11. INTIMATE EUROPEAN CONTACTS
This chapter has brought
me to a stage where it becomes necessary for me to explain to the reader
how this story is written from week to week.
When I began writing it, I had
no definite plan before me. I have no diary or documents on which to base
the story of my experiments. I write just as the Spirit moves me at the
time of writing. I do not claim to know definitely that all conscious thought
and action on my part is directed by the Spirit. But on an examination
of the greatest steps that I have taken in my life, as also of those that
may be regarded as the least, I think it will not be improper to say that
all of them were directed by the Spirit.
I have not seen Him, neither
have I know Him. I have made the world's faith in God my own, and as my
faith is ineffaceable, I regard that faith as amounting to experience.
However, as it may be said that to describe faith as experience is to tamper
with truth, it may perhaps be more correct to say that I have no word for
characterizing my belief in God.
It is perhaps now somewhat easy
to understand why I believe that I am writing this story as the Spirit
prompts me. When I began the last chapter I gave it the heading I have
given to this, but as I was writing it, I realized that before I narrated
my experiences with Europeans, I must write something by way of a preface.
This I did, and altered the heading.
Now again, as I start on this
chapter, I find myself confronted with a fresh problem. What things to
mention and what to omit, regarding the English friends of whom I am about
to write, is a serious problem. If things that are relevant are omitted,
truth will be dimmed. And it is difficult to decide straightaway what is
relevant, when I am not even sure about the relevancy of writing this story.
I understand more clearly today
what I read long ago about the inadequacy of all autobiography as history.
I know that I do not set down in this story all that I remember. Who can
say how much I must give and how much omit, in the interests of truth?
And what would be the value in a court of law, of the inadequate ex
evidence being tendered by me of certain events in my life? If
some busybody were to cross-examine me on the chapters already written,
he could probably shed much more light on them; and if it were a hostile
critic's cross-examination, he might even flatter himself for having shown
up 'the hollowness of many of my pretensions'.
I, therefore, wonder for a moment
whether it might not be proper to stop writing these chapters. But so long
as there is no prohibition from the voice within, I must continue the writing.
I must follow the sage maxim that nothing once begun should be abandoned,
unless it is proved to be morally wrong.
I am not writing the autobiography
to please critics. Writing it is itself one of the experiments with truth.
One of its objects is certainly to provide some comfort and food for reflection
for my co-workers. Indeed I started writing it in compliance with their
wishes. It might not have been written, if Jeramdas and Swami Anand had
not persisted in their suggestion. If, therefore, I am wrong in writing
the autobiography, they must share the blame.
But to take up the subject indicated
in the heading. Just as I had Indians living with me as members of my family,
so had I English friends living with me in Durban. Not that all who lived
with me liked it. But I persisted in having them. Nor was I wise in every
case. I had some bitter experiences, but these included both Indians and
Europeans. And I do not regret the experiences. In spite of them, and in
spite of the inconvenience and worry that I have often caused to friends,
I have not altered my conduct, and friends have kindly borne with me. Whenever
my contacts with strangers have been painful to friends, I have not hesitated
to blame them. I hold that believers who have to see the same God in others
that they see in themselves, must be able to live amongst all with sufficient
detachment. And the ability to live thus can be cultivated, not by fighting
shy of unsought opportunities for such contacts, but by hailing them in
a spirit of service, and withal keeping oneself unaffected by them.
Though, therefore, my house
was full when the Boer War broker out, I received two Englishmen who had
come from Johannesburg. Both were theosophists, one of them being Mr. Kitchin,
of whom we shall have occasion to know more later. These friends often
cost my wife bitter tears. Unfortunately she has had many such trials on
my account. This was the first time that I had English friends to live
with me as intimately as members of my family. I had stayed in English
houses during my days in England, but there I conformed to their ways of
living, and it was more or less like living in a boarding house. Here it
was quite the contrary. The English friends became members of the family.
They adopted the Indian style in many matters. Though the appointments
in the house were in the Western fashion, the internal life was mostly
Indian. I do remember having had some difficulty in keeping them as members
of the family, but I can certainly say that they had no difficulty in making
themselves perfectly at home under my roof. In Johannesburg these contacts
developed further than in Durban.