9. SIMPLE LIFE
I had started on a life
of ease and comfort, but the experiment was short-lived. Although I had
furnished the house with care, yet it failed to have any hold on me. So
no sooner had I launched forth on that life, than I began to cut down expenses.
The washerman's bill was heavy, and as he was besides by no means noted
for his punctuality, even two to three dozen shirts and collars proved
insufficient for me. Collars had to be changed daily, and shirts if not
daily at least every alternate day. This meant a double expense, which
appeared to me unnecessary. So I equipped myself with a washing outfit
to save it. I bought a book on washing, studied the art, and taught it
also to my wife. This no doubt added to my work, but its novelty made it
I shall never forget the first
collar that I washed myself. I had used more starch than necessary, the
iron had not been made hot enough, and for fear of burning the collar I
had not pressed it sufficiently. The result was that though the collar
was fairly stiff, the superfluous starch continually dropped off it. I
went to court with the collar on, thus inviting the ridicule of brother
barristers, but even in those days I could be impervious to ridicule.
'Well,' said I, 'this is my
first experiment at washing my own collars, and hence the loose starch.
But it does not trouble me, and then there is the advantage of providing
you with so much fun.'
'But surely there is no lack
of laundries here?' asked a friend.
'The laundry bill is very heavy,'
said I. 'The charge for washing a collar is almost as much as its price,
and even then there is the eternal dependence on the washerman. I prefer
by far to wash my things myself.'
But I could not make my friends
appreciate the beauty of self-help. In course of time I became an expert
washerman so far as my own work went, and my washing was by no means inferior
to laundry washing. My collars were no less stiff or shiny than others.
When Gokhale came to South Africa,
he had with him a scarf which was a gift from Mahadeo Govind Ranade. He
treasured the memento with the utmost care and used it only on special
occasions. One such occasion was the banquet given in his honour by the
Johannesburg Indians. The scarf was creased and needed ironing. It was
not possible to send it to the laundry and get it back in time. I offered
to try my art.
'I can trust your capacity as
a lawyer, but not as a washerman,' said Gokhale. 'What if you should soil
it? Do you know what it means to me?'
With this he narrated, with
much joy, the story of the gift. I still insisted, guranteed good work,
got his permission to iron it, and won his certificate [of approval]. After
that I did not mind if the rest of the world refused me its certificate.
In the same way, as I freed
myself from slavery to the washerman, I threw off dependence on the barber.
All people who go to England learn there at least the art of shaving, but
none, to my knowledge, learn to cut their own hair. I had to learn that
too. I once went to an English hair-cutter in Pretoria. He contemptuously
refused to cut my hair. I certainly felt hurt, but immediately purchased
a pair of clippers and cut my hair before the mirror. I succeeded more
or less in cutting the front hair, but I spoiled the back. The friends
in the court shook with laughter.
'What's wrong with your hair,
Gandhi? Rats have been at it?'
'No. The white barber would
not condescend to touch my black hair,' said I, 'so I preferred to cut
it myself, no matter how badly.'
The reply did not surprise the
The barber was not at fault
in having refused to cut my hair. There was every chance of his losing
his custom, if he should serve black men. We do not allow our barbers to
serve our untouchable brethren. I got the reward of this in South Africa,
not once but many times, and the conviction that it was the punishment
for our own sins saved me from becoming angry.
The extreme forms in which my
passion for self-help and simplicity ultimately expressed itself will be
described in their proper place. The seed had been long sown. It only needed
watering to take root, to flower, and to fructify, and the watering came
in due course.