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Between Two Worlds

"I put on an Indian constable's uniform and


wore on my head a Madrasi
scarf, wrapped round a plate to serve as a
helmet. Two detectives accompanied
me, one of them disguised as an Indian."
They reached a neighboring
shop by a by-lane and in a carriage that had
been kept waiting drove
off to the same police station Alexander had
earlier offered him for "refuge."
8 Gandhi thus proved flexible enough to
elude danger much the way
Kipling's Kim might have done, yet believed
firmly enough in nonviolence
to refuse, in writing, Colonial Secretary of
State Joseph Chamberlain's offer
to prosecute his "assailants." Instead, he
wisely thanked the secretary of
state and told him that he desired no

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vengeance, requiring no white settlers
to be brought to book. "I am sure that, when
the truth becomes known,
they will be sorry for their conduct."9 His
reputation and that of Natal's Indian
community, which he represented, were
clearly enhanced by such
sweet restraint.
Four days later, Gandhi and his family moved
into their home on the
palisades overlooking the port. His fame and
professional practice, both
enhanced by his narrow escape, made him
the most celebrated member of
his community. He raised a permanent fund
for the new Natal Congress,
renting an office to house his secretariat. He
hired "an English governess"
to care for his boys, nine-year-old Harilal and
five-year-old Manilal.10 Their

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third son, Ramdas, would be born before
year's end; the fourth, Devadas,
would be delivered by Gandhi himself in May
of 1900.
His passion for home nursing by the latter
date included midwifery. He
tried to care for everyone himself, in home
education as well as prescribing
healthful routines and remedies. But his
oldest son never appreciated his
father's teaching and subsequently deeply
resented Gandhi's refusal to allow
him to study abroad and train for a profession
as Gandhi had done.
"I could not devote to the children all the time
I had wanted to give
them . . . [and] they seem to feel the
handicap of a want of school education,"
Gandhi confessed.11 Claiming not to regret
his experiments in
home education, however, he blamed

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"undesirable traits" he discovered in
his eldest son on his own "undisciplined"
early life, as well as on his youthful
"lust" and "self-indulgence." Harilal, not
surprisingly, considered his
father's refusal to permit him to enjoy the
privileges and pleasures he himself
experienced in London sheer hypocrisy.
Gandhi was never able fully to
answer his eldest son's charge, other than to
suggest, perhaps too vaguely
and optimistically, that "the ultimate result of
my experiments is in the
womb of the future." Harilal's tragic and
dissolute life would prove to be
one of Gandhi's most poignant failures.
In his public life, Gandhi became the most
articulate Indian supporter
of British imperialist expansion before and
during the Boer War. Most Indians

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viewed the Boers as a "small nation" much
like the Indian community
itself, fighting to retain their hard-won
independence in the Transvaal in the
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Gandhi's Passion
face of blatant attempts by Great Britain and
its raiders to steal their gold
mines and assault their republic. Jameson's
Raid in 1895 was sponsored by
Joe Chamberlain, and after 1897 by
"Forward" imperialist Alfred Milner,
Britain's High Commissioner in South Africa.
"The British oppress us
equally with the Boers," most Indians argued,
urging support for President
Paul Kruger's brave band of Afrikaner
fighters.12
"Our existence in South Africa is only in our
capacity as British subjects,"

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Gandhi counterargued. "We have been proud
of our British citizenship
. . . and what little rights we still retain, we
retain because we are British
subjects. It would be unbecoming to our
dignity as a nation to look on
with folded hands at a time when ruin stared
the British in the face ... if we
desire to win our freedom and achieve our
welfare as members of the British
Empire, here is a golden opportunity for us to
do so by helping the British
in the war by all the means at our
disposal."13
Gandhi would use the same basic argument
at the outbreak of World
War I, as would all the leaders of India's
National Congress, including Tilak.
But for Gandhi this opportunistic position was
perhaps more startling
since he himself recognized the Boer War's

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imperialist roots, admitting that
"justice is on the side of the Boers. But every
single subject of a state must
not hope to enforce his private opinion in all
cases. The authorities may not
always be right, but so long as the subjects
own allegiance ... it is their
clear duty ... to accord their support to acts of
the state."14
Gandhi was struggling to define himself,
trying to tie the realities of
ambivalent daily life to some anchor of
coherent belief, tossed about as yet
by shifting tides of political pragmatism, while
seeking deeper rocks of religious
philosophy. He tried to strengthen his position
by arguing against
those who feared possible Boer revenge as
"a sign of our effeminacy. . . .
Would an Englishman think for a moment

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what would happen to himself if
the English lost the war . . . without forfeiting
his manhood?" Gandhi's
participation in the Boer War was to raise and
run an ambulance corps of
Indians, recruiting no fewer than 1,100, many
of them still working off indentures.
Clergyman Dr. Booth was put in charge of
first-aid training as
medical superintendent, and the Indian
Ambulance Corps worked side by
side with the European Ambulance Corps
under the overall direction of
General Buller. Indians acquitted themselves
so bravely that almost forty of
them, including Gandhi, won medals. "No
matter how timid a man is,"
Gandhi noted, "he is capable of the loftiest
heroism when he is put to the
test."15 Since his ambulance corps saved

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lives, rather than taking any, he
saw no contradiction in what they did with his
faith in Ahimsa.
The Indian Ambulance Corps was disbanded
long before the Boer War
ended, however, and Gandhi decided to
return to India in 1901, hoping to
find a place in the Congress, possibly as
Gokhale's full-time assistant. Feeling
that his "work was no longer in South Africa
but in India," he wanted
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Between Two Worlds
to expand his field of service, knowing how
much more remained to be
done in India.16 Wacha had been elected to
preside over the Congress session
to be held in Calcutta that December, and
Gandhi was invited to join
him in the first-class carriage in which he, Sir

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Pherozeshah Mehta, and Gokhale
journeyed together across India from
Bombay. Gandhi had drafted a
resolution in support of equality for South
Africa's Indians and the abolition
of the £3 tax. He hoped to win strong
National Congress support
for it, but Mehta responded without
enthusiasm: "Gandhi... so long as we
have no power in our own land, you cannot
fare better in the Colonies."17
His ardor for reform and revolution was
further dampened as he became
more familiar with the Congress, which
"would meet three days
every year and then go to sleep," he recalled.
"And the delegates . . . would
do nothing themselves."18 He had
abandoned South Africa, feeling cut off
from the center of India's national agitation,

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whose famed leaders he had
glimpsed during his visit five years ago. But
seeing them up close, their
petty prejudices and vanities disillusioned
him. He felt at a loss to know
where or how to begin the revolution required
to wash away all the pomp
and lethargy, to let in cleansing waters of true
national service, currents of
selfless commitment to the uplift of India's
millions. His disillusionment at
that Calcutta Congress included finding caste
segregation and Hinduism's
cruelest prejudice against the "untouchables"
poisoning what should have
been the nation's noblest institution.
To the Tamil delegates even the sight of
others, whilst they were dining,
meant pollution. So a special kitchen had to
made for them . .. walled in by

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wicker-work." He noted no limit to the filth
and pollution inside the Congress
grounds, left uncared for by upper-caste
volunteers, who viewed all
cleaning as "scavenger's work." Gandhi
shocked them, finding a broom
and cleaning his own latrine, yet hundreds of
others were left to fester and
stink. Another week of that Congress
session, he feared, would lead to the
"outbreak of an epidemic."19
At thirty-two, Gandhi was impatient, eager to
effect change wherever
he went. "I am here to do anything that is not
beyond my capacity," he told
both Bengali secretaries of Congress, who
lauded his spirit. Soon he was
put in charge of sorting out and answering a
"heap of letters." Next he volunteered
to button Secretary Ghosal's shirt, noting

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later that he "loved to
do it, as my regard for elders was always
great."20 He also taught himself to
iron and took special pleasure in carefully
ironing Gokhale's silk scarves.
The resolution he proposed to Congress's
Subjects Committee was
"unanimously passed," but only after Gokhale
seconded it and Wacha supported
it. Once again when Gandhi rose to read his
brief motion he found
that his head reeled and he could barely
speak. "The procedure was far
from pleasing to me. No one had troubled to
understand the resolution,
everyone was in a hurry to go."21 He was
disillusioned with virtually
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Gandhi's Passion
everything he learned about Congress

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procedures and politics, and even
found his guru Gokhale "wasting" time by
frequently going to the posh India
Club to play billiards. He accompanied
Gokhale there and recorded his
distress on seeing how rich Indians decked
themselves out. "How heavy is
the toll of sins and wrongs that wealth, power
and prestige exact from
man!"22
For a month he apprenticed himself to
Gokhale, admiring his diligence
and integrity but disliking the way he always
attended the Viceroy's Legislative
Council in a horse-drawn carriage. Gentle
Gokhale was "pained" by
his disciple's reprimand and tried to explain
how high office brought certain
duties that could not be shirked. "When you
are the victim of as wide

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a publicity as I am, it will be ... impossible for
you to go about in a tramcar,"
23 Gokhale explained. But Gandhi's own
habits were to become more
austere, as he would reject all the elegant
trappings of the mechanized modern
world. He was still clad at this time in a long
"Parsi coat and trousers";
soon he would wear nothing more than a
scant hand-woven dhoti, or loincloth.
During his winter visit to India in 1901-2,
Gandhi began what was to
become his most famous means of long-
distance travel, journeying from
Calcutta to Rajkot as a third-class railway
passenger. He wanted to acquaint
himself with the "hardships of third-class
passengers."24 What he
learned was depressing, finding that third-
class passengers were "treated
like sheep" and that the compartments were

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not only overcrowded but also
filthy. The passengers themselves threw
rubbish of every variety on the
floor, smoking and chewing betel nuts,
spitting blood-red juices, turning the
entire carriage into "a spittoon . . . yelling,
and using foul language."25 It
proved a painfully instructive journey for the
young barrister training to
become a Mahatma.
He went back to Rajkot to practice the
profession he had been certified
to pursue in London. He was helped in
getting briefs by his father's old
friend Dave Joshi and no longer felt too shy
to stand and speak in court.
But Rajkot was still too much of a backwater,
so Dave urged him to venture
to Bombay rather than allow himself to be
"buried" in Gujarat.

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He rented chambers in the busy Fort area of
Bombay, near the high
court, and found a house in Girgaum, to and
from which he walked from
chambers. Low-lying, mosquito-infested,
polluted Girgaum all but killed
his son Manilal, who suffered an acute attack
of typhoid compounded by
pneumonia. Gandhi nursed the boy day and
night, wrapping his feverwracked
body in wet sheets, keeping him on a diet of
orange juice and
water, refusing to allow him to touch either
the eggs or chicken broth prescribed
by their doctor. In addition to the wet sheets,
Gandhi gave his son
hip baths and prayed, repeating Rama's
name all night. "Who can say
whether his recovery was due to God's
grace, or to hydropathy, or to care-

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Between Two Worlds
ful dietary [sic] and nursing?"26 Soon after
Manilal recovered, however,
Gandhi moved his family to a fine bungalow
in suburban Santa Cruz,
where the air, water, and light were less
contaminated.

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