9. MY FATHER'S DEATH AND MY DOUBLE
The time of which I am now speaking
is my sixteenth year. My father, as we have seen, was bed-ridden, suffering
from a fistula. My mother, an old servant of the house, and I were his
principal attendants. I had the duties of a nurse, which mainly consisted
in dressing the wound, giving my father his medicine, and compounding drugs
whenever they had to be made up at home. Every night I massaged his legs,
and retired only when he asked me to so so or after he had fallen asleep.
I loved to do this service. I do not remember ever having neglected it.
All the time at my disposal, after the performance of the daily duties,
was divided between school and attending on my father. I would only go
out for an evening walk either when he permitted me or when he was feeling
This was also the time when
my wife was expecting a baby--a circumstance which, as I can see today,
meant a double shame for me. For one thing I did not restrain myself, as
I should have done, whilst I was yet a student. And secondly, this carnal
lust got the better of what I regarded as my duty to study, and of what
was even a greater duty, my devotion to my parents, Shravana having been
my ideal since childhood. Every night whilst my hands were busy massaging
my father's legs, my mind was hovering about the bed-room--and that too
at a time when religion, medical science, and commonsense alike forbade
sexual intercourse. I was always glad to be relieved from my duty, and
went straight to the bed-room after doing obeisance to my father.
At the same time my father was
getting worse every day. Ayurvedic physicians had tried all their ointments,
Hakims their plasters, and local quacks their nostrums. An English surgeon
had also used his skill. As the last and only resort he had recommended
a surgical operation. But the family physician came in the way. He disapproved
of an operation being performed at such an advanced age. The physician
was competent and well known, and his advice prevailed. The operation was
abandoned, and various medicines purchased for the purpose were of no account.
I have an impression that if the physician had allowed the operation, the
wound would have been easily healed. The operation also was to have been
performed by a surgeon who was then well known in Bombay. But God had willed
otherwise. When death is imminent, who can think of the right remedy? My
father returned from Bombay with all the paraphernalia of the operation,
which were now useless. He despaired of living any longer. He was getting
weaker and weaker, until at last he had to be asked to perform the neccessary
functions in bed. But up to the last he refused to do anything of the kind,
always insisting on going through the strain of leaving his bed. The Vaishnavite
rules about external cleaniness are so inexorable.
Such cleanliness is quite essential
no doubt, but Western medical science has taught us that all the functions,
including a bath, can be done in bed with the strictest regard to cleanliness,
and without the slightest discomfort to the patient, the bed always remaining
spotlessly clean. I should regard such cleanliness as quite consistent
with Vaishnavism. But my father's insistence on leaving the bed only struck
me with wonder then, and I had nothing but admiration for it.
The dreadful night came. My
uncle was then in Rajkot. I have a faint recollection that he came to Rajkot
having had news that my father was getting worse. The brothers were deeply
attached to each other. My uncle would sit near my father's bed the whole
day, and would insist on sleeping by his bed-side, after sending us all
to sleep. No one had dreamt that this was to be the fateful night. The
danger of course was there.
It was 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. I
was giving the massage. My uncle offered to relieve me. I was glad and
went straight to the bed-room. My wife, poor thing, was fast asleep. But
how could she sleep when I was there? I woke her up. In five or six minutes,
however, the servant knocked at the door. I started with alarm. 'Get up,'
he said, 'Father is very ill.' I knew of course that he was very ill, and
so I guessed what 'very ill' meant at that moment. I sprang out of bed.
'What is the matter? Do tell
'Father is no more.'
So all was over! I had but to
[=could only] wring my hands. I felt deeply ashamed and miserable. I ran
to my father's room. I saw that if animal passion had not blinded me, I
should have been spared the torture of separation from my father during
his last moments. I should have been massaging him, and he would have died
in my arms. But now it was my uncle who had this privilege. He was so deeply
devoted to his elder brother that he had earned the honour of doing him
the last services! My father had forebodings of the coming event. He had
made a sign for pen and paper, and written: 'Prepare for the last rites.'
He had then snapped the amulet off his arm, and also his gold necklace
tulasi-beads, and flung them aside. A moment after this he was
The shame, to which I have referred
in a foregoing chapter, was this shame of my carnal desire even at the
critical hour of my father's death, which demanded wakeful service. It
is a blot I have never been able to efface or forget, and I have always
thought that although my devotion to my parents knew no bounds and I would
have given up anything for it, yet it was weighed and found unpardonably
wanting because my mind was at the same moment in the grip of lust. I have
therefore always regarded myself as a lustful, though a faithful, husband.
It took me long to get free from the shackles of lust, and I had to pass
through many ordeals before I could overcome it.
Before I close this chapter
of my double shame, I may mention that the poor mite that was born to my
wife scarcely breathed for more than three or four days. Nothing else could
be expected. Let all those who are married be warned by my example.