15. PLAYING THE ENGLISH GENTLEMAN :
THE STORY OF MY EXPERIMENTS WITH TRUTH
by Mohandas K. Gandhi
My faith in vegetarianism grew on me from day to day. Salt's book whetted my appetite for
dietetic studies. I went in for all books available on vegetarianism and read them. One of these,
Howard Williams' The Ethics of Diet, was a 'biographical history of the literature of humane
dietetics from the earliest period to the present day.' It tried to make out that all philosophers and
prophets, from Pythagoras and Jesus down to those of the present age, were vegetarians. Dr.
Anna Kingsford's The Perfect Way in Diet was also an attractive book. Dr. Allinson's writings on
health and hygiene were likewise very helpful. He advocated a curative system based on
regulation of the dietary of patients. Himself a vegetarian, he prescribed for his patients also a
strictly vegetarian diet. The result of reading all this literature was that dietetic experiments came
to take an important place in my life. Health was the principal consideration of these experiments,
to begin with. But later on religion became the supreme motive.
Meanwhile my friend had not ceased to worry about me. His love for me led him to think that if I
persisted in my objections to meat eating, I should not only develop a weak constitution, but
should remain a duffer, because I should never feel at home in English society. When he came to
know that I had begun to interest myself in books on vegetarianism, he was afraid lest these
studies should muddle my head; that I should fritter my life away in experiments, forgetting my
own work, and become a crank. He therefore made one last effort to reform me. He one day
invited me to go to the theatre. Before the play we were to dine together at the Holborn
Restaurant, to me a palatial place and the first big restaurant I had been to since leaving the
Victoria Hotel. The stay at that hotel had scarcely been a helpful experience, for I had not lived
there with my wits about me. The friend had planned to take me to this restaurant, evidently
imagining that modesty would forbid any questions. And it was a very big company of diners, in
the midst of which my friend and I sat sharing a table between us. The first course was soup. I
wondered what it might be made of, but durst [=dared] not ask the friend about it. I therefore
summoned the waiter. My friend saw the movement and sternly asked across the table what was
the matter. With considerable hesitation I told him that I wanted to inquire if the soup was a
vegetable soup. 'You are too clumsy for decent society,' he passionately exclaimed. 'If you cannot
behave yourself, you had better go. Feed in some other restaurant and await me outside.' This
delighted me. Out I went. There was a vegetarian restaurant close by, but it was closed. So I
went without food that night. I accompanied my friend to the theatre, but he never said a word
about the scene I had created. On my part of course there was nothing to say.
That was the last friendly tussle we had. It did not affect our relations in the least. I could see
and appreciate the love by which all my friend's efforts were actuated, and my respect for him
was all the greater on account of our differences in thought and action.
But I decided that I should put him at ease, that I should assure him that I would be clumsy no
more, but try to become polished and make up for my vegetarianism by cultivating other
accomplishments which fitted one for polite society. And for this purpose I undertook the all too
impossible task of becoming an English gentleman.
The clothes after the Bombay cut that I was wearing were, I thought, unsuitable for English
society, and I got new ones at the Army and Navy Stores. I also went in for a chimney-pot hat
costing nineteen shillings--an excessive price in those days. Not content with this, I wasted ten
pounds on an evening suit made in Bond Street, the centre of fashionable life in London; and got
my good and noble-hearted brother to send me a double watch-chain of gold. It was not correct to
wear a ready-made tie, and I learnt the art of tying one for myself. While in India, the mirror had
been a luxury permitted on the days when the family barber gave me a shave. Here I wasted ten
minutes every day before a huge mirror, watching myself arranging my tie and parting my hair in
the correct fashion. My hair was by no means soft, and every day it meant a regular struggle with
the brush to keep it in position. Each time the hat was put on and off, the hand would
automatically move towards the head to adjust the hair, not to mention the other civilized habit of
the hand every now and then operating for the same purpose when sitting in polished society.
As if all this were not enough to make me look the thing, I directed my attention to other details
that were supposed to go towards the making of an English gentleman. I was told it was
necessary for me to take lessons in dancing, French, and elocution. French was not only the
language of neighbouring France, but it was thelingua franca of the Continent over which I had a
desire to travel. I decided to take dancing lessons at a class and paid down £3 as fees for a term.
I must have taken about six lessons in three weeks. But it was beyond me to achieve anything
like rhythmic motion. I could not follow the piano and hence found it impossible to keep time.
What then was I to do? The recluse in the fable kept a cat to keep off the rats, and then a cow to
feed the cat with milk, and a man to keep the cow and so on. My ambitions also grew like the
family of the recluse. I thought I should learn to play the violin in order to cultivate an ear for
Western music. So I invested £3 in a violin and something more in fees. I sought a third teacher
to give me lessons in elocution and paid him a preliminary fee of a guinea. He recommended
Bell's Standard Elocutionist as the text book, which I purchased. And I began with a speech of
But Mr. Bell rang the bell of alarm in my ear and I awoke.
I had not to spend a lifetime in England, I said to myself. What then was the use of learning
elocution? And how could dancing make a gentleman of me? The violin I could learn even in
India. I was a student and ought to go on with my studies. I should qualify myself to join the Inns
of Court. If my character made a gentleman of me, so much the better. Otherwise I should forego
These and similar thoughts possessed me, and I expressed them in a letter which I addressed
to the elocution teacher, requesting him to excuse me from further lessons. I had taken only two
or three. I wrote a similar letter to the dancing teacher, and went personally to the violin teacher
with a request to dispose of the violin for any price it might fetch. She was rather friendly to me,
so I told her how I had discovered that I was pursuing a false ideal. She encouraged me in the
determination to make a complete change.
This infatuation must have lasted about three months. The punctiliousness in dress persisted
for years. But henceforward I became a student.
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