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Gandhi And A Coffee Drinker
Gandhi was a first-class nurse to the sick. Where he picked up nursing is a mystery. He certainly did not pass through a nursing school. As many other things, when nursing became necessary to him in life, he learned it the hard way, through experience. In the Ashram at Sabarmati all sick persons came directly under his eye and care. Doctors were, of course, consulted, but the care of the sick person was arranged by Gandhi. It was a joke, especially among young people in the Ashram, that if you wanted to see Gandhi everyday and talk to him and hear him crack jokes you had only to be ill and get into bed! For, Gandhi visited the sick everyday, spent a few minutes at every bed-side, himself saw to things carefully and never failed to crack joke or two with the patient. There was no day too busy for this interlude.
There was once a young lad who went down with dysentery. He had done his best to get to terms with the hard Ashram dietary, but failed. He was an inveterate addict to coffee. But in the Ashram there was no coffee for him - coffee was taboo. In good time he got rid of his dysentery, and was convalescing. Gandhi visited him for a few minutes everyday during his usual rounds. Those few minutes were like a tonic to the poor lad.
During his convalescence he pined for a cup of hot coffee. One day he was lying on his back dreaming of that glorious rich brown beverage to which he was accustomed in his distant South Indian home. Just then he heard the welcome, click-click of the wooden sandals of Gandhi approaching. A minute later, he entered with his never-failing smiling and cheering word.
He looked at the lad and said: 'Now you are decidedly better. You must be getting your appetite back. What would you like to eat? Ah! some good uppama or dosa?'
Gandhi evidently knew all about the lad's partiality for these two good old items of the South Indian menu. Gandhi was laughing. The youngster had a sudden brain-wave.
'Could I have a cup of coffee?' he blurted out. Gandhi answered with a peel of laughter - 'Oh, you unrepentant sinner, that is what you want! And then seeing the disturbed look on the lad's face, he added: You certainly shall have your cup of coffee. Yes, light coffee will soothe your stomach. And what will you have with the coffee? I don't think we can make uppama or dosa but warm toast would go well with coffee. I shall send you a tray.'
With that, and a kind parting word, Gandhi left the room. The lad lay waiting. He could not believe his good luck. Coffee in Sabarmati Ashram! And Gandhi himself offering to send it in to him! Well, the 'Old Governor' was no fanatic, he was a dear, thought the grateful and expectant lad.
Gandhi's cottage was at the other end of the Ashram, a good way across the road. The lad could imagine what would happen. Gandhi would go to Kasturba in her kitchen and ask for coffee and toast. But it was an untimely hour. The kitchen would be closed. Ba herself would be taking her rest. Had he caused Gandhi too much botheration? Some twenty minutes passed. Hark! what was that sound? The click-click of Gandhi's wooden sandals again. Why was Gandhi coming back? Had the coffee been called off as an after-thought? But there was Gandhi carrying a tray covered with a white khadi napkin. The lad was dazed. What had really happened?
Gandhi was speaking,'Now here is your coffee and toast. And, mind you, I made you, coffee myself. Now like a good South Indian, will you certify I can make a good coffee?"
'But,' whispered the lad, 'why did you not ask someone else to bring this in to me. I am so very sorry I put you to this trouble.'
'Now, now,' said Gandhi, 'do not ruin your coffee. Cold coffee is bad coffee. You see Ba was resting, and I did not care to disturb her,' And then brusquely, 'Well, I shall leave now. Someone will come for the tray.' With that off he went.
The coffee was light, but excellent. The lad sipped it as if it were nectar. But he was troubled. His mind's eye saw Gandhi opening the kitchen, lighting the stove, making the coffee and toast, and carrying it in to him all in order not to disturb others at that untimely hour. He was overwhelmed. There was always some coffee and tea kept in Kasturba's kitchen for guests, tea specially for Rajagopalachari from Madras!