10. ON THE ANVIL
The Ashram had been in existence
only a few months, when we were put to a test such as I had scarcely expected.
I received a letter from Amritlal Thakkar to this effect: 'A humble and
honest untouchable family is desirous of joining your Ashram. Will you
I was perturbed. I had never
expected that an untouchable family with an introduction from no less a
man than Thakkar Bapa would so soon be seeking admission to the Ashram.
I shared the letter with my companions. They welcomed it.
I wrote to Amritlal Thakkar
expressing our willingness to accept the family, provided all the members
were ready to abide by the rules of the Ashram.
The family consisted of Dudabhai,
his wife Danibehn, and their daughter Lakshmi, then a mere toddling babe.
Dudabhai had been a teacher in Bombay. They all agreed to abide by the
rules and were accepted.
But their admission created
a flutter amongst the friends who had been helping the Ashram. The very
first difficulty was found with regard to the use of the well, which was
partly controlled by the owner of the bungalow. The man in charge of the
water-lift objected that drops of water from our bucket would pollute him.
So he took to swearing at us and molesting Dudabhai. I told everyone to
put up with the abuse, and continue drawing water at any cost. When he
saw that we did not return his abuse, the man became ashamed and ceased
to bother us.
All monetary help, however,
was stopped. The friend who had asked that question about an untouchable
being able to follow the rules of the Ashram had never expected that any
such would be forthcoming.
With the stopping of monetary
help came rumours of proposed social boycott. We were prepared for all
this. I had told my companions that if we were boycotted and denied the
usual facilities, we would not leave Ahmedabad. We would rather go and
stay in the untouchables' quarter, and live on whatever we could get by
Matters came to such a
pass that Maganlal Gandhi one day gave me this notice: 'We are out of funds,
and there is nothing for the next month.'
I quietly replied: 'Then we
shall go to the untouchables' quarter.'
This was not the first time
I had been faced with such a trial. On all such occasions God has sent
help at the last moment. One morning, shortly after Maganlal had given
me warning of our monetary plight, one of the children came and said that
a Sheth who was waiting in a car outside wanted to see me. I went out to
him. 'I want to give the Ashram some help. Will you accept it?' he asked.
'Most certainly,' said I. 'And
I confess I am at the present moment at the end of my resources.'
'I shall come tomorrow at this
time,' he said. 'Will you be here?'
'Yes,' said I, and he left.
Next day, exactly at the appointed
hour, the car drew up near our quarters, and the horn was blown. The children
came with the news. The Sheth did not come in. I went out to see him. He
placed in my hands currency notes to the value of Rs. 13,000, and drove
I had never expected this help,
and what a novel way of rendering it! The gentleman had never before visited
the Ashram. So far as I can remember, I had met him only once. No visit,
no enquiries, simply rendering help and going away! This was a unique experience
for me. The help deferred the exodus to the untouchables' quarter. We now
felt quite safe for a year.
Just as there was a storm outside,
so there was a storm in the Ashram itself. Though in South Africa untouchable
friends used to come to my place and live and feed with me, my wife and
other women did not seem quite to relish the admission into the Ashram
of the untouchable friends. My eyes and ears easily detected their indifference,
if not their dislike, towards Danibehn. The monetary difficulty had caused
me no anxiety, but this internal storm was more than I could bear. Danibehn
was an ordinary woman. Dudabhai was a man with slight education but of
good understanding. I liked his patience. Sometimes he did flare up, but
on the whole I was well impressed with his forbearance. I pleaded with
him to swallow minor insults. He not only agreed, but prevailed upon his
wife to do likewise.
The admission of this
family proved a valuable lesson to the Ashram. In the very beginning we
proclaimed to the world that the Ashram would not countenance untouchability.
Those who wanted to help the Ashram were thus put on their guard, and the
work of the Ashram in this direction was considerably simplified. The fact
that it is mostly the real orthodox Hindus who have met the daily growing
expenses of the Ashram is perhaps a clear indication that untouchability
is shaken to its foundation. There are indeed many other proofs of this,
but the fact that good Hindus do not scruple to help an Ashram where we
go [to] the length of dining with the untouchables is no small proof.
I am sorry that I should have
to skip over quite a number of things pertaining to this subject, how we
tackled delicate questions arising out of the main question, how we had
to overcome some unexpected difficulties, and various other matters which
are quite relevant to a description of experiments with Truth. The chapters
that follow will also suffer from the same drawback. I shall have to omit
important details, because most of the characters in the drama are still
alive, and it is not proper without permission to use their names in connection
with events with which they are concerned. It is hardly practicable to
obtain their consent or to get them every now and then to revise the chapters
concerning themselves. Besides, such procedure is outside the limit of
this autobiography. I therefore fear that the rest of the story, valuable
as it is in my opinion to seekers after Truth, will be told with inevitable
omissions. Nevertheless, it is my desire and hope, God willing, to bring
this narrative down to the days of Non-co-operation.