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10. In London
Dr. Mehta went on Monday to the Victoria Hotel expecting to find me there. He discovered that we had left, got our new address, and met me at our rooms. Dr. Mehta inspected my room and its furniture and shook his head in disapproval. “This place won’t do,” he said. “We come to England not so much for the purpose of studies as for gaining experience of English life and customs. And for this you need to live with a family. But before you do so, I think you had better be for a period with –. I will take you there.”
I gratefully accepted the suggestion and removed to the friend’s rooms. He was all kindness and attention. He treated me as his own brother, initiated me into English ways and manners, and accustomed me to talking the language.
My food, however, became a serious question. I could not relish boiled vegetables cooked without salt or spices. The landlady was at a loss to know what to prepare for me. We had oatmeal porridge for breakfast, which was fairly filling, but always I starved at lunch and dinner. The friend continually reasoned with me to eat meat, but I always pleaded my vow and then remained silent.
Both for luncheon and dinner we had spinach and bread and jam too. I was a good eater and had a big appetite; but I was ashamed to ask for more than two or three slices of bread, as it did not seem correct to do so. Added to this, there was no milk either for lunch or dinner. The friend once got disgusted with this state of things, and said : “Had you been my own brother, I would have sent you away. What is the value of a vow made before an illiterate mother and in ignorance of conditions here? It is no vow at all. It would not be regarded as a vow in law. It is pure superstition to stick to such a promise. And I tell you this persistence will not help you to gain anything here. You confess to having eaten and liked meat. You took it where it was absolutely unnecessary, and will not where it is quite essential. What a pity !”
But I was unyielding.
Day in and day out the friend would argue, but I had an eternal no to face him with. The more he argued, the firmer I became. Daily I would pray for God’s protection and get it. Not that I had any idea of God. It was faith that was at work – faith of which the seed had been sown by the good nurse Rambha.
I had not yet started upon regular studies. In India I had never read a newspaper. But here I succeeded in cultivating a liking for them by regular reading. This took me hardly an hour. I therefore began to wander about. I went out in search of a vegetarian restaurant. I hit on one in Farringdon Street.
The sight of it filled me with the same joy that a child feels on getting a thing after its own heart.
Before I entered I noticed books for sale exhibited under a glass window near the door. I saw among them Salt’s Plea For Vegetarianism. This I purchased for a shilling and went straight to the dining room. This was my first hearty meal since my arrival in England. God had come to my aid. I read Salt’s book from cover to cover and was very much impressed by it. From the date of reading this book, I may claim to have become a vegetarian by choice. I blessed the day on which I had taken the vow before my mother. The choice was now made in favour of vegetarianism, the spread of which henceforward became my mission.