IV. PLAYING THE HUSBAND
About the time of
my marriage, little pamphlets costing a pice, or a pie (I now forget how
much), used to be issued, in which conjugal love, thrift, child marriages,
and other such subjects were discussed. Whenever I came across any of these,
I used to go through them from cover to cover, and it was a habit with
me to forget what I did not like, and to carry out in practice whatever
I liked. Lifelong faithfulness to the wife, inculcated in these booklets
as the duty of the husband, remained permanently imprinted on my heart.
Furthermore, the passion for truth was innate in me, and to be false to
her was therefore out of the question. And then there was very little chance
of my being faithless at that tender age.
But the lesson of faithfulness
had also an untoward effect. 'If I should be pledged to be faithful to
my wife, she also should be pledged to be faithful to me,' I said to myself.
The thought made me a jealous husband. Her duty was easily converted into
my right to exact faithfulness from her, and if it had to be exacted, I
should be watchfully tenacious of the right. I had absolutely no reason
to suspect my wife's fidelity, but jealousy does not wait for reasons.
I must needs be forever on the look-out regarding her movements, and therefore
she could not go anywhere without my permission. This sowed the seeds of
a bitter quarrel between us. The restraint was virtually a sort of imprisonment.
And Kasturbai was not the girl to brook any such thing. She made it a point
to go out whenever and wherever she liked. More restraint on my part resulted
in more liberty being taken by her, and in my getting more and more cross.
Refusal to speak to one another thus became the order of the day with us,
married children. I think it was quite innocent of Kasturbai to have taken
those liberties with my restrictions. How could a guileless girl brook
any restraint on going to the temple or on going on visits to friends?
If I had the right to impose restrictions on her, had not she also a similar
right? All this is clear to me today. But at that time I had to make good
my authority as a husband!
Let not the reader think, however,
that ours was a life of unrelieved bitterness. For my severities were all
based on love. I wanted to make my wife an ideal wife. My ambition
was to make her live a pure life, learn what I learnt, and identify
her life and thought with mine.
I do not know whether Kasturbai
had any such ambition. She was illiterate. By nature she was simple, independent,
persevering, and, with me at least, reticent. She was not impatient of
her ignorance, and I do not recollect my studies having ever spurred her
to go in for a similar adventure. I fancy, therefore, that my ambition
was all one-sided. My passion was entirely centred on one woman, and I
wanted it to be reciprocated. But even if there were no reciprocity, it
could not be all unrelieved misery because there was active love on one
side at least.
I must say I was passionately
fond of her. Even at school I used to think of her, and the thought of
nightfall and our subsequent meeting was ever haunting me. Separation was
unbearable. I used to keep her awake till late in the night with my idle
talk. If with this devouring passion there had not been in me a burning
attachment to duty, I should either have fallen a prey to disease and premature
death, or have sunk into a burdensome existence. But the appointed tasks
had to be gone through every morning, and lying to anyone was out of the
question. It was this last thing that saved me from many a pitfall.
I have already said that Kasturbai
was illiterate. I was very anxious to teach her, but lustful love left
me no time. For one thing the teaching had to be done against her will,
and that too at night. I dared not meet her in the presence of the elders,
much less talk to her. Kathiwad had then, and to a certain extent has even
today, its own peculiar, useless, and barbarous Purdah. Circumstances
were thus unfavorable. I must therefore confess that most of my efforts
to instruct Kasturbai in our youth were unsuccessful. And when I awoke
from the sleep of lust, I had already launched forth into public life,
which did not leave me much spare time. I failed likewise to instruct her
through private tutors. As a result Kasturbai can now with difficulty write
simple letters and understand simple Gujarati. I am sure that had my love
for her been absolutely untainted with lust, she would be a learned lady
today; for I could then have conquered her dislike for studies. I know
that nothing is impossable for pure love.
I have mentioned one circumstance
that more or less saved me from the disasters of lustful love. There is
another worth noting. Numerous example have convinced me that God ultimately
saves him whose motive is pure. Along with the cruel custom of child marriages,
Hindu society has another custom which to a certain extent diminishes the
evils of the former. Parents do not allow young couples to stay together
long. The child-wife spends more than half her time at her father's place.
Such was the case with us. That is to say, during the first five years
of our married life (from the age of 13 to 18), we could not have lived
together longer than an aggregate period of three years. We would hardly
have spent six months together, when there would be a call to my wife from
her parents. Such calls were very unwelcome in those days, but they saved
us both. At the age of eighteen I went to England, and this meant a long
and healthy spell of separation. Even after my return from England we hardly
stayed together longer than six months. For I had to run up and down between
Rajkot and Bombay. Then came the call from South Africa, and that found
me already fairly free from the carnal appetite.