adept in high and long jumping. He could put up with any amount of physical punishment. He would often display his exploits to me and, as one is always dazzled when he sees in others the qualities that he lacks himself, I was dazzled by this friend’s exploits. This was followed by a strong desire to be like him. I could hardly jump or run. Why should not I also be as strong as he ?
Moreover, I was a coward. I used to be afraid of thieves, ghosts and serpents. I did not dare to stir out of doors at night. Darkness was a terror to me. It was almost impossible for me to sleep in the dark, as I would imagine ghosts coming from one direction, thieves from another and serpents from a third. I could not therefore bear to sleep without a light in the room. My friend knew all these weaknesses of mine. He would tell me that he could hold in his hand live serpents, could defy thieves and did not believe in ghosts.
All these had its due effect on me. I was beaten. It began to grow on me that meat-eating was good, that it would make me strong and daring, and that, if the whole country took to meat-eating, the English could be overcome.
A day was thereupon fixed for beginning the experiment. It had to be done in secret as my parents were orthodox Vaishnavas, and I was extremely devoted to them. I cannot say that I did not know then that I should have to deceive my parents if I began eating meat. But my mind was bent on the ‘reform’. It was not a question of having something tasty to eat. I did not know that it had a particularly good taste. I wished to be strong and daring and wanted my countrymen also to be such. The zeal for the ‘reform’ blinded me. And having ensured secrecy, I persuaded myself that mere hiding the deed from parents was no departure from truth.
So the day came. We went in search of a lonely spot by the river, and there I saw, for the first time in my life, meat. There was baker's bread also. I did not like either. The goat's meat was as tough as leather. I simply could not eat it. I was sick and had to leave off eating.
I had a very bad night afterwards. A horrible dream haunted me. Every time I dropped off to sleep it would seem as though a live goat were crying inside me, and I would jump up sorry for what I had done. But then I would remind myself that meat-eating was a duty and so become more cheerful.
My friend was not a man to give in easily. He now began to cook various delicacies with meat. And for dining, no longer was the quiet spot on the river chosen, but a State house, with its dining hall and tables and chairs, about which my friend had made arrangements with the chief cook there.
Gradually I got over my dislike for bread, gave up my pity for the goats, and began to enjoy meat-dishes, if not meat itself. This went on for about a year. But not more than half a dozen meat-feasts were enjoyed in all. I had no money to pay for this ‘reform’. My friend had therefore always to find the money. I had no knowledge where he found it. But find it he did, because he was bent on turning me into a meat-eater. But even his means must have been limited, and hence these feasts had necessarily to be few and far between.
Whenever I had occasion to indulge in these secret feasts, eating at home was impossible. My mother would naturally ask me to come and take my food and want to know the reason why I did not wish to eat. I would say to her, “I have no appetite today; there is something wrong with my digestion.” I knew I was lying, and lying to my mother. I also knew that, if my mother and father came to know of my having become a meat-eater, they would be deeply shocked. This knowledge was making me feel uneasy.
Therefore I said to myself : “Though it is essential to eat meat, and also essential to take up food ‘reform’ in the country, yet deceiving and lying to one’s father and mother is worse than not eating meat. In their lifetime, therefore, meat-eating must be given up. When they are no more and I have found my freedom, I will eat meat openly, but until that moment arrives I will keep away from it.”
This decision I told to my friend, and I have never since gone back to meat.