XVIII. THE MAGIC
SPELL OF A BOOK
The black plague enhanced my influence with the poor
Indians, and increased my business and my responsibility.
Some of the new contacts with Europeans became so close
that they added considerably to my moral obligations.
I made the acquaintance of Mr.Polak in the vegetarian
resturant, just as I had made that of Mr.West. One
evening a young man dining at a table a little way off
sent me his card expressing a desire to see me. i invited
him to come to my table, which he did.
'I am sub-editor of the The Critic,' he said
'When I read your letter to the press about the plague. I
felt a strong desire to see you. I am glad to have this
Mr. Polak's candour drew me to him. The same evening
we got to know each other. We seemed to hold closely
similar views on the essential things of life. He liked
simple life. He had a wonderful faculty of translating
into practice anything that appealed to his intellect.
Some of the changes that he had made in his life were as
prompt as they were radical.
Indian Opinion was getting more and more
expensive every day. The very first report from Mr. West
was alarming. He wrote: 'I do not expect the concern to
yield the profit that you had thought probable. I am
afraid there may be even a loss. The books are not in
order. There are heavy arrears to be recovered, but one
cannot make head or tail of them. Considerable
overhauling will have to be done. But all this need not
alarm you. I shall try to put things right as best I can.
I remain on, whether there is profit or not.'
Mr. West might have left when he discovered that there
was no profit, and I could not have blamed him. In fact,
he had a right to arraign me for having described the
concern as profitable without proper proof. But he never
so much as uttered one word of complaint. I have,
however, an impression that this discovery led Mr. West
to regard me as credulous. I had simply accepted Sjt.
Madanjit's estimate without caring to examine it, and
told Mr. West to expect a profit.
I now realize that a public worker should not make
statements of which he has not made sure. Above all, a
votary of truth must exercise the greatest caution. To
allow a man to believe a thing which one has fully
verified is to compromise truth. I am pained to have to
confess that, in spite of this knowledge, I have not
quite conquered my credulous habit, for which my ambition
to do more work than I can manage is responsible. This
ambition has often been a source of worry more to my
co-workers than to myself.
On receipt of Mr. West's letter I left for Natal. I
had taken Mr. Polak into my fullest confidence. He came
to see me off at the Station, and left with me a book to
read during the journey, which he said I was sure to
like. It was Ruskin's Unto This Last.
The book was impossible to lay aside, once I had begun
it. It gripped me. Johannesburg to Durban was a
twenty-four hours' journey. The train reached there in
the evening. I could not get any sleep that night. I
determined to change my life in accordance with the
ideals of the book.
This was the first book of Ruskin I had ever read.
During the days of my education I had read practically
nothing outside text-books, and after I launched into
active life I had very little time for reading. I cannot
therefore claim much book knowledge. However, I believe I
have not lost much because of this enforced restraint. On
the contrary, the limited reading may be said to have
enabled me thoroughly to digest what I did read. Of these
books, the one that brought about an instantaneous and
practical transformation in my life was Unto This
Last. I translated it later into Gujarati, entitling
it Sarvodaya (the welfare of all).
I believe that I discovered some of my deepest
convictions reflected in this great book of Ruskin, and
that is why it so captured me and made me transform my
life. A poet is one who can call forth the good latent in
the human breast. Poets do not influence all alike, for
everyone is not evolved in a equal measure.
The teaching of Unto This Last I understood
1. That the good of the individual is contained in the
good of all.
2. That a lawyer's work has the same value as the
barber's inasmuch as all have the same right of earning
their livehood from their work.
3. That a life of labour, i.e., the life of the tiller
of the soil and the handicraftsman is the life worth
The first of these I knew. The second I had dimly
realized. The third had never occured to me. Unto
This Last made it as clear as daylight for me that
the second and the third were contained in the first. I
arose with the dawn, ready to reduce these principles to