VI. A TRAGEDY
Amongst my few friends at the
high school i had, at different times, two who might be called intimate.
One of these friendships did not last long, though I never forsook my friend.
He forsook me, because I made friends with the other. This latter friendship
I regard as a tragedy in my life. It lasted long. I formed it in the spirit
of a reformer.
This companion was originally
my elder brother's friend. They were classmates. I knew his weaknesses,
but I regarded him as a faithful friend. My mother, my eldest brother,
and my wife warned me that I was in bad company. I was too proud to heed
my wife's warning. But I dared not go against the opinion of my mother
and my eldest brother. Nevertheless I pleaded with them saying, 'I know
he has the weaknesses you attribute to him, but you do not know his virtues.
He cannot lead me astray, as my association with him is meant to reform
him. For I am sure that if he reforms his ways, he will be a splendid man.
I beg you not to be anxious on my account.'
I do not think this satisfed
them, but they accepted my explanation and let me go my way.
I have seen since I had claculated
wrongly. A reformer cannot afford to have close intimacy with him whom
he seeks to reform. True friendship is an identity of souls rarely to be
found in this word. Only between like natures can friendship be altogether
worthy and enduring. Friends react on one another. Hence in friendship
there is very little scope for reform. I am of opinion that all exclusive
intimacies are to be avoided; for man takes in vice far more readly than
virtue. And he who would be friends with God must remain alone, or make
the whole world his friend. I may be wrong, but my effort to cultivate
an intimate friendship proved a failure.
A wave of 'reform' was sweeping
over Rajkot at the time when I first came across this friend. He informed
me that many of our teachers were secretly taking [=consuming] meat and
wine. He also named many well-known people of Rajkot as belonging to the
same company. There were also, I was told, some high-school boys among
I was surprised and pained.
I asked my friend the reason and he explained it thus: 'We are a weak people
because we do not eat meat. The English are able to rule over us, because
they are meat-eaters. You know how hardy I am, and how great a runner too.
It is because I am a meat-eater. Meat-eaters do not have boils or tumours,
and even if they sometimes happen to have any, these heal quickly. Our
teachers and other distinguished people who eat meat are no fools. They
know its virtues. You should do likewise. There is nothing like trying.
Try, and see what strength it gives.'
All these pleas or behalf of
meat-eating were not advanced at a single sitting. They represent the substance
of a long and claborate argument which my friend was trying to impress
upon me from time to time. My elder brother had already fallen. He therefore
supported my friend's argument. I certainly looked feeble-bodied by the
side of my brother and this friend. They were both hardier, physically
stronger, and more daring. This friend's exploits cast a spell over me.
He could run long distances and extraordinarily fast. He was an adept in
high and long jumping. He could put up with any amount of corporal punishment.
He would often display his exploits to me and, as one is always dazzled
when he see in other the qualities that he lacks himself, I was dazzled
by this friend's exploits. This was followed by a strong desire to be like
him. I could hardly jump or run. Why should not I also be as strong as
Moreover, I was a coward. I
used to be haunted by the fear of thieves, ghosts, and serpents. I did
not dare to stir out of doors at might. Darkness was a terror to me. It
was almost impossible for me to sleep in the dark, as I would imagine ghosts
coming from one direction, thieves from another, and serpents from a third.
I could not therefore bear to sleep without a light in the room. How could
I disclose my fears to my wife--no child, but already at the threshold
of youth--sleeping by my side? I knew that she had more courage than I,
and I felt ashamed of myself. She knew no fear of serpents and ghosts.
She could go out anywhere in the dark. My friend knew all these weaknesses
of mine. He would tell me that he could hold in his hand live serpents,
could defy thieves, and did not believe in ghosts. And all this was, of
course, the result of eating meat.
A doggerel of the Gujarati poet
Narmad was in vogue amongst us schoolboys, as follows:
Behold the mighty Englishman
All this had its due effect on
me. I was beaten. It began to grow on me that meat-eating was good, that
it would make me strong and daring, and that if the whole country took
to meat-eating, the English could be overcome.
He rules the Indian small,
Because being a meat-eater
He is five cubits tall.
A day was thereupon fixed for
beginning the experiment. It had to be conducted in secret. The Gandhis
were Vaishnavas. My parents were particularly staunch Vaishnavas. They
would regularly visit the Haveli. The family had even its own temples.
Jainism was strong in Gujarat, and its influence was felt everywhere and
on all occasions. The opposition to and abhorrence of meat-eating that
existed in Gujarat among the Jains and Vaishnavas were to be seen nowhere
else in India or outside in such strength. These were the traditions in
which I was born and bred. And I was extermely devoted to my parents. I
knew that the moment they came to know of my having eaten meat, they would
be shocked to death. Moreover, my love of truth made me extra cautious.
I cannot say that I did not know then that I should have to deceive my
parents if I began eating meat. But my mind was bent on the 'reform'. It
was not a question of pleasing the palate. I did not know that it had a
particularly good relish. I wished to be strong and daring and wanted my
countrymen also to be such, so that we might defeat the English and make
India free. The word 'Swaraj' I had not yet heard. But I knew that freedom
meant. The frenzy of the 'reform' blinded me. And having ensured secrecy,
I persuaded myself that mere hiding [of] the deed from parents was no departure