IX. SIMPLE LIFE
I had started on a life of ease and comfort, but the
experiment was short-lived. Although I had furnished the
house with care, yet it failed to have any hold on me. So
no sooner had I launched forth on that life, than I began
to cut down expenses. The washerman's bill was heavy, and
as he was besides by no means noted for his punctuality,
even two or three dozen shirts and collars proved
insufficient for me. Collars had to be changed daily and
shirts, if not daily, at least every alternate day. This
meant a double expense, which appeared to me unnecessary.
So I equipped myself with a washing outfit to save it. I
bought a book on washing, studied the art and taught it
also to my wife. This no doubt added to my work, but its
novelty made it a pleasure.
I shall never forget the first collar that I washed
myself. I had used more starch than necessary, the iron
had not been made hot enough, and for fear of burning the
collar I had not pressed it sufficiently. The result was
that, though the collar was fairly stiff, the superfluous
starch continually dropped off it. I went to court with
the collar on, thus inviting the ridicule of brother
barristers, but even in those days I could be impervious
'Well,' said I, 'this is my first experiment at
washing my own collars and hence the loose starch. But it
does not trouble me, and then there is the advantage of
providing you with so much fun.'
'But surely there is no lack of laundries here?' asked
'The laundry bill is very heavy,' said I. 'The charge
for washing a collar is almost as much as its price, and
even then there is the eternal dependence on the
washerman. I prefer by far to wash my things myself.'
But I could not make my friends appreciate the beauty
of self-help. In course of time I became an expert
washerman so far as my own work went, and my washing
was by no means inferior to laundry washing. My collars
were no less stiff or shiny than others.
When Gokhale came to South Africa, he had with him a
scarf which was a gift from Mahadeo Govind Ranade. He
treasured the memento with the utmost care and used it
only on special occasions. One such occasion was the
banquet given in his honour by the Johannesburg Indians.
The scarf was creased and needed ironing. It was not
possible to send it to the laundry and get it back in
time. I offered to try my art.
'I can trust to your capacity as a lawyer, but not as
a washerman,' said Gokhale; 'What if you should soil it?
Do you know what it means to me ? '
With this he narrated, with much joy, the story of the
gift. I still insisted, guaranteed good work, got his
permission to iron it, and won his certificate. After
that I did not mind if the rest of the world refused me
In the same way, as I freed myself from slavery to the
washerman, I threw off dependence on the barber. All
people who go to England learn there at least the art of
shaving, but none, to my knowledge, learn to cut their
own hair. I had to learn that too. I once went to an
English hair-cutter in Pretoria. He contemptuously
refused to cut my hair. I certainly felt hurt, but
immediately purchased a pair of clippers and cut my hair
before the mirror. I succeeded more or less in cutting
the front hair, but I spoiled the back. The friends in
the court shook with laughter.
'What's wrong with your hair, Gandhi? Rats have been
at it ? ' 'No. The white barber would not condescend to
touch my black hair,' said I, 'so I preferred to cut it
myself, no matter how badly.'
The reply did not surprise the friends.
The barber was not at fault in having refused to cut
my hair. There was every chance of his losing his custom,
if he should serve black men. We do not allow our barbers
to serve our untouchable brethren. I got the reward of
this in South Africa, not once, but many times, and the
conviction that it was the punishment for our own sins
saved me from becoming angry.
The extreme forms in which my passion for self-help
and simplicity ultimately expressed itself will be
described in their proper place. The seed had been long
sown. It only needed watering to take root, to flower and
to fructify, and the watering came in due course.