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45. Founding of the Ashram
The Satyagraha Ashram was founded on the 25th of May, 1915 at Kochrab in Ahmedabad. We were in all about twenty-five men and women. All had their meals in a common kitchen and strove to live as one family. The Ashram had been in existence only a few months when we were put to a test such as I had scarcely expected. I received a letter from Amritlal Thakkar to this effect : “A humble and honest untouchable family is desirous of joining your Ashram. Will you accept them ?”
I wrote to Amritlal Thakkar expressing our willingness to accept the family, provided all the members were ready to abide by the rules of the Ashram. They all agreed to abide by the rules and were accepted. But their admission created a stir amongst the friends who had been helping the Ashram. The very first difficulty was found with regard to the use of the well, which was partly controlled by the owner of the bungalow. The man in charge of the water-lift objected that drops of water from our bucket would pollute him. So he took to swearing at us. I told everyone to put up with the abuse and continue drawing water at any cost. When he saw that we did not return his abuse, the man became ashamed and ceased to bother us. All monetary help, however, was stopped. With the stopping of monetary help came rumours of proposed social boycott. We were prepared for all this. I had told my companions that, if we were boycotted and denied the usual facilities, we would not leave Ahmedabad. We would rather go and stay in the ‘untouchables’ quarter and live on whatever we could get by manual labour. Matters came to such a pass that Maganlal Gandhi one day gave me this notice : “We are out of funds and there is nothing for the next month.”
I quietly replied : “Then we shall go to the ‘untouchables’ quarter.”
This was not the first time I had been faced with such a trial. On all such occasions God has sent help at the last moment. One morning shortly after Maganlal had given me warning of our monetary plight, one of the children came and said that a Sheth who was waiting in a car outside wanted to see me. I went out to him. “I want to give the Ashram some help. Will you accept it ?” he asked. “Most certainly,” said I. “And I confess I am at the present moment at the end of my resources.” “I shall come tomorrow at this time,” he said. “Will you be here ?”
“Yes,” said I, and he left. Next day, exactly at the appointed hour, the car drew up near our quarters, and the horn was blown. The children came with the news. The Sheth did not come in. I went out to see him. He placed in my hands currency notes of the value of Rs. 13,000 and drove away. I had never expected this help, and what a novel way of rendering it! The gentleman had never before visited the Ashram. So far as I can remember, I had met him only once. No visit, no enquiries, simply rendering help and going away! This was a unique experience for me. We now felt quite safe for a year.