7. A TRAGEDY (CONTINUED)
So the day came. It is difficult
fully to describe my condition. There were on the one hand, the zeal for
'reform', and the novelty of making a momentous departure in life. There
was, on the other, the shame of hiding like a thief to do this very thing.
I cannot say which of the two swayed me more. We went in search of a lonely
spot by the river, and there I saw, for the first time in my life--meat.
There was baker's bread also. I relished neither. The goat's meat was as
tough as leather. I simply could not eat it. I was sick and had to leave
I had a very bad night afterwards.
A horrible nightmare haunted me. Every time I dropped off to sleep it would
seem as though a live goat were bleating inside me, and I would jump up
full of remorse. But then I would remind myself that meat-eating was a
duty, and so become more cheerful.
My friend was not a man to give
in easily. He now began to cook various delicacies with meat, and dress
them neatly. And for dining, no longer was the secluded spot on the river
chosen, but a State house, with its dining hall, and tables and chairs,
about which my friend had made arrangements in collusion with the chief
This bait had its effect. I
got over my dislike for bread, forswore my compassion for the goats, and
became a relisher of meat-dishes, if not of meat itself. This went on for
about a year. But not more than half a dozen meat-feasts were enjoyed in
all; because the State house was not available every day, and there was
the obvious difficulty about frequently preparing expansive savoury meat-dishes.
I had no money to pay for this 'reform'. My friend had therefore always
to find the wherewithal. I had no knowledge where he found it. But find
it he did, because he was bent on turning me into a meat-eater. But even
his means must have been limited, and hence these feasts had necessarily
to be few and far between.
Whenever I had occasion to indulge
in these surreptitious feasts, dinner at home was out of the question.
My mother would naturally ask me to come and take my food and want to know
the reason why I did not wish to eat. I would say to her, 'I have no appetite
today; there is something wrong with my digestion.' It was not without
compunction that I devised these pretexts. I knew I was lying, and lying
to my mother. I also knew that if my mother and my father came to know
of my having become a meat-eater, they would be deeply shocked. This knowledge
was gnawing at my heart.
Therefore I said to myself:
'Though it is essential to eat meat, and also essential to take up food
'reform' in the country, yet deceiving and lying to one's father and mother
is worse than not eating meat. In their lifetime, therefore, meat-eating
must be out of the question. When they are no more and I have found my
freedom, I will eat meat openly, but until that moment arrives I will abstain
This decision I communicated
to my friend, and I have never since gone back to meat. My parents never
knew that two of their sons had become meat-eaters.
I abjured meat out of the purity
of my desire not to lie to my parents, but I did not abjure the company
of my friend. My zeal for reforming him had proved disastrous for me, and
all the time I was completely unconscious of the fact.
The same company would have
led me into faithlessness to my wife. But I was saved by the skin of my
teeth. My friend once took me to a brothel. He sent me in with the neccessary
instructions. It was all prearranged. The bill had already been paid. I
went into the jaws of sin, but God in His infinite mercy protected me against
myself. I was almost struck blind and dumb in this den of vice. I sat near
the woman on her bed, but I was tongue-tied. She naturally lost patience
with me, and showed me the door, with abuses and insults. I then felt as
though my manhood had been injured, and wished to sink into the ground
for shame. But I have ever since given thanks to God for having saved me.
I can recall four more similar incidents in my life, and in most of them
my good fortune, rather than any effort on my part, saved me. From a strictly
ethical point of view, all these occasions must be regarded as moral lapses;
for the carnal desire was there, and it was a good as the act. But from
the ordinary point of view, a man who is saved from physically committing
sin is regarded as saved. And I was saved only in that sense. There are
some actions from which an escape is a godsend both for the man who escapes
and for those about him. Man, as soon as he gets back his consciousness
of right, is thankful to the Divine mercy for the escape. As we know that
a man often succumbs to temptation, however much he may resist it, we also
know that Providence often intercedes and saves him in spite of himself.
How all this happens--how far a man is free and how far a creature of circumstances--how
far free-will comes into play and where fate enters on the scene--all this
is a mystery and will remain a mystery.
But to go on with the story.
Even this was far from opening my eyes to the viciousness my friend's company.
I therefore had many more bitter draughts in store for me, until my eyes
were actually opened by an ocular demonstration of some of his lapses quite
unexpected by me. But of them later, as we are proceeding chronologically.
One thing, however, I must mention
now, as it pertains to the same period. One of the reasons of my differences
with my wife was undoubtedly the company of this friend. I was both a devoted
and a jealous husband, and this friend fanned the flame of my suspicions
about my wife. I never could doubt his veracity. And I have never forgiven
myself the violence of which I have been guilty, in often having pained
my wife by acting on his information. Perhaps only a Hindu wife would tolerate
these hardships, and that is why I have regarded woman as an incarnation
of tolerance. A servant wrongly suspected may throw up his job, a son in
the same case may leave his father's roof, and a friend may put an end
to the friendship. The wife, if she suspects her husband, will keep quiet,
but if the husband suspects her, she is ruined. Where is she to go? A Hindu
wife may not seek divorce in a law court. Law has no remedy for her.
And I can never forget or forgive myself for having driven my wife to that
The canker of suspicion was
rooted out only when I understood Ahimsa/1/
in all its bearings. I saw then the glory of Brahmacharya,/2/
and realized that the wife is not the husband's bondslave, but his companion
and his helpmate, and an equal partner in all his joys and sorrows--as
free as the husband to choose her own path. Whenever I think of those dark
days of doubts and suspicions, I am filled with loathing of my folly and
my lustful cruelty, and I deplore my blind devotion to my friend.
= = = = = = = = = = =
'Ahimsa' means literally not-hurting, non-violence.
'Brahmacharaya' means literally conduct that leads to God. Its technical
meaning is self-restraint, particularly mastery over the sexual organ.