23. A PEEP INTO THE HOUSEHOLD
It has already been seen
that though household expenses were heavy, the tendency towards simplicity
began in Durban. But the Johannesburg house came in for much severer overhauling
in the light of Ruskin's teaching.
I introduced as much simplicity
as was possible in a barrister's house. It was impossible to do without
a certain amount of furniture. The change was more internal than external.
The liking for doing personally all the physical labour increased. I therefore
began to bring my children also under that discipline.
Instead of buying baker's bread,
we began to prepare unleavened wholemeal bread at home according to Kuhne's
recipe. Common mill flour was no good for this, and the use of hand-ground
flour, it was thought, would ensure more simplicity, health, and economy.
So I purchased a hand-mill for £7. The iron wheel was too heavy to
be tackled by one man, but easy for two. Polak and I and the children usually
worked it. My wife also occasionally lent a hand, though the grinding hour
was her usual time for commencing kitchen work. Mrs. Polak now joined us
on her arrival. The grinding proved a very beneficial exercise for the
children. Neither this nor any other work was ever imposed on them, but
it was a pastime to them to come and lend a hand, and they were at liberty
to break off whenever tired. But the children, including those whom I shall
have occasion to introduce later, as a rule never failed me. Not that I
had no laggards at all, but most did their work cheerfully enough. I can
recall few youngsters in those days fighting shy of work or pleading fatigue.
We had engaged a servant to
look after the house. He lived with us as a member of the family, and the
children used to help him in his work. The municipal sweeper removed the
night-soil, but we personally attended to the cleaning of the closet, instead
of asking or expecting the servant to do it. This proved a good training
for the children. The result was that none of my sons developed any aversion
for scavenger's work, and they naturally got a good grounding in general
sanitation. There was hardly any illness in the home at Johannesburg, but
whenever there was any, the nursing was willingly done by the children.
I will not say that I was indifferent to their literary education, but
I certainly did not hesitate to sacrifice it. My sons have therefore some
reason for a grievance against me. Indeed they have occasionally given
expression to it, and I must plead guilty to a certain extent. The desire
to give them a literary education was there. I even endeavoured to give
it to them myself, but every now and then there was some hitch or other.
As I had made no other arrangement for their private tuition, I used to
get them to walk with me daily to the office and back home--a distance
of about five miles in all. This gave them and me a fair amount of exercise.
I tried to instruct them by conversation during these walks, if there was
no one else claiming my attention. All my children, excepting the eldest,
Harilal, who had stayed away in India, were brought up in Johannesburg
in this manner. Had I been able to devote at least an hour to their literary
education with strict regularity, I should have given them, in my opinion,
an ideal education. But it has been their, as also my, regret that I failed
to ensure them enough literary training. The eldest son has often given
vent to his distress privately before me, and publicly in the press; the
other sons have generously forgiven the failure as unavoidable. I am not
heart-broken over it, and the regret, if any, is that I did not prove an
ideal father. But I hold that I sacrificed their literary training to what
I genuinely, though maybe wrongly, believed to be service to the community.
I am quite clear that I have not been negligent in doing whatever was needful
for building up their character. I believe it is the bounden duty of every
parent to provide for this properly. Whenever, in spite of my endeavour,
my sons have been found wanting, it is my certain conviction that they
have reflected, not want of care on my part, but the defects of both their
Children inherit the qualities
of the parents, no less than their physical features. Environment does
play an important part, but the original capital on which a child starts
in life is inherited from its ancestors. I have also seen children successfully
surmounting the effects of an evil inheritance. That is due to purity being
an inherent attribute of the soul.
Polak and I had often very heated
discussions about the desirability or otherwise of giving the children
an English education. It has always been my conviction that Indian parents
who train their children to think and talk in English from their infancy
betray their children and their country. They deprive them of the spiritual
and social heritage of the nation, and render them to that extent unfit
for the service of the country. Having these convictions, I made a point
of always talking to my children in Gujarati. Polak never liked this. He
thought I was spoiling their future. He contended, with all the vigour
and love at his command, that if children were to learn a universal language
like English from their infancy, they would easily gain considerable advantage
over others in the race of life. He failed to convince me. I do not now
remember whether I convinced him of the correctness of my attitude, or
whether he gave me up as too obstinate. This happened about twenty years
ago, and my convictions have only deepened with experience. Though my sons
have suffered for want of [a] full literary education, the knowledge of
the mother tongue that they naturally acquired has been all to their and
the country's good, inasmuch as they do not appear the foreigners they
would otherwise have appeared. They naturally became bilingual, speaking
and writing English with fair ease, because of daily contact with a large
circle of English friends, and because of their stay in a country where
English was the chief language spoken.