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22. NARAYAN HEMCHANDRA :



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


Just about this time Narayan Hemchandra came to England. I had heard of him as a writer.
We met at the house of Miss Manning of the National Indian Association. Miss Manning knew that
I could not make myself sociable. When I went to her place I used to sit tongue-tied, never
speaking except when spoken to. She introduced me to Narayan Hemchandra. He did not know
English. His dress was queer--a clumsy pair of trousers, a wrinkled, dirty brown coat after the
Parsi fashion, no necktie or collar, and a tasselled woollen cap. He grew a long beard.
He was lightly built and short of stature. His round face was scarred with small-pox, and had a
nose which was neither pointed nor blunt. With his hand he was constantly turning over his beard.
Such a queer-looking and queerly dressed person was bound to be singled out in fashionable
society.


'I have heard a good deal about you,' I said to him. 'I have also read some of your writings. I
should be very pleased if you were kind enough to come to my place.'
Narayan Hemchandra had a rather hoarse voice. With a smile on his face he replied:
'Yes, where do you stay?'
'In Store Street.'
'Then we are neighbours. I want to learn English. Will you teach me?'
'I shall be happy to teach you anything I can, and will try my best. If you like, I will go to your
place.'


'Oh, no. I shall come to you. I shall also bring with me a Translation Exercise Book.' So we
made an appointment. Soon we were close friends.
Narayan Hemchandra was innocent of grammar. 'Horse' was a verb with him, and 'run' a noun.
I remember many such funny instances. But he was not to be baffled by his ignorance. My little
knowledge of grammar could make no impression on him. Certainly he never regarded his
ignorance of grammar as a matter for shame.


With perfect nonchalance he said: 'I have never been to school like you. I have never felt the
need of grammar in expressing my thoughts. Well, do you know Bengali? I know it. I have
travelled in Bengal. It is I who have given Maharshi Devendranath Tagore's works to the Gujaratispeaking
world. And I wish to translate into Gujarati the treasures of many other languages. And
you know I am never literal in my translations. I always content myself with bringing out the spirit.
Others, with their better knowledge, may be able to do more in future. But I am quite satisfied with
what I have achieved without the help of grammar. I know Marathi, Hindi, Bengali, and now I have
begun to know English. What I want is a copious vocabulary. And do you think my ambition ends
here? No fear. I want to go to France and learn French. I am told that language has an extensive
literature. I shall go to Germany also, if possible, and there learn German.' And thus he would talk
on unceasingly. He had a boundless ambition for learning languages and for foreign travel.
'Then you will go to America also?'

Certainly. How can I return to India without having seen the New World?'
'But where will you find the money?'


'What do I need money for? I am not a fashionable fellow like you. The minimum amount of
food and the minimum amount of clothing suffice for me. And for this what little I get out of my
books and from my friends is enough. I always travel third class. While going to America also I
shall travel on deck.'
Narayan Hemchandra's simplicity was all his own, and his frankness was on a par with it. Of
pride he had not the slightest trace, excepting, of course, a rather undue regard for his own
capacity as a writer.


We met daily. There was a considerable amount of similarity between our thoughts and
actions. Both of us were vegetarians. We would often have our lunch together. This was the time
when I lived on 17s. a week and cooked for myself. Sometimes I would got to his room, and
sometimes he would come to mine. I cooked in the English style. Nothing but Indian style would
satisfy him. He could not do without dal. I would make soup of carrots etc., and he would pity me
for my taste. Once he somehow hunted out mung,/1/ cooked it, and brought it to my place. I ate it
with delight. This led on to a regular system of exchange between us. I would take my delicacies
to him and he would bring his to me.


Cardinal Manning's name was then on every lip. The dock labourers' strike had come to an
early termination owing to the efforts of John Burns and Cardinal Manning. I told Narayan
Hemchandra of Disraeli's tribute to the Cardinal's simplicity. 'Then I must see the sage,' said he.
'He is a big man. How do you expect to meet him?'
'Why? I know how. I must get you to write to him in my name. Tell him I am an author and that I
want to congratulate him personally on his humanitarian work, and also say that I shall have to
take you as interpreter as I do not know English.'
I wrote a letter to that effect. In two or three days came Cardinal Manning's card in reply giving
us an appointment. So we both called on the Cardinal. I put on the usual visiting suit. Narayan
Hemchandra was the same as ever, in the same coat and the same trousers. I tried to make fun
of this, but he laughed me out and said:
'You civilized fellows are all cowards. Great men never look at a person's exterior. They think
of his heart.'


We entered the Cardinal's mansion. As soon as we were seated, a thin, tall, old gentleman
made his appearance, and shook hands with us. Narayan Hemchandra thus gave his greetings:
'I do not want to take up your time. I had heard a lot about you and I felt I should come and
thank you for the good work you have done for the strikers. It has been my custom to visit the
sages of the world, and that is why I have put you to this trouble.'
This was of course my translation of what he spoke in Gujarati.
'I am glad you have come. I hope your stay in London will agree with you and that you will get
in touch with people here. God bless you.'


With these words the Cardinal stood up and said good-bye.


Next :- 23. THE GREAT EXHIBITION


Continues...

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