I said in the last chapter that the sea was rough in Bombay harbour, not an unusual thing in the Arabian Sea in June and July. It had been choppy all the way from Aden. Almost every passenger was sick; I alone was in perfect form, staying on deck to see the stormy surge, and enjoying the splash of the waves. At breakfast there would be just one or two people besides myself, eating their oatmeal porridge from plates carefully held in their laps, lest the porridge itself find its place there.
The outer storm was to me a symbol of the inner. But even as the former left me unperturbed, I think I can say the same thing about the latter. There was the trouble with the caste that was to confront me.
I have already adverted to my helplessness in starting on my profession. And then, as I was a reformer, I was taxing myself as to how best to begin certain reforms. But there was even more in store for me than I knew. My elder brother had come to meet me at the dock. He had already made the acquaintance of Dr. Mehta and his elder brother, and as Dr. Mehta insisted on putting me up at his house, we went there. Thus the acquaintance begun in England continued in India and ripened into a permanent friendship between the two families.
I was pining to see my mother. I did not know that she was no more in the flesh to
receive me back into her bosom. The sad news was now given me, and I underwent the usual ablution. My brother had kept me ignorant of her death, which took place whilst I was still in England. He wanted to spare me the blow in a foreign land. The news, however, was none the less a severe shock to me. But I must not dwell upon it. My grief was even greater than over my father"s death. Most of my cherished hopes were shattered. But I remember that I did not give myself up to any wild expression of grief. I could even check the tears, and took to life just as though nothing had happened.
Dr. Mehta introduced me to several friends, one of them being his brother Shri
Revashankar Jagjivan, with whom there grew up a lifelong friendship. But the
introduction that I need particularly take note of was the one to the poet Raychand or Rajchandra1, the son-in law of an elder brother of Dr. Mehta, and partner of the firm of 1 Died in 1901; vide "Letter to Revashankar Zaveri", May 21, 1901; also "Preface to "Shrimad Rajchandra"", November 5, 1926 & Appendix "Gandhiji"s Questions to Rajchandra and His Replies", before December 12, 1926.
jewellers conducted in the name of
Revashankar Jagjivan. He was not above twenty-five then, but my first meeting with him convinced me that he was a man of great character and learning. He was also known as shatavadhani (one having the faculty of remembering or attending to a hundred things simultaneously), and Dr. Mehta recommended me to see some of his memory feats. I exhausted my vocabulary of all the European tongues I knew, and asked the poet to repeat the words. He did so in the precise order in
which I had given them. I envied his gift without, however, coming under its spell. The thing that did cast its spell over me I came to know afterwards. This was his wide knowledge of the scriptures, his spotless character, and his burning passion for self-realization. I saw later that this last was the only thing for which he lived. the following lines of Muktanand were always on his lips and engraved on the tablets of his heart : "I shall think myself blessed only when I see Him In every one of my daily acts; Verily he is the thread, Which supports Muktanand"s life." Raychandbhai"s commercial transactions covered hundreds of thousands. He was a connoisseur of pearls and diamonds. No knotty business problem was too difficult for him. But all these things were not the centre round which his life revolved. That centre was the passion to see God face to face. Amongst the things on his business table there were invariably to be found some religious book and his diary. The moment he finished his business he opened the religious book or the diary. Much of his published writings is a reproduction from this diary. The man who, immediately on finishing his talk about weighty business transactions, began to write about the hidden things of the spirit could evidently not be a businessman at all, but a real seeker after Truth. And I saw him thus absorbed in godly pursuits in the midst of business, not once or twice, but very often. I never saw him lose his state of equipoise. There was no business or other selfish tie that bound him to me, and yet I enjoyed the closest association with him. I was but a briefless barrister then, and yet whenever I saw him he would engage me in conversation of a seriously religious nature. Though I was then groping and could not be said to
have any serious interest in religious discussion, still I found his talk of absorbing interest. I have since met many a religious leader or teacher. I have tried to meet the heads of various faiths, and I must say that no one else has ever made on me the impression that Raychandbhai did. His words went straight home to me. His intellect compelled as great a regard from me as his moral earnestness, and deep down in me was the conviction that he would never willingly lead me astray and would always confide to me his innermost thoughts. In my moments of spiritual crisis, therefore, he was my refuge.
And yet in spite of this regard for him I could not enthrone him in my heart as my Guru. The throne has remained vacant and my search still continues.
I believe in the Hindu theory of Guru and his importance in spiritual realization. I think there is a great deal of truth in the doctrine that true knowledge is impossible without a Guru. An imperfect teacher may be tolerable in mundane matters, but not in spiritual matters. Only a perfect jnani1 deserves to be enthroned as Guru. There must, therefore, be ceaseless striving after perfection.
For one gets the Guru that one deserves. Infinite striving after perfection is one"s right. It is its own reward. The rest is in the hands of God.
Thus, though I could not place Raychandbhai on the throne of my heart as Guru, we shall see how he was, on many occasions, my guide and helper. Three moderns have left a deep impress on life, and captivated me :
Raychandbhai by his living contact; Tolstoy by his book. The Kingdom of God Is within you; and Ruskin by his Unto This Last. But of these more in their proper place.
HOW I BEGAN LIFE
My elder brother had built high hopes on me. The desire for wealth and name and fame was great in him. He had a big heart, generous to a fault. this, combined with his simple nature, had attracted to him many friends, and through them he expected to get me briefs. He had also assumed that I should have a swinging practice and had, in that expectation, allowed the household expenses to become top-heavy. He had also left no stone unturned in preparing the field for my practice.
The storm in my caste over my foreign voyage was still brewing.
It had divided the caste into two camps, one of which immediately readmitted me, while the other was bent on keeping me out. To please the former my brother took me to Nasik before going to Rajkot, gave me a bath in the sacred river and, on reaching Rajkot, gave a caste dinner. I did not like all this. Buy my brother"s love for me was boundless, and my devotion to him was in proportion to it, and so I mechanically acted as he wished, taking his will to be law. The trouble about readmission to the caste was thus
I never tried to seek admission to the section that had refused it.
1 Seer, knower Nor did I feel even mental resentment against any of the headmen of that section. Some of these regarded me with dislike, but I scru pulously avoided hurting their feelings. I fully respected the caste regulations about excommunication. According to these, none of my relations, including my father-in-law and mother-in-law, and even my sister and brother-in-law, could entertain me; and I would not so much as drink water at their houses. They were prepared secretly to evade the prohibition, but it went against the grain with me to do a thing in secret that I would not do in public. The result of my scrupulous conduct was that I never had occasion to be troubled by the caste; nay, I have experienced nothing but affection and generosity from the general body of the section that still regards me as excommunicated. They have even helped me in my work, without ever expecting me to do anything for the caste. It is my conviction that all these good things are due to my non resistance. Had I agitated for being admitted to the caste, had I atte mpted to divide it into more camps, had I provoked the caste-men, they would surely have retaliated, and instead of steering clear of the storm, I should, on arrival from England, have found myself in a whirlpool of agitation, and perhaps a party to
My relations with my wife were still not as I desired. Even my stay in England had not cured me of jealousy. I continued my squeamishness and suspiciousness in respect of every little thing, and hence all my
cherished desires remained unfulfilled. I had decided that my wife should learn reading and writing and that I should help her in her studies, but my lust came in the way and she had to suffer for my own shortcoming. Once I went the length of sending her away to her father"s house, and consented to receive her back only after I had made her thoroughly miserable. I saw later that all this was pure folly on my part.
I had planned reform in the education of children. My brother had children, and my own child which I had left at home when I went to England was now a boy of nearly four. It was my desire to teach these little ones physical exercise and make them hardy, and also to give them the benefit of my personal guidance. In this I had my brother"s support and I succeeded in my efforts more or less. I very much liked the company of children, and the habit of playing and joking with them has stayed with me till today. I have ever since thought that I should make a good teacher of children.
The necessity for food "reform" was obvious. Tea and coffee had already found their place in the house. My brother had thought it fit to keep some sort of English atmosphere ready for me on my return, and to that end, crockery and such other things, which used to be kept in the house only for special occasions, were now in general use. My "reforms" put the finishing touch. I introduced oat-meal porridge, and cocoa was to replace tea and coffee. But in truth it became an addition to tea and coffee. Boots and shoes were already there. I completed the Europeanization by adding the European dress.0Expenses thus went up. New things
were added every day. We had succeeded in tying a white elephant at our door. But how was the wherewithal to be found ? To start practice in Rajkot would have meant sure ridicule. I had hardly the knowledge of a qualified vakil1 and yet I expected to be paid ten times his fee ! No client would be fool enough to engage me. And even if such a one was to be found, should I add arrogance and fraud to my ignorance, and increase the burden of debt I owed to the world ? Friends advised me to go to Bombay for some time in order to gain experience of the High Court, to study Indian law and to try and get what briefs I could. I took up the suggestion and went.
In Bombay I started a household with a cook as incompetent as myself. He was a Brahmin. I did not treat him as a servant but as a member of the household.2 He would pour water over himself but never wash. His dhoti was dirty, as also his sacred thread, and he was completely innocent of the scriptures. But how was I to get a better cook "Well, Ravishankar," (for that was his name), I would ask him, "you may not know cooking, but surely you must know your sandhya (daily worship), etc." "Sandhya, sir ! The plough is our sandhya and the spade our daily ritual. Theat is the type of Brahmin I am. I must live on your mercy. Otherwise
agriculture is of course there for me." So I had to be Ravishankar"s teacher. Time I had enough. I began to do half the cooking myself and introduced the English
experiments in vegetarian cookery. I invested in a stove, and with Ravishankar began to run the kitchen.3 I had no scruples about inter dining, Ravishankar too came to have none, and so we went on merrily together. There was only one obstacle.
Ravishankar had sworn to remain dirty and to keep the food unclean ! But it was
impossible for me to get along in Bombay for more than four or five months, there being no income to square with the ever-increasing expenditure.
This was how I began life. I found the barrister"s profession a bad job-much show and little knowledge. I felt a crushing sense of my responsibility.
THE FIRST CASE
Whilst in Bombay, I began, on the one hand, my study of Indian law and, on the other, my experiments in dietetics in which Virchand Gandhi, a friend, joined me. My brother, for his part, was trying his best to get me briefs.
The study of Indian law was a tedious business. The Civil Procedure Code I could in no way get on with. Not so, however, with the Evidence Act. Virchand Gandhi was reading for the Solicitor"s Examination and would tell me all sorts of stories about barristers and vakils. "Sir Pherozeshah"s ability," he would say, "lies in his profound knowledge of law. He has the Evidence Act by heart and knows all the cases on the thirty-second section. Badruddin Tyabji"s wonderful power of argument inspires the judges with awe." The stories of stalwarts such as these would unnerve me.
"It is not unusual," he would add, "for a barrister to vegetate for five or seven
years. That"s why I have signed the articles for solicitorship. You should count yourself lucky if you can paddle your own canoe in three years" time." Expenses were mounting up every month. To have a barrister"s board outside the house, whilst still preparing for the barrister"s profession inside, was a thing to which I could not reconcile myself. Hence I could not give undivided attention to my studies. I developed some liking for the Evidence Act and read Mayne"s Hindu Law with deep interest, but I had not the courage to conduct a case. I was helpless beyond words, even as the bride come fresh to her father-in-law"s house ! About this time, I took up the case of one Mamibai. It was a "small cause". "You will have to pay some commission to the tout," I was told. I emphatically declined.
"But even that great criminal lawyer Mr. So-and-So, who makes three to four thousand a month, pays commission !" "I do not need to emulate him," I rejoined. "I should be content with Rs. 300 a month. Father did not get more." "But those days are gone. Expenses in Bombay have gone up frightfully. You must be business-like." I was adamant. I gave no commission, but got Mamibai"s case all the same. It was an easy case. I charged Rs. 30 for my fees. The case was not likely to last longer than a day.
This was my debut in the Small Causes Court. I appeared for the defendant and had thus to cross-examine the plaintiff"s witnesses. I stood up, but my heart sank into my boots. My head was reeling and I felt as though the whole court was doing likewise. I could think of no question to ask. The judge must have laughed, and the vakils no doubt