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Gandhi And The Altered Programme
Vast crowds lined the road leading to Subba Raman's house in Madura city, where Gandhi was expected to arrive from Virudhnagar early that evening. This was during the Mahatma's Harijan tour of the Tamilnad. He was expected to stay in Madura for a day and then go to Devakottah. Gandhi and his party arrived in the city hours later than scheduled. His car had suffered a breakdown. And when at last he arrived to the sound of the citizens' frantic cheering, he was woefully tired. He wished to retire almost immediately, but as was the custom with him, he asked to see the Programme for the next day. He was looking through it when Shri A. Rangawswami Iyyengar, President of the Devakottah Harijan Sevak Sangh, was announced. Gandhiji was due to visit Devakottah after a day's stay in Madura. Shri Iyyengar came to acquaint Gandhi with details of the Devakottah programme and to get back at once. He was immediately taken to Gandhi. Shri Iyyengar had himself contributed Rs. 1000 to the Harijan Upliftment Fund.
This pleased Gandhi very much indeed, and he remarked with a grin: 'So your Harijan purse at Devakottah must be a big one to be worthy of your own gift!'
Then, while on the point of retiring, he observed : 'I wish I could get another day's rest here. This tour has been a great strain.'
Thereupon, Shri Iyyengar was moved by a generous impulse. Ranganna, as he was familiarly known was large-hearted to a fault, and Gandhi's look of fatigue distressed him.
'Do, please, take an extra day's rest after your Madura engagements. We shall have the Devakottah programme put off for a day.'
Gandhi was astonished. 'Could you really do that? Would it not upset all your plans for the day? Do not spare me. It is true I am exhausted, but even so, I shall be ready for you immediately after Madura'. And then with a mischievous laugh he added: 'You would do well not to indulge me.'
But Shri Iyyengar assured Gandhi that a day's delay would be of little consequence and insisted on his taking the rest he needed so badly. Gandhi thankfully accepted the offer and retired. Shri Rangawswami hurried back to Devakottah.
Early next morning, as Gandhi was seated at his breakfast, a small group of excited people were ushered into his presence. They were Devakottah citizens who wished to impress on Gandhi that the plans drawn up for Devakottah could not be put off save at serious inconvenience to their fellow citizens. Gandhi's face registered great amusement.
'But where is your kind President who granted me a day's holiday?' he asked. 'Have you crucified him?'
This sally provoked great merriment.
I did not ask to be let of for the day', said Gandhi, 'Your President noticed that I looked very tired and offered me a day's holiday. I knew it was wrong to take advantage of his generosity. If you had sent me a less generous and more resolute President this mistake would not have occurred'.
There was more laughter all round.
Gandhi stuck to the original programme for Devakottah; he arrived at the public meeting punctual to the minute. He received a magnificent purse for the Harijan Fund. Thanking the people in return, he referred to the incident at Madura.
'Your generous gift is matched only by the generosity of your President - remember he gave me a day's holiday! I wonder if included in this purse is compensation for that holiday in which your deputation annulled.'
The crowd answered this good-humored thrust with uproarious laughter and Gandhi, to the delight of everyone, joined in.