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My first visit to Gandhiji 


 Tan Yun-Shan

I first visited Gandhiji at Bardoli in April, 1931. But I had my first glimpse of him about three years ago at an annual session of the All-India National Congress held in Calcutta in December, 1928. Before going to Calcutta to attend the Congress session, I took leave of Gurudeva Tagore. Gurudeva advised ma that I should meet Gandhiji there. "Would you give me a line of introduction?" I asked. "There's no need, Gandhiji will be very glad to meet you," Gurudeva replied.

Calcutta was then quite a strange place to me, for I had only passed through it once a few months back when I came to Santiniketan and to India for the first time. I could hardly find out Gandhiji's whereabouts. Moreover, I thought that it might not be right to intrude upon his time on such an occasion when he was so busy with the Congress affairs. I then dropped the idea of meeting him for the time being and only saw him from a little distance at the inaugural meeting of the Congress session. It was indeed a gigantic view. The people, numbering more than a lakh, shouted thunderously when Gandhiji entered the Congress Nagar but quieted down immediately when he began to address them. His figure appeared rather frail but his face was shining and the eyes sparkling. He spoke slowly in a rather low voice but with clear accent and beautiful tone. I was quite happy with this distant darshan and came back to Santiniketan satisfied in spirit.

Later on I frequently met friends coming from Gandhiji. All of them asked me to go and stay with him for some time. I told them about my long-cherished hope of visiting Gandhiji and requested them to convey to him my respect and admiration. As a matter of fact, I had even contemplated before coming to this country that I would first stay with Gurudeva at Santiniketan for some years and then go to Gandhiji to stay with him at the Satyagraha Ashram at Sabarmati for two or three years or even to follow him forever, if possible. But destiny often plays with our plans in a strange manner. After having been at Santiniketan for little more than two years, I went to Tibet in the winter of 1930 quite accidentally, an event which need not be related here. When I returned to India from Tibet, again I was called back home for certain family affairs. My original plans were altogether upset. However, I could not leave India without meeting Gandhiji.

While in Tibet, staying in the Residential Palace (Noblingone) of the "Living Buddha" (the Dalai Lama) outside the city of Lhasa, I had to answer many questions put by the late Dalai Lama, the 13th one, and his ministers about India. By the way, I used to tell them what Gurudeva and Gandhiji were doing in India and how their inspiration was going to change India's destiny. His Holiness, the late Dalai Lama, was especially interested in Gandhiji's way of living and his Satyagraha movement. He therefore asked me to convey his personal message to Gandhiji when I was returning to India. This sense of a special mission was a further fillip to my eagerness to visit Gandhiji.

Immediately after my return to Santiniketan from Lhasa, I wrote to Gandhiji informing him of my longing to visit him and requesting him to grant me a darshan. He responded very promptly and asked me to meet him in New Delhi on any near date which might be convenient for me. On my way to Delhi, I availed myself of the opportunity of making a pilgrimage to all the important sacred places of Lord Buddha along the Ganges, such Buddha Gaya, Rajagiri, Nalanda, Sarnath, Kushinagara, Lumbini, Sravasti and Sankisa. But after visiting these places. I was somewhat delayed and when I arrived in Delhi, Gandhiji had already gone back to his Satyagraha Ashram at Sabarmati. I then followed him there. As I have mentioned before, a stay of some years at the Satyagraha Ashram has been part of my plans, and I felt happy that, although I could not realize this long cherished idea, I could at least see the place now. But when I arrived at the Ashram, Gandhiji had gone on to Bardoli for some urgent and important meetings. The Secretary of the Ashram, Sri Narandas K. Gandhi, was very kind to me; he showed me everything in the Ashram and treated me just as a brother. He lost no time to send a wire to Gandhiji who replied immediately that I was welcome to Bardoli and that he would be staying there for a few days more. So I followed him to Bardoli.

On my way from Sabarmati to Bardoli, a very interesting incident happened which has left a vivid impression on my mind even now. It occurred at the Surat station where I had to change and take another train. As I had just entered the waiting room, a " C.I.D." followed me and made some inquiries as to who I was, where I came from, what I was doing in India and what was my purpose in visiting Gandhiji. I told him all the truth and he was satisfied and left. I then had a wash and prepared myself for a little rest. But as soon as I came out of the bathroom, another gentleman suddenly greeted me and asked: " Are you going to Bardoli to see Mahatma Gandhi?' I was quite embarassed by such an unexpected query and thought that he might be another" C.I.D." But he did not await my reciprocation and went on: " I am also going there to pay homage to the Mahatma. I have only recently come back from America where I stayed for more than ten years. I went there first as a student and later on started on a business career there after finishing my course of studies. My name is Dua. Let us go together:' He also showed me some letters of introduction. I felt much relieved and happy to have him as companion. We then went together, In the train, he took off his American dress and put on Indian Kurta and Dhoti. He was feeling a little shy of doing this and explained to me. "I bought these clothes from Bombay especially for visiting Mahatma Gandhi:' At the same time he looked at the "Gandhi Cap" on my head and asked: "You also bought this cap for the same purpose?" No, it was presented to me yesterday by the Secretary of the Satyagraha Ashram at Sabarmati", I answered him "but unfortunately I have not got any Kurta and Dhoti." We laughed and talked and reached Bardoli in no time.

From Bardoli station we took a horse carriage to the Swaraj Ashram where Gandhiji was staying. We were received at the gate by some Ashramites and put in a very neat and tidy guest room but without any furniture. Only a few minutes later came Sri Devadas, Gandhiji's youngest son. He asked us how long we could stay there. Mr. Dua said that he had some urgent business in Bombay and intended to leave by the afternoon or the next morning train if he could see the Mahatma immediately. Sri Devadas told him that Bapu was having a meeting at the moment and also had several engagements in the afternoon, however, he would see if Bapu could spare some time in the evening. He then turned to me: " May I know your programme? Gandhiji has been expecting you for some time past. Can you stay with us for some days?" I said. Yes. I am not in a hurry and would see Gandhiji when it will be convenient for him." He said: " That's very good;' and left. After about half an hour, Devadas came again and told us that Gandhiji would see Mr. Dua in the evening and meet me the next morning, but I could also see him in the evening if I would like to do so. He added that there were prayers everyday early in the morning and fate in the evening and asked whether I would like to attend these prayers, which Gandhiji himself conducted. I told him: " I would certainly attend the prayers, but would like to meet Gandhiji next morning as appointed by him."

On the next day, the 27th April, 1931, I got up very early and attended the morning prayer which began exactly at 4 a.m. and ended in less than half an hour. As it was still dark and I was a little bit tired after a long pilgrimage, I returned to my room after the prayer and slept again. And Mr. Dua left for his destination. At half past ten, Sri Devadas came and took me to Gandhiji. He was staying in the upper storey of a building. The room was as neat and tidy as the guest room in which I was put up and also without any furniture excepting a big square mattress and a long pillow both covered with white Khaddar. Gandhiji was sitting and spining on the mattress, supported by the pillow; and the pillow and the mattress were backed by the wall. As soon as l came to the door of his room, he beckoned me with a gracious call : "Come in ! Come in !" I paid him my profoundest adoration and salutation. He took the precedence of me and said:

"I have been expecting you for a long time, first in Delhi, then at Sabarmati. I was quite anxious whether anything had happened to you. Now, I am very glad that at last you have come here.

          "Many thanks for your kindness" I said, I am extremely sorry that I have been much delayed on the way. But the delay was due to my pilgrimage to the Sacred Places of the Lord Buddha. For this, I hope, you will pardon me."

"Certainly", he quickly interjected. "You need not be sorry for that. Now, tell me how long can you stay here?"

"1 have come specially to pay my homage to you. As this is done, I may take the first train for Bombay either this afternoon or tommorrow morning", I answered.

"And then?" he interrupted me.

"Them from Bombay I shall go to Madras; from Madras, Culcutta; and from Calcutta, back to China."

"Have you already booked your tickets for all these places?" He joked. "But I am told by Devadas that you are not in a hurry. Fortunately I did not see you yesterday, otherwise you might have gone this morning." We all burst into laughter.

"Then, may I stay with you for ever?" I asked.

"So much I do not expect from you. You only stay here as long as I shall stay and leave when I leave."

"This is a great privilege for me and I shall certainly do so", I said,

"This morning I wanted you to have a walk with me but found that you were asleep", he told me.  

I was abashed by this unexpected revelation and could not know how to express or explain myself. I regretfully asked: "Why did not wake me up?"

He immediately understood my awkward position and came to my relief, saying; "You need not worry about that. It was better for you to have some rest after such a long pilgrimage, journeying in the hot summer of India. You might also have some sweet dreaming in the dawn. That's why I did not wake you up."

We all again burst into laughter. I then solemnly presented him the letter which I had brought from His Holiness, the late Dalai Lama, and told him how I had brought it and what was my communion with His Holiness. He was very much delighted at the matter and asked: "What has His Holiness written? Is it written in Tibetan?"

"I do not know what His Holiness has written. But it might have been written in Tibetan. For, His Holiness does not know any foreign language and the letter was written by himself with his own hand. To be faithful to him and to you, as a messenger, I did not and could, not see it."

"Very well, you can see it now." He laughed and opened the letter. "Oh, you are right. It is exactly written in Tibetan. Can you translate it for me?"

"No, I have no knowledge of the Tibetan language and only learnt the alphabets while at Lhasa."

"Then it will never be understood by me." We all broke into laughter once again.

The letter was written on a typical Tibetan paper in long shape, bearing two seals in vermillion ink, one of big size, the official one, and the other of smaller size, the personal one. It was wrapped with a long piece of pure white cloth, called "Cartar" in Tibetan. The "Cartar" is an emblem of love, affection and respect. In Tibet, when people meet for the first time or on some special occasion, they exchange their " Car-tars" as we exchange our cards. When they receive or visit elderly and respectable persons, they first offer their " Cartars" as we offer our garlands. The Tibetans also do their worship with " Cartars" as we do with flowers. Although Gandhiji could not read the letter, yet he appreciated and enjoyed it much. I asked him whether he would be so kind as to acknowledge receipt of and reply to the letter. He quickly responded: " Oh, yes, I shall write to him, but not the reply, because I, do not know the contents of his letter. Since I do not know Tibetan, I shall write in Gujrati so that he may also not understand it but enjoy it as I do." He said joyfully?

"But you certainly understand each other without knowing each other's language. As Lord Buddha said, all Buddhas understand each other by heart and not by speech. Don't you think so?"

He looked at me smiling. We then talked about China and India, about the religious and cultural contacts, the old and intimate friendship in the past, and the importance of reviving these contacts and friendship today, between the two countries, He told me that he had great admiration for Chinese culture and civilization, and love for the Chinese people. When he was in South Africa, he had many Chinese friends there and many of them had even joined his Satyagraha Movement there. I told him that the Chinese people had the greatest respect and profoundest love for two great persons of modern India, namely himself and Gurudeva, and regarded them as the living Bodhisattvas of the Buddha country. There had been a long-cherished desire among the Chinese people for his visit to China as they had Gurudeva's in 1924.

lt is also my earnest desire to visit that great country" he said, " but there is one thing always standing in my

way. I cannot leave and will not leave India until she is free. However, I hope I shall be able to go to your country

at least once in this life of mine".

"Yes, you will certainly be able to do so. India will soon be free. I most earnestly pray for your long life."

As the meeting had been sufficiently long, I took leave of him and said good-bye.

"What! Leave and Good-bye? Are you going away immediately? Will you not stay here for some time more?"

"Yes, I am staying."

"Then, take leave when you leave, and say good-bye when you go away:' He gave his blessing in joke once again. In the evening, there was a mass meeting in a distant village. Gandhiji sent Sri Davadas to me asking me to accompany him and to attend the meeting. We went together half the way on foot and half the way by car, It was Gandhiji's habit to have a walk in the morning and in the evening everyday. But as the village where the meeting was held was a little too far away and he could not walk all the distance, a car was waiting for him at halfway. While walking along the road, he was interested in talking about the Chinese way of living.

"Your people are very artistic. They lead even their daily life artistically. But one thing I do not like much, that is that they take too much meat. Is it not so?" He remarked. I "No, it is not quite true, Mahatmaji. Most of the Chinese people do not take much meat. Especially the village people of China are almost pure vegetarians. They may have meat only on a few special occasions in a year, such as the New Year and other seasonal festivals or when they have important guests. Moreover, cow-slaughter is usually prohibited. Your conclusion is drawn perhaps only from the habit of the few Chinese friends living in the big cities of India such as Bombay and Calcutta or some such place:' I explained to him.

"I am very glad to hear your explanation." He intervened: "Are you a vegetarian?"

"No, I have not yet been. But I prefer vegetarian diet to meat." I told him frankly.

          "Then, I would advise you to give up all non-vegetarian food and be a pure vegetarian. Can't you?" He persuaded me.

"Yes, I can:' I boldly answered and agreed : "I have been contemplating for some time past to take only pure food. Now, as you have so graciously advised me, I will certainly try to be a vegetarian and will regard this as a happy memory of our meeting."

He was much pleased with my undertaking of the pledge and wished me all success.

By the time we had already come to the place where the car was waiting the - place was surrounded by hundreds of people including men and women, old, young and children. They gathered together there simply for a darshan of the Mahatma. When they saw Gandhiji, they shouted in one voice " Mahatmaji Ki Jai!" Then they made Pranama to him and took the dust of his feet. The men offered him money, some with big notes, some with a few rupees, some with a few annas. The women offered him yarn spun by themselves, and children gave flowers. Similar incidents occurred at several places on the way and it took us quite a long time to reach the venue of the meeting. I was deeply moved by the scenes. I bad never seen such a thing before a simple man with no authority behind him having such great influence over his people and held in such profound reverence by them. I was reminded of the Chinese sage Mencius' saying: " A man who influences people with virtue gets the heart of people:' Also I remembered the saying of the great Chinese philosopher, Lao-Tzu. "The more one does for others, the more the other will do for him; the more one gives to others, the more the others will give to him." These words uttered by the Chinese sage and philosopher more than two thousand years ago were proved by Gandhiji that day.

The meeting lasted for about two hours and we returned to the Ashram late in the night.

The next day was Gandhiji's silence day. Although he did not speak, he worked as usual. His programme had been suddenly changed by some urgent important affairs. He had to go to Surat in the afternoon. I too, therefore, prepared to leave Bardoli. I saw him once again in the morning and requested him to bless the Chinese students with a message. He answered me in writing saying that he would send me the message and his reply to the Dalai Lama after some time and asked me to give my Calcutta address to him. He also asked me to go by the same train if I were so prepared, for I had to change my train again at Surat for Bombay.

We left Bardoli at 5-45 p.m. and arrived at Surat about one and a half hours later. The station was already flooded with thousands of people. They shouted at the arrival of Gandhiji Some local leaders of the Congress came up to the train to receive him. But Gandhiji was still observing silence. He answered the continuously thunderous hail of the people and returned greetings to the leaders with a smiling face and folded hands. I intended to take leave at this juncture, but those friends very affectionately asked me to go to their place with Gandhiji for a while and told me that there was still ample time for me to get my train for Bombay. So I went with them. Such was the rush of visitors that we could hardly get out of the station.

I stayed there for about two hours and had dinner with them. After that, Sri. Devadas and two other friends took me round the ancient city of Surat and accompanied me to the station. Before leaving, I again paid Gandhiji my profoundest salutation and adoration, and asked him: "May I take your leave and say good-bye to you know !" He grasped my hands, nodded, smiled and looked at me just as a father grasping the hands of his child. I almost wept at his boundless Maitri and Karuna, and felt great sadness at leaving him. All friends there said in one voice: "you must come again", and I bade them all "Farewell !"

After touring through Bombay and Madras, I came back to Calcutta on 6th May, 1931. Gandhiji's message to the Chinese students along with his reply to His Holiness, the late Dalai Lama, had already reached my Calcutta address. His reply to the late Dalai Lama was really written in Gujrati with his own hand as he had said at Bardoli, but his message to the Chinese students, which was attached in a short letter addressed to me, was in English and this also with his own hand. I posted the Gujrati letter to His Holiness, the late Dalai Lama, without knowing the contents. I took the other message to China, which was widely published in almost all the important Chinese journals and was appreciated, not only by the students, but by the whole people of my country. This was his first message to China.

I quote this message below, not only as a loving memory of my first meeting with Gandhiji but as an emblem of the long, great and intimate friendship which started two thousand years ago and will continue for ever between China and India :-

"Dear Friend,

You must come again whenever you like. My message to the Chinese students is :- Know that the deliverance of China is through Ahimsa pure and unadulterated.

Yours sincerely,

M.K. Gandhi

As at Sabarmati. 4-5-31,"

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