XII. RETURN TO
On my relief from war-duty I felt that my work was no
longer in South Africa but in India. Not that there was
nothing to be done in South Africa, but I was afraid that
my main business might become merely money-making.
Friends at home were also pressing me to return, and I
felt that I should be be of more service in India. And
for the work in South Africa, there were, of course,
Messrs Khan and Mansukhlal Naazar. So I requested my
coworkers to relieve me. After very great difficulty my
request was conditionally accepted, the condition being
that I should be ready to go back to South Africa if,
within a year, the community should need me. I thought it
was a difficult condition but the love that bound me to
the community made me accept it. 'The Lord has bound me
With the cotton-thread of love, I am His bondslave,' sang
Mirabai. And for me, too, the cotton-thread of love that
bound me to the community was too strong to break. The
voice of the people is the voice of God, and here the
voice of friends was too real to be rejected. I accepted
the condition and got their permission to go.
At this time I was intimately connected only with
Natal. The Natal Indians bathed me with the nectar of
love. Farewell meetings were arranged at every place, and
costly gifts were presented to me.
Gifts had been bestowed on me before when I returned
to India in 1899, but this time the farewell was
overwhelming. The gifts of course included things in gold
and silver, but there were articles of costly diamond as
What right had I to accept all these gifts ? Accepting
them, how could I persuade myself that I was serving the
community without remuneration ? A11 the gifts, excepting
a few from my clients, were purely for my service to the
community, and I could make no difference between my
clients and co-workers; for the clients also helped me in
my public work.
One of the gifts was a gold necklace/worth fifty
guineas, meant for my wife. But even that gift was given
because of my public work, and so it could not be
separated from the rest.
The evening I was presented with the bulk of these
things I had a sleepless night. I walked up and down my
room deeply agitated, but could find no solution. It was
difficult for me to forego gifts worth hundreds, it was
more difficult to keep them.
And even if I could keep them , what about my children
? What about my wife? They were being trained to a life
of service and to an understanding that service was its
I had no costly ornaments in the house. We had been
fast simplifying our life How then could we afford to
have gold watches? How could we afford to wear gold
chains and diamond rings? Even then I was exhorting
people to conquer the infatuation for jewellery. What was
I now to do with the jewellery that had come upon me ?
I decided that I could not keep these things. I
drafted a letter, creating a trust of them in favour of
the community and appointing Parsi Rustomji and others
trustees. In the morning I held a consultation with my
wife and children and finally go rid of the heavy
I knew that I should have some difficulty in
persuading my wife, and I was sure that I should have
none so far as the children were concerned. So I decided
to constitute them my attorneys.
The children readily agreed to my proposal. 'We do not
need these costly presents, we must return them to the
community, and should we ever need them, we could easily
purchase them,' they said.
I was delighted.' Then you will plead with mother
won't you ? ' I asked them.
'Certainly,' said they. 'That is our business. She did
not need to wear the ornaments. She would want to keep
them for us, and if we don't want them, why should she
not agree to part with them ?'
But it was easier said than done.
'You may not need them,' said my wife. ' Your children
may not need them. Cajoled they will dance to your tune.
I can understand your not permitting me to wear them. But
what about my daughters-in-law? They will be sure to need
them. And who knows what will happen tomorrow ? I would
be the last person to part with gifts so lovingly given.'
And thus the torrent of argument went on, reinforced,
in the end, by tears. But the children were adamant. And
I was unmoved.
I mildly put in: 'The children have yet to get
married. We do not want to see them married young. When
they are grown up, they can take care of themselves. And
surely we shall not have, for our sons, brides who are
fond of ornaments. And if after all, we need to provide
them with ornaments, I am there. You will ask me then.'
'Ask you ? I know you by this time. You deprived me of my
ornaments, you would not leave me in peace with them.
Fancy you offering to get ornaments for the
daughters-in-law ! You who are trying to make sadhus
of my boys from today ! No, the ornaments will not be
returned. And pray what right have you to my necklace ? '
'But,' I rejoined,' is the necklace given you for your
service or for my service ?'
'I agree. But service rendered by you is as good as
rendered by me. I have toiled and moiled for you day and
night. Is that no service ? You forced all and sundry on
me, making me weep bitter tears, and I slaved for them !'
These were pointed thrusts, and some of them went
home. But I was determined to return the ornaments. I
somehow succeeded in extorting a consent from her. The
gifts received in 1896 and 1901 were all returned. A
trust-deed was prepared, and they were deposited with a
bank, to be used for the service of the community,
according to my wishes or to those of the trustees.
Often, when I was in need of funds for public
purposes, and felt that I must draw upon the trust, I
have been able to raise the requisite amount, leaving the
trust money intact. The fund is still there, being
operated upon in times of need, and it has regularly
I have never since regretted the step, and as the
years have gone by, my wife has also seen its wisdom. It
has saved us from many temptations.
I am definitely of opinion that a public worker should
accept no costly gifts.