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29. Costly Gifts
On my relief from war-duty I felt that my work was no longer in South Africa but in India. Friends at home were also pressing me to return, and I felt that I should be of more service in India. So I requested my co-workers to relieve me. After very great difficulty myrequest was conditionally accepted, the condition being that I should be ready to go back to South Africa if, within a year, the community should need me. Farewell meetings were arranged at every place, and costly gifts were presented to me. The gifts of course included things in gold and silver, but there were articles of diamond as well.
The evening I was presented with the bulk of these things I had a sleepless night. I walked up and down my room deeply agitated, but could find no solution. It was difficult for me to forgo gifts worth hundreds, it was more difficult to keep them.
And even if I could keep them, what about my children? What about my wife? They were being trained to a life of service and to an understanding that service was its own reward.
I had no costly ornaments in the house. We had been fast simplifying our life. How then could we afford to have gold watches? How could we afford to wear gold chains and diamond rings? Even then I was telling people to conquer the infatuation for jewellery. What was I now to do with the jewellery that had come upon me? I decided that I could not keep these things. I drafted a letter, creating a trust of them in favour of the community and appointing Parsi Rustomji and others trustees. In the morning I held a consultation with my wife and children and finally got rid of the heavy burden. I knew that I should have some difficulty in persuading my wife, and I was sure that I should have none so far as the children were concerned. So I decided to constitute them my pleaders.
The children readily agreed to my proposal. ”We do not need these costly presents, we must return them to the community, and should we ever need them, we could easily purchase them,” they said.
I was delighted. “Then you will plead with mother, won't you ?” I asked them.
“Certainly,” said they. “That is our business. She does not need to wear the ornaments. She would want to keep them for us, and if we don't want them, why should she not agree to part with them ?” But it was easier said than done. “You may not need them,” said my wife. “Your children may not need them. Cajoled they will dance to your tune. I can understand your not permitting me to wear them. But what about my daughters-in-law? They will be sure to need them. And who knows what will happen tomorrow? I would be the last person to part with gifts so lovingly given.”
And thus the torrent of argument went on, strengthened in the end by tears. But I was determined to return the ornaments. I somehow succeeded in the end in extorting a consent from her. The gifts received in 1896 and 1901 were all returned. A trust-deed was prepared, and they were deposited with a bank, to be used for the service of the community, according to my wishes or to those of the trustees.
I have never since regretted the step, and as the years have gone by, my wife has also seen its wisdom. It has saved us from many temptations.
I am definitely of opinion that a public worker should accept no costly gifts.