21. A PEEP INTO THE ASHRAM
Before I proceed to describe
the progress of the labour dispute, it is essential to have a peep into
the Ashram. All the while I was in Champaran the Ashram was never out of
my mind, and occasionally I paid it flying visits.
At that time the Ashram was
in Kochrab, a small village near Ahmedabad. Plague broke out in this village,
and I saw evident danger to the safety of the Ashram children. It was impossible
to keep ourselves immune from the effects of the surrounding insanitation,
however scrupulously we might observe the rules of cleanliness within the
Ashram walls. We were not then equal either to getting the Kochrab people
to observe these rules, nor [=or] to serving the village otherwise.
Our ideal was to have the Ashram
at a safe distance both from town and village, and yet at a manageable
distance from either. And we were determined, someday to settle on ground
of our own.
The plague, I felt, was sufficient
notice to quit Kochrab. Sjt. Punjabhai Hirachand, a merchant in Ahmedabad,
had come in close contact with the Ashram, and used to serve us in a number
of matters in a pure and selfless spirit. He had a wide experience of things
in Ahmedabad, and he volunteered to procure us suitable land. I went about
with him north and south of Kochrab in search of land, and then suggested
to him to find out a piece of land three or four miles to the north. He
hit upon the present site. Its vicinity to the Sabarmati Central Jail was
for me a special attraction. As jail-going was understood to be the normal
lot of Satyagrahis, I liked this position. And I knew that the sites selected
for jails have generally clean surroundings.
In about eight days the sale
was executed. There was no building on the land and no tree. But its situation
on the bank of the river and its solitude were great advantages.
We decided to start by living under
canvas, and having a tin shed for a kitchen, till permanent houses were
The Ashram had been slowly growing.
We were now over forty souls, men, women, and children, having our meals
at a common kitchen. The whole conception about the removal was mine, the
execution was as usual left to Maganlal.
Our difficulties, before we
had permanent living accommodation, were great. The rains were impending,
and provisions had to be got from the city four miles away. The ground,
which had been a waste, was infested with snakes, and it was no small risk
to live with little children under such conditions. The general rule was
not to kill the snakes, though I confess none of us had shed the fear of
these reptiles, nor have we even now.
The rule of not killing venomous
reptiles has been practised for the most part at Phoenix, Tolstoy Farm,
and Sabarmati. At each of these places we had to settle on waste lands.
We have had, however, no loss of life occasioned by snakebite. I see, with
the eye of faith, in this circumstance the hand of the God of Mercy. Let
no one cavil at this, saying that God can never be partial, and that He
has no time to meddle with the humdrum affairs of men. I have no other
language to express the fact of the matter, to describe this uniform experience
of mine. Human language can but imperfectly describe God's ways. I am sensible
of the fact that they are indescribable and inscrutable. But if mortal
man will dare to describe them, he has no better medium than his own inarticulate
speech. Even if it be a superstition to believe that complete immunity
from harm for twenty-five years in spite of a fairly regular practice of
non-killing is not a fortuitous accident but a grace of God, I should still
hug that superstition.
During the strike of the mill-hands
in Ahmedabad, the foundation of the Ashram weaving shed was being laid.
For the principal activity of the Ashram was then weaving. Spinning had
not so far been possible for us.