18. A MONTH WITH GOKHALE—II
Whilst living under Gokhale's
roof I was far from being a stay-at-home.
I had told my Christian friends
in South Africa that in India I would meet the Christian Indians and acquaint
myself with their condition. I had heard of Babu Kalicharan Banerji, and
held him in high regard. He took a prominent part in the Congress, and
I had none of the misgivings about him that I had about the average Christian
Indian, who stood aloof from the Congress and isolated himself from Hindus
and Musalmans. I told Gokhale that I was thinking of meeting him. He said:
'What is the good of your seeing him? He is a very good man, but I am afraid
he will not satisfy you. I know him very well. However, you can certainly
meet him if you like.'
I sought an appointment, which
he readily gave me. When I went, I found that his wife was on her death-bed.
His house was simple. In the Congress I had seen him in a coat and trousers,
but I was glad to find him now wearing a Bengali dhoti and shirt.
I liked his simple mode of dress, though I myself then wore a Parsi coat
and trousers. Without much ado I presented my difficulties to him. He asked:
'Do you believe in the doctrine of original sin?'
'I do,' said I.
'Well then, Hinduism offers
no absolution therefrom, Christianity does,' and added: 'The wages of sin
is death, and the Bible says that the only way of deliverance is surrender
I put forward Bhakti-marga
(the path of devotion) of the Bhagavadgita, but to no avail. I thanked
him for his goodness. He failed to satisfy me, but I benefited by the interview.
During these days I walked up
and down the streets of Calcutta. I went to most places on foot. I met
Justice Mitter and Sir Gurudas Banerji, whose help I wanted in my work
in South Africa. And about this time I met Raja Sir Pyarimohan Mukarji.
Kalicharan Banerji had spoken
to me about the Kali temple, which I was eager to see, especially as I
had read about it in books. So I went there one day. Justice Mitter's house
was in the same locality, and I therefore went to the temple on the same
day that I visited him. On the way I saw a stream of sheep going to be
sacrificed to Kali. Rows of beggars lined the lane leading to the temple.
There were religious mendicants too, and even in those days I was sternly
opposed to giving alms to sturdy beggars. A crowd of them pursued me. One
of such men was found seated on a verandah. He stopped me, and accosted
me: 'Whither are you going, my boy?' I replied to him.
He asked my companion and me
to sit down, which we did.
I asked him: 'Do you regard
this sacrifice as religion?'
'Who would regard killing of
animals as religion?'
'Then, why don't you preach
'That's not my business. Our
business is to worship God.'
'But could you not find any
other place in which to worship God?'
'All places are equally good
for us. The people are like a flock of sheep, following where leaders lead
them. It is no business of us sadhus.'
We did not prolong the discussion,
but passed on to the temple. We were greeted by rivers of blood. I could
not bear to stand there. I was exasperated and restless. I have never forgotten
That very evening I had an invitation
to dinner at a party of Bengali friends. There I spoke to a friend about
this cruel form of worship. He said: 'The sheep don't feel anything. The
noise and the drum-beating there deaden all sensation of pain.'
I could not swallow this. I
told him that if the sheep had speech, they would tell a different tale.
I felt that the cruel custom ought to be stopped. I thought of the story
of Buddha, but I also saw that the task was beyond my capacity.
I hold today the same opinion
as I held then. To my mind the life of a lamb is no less precious than
that of a human being. I should be unwilling to take the life of a lamb
for the sake of the human body. I hold that the more helpless a creature,
the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man. But
he who has not qualified himself for such service is unable to afford to
it any protection. I must go through more self-purification and sacrifice,
before I can hope to save these lambs from this unholy sacrifice. It is
my constant prayer that there may be born on earth some great spirit, man
or woman, fired with divine pity, who will deliver us from this heinous
sin, save the lives of the innocent creatures, and purify the temple. How
is it that Bengal, with all its knowledge, intelligence, sacrifice, and
emotion, tolerates this slaughter?