12. RETURN TO INDIA
On my relief from war-duty,
I felt that my work was no longer in South Africa but in India. Not that
there was nothing to be done in South Africa, but I was afraid that my
main business might become merely money-making.
Friends at home were also pressing
me to return, and I felt that I should [=would] be of more service in India.
And for the work in South Africa, there were of course Messrs Khan and
Mansukhlal Naazar. So I requested my co-workers to relieve me. After very
great difficulty my request was conditionally accepted, the condition being
that I should be ready to go back to South Africa, if within a year the
community should need me. I thought it was a difficult condition, but the
love that bound me to the community made me accept it.
'The Lord has bound me
sang Mirabai. And for me, too, the cotton-thread of
love that bound me to the community was too strong to break. The voice
of the people is the voice of God, and here the voice of friends was too
real to be rejected. I accepted the condition and got their permission
With the cotton-thread of love,
I am His bondslave,'
At this time I was intimately
connected only with Natal. The Natal Indians bathed me with the nectar
of love. Farewell meetings were arranged at every place, and costly gifts
were presented to me.
Gifts had been bestowed on me
before when I returned to India in 1899, but this time the farewell was
overwhelming. The gifts of course included things in gold and silver, but
there were articles of costly diamond as well.
What right had I to accept all
these gifts? Accepting them, how could I persuade myself that I was serving
the community without remuneration? All the gifts, excepting a few from
my clients, were purely for my service to the community, and I could make
no difference between my clients and co-workers; for the clients also helped
me in my public work.
One of the gifts was a gold
necklace worth fifty guineas, meant for my wife. But even that gift was
given because of my public work, and so it could not be separated from
The evening I was presented
with the bulk of these things, I had a sleepless night. I walked up and
down my room deeply agitated, but could find no solution. It was difficult
for me to forego gifts worth hundreds, it was more difficult to keep them.
And even if I could keep them,
what about my children? What about my wife? They were being trained to
a life of service, and to an understanding that service was its own reward.
I had no costly ornaments in
the house. We had been fast simplifying our life. How then could we afford
to have gold watches? How could we afford to wear gold chains and diamond
rings? Even then I was exhorting people to conquer the infatuation for
jewellery. What was I now to do with the jewellery that had come upon me?
I decided that I could not keep
these things. I drafted a letter, creating a trust of them in favour of
the community and appointing Parsi Rustomji and others trustees. In the
morning I held a consultation with my wife and children and finally got
rid of the heavy incubus.
I knew that I should have some
difficulty in persuading my wife, and I was sure that I should have none
so far as the children were concerned. So I decided to constitute them
The children readily agreed
to my proposal. 'We do not need these costly presents, we must return them
to the community, and should we ever need them, we could easily purchase
them,' they said.
I was delighted. 'Then you will
plead with mother, won't you?' I asked them.
'Certainly,' said they. 'That
is our business. She does not need to wear the ornaments. She would want
to keep them for us, and if we don't want them, why should she not agree
to part with them?'
But it was easier said than
'You may not need them,' said
my wife. 'Your children may not need them. Cajoled, they will dance to
your tune. I can understand your not permitting me to wear them. But what
about my daughters-in-law? They will be sure to need them. And who knows
what will happen tomorrow? I would be the last person to part with gifts
so lovingly given.'
And thus the torrent of argument
went on, reinforced, in the end, by tears. But the children were adamant.
And I was unmoved.
I mildly put in: 'The children
have yet to get married. We do not want to see them married young. When
they are growing up, they can take care of themselves. And surely we shall
not have, for our sons, brides who are fond of ornaments. And if after
all we need to provide them with ornaments, I am there. You will ask me
'Ask you? I know you by this
time. You deprived me of my ornaments, you would not leave me in peace
with them. Fancy you offering to get ornaments for the daughters-in-law!
You who are trying to make sadhus of my boys from today! No, the
ornaments will not be returned. And pray what right have you to my necklace?'
'But,' I rejoined, 'is the necklace
given you for your service or for my service?'
'I agree. But service rendered
by you is as good as rendered by me. I have toiled and moiled for you day
and night. Is that no service? You forced all and sundry on me, making
me weep bitter tears, and I slaved for them!'
These were pointed thrusts,
and some of them went home. But I was determined to return the ornaments.
I somehow succeeded in extorting a consent from her. The gifts received
in 1896 and 1901 were all returned. A trust-deed was prepared, and they
were deposited with a bank, to be used for the service of the community,
according to my wishes or to those of the trustees.
Often, when I was in need of
funds for public purposes, and felt that I must draw upon the trust, I
have been able to raise the requisite amount, leaving the trust money intact.
The fund is still there, being operated upon in times of need, and it has
I have never since regretted
the step, and as the years have gone by, my wife has also seen its wisdom.
It has saved us from many temptations.
I am definitely of opinion that
a public worker should accept no costly gifts.