VI. A Tragedy
Amongst 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.
This 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.'
I do not think
this satisfied them, but they accepted my explanation and let me go
I 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.
A 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.
I 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.'
All 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?
Moreover, 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.
A 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.
All 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
A 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.