my few friends at the high school I had, at different times, two who might be
called intimate. One of these friendships did not last long, though I never
forsook my friend. He forsook me, because I made friends with the other. This
latter friendship I regard as a tragedy in my life. It lasted long. I formed it
in spirit of a reformer.
companion was originally my elder brother's friend. They were classmates. I knew
his weaknesses, but I regarded him as a faithful friend. My mother, my eldest
brother, and my wife warned me that I was in bad company. I was too proud to
heed my wife's warning. But I dared not go against the opinion of my mother and
my eldest brother. Nevertheless I pleaded with them saying, 'I know he has the
weaknesses you attribute to him, but you do not know his virtues. He cannot lead
me astray, as my association with him is meant to reform him. For I am sure that
if he reforms his ways, he will be a splendid man. I beg you not to be anxious
on my account.'
do not think this satisfied them, but they accepted my explanation and let me go
have seen since that I had calculated wrongly. A reformer cannot afford to have
close intimacy with him whom he seeks to reform. True friendship is an identity
of souls rarely to be found in this world. Only between like natures can
friendship be altogether worthy and enduring. Friends react on one another.
Hence in friendship there is very little scope for reform. I am of opinion that
all exclusive intimacies are to be avoided; for man takes in vice far more
readily than virtue. And he who would be friends with God must remain alone, or
make the whole world his friend. I may be wrong, but my effort to cultivate an
intimate friendship proved a failure.
wave of 'reform' was sweeping over Rajkot at the time when I first came across
this friend. He informed me that many of our teachers were secretly taking meat
and wine. He also named many well-known people of Rajkot as belonging to the
same company. There were also, I was told, some high-school boys among them.
was surprised and pained. I asked my friend the reason and he explained it thus:
'We are a weak people because we do not eat meat. The English are able to rule
over us, because they are meat-eaters. You know how hardy I am, and how great a
runner too. It is because I am a meat-eater. Meat-eaters do not have boils or
tumours, and even if they sometimes happen to have any, these heal quickly. Our
teachers and other distinguished people who eat meat are no fools. They know its
virtues. You should do likewise. There is nothing like trying. Try, and see what
strength it gives.'
these pleas on behalf of meat-eating were not advanced at a single sitting. They
represent the substance of a long and elaborate argument which my friend was
trying to impress upon me from time to time. My elder brother had already
fallen. He therefore supported my friend's argument. I certainly looked
feeble-bodied by the side of my brother and this friend. They were both hardier,
physically stronger, and more daring. This friend's exploits cast a spell over
me. He could run long distances and extraordinarily fast. He was an adept in
high and long jumping. He could put up with any amount of corporal punishment.
He would often display his exploits to me and, as one is always dazzled when he
sees in others the qualities that he lacks himself, I was dazzled by this
friend's exploits. This was followed by a strong desire to be like him. I could
hardly jump or run. Why should not I also be as strong as he?
I was a coward. I used to be haunted by the fear of thieves, ghosts, and
serpents. I did not dare to stir out of doors at night. Darkness was a terror to
me. It was almost impossible for me to sleep in the dark, as I would imagine
ghosts coming from one direction, thieves from another and serpents from a
third. I could not therefore bear to sleep without a light in the room. How
could I disclose my fears to my wife, no child, but already at the threshold of
youth, sleeping by my side? I knew that she had more courage than I, and I felt
ashamed of myself. She knew no fear of serpents and ghosts. She could go out
anywhere in the dark. My friend knew all these weaknesses of mine. He would tell
me that he could hold in his hand live serpents, could defy thieves and did not
believe in ghosts. And all this was, of course, the result of eating meat.
doggerel of the Gujarati poet Narmad was in vogue amongst us schoolboys, as
follows: Behold the mighty Englishman He rules the Indian small, Because being a
meat-eater He is five cubits tall.
this had its due effect on me. I was beaten. It began to grow on me that
meat-eating was good, that it would make me strong and daring, and that, if the
whole county took to meat-eating, the English could be overcome.
day was thereupon fixed for beginning the experiment. It had to be conducted in
secret. The Gandhis were Vaishnavas. My parents were particularly staunch
Vaishnavas. They would regularly visit the Haveli. The family had even its own
temples. Jainism was strong in Gujarat, and its influence was felt everywhere
and on all occasions. The opposition to and abhorrence of meat-eating that
existed in Gujarat among the Jains and Vaishnavas were to be seen nowhere else
in India or outside in such strength. These were the traditions in which I was
born and bred. And I was extremely devoted to my parents. I knew that the moment
they came to know of my having eaten meat, they would be shocked to death.
Moreover, my love of truth made me extra cautious. I cannot say that I did not
know then that I should have to deceive my parents if I began eating meat. But
my mind was bent on the 'reform'. It was not a question of pleasing the palate.
I did not know that it had a particularly good relish. I wished to be strong and
daring and wanted my countrymen also to be such, so that we might defeat the
English and make India free. The word 'Swaraj' I had not yet heard. But I knew
what freedom meant. The frenzy of the 'reform' blinded me. And having ensured
secrecy, I persuaded myself that mere hiding the deed from parents was no
departure from truth.
the day came. It is difficult fully to describe my condition. There were, on the
one hand, the zeal for 'reform', and the novelty of making a momentous departure
in life. There was, on the other, the shame of hiding like a thief to do this
very thing. I cannot say which of the two swayed me more. We went in search of a
lonely spot by the river, and there I saw, for the first time in my life,- meat.
There was baker's bread also. I relished neither. The goat's meat was as tough
as leather. I simply could not eat it. I was sick and had to leave off eating.
had a very bad night afterwards. A horrible night-mare haunted me. Every time I
dropped off to sleep it would seem as though a live goat were bleating inside
me, and I would jump up full of remorse. But then I would remind myself that
meat-eating was a duty and so become more cheerful.
friend was not a man to give in easily. He now began to cook various delicacies
with meat, and dress them neatly. And for dining, no longer was the secluded
spot on the river chosen, but a State house, with its dining hall, and tables
and chairs, about which my friend had made arrangements in collusion with the
chief cook there.
bait had its effect. I got over my dislike for bread, forswore my compassion for
the goats, and became a relisher of meat-dishes, if not of meat itself. This
went on for about a year. But not more than half a dozen meat-feasts were
enjoyed in all; because the State house was not available every day, and there
was the obvious difficulty about frequently preparing expensive savoury
meat-dishes. I had no money to pay for this 'reform'. My friend had therefore
always to find the wherewithal. I had no knowledge where he found it. But find
it he did, because he was bent on turning me into a meat-eater. But even his
means must have been limited, and hence these feasts had necessarily to be few
and far between.
I had occasion to indulge in these surreptitious feasts, dinner at home was out
of the question. My mother would naturally ask me to come and take my food and
want to know the reason why I did not wish to eat. I would say to her, 'I have
no appetite today; there is something wrong with my digestion.' It was not
without compunction that I devised these pretexts. I knew I was lying, and lying
to my mother. I also knew that, if my mother and father came to know of my
having become a meat-eater, they would be deeply shocked. This knowledge was
gnawing at my heart.
I said to myself: 'Though it is essential to eat meat, and also essential to
take up food 'reform' in the country, yet deceiving and lying to one's father
and mother is worse than not eating meat. In their lifetime, therefore,
meat-eating must be out of the question. When they are no more and I have found
my freedom, I will eat meat openly, but until that moment arrives I will abstain
decision I communicated to my friend, and I have never since gone back to meat.
My parents never knew that two of their sons had become meat-eaters.
abjured meat out of the purity of my desire not to lie to my parents, but I did
not abjure the company of my friend. My zeal for reforming him had proved
disastrous for me, and all the time I was completely unconscious of the fact.
same company would have led me into faithlessness to my wife. But I was saved by
the skin of my teeth. My friend once took me to a brothel. He sent me in with
the necessary instructions. It was all prearranged. The bill had already been
paid. I went into the jaws of sin, but God in His infinite mercy protected me
against myself. I was almost struck blind and dumb in this den of vice. I sat
near the woman on her bed, but I was tongue-tied. She naturally lost patience
with me, and showed me the door, with abuses and insults. I then felt as though
my manhood had been injured, and wished to sink into the ground for shame. But I
have ever since given thanks to God for having saved me. I can recall four more
similar incidents in my life, and in most of them my good fortune, rather than
any effort on my part, saved me. From a strictly ethical point of view, all
these occasions must be regarded as moral lapses; for the carnal desire was
there, and it was as good as the act. But from the ordinary point of view, a man
who is saved from physically committing sin is regarded as saved. And I was
saved only in that sense. There are some actions from which an escape is a
godsend both for the man who escapes and for those about him. Man, as soon as he
gets back his consciousness of right, is thankful to the Divine mercy for the
escape. As we know that a man often succumbs to temptation, however much he say
resist it, we also know that Providence often intercedes and saves him in spite
of himself. How all this happens,- how far a man is free and how far a creature
of circumstances,- how far free-will comes into play and where fate enters on
the scene, all this is a mystery and will remain a mystery.
to go on with the story. Even this was far from opening my eyes to the
viciousness of my friend's company. I therefore had many more bitter draughts in
store for me, until my eyes were actually opened by an ocular demonstration of
some of his lapses quite unexpected by me. But of them later, as we are
thing, however, I must mention now, as it pertains to the same period. One of
the reasons of my differences with my wife was undoubtedly the company of this
friend. I was both a devoted and a jealous husband, and this friend fanned the
flame of my suspicions about my wife. I never could doubt his veracity. And I
have never forgiven myself the violence of which I have been guilty in often
having pained my wife by acting on his information. Perhaps only a Hindu wife
would tolerate these hardships, and that is why I have regarded woman as an
incarnation of tolerance. A servant wrongly suspected may throw up his job, a
son in the same case may leave his father's roof, and a friend may put an end to
the friendship. The wife, if she suspects her husband, will keep quiet, but if
the husband suspects her, she is ruined. Where is she to go? A Hindu wife may
not seek divorce in a law-court. Law has no remedy for her. And I can never
forget or forgive myself for a having driven my wife to that desperation.
canker of suspicion was rooted out only when I understood Ahimsa in all its
bearings. I saw then the glory of Brahmacharya and realized that the wife is not
the husband's bondslave, but his companion and his help-mate, and an equal
partner in all his joy and sorrows - as free as the husband to choose her own
path. Whenever I think of those dark days of doubts and suspicions. I am filled
with loathing of my folly and my lustful cruelty, and I deplore my blind
devotion to my friend.