Brajkishorebabu and Rajendrababu
were a matchless pair. Their devotion made it impossible for me to take
a single step without their help. Their disciples, or their companions--Shambhubabu,
Anugrahababu, Dharanibabu, Ramnavmibabu, and other vakils--were always
with us. Vindhyababu and Janakdharibabu also came and helped us now and
then. All these were Biharis. Their principal work was to take down the
Professor Kripalani could not
but cast in his lot with us. Though a Sindhi, he was more Bihari than a
born Bihari. I have seen only a few workers capable of merging themselves
in the province of their adoption. Kripalani is one of those few. He made
it impossible for anyone to feel that he belonged to a different province.
He was my gatekeeper in chief. For the time being he made it the end and
aim of his life to save me from darshan-seekers. He warded off people,
calling to his aid now his unfailing humour, now his non-violent threats.
At nightfall he would take up his occupation of a teacher and regale his
companions with his historical studies and observations, and quicken any
timid visitor into bravery.
Maulana Mazharul Haq had registered
his name on the standing list of helpers whom I might count upon whenever
necessary, and he made a point of looking in once or twice a month. The
pomp and splendour in which he then lived was in sharp contrast to his
simple life of today. The way in which he associated with us made us feel
that he was one of us, though his fashionable habit gave a stranger a different
As I gained more experience
of Bihar, I became convinced that work of a permanent nature was impossible
without proper village education. The ryots' ignorance was pathetic. They
either allowed their children to roam about, or made them toil on indigo
plantations from morning to night for a couple of coppers a day. In those
days a male labourer's wage did not exceed ten pice, a female's did not
exceed six, and a child's three. He who succeeded in earning four annas
a day was considered most fortunate.
In consultation with my companions
I decided to open primary schools in six villages. One of our conditions
with the villagers was that they should provide the teachers with board
and lodging, while we would see to the other expenses. The village folk
had hardly any cash in their hands, but they could well afford to provide
foodstuffs. Indeed they had already expressed their readiness to contribute
grain and other raw materials.
From where to get the teachers
was a great problem. It was difficult to find local teachers who would
work for a bare allowance or without remuneration. My idea was never to
entrust children to commonplace teachers. Their literary qualification
was not so essential as their moral fibre.
So I issued a public appeal
for voluntary teachers. It received a ready response. Sjt. Gangadharrao
Deshpande sent Babasaheb Soman and Pundalik. Shrimati Avantikabai Gokhale
came from Bombay, and Mrs. Anandibai Vaishmpayan from Poona. I sent to
the Ashram for Chhotalal, Surendranath, and my son Devdas. About this time
Mahadev Desai and Narahari Parikh with their wives cast in their lot with
me. Kasturbai was also summoned for the work. This was a fairly strong
contingent. Shrimati Avantikabai and Shrimati Anandibai were educated enough,
but Shrimati Durga Desai and Shrimati Manibehn Parikh had nothing more
than a bare knowledge of Gujarati, and Kasturbai not even that. How were
these ladies to instruct the children in Hindi?
I explained to them that they
were expected to teach the children not grammar and the three R's so much
as cleanliness and good manners. I further explained that even as regards
letters there was not so great a difference between Gujarati, Hindi, and
Marathi as they imagined, and in the primary classes, at any rate, the
teaching of the rudiments of the alphabet and numerals was not a difficult
matter. The result was that the classes taken by these ladies were found
to be most successful. The experience inspired them with confidence and
interest in their work. Avantikabai's became a model school. She brought
her exceptional gifts to bear on it. Through these ladies we could, to
some extent, reach the village women.
But I did not want to
stop at providing for primary education. The villages were insanitary,
the lanes full of filth, the wells surrounded by mud and stink, and the
courtyards unbearably untidy. The elder people badly needed education in
cleanliness. They were all suffering from various skin diseases. So it
was decided to do as much sanitary work as possible, and to penetrate every
department of their lives.
Doctors were needed for this
work. I requested the Servants of India Society to lend us the services
of the late Dr. Dev. We had been great friends, and he readily offered
his services for six months. The teachers--men and women--had all to work
All of them had express instructions
not to concern themselves with grievances against planters, or with politics.
People who had any complaints to make were to be referred to me. No one
was to venture out of his beat. The friends carried out these instructions
with wonderful fidelity. I do not remember a single occasion of indiscipline.