8. STEALING AND ATONEMENT
I have still to relate some
of my failings during this meat-eating period and also previous to it,
which date from before my marriage or soon after.
A relative and I became fond
of smoking. Not that we saw any good in smoking, or were enamoured of the
smell of a cigarette. We simply imagined a sort of pleasure in emitting
clouds of smoke from our mouths. My uncle had the habit, and when we saw
him smoking, we thought we should copy his example. But we had no money.
So we began pilfering stumps of cigarettes thrown away by my uncle.
The stumps, however, were not
always available, and could not emit much smoke either. So we began to
steal coppers from the servant's pocket money in order to purchase Indian
cigarettes. But the question was where to keep them. We could not of course
smoke in the presence of elders. We managed somehow for a few weeks on
those stolen coppers. In the meantime we heard that the stalks of a certain
plant were porous and could be smoked like cigarettes. We got them and
began this kind of smoking.
But we were far from being satisfied
with such things as these. Our want of independence began to smart. It
was unbearable that we should be unable to do anything without the elders'
permission. At last, in sheer disgust, we decided to commit suicide!
But how were we to do it? From
where were we to get the poison? We heard that Dhatura seeds were
an effective poison. Off we went to the jungle in search of these seeds,
and got them. Evening was thought to be the auspicious hour. We went to
Kedarji Mandir, put ghee in the temple-lamp, had the
and then looked for a lonely corner. But our courage failed us. Supposing
we were not instantly killed? And what was the good of killing ourselves?
Why not rather put up with the lack of independence? But we swallowed two
or three seeds nevertheless. We dared not take more. Both of us fought
shy of death, and decided to go to Ramji Mandir to compose ourselves,
and to dismiss the thought of suicide.
I realized that it was not as
easy to commit suicide as to contemplate it. And since then, whenever I
have heard of someone threatening to commit suicide, it has had little
or no effect on me.
The thought of suicide ultimately
resulted in both of us bidding good-bye to the habit of smoking stumps
of cigarettes and of stealing the servant's coppers for the purpose of
Ever since I have been grown
up, I have never desired to smoke and have always regarded the habit of
smoking as barbarous, dirty and harmful. I have never understood why there
is such a rage for smoking throughout the world. I cannot bear to travel
in a compartment full of people smoking. I become choked.
But much more serious than this
theft was the one I was guilty of a little later. I pilfered the coppers
when I was twelve or thirteen, possibly less. The other theft was committed
when I was fifteen. In this case I stole a bit of gold out of my meat-eating
brother's armlet. This brother had run into a debt of about twenty-five
rupees. He had on his arm an armlet of solid gold. It was not difficult
to clip a bit out of it.
Well, it was done, and the debt
cleared. But this became more than I could bear. I resolved never to steal
again. I also made up my mind to confess it to my father. But I did not
dare to speak. Not that I was afraid of my father beating me. No, I do
not recall his ever having beaten any of us. I was afraid of the pain that
I should cause him. But I felt that the risk should be taken; that there
could not be a cleansing without a confession.
I decided at last to write out
of the confession, to submit it to my father, and ask his forgiveness.
I wrote it on a slip of paper and handed it to him myself. In this note
not only did I confess my guilt, but I asked adequate punishment for it,
and closed with a request to him not to punish himself for my offence.
I also pledged myself never to steal in future.
I was trembling as I handed
the confession to my father. He was then suffering from a fistula and was
confined to bed. His bed was a plain wooden plank. I handed him the note
and sat opposite the plank.
He read it through, and pearl-drops
trickled down his cheeks, wetting the paper, For a moment he closed his
eyes in thought and then tore up the note. He had sat up to read it. He
again lay down. I also cried. I could see my father's agony. If I were
a painter. I could draw a picture of the whole scene today. It is still
so vivid in my mind.
Those pearl-drops of love cleansed
my heart, and washed my sin away. Only he who has experienced such love
can know what it is. A s the hymn says:
This was, for me, an object-lesson
in Ahimsa. Then I could read in it nothing more than a father's
love, but today I know that it was pure Ahimsa. When such Ahimsa
becomes all-embracing, it transforms everything it touches. There is no
limit to tits power.
Who is smitten with the arrows of love,
Knows its power.'
This sort of sublime forgiveness
was not natural to my father. I had thought that he would be angry, say
hard things, and strike his forehead. But he was so wonderfully peaceful,
and I believe this was due to my clean confession. A clean confession,
combined with a promise never to commit the sin again, when offered before
one who has the right to receive it, is the purest type of repentance.
I know that my confession made my father feel absolutely safe about me,
and increased his affection for me beyond measure.