Thrice in her life my wife narrowly escaped death
through serious illness. The cures were due to household
remedies. At the time of her first attack Satyagraha was
going on or was about to commence. She had frequent
haemorrhage. A medical friend advised a surgical
operation, to which she agreed after some hesitation. She
was extremely emaciated, and the doctor had to perform
the operation without chloroform. It was successful, but
she had to suffer much pain, she, however, went through
it with wonderful bravery. The doctor and his wife who
nursed her were all attention. This was in Durban. The
doctor gave me leave to go to Johannesburg, and told me
not to have any anxiety about the patient.
In a few days, however, I received a letter to the
effect that Kasturbai was worse, too weak to sit up in
bed, and had once become unconscious. The doctor knew
that he might not, without my consent, give her wines or
meat. So he telephoned to me at Johannesburg for
permission to give her beef tea. I replied saying I could
not grant the permission, but that, if she was in a
condition to express her wish in the matter she might be
consulted and she was free to do as she liked. 'But,'
said the doctor, 'I refuse to consult the patient's
wishes in the matter. You must come yourself. If you do
not leave me free to prescribe whatever diet I like, I
will not hold myself responsible for your wife's life.'
I took the train for Durban the same day, and met the
doctor who quietly broke this news to me: 'I had already
given Mrs. Gandhi beef tea when I telephoned to you.'
'Now, doctor, I call this a fraud,' said I.
'No question of fraud in prescribing medicine or diet
for a patient. In fact we doctors consider it a virtue to
deceive patients or their relatives, if thereby we can
save our patients, said the doctor with determination.
I was deeply pained, but kept cool. The doctor was a
good man and a personal friend. He and his wife had laid
me under a debt of gratitude, but I was not prepared to
put up with his medical morals.
'Doctor, tell me what you propose to do now. I would
never allow my wife to be given meat or beef, even if the
denial meant her death, unless of course she desired to
'You are welcome to your philosophy. I tell you that,
so long as you keep your wife under my treatment, I must
have the option to give her anything I wish. If you don't
like this, I must regretfully ask you to remove her. I
can't see her die under my roof.'
'Do you mean to say that I must remove her at once?'
'Whenever did I ask you to remove her? I only want to
be left entirely free. If you do so, my wife and I will
do all that is possible for her, and you may go back
without the least anxiety on her score. But if you will
not understand this simple thing, you will compel me to
ask you to remove your wife from my place.'
I think one of my sons was with me. He entirely agreed
with me, and said his mother should not be given beef
tea. I next spoke to Kasturbai herself. She was really
too weak to be consulted in this matter. But I thought it
my painful duty to do so. I told her what had passed
between the doctor and myself. She gave a resolute reply:
'I will not take beef tea. It is a rare thing in this
world to be born as a human being, and I would far rather
die in your arms than pollute my body with such
I pleaded with her. I told her that she was not bound
to follow me. I cited to her the instances of Hindu
friends and acquaintances who had no scruples about
taking meat or wine as medicine. But she was adamant.
'No,' said she, 'pray remove me at once.'
I was delighted. Not without some agitation I decided
to take her away. I informed the doctor of her resolve.
He exclaimed in a rage: 'What a callous man you are! You
should have been ashamed to broach the matter to her in
her present condition. I tell you your wife is not least
little hustling. I shouldn't surprised if she were to die
on the way. But if you must persist, you are free to do
so. If you will not give her beef tea, I will not take
the risk of keeping her under my roof even for a single
So we decided to leave the place at once. It was
drizzling and the station was some distance. We had to
take the train from Durban for Phoenix, whence our
Settlement was reached by a road of two miles and a half,
I was undoubtedly taking a very great risk, but I trusted
in God, and proceeded with my task. I sent a messenger to
Phoenix in advance, with a message to West to receive us
at the station with a hammock, a bottle of hot milk and
one of hot water, and six men to carry kasturbai in the
hammock. I got a rickshaw to enable me to take her by the
next available train, put her into it in that dangerous
condition, and marched away.
Kasturbai needed no cheering up. On the contrary, she
comforted me, saying: 'Nothing will happen to me. Don't
She was mere skin and bone, having had no nourishment
for days. The station platform was very large, and as the
rickshaw could not be taken inside, one had to walk some
distance before one could reach the train. So I carried
her in my arms and put her into the compartment. From
Phoenix we carried her in the hammock, and there she
slowly picked up strength under hydropathic treatment.
In two or three days of our arrival at Phoenix a Swami
came to our place. He had heard of the resolute way in
which we had rejected the doctor's advice, and he had,
out of sympathy, come to plead with us. My second and
third sons Manilal and Ramdas were, so far as I can
recollect, present when the Swami came. He held forth on
the religious harmlessness of taking meat, citing
authorities from Manu. I did not like his carrying on
this disputation in the presence of my wife, but I
suffered him to do so out of courtesy. I knew the verses
from the Manusmriti, I did not need them for my
conviction. I knew also that there was a school which
regarded these verses as interpolations: but even if they
were not, I held my views on vegetarianism independently
of religious texts, and Kasturbai's faith was unshakable.
To her the scriptural texts were a sealed book, but the
traditional religion of her forefathers was enough for
her. The children swore by their father's creed and so
they made light of the Swami's discourse. But Kasturbai
put an end to the dialogue at once. 'Swamiji,' she
said,'Whatever you may say, I do not want to recover by
means of beef tea. Pray don't worry me any more. You may
discuss the thing with my husband and children if you
like. But my mind is made up.