X. ON THE ANVIL
The Ashram had been in existence only a few months
when we were put to a test such as I had scarcely
expected. I received a letter from Amritlal Thakkar to
this effect: 'A humble and honest untouchable family is
desirous of joining your Ashram. Will you accept them?'
I was perturbed. I had never expected that an
untouchable family with an introduction from no less a
man than Thakkar Bapa would so soon be seeking admission
to the Ashram. I shared the letter with my companions.
They welcomed it.
I wrote to Amritlal Thakkar expressing our willingness
to accept the family, provided all the members were ready
to abide by the rules of the Ashram.
The family consisted of Dadabhai, his wife Danibehn
and their daughter Lakshmi, then a mere toddling babe.
Dudabhai had been a teacher in Bombay. They all argeed to
abide by the rules and were accepted.
But their admission created a flutter amongst the
friends who had been helping the Ashram. The very first
difficulty was found with regard to the use of the well,
which was partly controlled by the owner of the
bungalows. The man in charge of the water-lift objected
that drops of water from our bucket would pollute him. So
he took to swearing at us and molesting Dudabhai. I told
everyone to put up with the abuse and continue drawing
water at any cost. When he saw that we did not return his
abuse, the man became ashamed and ceased to bother us.
All monetary help, however was stopped. The friend who
had asked that question about an untouchable being able
to follow the rules of the Ashram had never expected that
any such would be forthcoming.
With the stopping of monetary help came rumours of
proposed social boycott. We were prepared for all this. I
had told my companions that, if we were boycotted and
denied the usual faclities, we would not leave Ahmedabad.
We would rather go and stay in the untouchables' quarter
and live on whatever we could get by manual labour.
Matters came to such a pass that Maganlal Gandhi one
day gave me this notice: 'We are out of funds and there
is nothing for the next month.'
I quietly replied: 'Then we shall go to the
This was not the first time I had been faced with such
a trial. On all such occasions God has sent help at the
last moment,. One morning, shortly after Maganlal had
given me warning of our monetary plight, one of the
children came and said that a Sheth who was waiting in a
car outside wanted to see me. I went out to him. 'I want
to give the Ashram some help,' said I. 'And I confess I
am at the present moment at the end of my resources.'
'I shall come tomorrow at this time,' he said. 'Will
you be here?'
'Yes,' said I, and he left.
Next day, exactly at the appointed hour, the car drew
up near our quarters, and the horn was blown. The
children came with the news. The Sheth did not come in. I
went out to see him. He placed in my hands currency notes
of the value of Rs. 13,000, and drove away.
I had never expected this help, and what a novel way
of rendering it! The gentleman had never before visited
the Ashram. So far as I can remember, I had met him only
once. No visit, no enquiries, simply rendering help and
going away! This was a unique experience for me. The help
deferred the exodus to the untouchables' quarter. We now
felt quite safe for a year.
Just as there was a storm outside so was there a storm
in the Ashram itself. Though in South Africa untouchable
friends used to come to my place and live and feed with
me, my wife and other women did not seem quite to relish
the admission into the Ashram of the untouchable friends.
My eyes and ears easily detected their indifference, if
not their dislike, towards Danibehn. The monetary
difficulty had caused me no anxiety, but this internal
storm was more than I could bear. Danibehn was an
ordinary woman. Dudabhai was a man with slight education
but of good understanding. I liked his patience.
Sometimes he did flare up, but on the whole I was well
impressed with his forbearance. I pleaded with him to
swallow minor insults. He not only agreed, but prevailed
upon his wife to do likewise.
The admission of this family proved a valuable lesson
to the Ashram. In the very beginning we proclaimed to the
world that the Ashram would not countenance
untouchability. Those who wanted to help the Ashram were
thus put on their guard, and the work of the Ashram in
this direction was considerably simplified. The fact that
it is mostly the real orthodox Hindus who have met the
daily growing expenses of the Ashram is perhaps a clear
indication that untouchability is shaken to its
foundation. There are indeed many other proofs of this,
but the fact that good Hindus do not scruple to help an
Ashram where we go the length of dining with the
untouchables is no small proof.
I am sorry that I should have to skip over quite a
number of things pertaining to this subject, how we
tackled delicate questions arising out of the main
question, how we had to overcome some unexpected
difficulties, and various other matters which are quite
relevant to a description of experiments with Truth. The
chapters that follow will also suffer from the same
drawback. I shall have to omit important details, because
most of the characters in the drama are still alive, and
it is not proper without permission to use their names in
connection with events with which they are concerned. It
is hardly practicable to obtain their consent or to get
them every now and then to revise the chapters concerning
themselves. Besides such procedure is outside the limit
of this autobiography. I therefore fear that the rest of
the story, valuable as it in my opinion to seekers after
Truth, will be told with inevitable omissions.
Nevertheless, it is my desire and hope, God willing, to
bring this narrative down to the days of