15. PLAYING THE ENGLISH GENTLEMAN
My faith in vegetarianism
grew on me from day to day. Salt's book whetted my appetite for dietetic
studies. I went in for all books available on vegetarianism and read them.
One of these, Howard Williams' The Ethics of Diet, was a 'biographical
history of the literature of humane dietetics from the earliest period
to the present day.' It tried to make out that all philosophers and prophets,
from Pythagoras and Jesus down to those of the present age, were vegetarians.
Dr. Anna Kingsford's The Perfect Way in Diet was also an attractive
book. Dr. Allinson's writings on health and hygiene were likewise very
helpful. He advocated a curative system based on regulation of the dietary
of patients. Himself a vegetarian, he prescribed for his patients also
a strictly vegetarian diet. The result of reading all this literature was
that dietetic experiments came to take an important place in my life. Health
was the principal consideration of these experiments, to begin with. But
later on religion became the supreme motive.
Meanwhile my friend had not
ceased to worry about me. His love for me led him to think that if I persisted
in my objections to meat eating, I should not only develop a weak constitution,
but should remain a duffer, because I should never feel at home in English
society. When he came to know that I had begun to interest myself in books
on vegetarianism, he was afraid lest these studies should muddle my head;
that I should fritter my life away in experiments, forgetting my own work,
and become a crank. He therefore made one last effort to reform me. He
one day invited me to go to the theatre. Before the play we were to dine
together at the Holborn Restaurant, to me a palatial place and the first
big restaurant I had been to since leaving the Victoria Hotel. The stay
at that hotel had scarcely been a helpful experience, for I had not lived
there with my wits about me. The friend had planned to take me to this
restaurant, evidently imagining that modesty would forbid any questions.
And it was a very big company of diners, in the midst of which my friend
and I sat sharing a table between us. The first course was soup. I wondered
what it might be made of, but durst [=dared] not ask the friend about it.
I therefore summoned the waiter. My friend saw the movement and sternly
asked across the table what was the matter. With considerable hesitation
I told him that I wanted to inquire if the soup was a vegetable soup. 'You
are too clumsy for decent society,' he passionately exclaimed. 'If you
cannot behave yourself, you had better go. Feed in some other restaurant
and await me outside.' This delighted me. Out I went. There was a vegetarian
restaurant close by, but it was closed. So I went without food that night.
I accompanied my friend to the theatre, but he never said a word about
the scene I had created. On my part of course there was nothing to say.
That was the last friendly tussle
we had. It did not affect our relations in the least. I could see and appreciate
the love by which all my friend's efforts were actuated, and my respect
for him was all the greater on account of our differences in thought and
But I decided that I should
put him at ease, that I should assure him that I would be clumsy no more,
but try to become polished and make up for my vegetarianism by cultivating
other accomplishments which fitted one for polite society. And for this
purpose I undertook the all too impossible task of becoming an English
The clothes after the Bombay
cut that I was wearing were, I thought, unsuitable for English society,
and I got new ones at the Army and Navy Stores. I also went in for a chimney-pot
hat costing nineteen shillings--an excessive price in those days. Not content
with this, I wasted ten pounds on an evening suit made in Bond Street,
the centre of fashionable life in London; and got my good and noble-hearted
brother to send me a double watch-chain of gold. It was not correct to
wear a ready-made tie, and I learnt the art of tying one for myself. While
in India, the mirror had been a luxury permitted on the days when the family
barber gave me a shave. Here I wasted ten minutes every day before a huge
mirror, watching myself arranging my tie and parting my hair in the correct
fashion. My hair was by no means soft, and every day it meant a regular
struggle with the brush to keep it in position. Each time the hat was put
on and off, the hand would automatically move towards the head to adjust
the hair, not to mention the other civilized habit of the hand every now
and then operating for the same purpose when sitting in polished society.
As if all this were not enough
to make me look the thing, I directed my attention to other details that
were supposed to go towards the making of an English gentleman. I was told
it was necessary for me to take lessons in dancing, French, and elocution.
French was not only the language of neighbouring France, but it was the
franca of the Continent over which I had a desire to travel. I decided
to take dancing lessons at a class and paid down £3 as fees for a
term. I must have taken about six lessons in three weeks. But it was beyond
me to achieve anything like rhythmic motion. I could not follow the piano
and hence found it impossible to keep time. What then was I to do? The
recluse in the fable kept a cat to keep off the rats, and then a cow to
feed the cat with milk, and a man to keep the cow and so on. My ambitions
also grew like the family of the recluse. I thought I should learn to play
the violin in order to cultivate an ear for Western music. So I invested
£3 in a violin and something more in fees. I sought a third teacher
to give me lessons in elocution and paid him a preliminary fee of a guinea.
He recommended Bell's Standard Elocutionist as the text book, which
I purchased. And I began with a speech of Pitt's.
But Mr. Bell rang the bell of
alarm in my ear and I awoke.
I had not to spend a lifetime
in England, I said to myself. What then was the use of learning elocution?
And how could dancing make a gentleman of me? The violin I could learn
even in India. I was a student and ought to go on with my studies. I should
qualify myself to join the Inns of Court. If my character made a gentleman
of me, so much the better. Otherwise I should forego the ambition.
These and similar thoughts possessed
me, and I expressed them in a letter which I addressed to the elocution
teacher, requesting him to excuse me from further lessons. I had taken
only two or three. I wrote a similar letter to the dancing teacher, and
went personally to the violin teacher with a request to dispose of the
violin for any price it might fetch. She was rather friendly to me, so
I told her how I had discovered that I was pursuing a false ideal. She
encouraged me in the determination to make a complete change.
This infatuation must have lasted
about three months. The punctiliousness in dress persisted for years. But
henceforward I became a student.