9. MY FATHER'S DEATH AND MY DOUBLE SHAME :




AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY:
THE STORY OF MY EXPERIMENTS WITH TRUTH
by Mohandas K. Gandhi




The time of which I am now speaking is my sixteenth year. My father, as we have seen, was
bed-ridden, suffering from a fistula. My mother, an old servant of the house, and I were his
principal attendants. I had the duties of a nurse, which mainly consisted in dressing the wound,
giving my father his medicine, and compounding drugs whenever they had to be made up at
home. Every night I massaged his legs, and retired only when he asked me to so so or after he
had fallen asleep. I loved to do this service. I do not remember ever having neglected it. All the
time at my disposal, after the performance of the daily duties, was divided between school and
attending on my father. I would only go out for an evening walk either when he permitted me or
when he was feeling well.



This was also the time when my wife was expecting a baby--a circumstance which, as I can
see today, meant a double shame for me. For one thing I did not restrain myself, as I should have
done, whilst I was yet a student. And secondly, this carnal lust got the better of what I regarded
as my duty to study, and of what was even a greater duty, my devotion to my parents, Shravana
having been my ideal since childhood. Every night whilst my hands were busy massaging my
father's legs, my mind was hovering about the bed-room--and that too at a time when religion,
medical science, and commonsense alike forbade sexual intercourse. I was always glad to be
relieved from my duty, and went straight to the bed-room after doing obeisance to my father.



At the same time my father was getting worse every day. Ayurvedic physicians had tried all
their ointments, Hakims their plasters, and local quacks their nostrums. An English surgeon had
also used his skill. As the last and only resort he had recommended a surgical operation. But the
family physician came in the way. He disapproved of an operation being performed at such an
advanced age. The physician was competent and well known, and his advice prevailed. The
operation was abandoned, and various medicines purchased for the purpose were of no account.



I have an impression that if the physician had allowed the operation, the wound would have been
easily healed. The operation also was to have been performed by a surgeon who was then well
known in Bombay. But God had willed otherwise. When death is imminent, who can think of the
right remedy? My father returned from Bombay with all the paraphernalia of the operation, which
were now useless. He despaired of living any longer. He was getting weaker and weaker, until at
last he had to be asked to perform the neccessary functions in bed. But up to the last he refused
to do anything of the kind, always insisting on going through the strain of leaving his bed. The
Vaishnavite rules about external cleaniness are so inexorable.



Such cleanliness is quite essential no doubt, but Western medical science has taught us that
all the functions, including a bath, can be done in bed with the strictest regard to cleanliness, and
without the slightest discomfort to the patient, the bed always remaining spotlessly clean. I should
regard such cleanliness as quite consistent with Vaishnavism. But my father's insistence on
leaving the bed only struck me with wonder then, and I had nothing but admiration for it.



The dreadful night came. My uncle was then in Rajkot. I have a faint recollection that he came
to Rajkot having had news that my father was getting worse. The brothers were deeply attached
to each other. My uncle would sit near my father's bed the whole day, and would insist on
sleeping by his bed-side, after sending us all to sleep. No one had dreamt that this was to be the
fateful night. The danger of course was there.




It was 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. I was giving the massage. My uncle offered to relieve me. I was glad
and went straight to the bed-room. My wife, poor thing, was fast asleep. But how could she sleep
when I was there? I woke her up. In five or six minutes, however, the servant knocked at the
door. I started with alarm. 'Get up,' he said, 'Father is very ill.' I knew of course that he was very
ill, and so I guessed what 'very ill' meant at that moment. I sprang out of bed.



'What is the matter? Do tell me!'
'Father is no more.'




So all was over! I had but to [=could only] wring my hands. I felt deeply ashamed and
miserable. I ran to my father's room. I saw that if animal passion had not blinded me, I should
have been spared the torture of separation from my father during his last moments. I should have
been massaging him, and he would have died in my arms. But now it was my uncle who had this
privilege. He was so deeply devoted to his elder brother that he had earned the honour of doing
him the last services! My father had forebodings of the coming event. He had made a sign for pen
and paper, and written: 'Prepare for the last rites.' He had then snapped the amulet off his arm,
and also his gold necklace of tulasi-beads, and flung them aside. A moment after this he was no
more.



The shame, to which I have referred in a foregoing chapter, was this shame of my carnal
desire even at the critical hour of my father's death, which demanded wakeful service. It is a blot I
have never been able to efface or forget, and I have always thought that although my devotion to
my parents knew no bounds and I would have given up anything for it, yet it was weighed and
found unpardonably wanting because my mind was at the same moment in the grip of lust. I have
therefore always regarded myself as a lustful, though a faithful, husband. It took me long to get
free from the shackles of lust, and I had to pass through many ordeals before I could overcome it.
Before I close this chapter of my double shame, I may mention that the poor mite that was born
to my wife scarcely breathed for more than three or four days. Nothing else could be expected.



Let all those who are married be warned by my example.
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