My first experience of jail life was in 1908. I saw
that some of the regulations that the prisoners had to
observe were such as should be voluntarily observed by a brahmachari,
that is, one desiring to practise self-restraint. Such,
for instance, was the regulation requiring the last meal
to be finished before sunset. Neither the Indian nor the
African prisoners were allowed tea or coffee. They could
add salt to the cooked food if they wished, but they
might not have anything for the mere satisfaction of the
palate. When I asked the jail medical officer to give us
curry powder, and to let us add salt to the food whilst
it was cooking, he said: 'You are not here for satisfying
your palate. From the point of view of health, curry
powder is not necessary, and it makes no difference
whether you add salt during or after cooking.'
Ultimeately these restrictions were modified, though
not without much difficulty, but both were wholesome
rules of self-restraint. Inhabitions imposed from without
rarely suceed, but when they are self-imposed, they have
a decidedly salutary effect. So, immediately after
release from jail, I imposed on myself the two rules. As
far as was then possible, I stopped taking tea, and
finished my last meal before sunset. Both these now
require no effort in the observance.
There came, however, an occasion which compelled me to
give up salt altogether, and this restriction I continued
for an unbroken period of ten years. I had read in some
books on vegetarianism that salt was not a necessary
article of diet for man, that on the contrary saltless
diet was better for the health. I had deduced that a brahmachari
benefited by a saltless diet, I had read and realized
that the weak- bodied should avoid pulses. I was very
fond of them.
Now it happened that Kasturbai, who had a brief
respite after her operation, had again begun getting
haemorrhage, and the malady seemed to be obstinate.
Hydropathic treatment by itself did not answer. She had
not much faith in my remedies, though she did not resist
them. She certainly did not ask for outside help. So when
all my remedies had failed. I entreated her to give up
salt and pulses. She would not agree, however much I
pleaded with her, supporting myself with authorities. At
last she challenged me, saying that even I could not give
up these articles if I was advised to do so, I was pained
and equally delighted, delighted in that I got an
opportunity to shower my love on her. I said to her: 'You
are mistaken. If I was ailing and the doctor advised me
to give up these or any other articles, I should
unhesitatingly do so. But there! Without any medical
advice, I give up salt and pulses for one year, whether
you do so or not.'
She was rudely shocked and exclaimed in deep sorrow:
'Pray forgive me. Knowing you, I should not have provoked
you. I promise to abstain from these things, but for
heaven's sake take back your vow. This is too hard on
'It is very good for you to forego these articles. I
have not the slightst doubt that you will be all the
better without them. As for me, I cannot retract a vow
seriously taken. And it is sure to benefit me, for all
restraint, whatever prompts it, is wholesome for men. You
will therefore leave me alone. It will be a test for me,
and a moral support to you in carrying out your resolve.'
So she gave me up. 'You are too obstinate. You will
listen to none,' she said, and sought relief in tears.
I would like to count this incident as an instance of
Satyagraha, and it is one of the sweetest recollections
of my life.
After this Kasturbai began to pick up quickly whether
as a result of the saltless and pulseless diet or of the
other consequent changes in her food, whether as a result
of my strict vigilance in exacting observance of the
other rules of life, or as an effect of the mental
exhilaration produced by the incident, and if so to what
extent, I cannot say. But she rallied quickly,
haemorrhage completely stopped, and I added somewhat to
my reputation as a quack.
As for me, I was all the better for the new denials. I
never craved for the things I had left, the year sped
away, and I found the senses to be more subdued than
ever. The experiment stimulated the inclination for
self-restraint, and I returned to India. Only once I
happened to take both the articles whilst I was in London
in 1914. But of that occasion, and as to how I resumed
both, I shall speak in a later chapter.
I have tried the experiment of a saltles and pulseless
diet on many of my co-workers, and with good results in
South Africa. Medically there may be two opinions as to
the value of this diet, but morally I have no doubt that
all self-denial is good for the soul. The diet of a man
of self-restraint must be different from that of a man of
pleasure, just as their ways of life must be different.
Aspirants after brahmacharya often defeat their
own end by adopting courses suited to a life of pleasure.