1917 (Gandhi)

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* The asterix indicates the original writing.

Extract from a letter dated 13-11-'17 to Miss Esther Ferring1[edit]

*"Having been wandering about, I have not been able to reply to your letter? ? To say that perfection is not attainable on this earth is to deny God. The statement about the impossibility of ridding ourselves of sin clearly refers to a stage in life. But we need not search scriptures in support of the assertion. We do see men constantly becoming better under effort and discipline. There is no occasion for limiting the capacity for improvement. Life to me would lose all its interest, if I felt that I could not attain perfect love on earth. After all what matters is that our capacity for loving ever expands. It is a slow process. How shall you love the men that thwart you even in well-doing ? And yet that is the time of supreme test I hope that you are now enjoying greater peace of mind.

Let your love for the Ashram be a source of strength in our attempt to do our duty there. The Ashram is undoubtedly intended to teach us to do our assigned task with the utmost attention and with cheerfulness. There is no meaning in our wishes (however pure) not being fulfilled. Not our will but His may be done.


1. Miss Esther Ferring first came to India from Denmark as a member of the Danish (Christian) Mission. From her contact with Gandhiji, she felt herself cramped in the Mission atmosphere and left it for good. After a short stay at Shantiniketan (Poet Tagore's Residential University) and then at Gandhiji's Ashram, she returned to her homeland. She has married an Indian, Dr. Menon.


In a letter to Maganlalbhai at the Ashram[edit]

"What shall I send you for a gift on this bright and happy day ? I would like to give you what is wanting in you, in me, in many others. The man who possesses it gains everything, and he alone can really give it who possesses it. Who am I then to give you that precious gift ? Let us join and pray to God to grant it to us :

*"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angles, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth long and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in inquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For, we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."1

1. An Indian era prevalent in Gujarat, started to commemorate the glorious reign of Vikramaditya and called Vikram Samvat (Vikram's year).

Read this, chew the end, digest it. Read the original in English; translate it into Hindi. Do all you can, strain your neck and eyes, but get a good glimpse of this love or charity. Mira2 was stabbed with this dagger of love and she really felt the wound. If we, too, can get at that dagger and gain the strength to use the divine weapon, we can shake the world to its foundations. Though I feel I have something of that love, I am painfully conscious every moment how very shallow it still is. I weigh and find myself very much wanting. At times I get flustered. Only yesterday I saw I had no room in my heart for those who would not let me have my way and my mind was all bubbling like seething waters. May the New Year do you good. May your physical, mental and spiritual attainments ever grow in grandeur, and may you lay them down at the feet of Mother India. That is my wish and that my benediction.

With blessings,

"Chi.3 Harilal,

To-day is the Diwali4 day. May the New Year bring you bliss ! I wish all your good desires be fulfilled and you gain in strength of character for that is the real Laxmi5. It is in Her worship that our welfare lies. May that truth reveal itself to you more and more brightly !

Bapu's blessings"

1. The Letters of Paul; "To the Corinthians" ?1

2. The saintly queen of Mewar (15 th Century A. D.) whose hymns have become veritable folk songs in parts of India.

3. Chi.= Chiranjivi, meaning 'having a long life', a term used as a blessing for a youngster by an elder of the family. Harilal was Gandhiji's eldest son.

4. Last day of the Gujarati year. Literally, an array of lights; so a day of illumination.

5. Laxmi = Goddess of wealth. It is a custom in Gujarat to worship goddess Laxmi on a fixed day during the Diwali holidays.


Letter to Hermann Kallenbach1[edit]

*"My dear friend,

I have been irregular of late. I have been wandering so much that I never have the leisure to write love letters, especially when they get lost. From you I have had only three letters during the past three months. Polak2 has, however, written to me about you and so has Miss Winterbottom. How often do I not want to hug you! Daily do I have novel experiences here which I would like you to share with me. But this monstrous war never seems to be ending. All the peace-talk only enhances the agony. However, like all human institutions, it must have an end, and our friendship must be a poor affair, if it cannot bide its time, and be all the stronger and purer for the long and weary waiting, and what is this fleeting, physical form after all? As I was whizzling through the air yesterday and looking at the trees, I saw that beneath all the change that these mighty trees daily underwent, there was a little something that persisted. Every leaf has its own separate life. It drops and withers. But the tree lives on. Every tree falls in process of time or under the cruel axe, but the forest of which the tree is but a part lives, and so with us leaves of the human tree. We may wither, but the eternal in us lives on changeless and endless. I derived much comfort last evening, as I was thus musing. My thoughts went on to you and I sighed, but I regained self-possession and said to myself, 'I know my friend not for his form, but that which informs him.'

With love,
Your old friend"

1. A very close friend of Gandhiji since his (Gandhiji's) early life in South Africa. He wanted to accompany him to India, but could not do so as, being a German, he was a suspect and kept under surveillance during the World War then raging. Later on, in 1938, he came to India on a short visit to Gandhiji.

2. Mr. & Mrs. Polak ('Henry 'and 'Millie',) were also among Gandhiji's dearest ones. Both of them have written remarkable books on him.

To Bhai1 Jamnadas Khushalchand[edit]

"My activities go on expanding. I am wearing myself out, the while my tempo lasts, in making known to the country all the ideals I cherish."

Sujna2 Bhai Ambalalji,

"I do not wish to meddle in your business affairs. But a letter from Bhai Krishnalal gives startling news and compels me to write to you.

Even for the sake of Shrimati Ansuyabehn (a labour leader and also Sri. Ambalal's blood sister) you should, I think, satisfy the demands of the workers in the warp section in your mills. There is no reason to believe that the satisfaction of the demand of one group of workers will mean pestering you with new demands from other groups. But even if that happens, the demands may be righteously dealt with then. And why should mill-owners not feel happy at giving a little more to their own workers ? There is one and only one royal road to remove their discontent: Enter sympathetically into their lives, their joys and sorrows and bind them to yourself with the silken chord of love. This is by no means a too high expectation from any rich man who is imbued with Indian traditions of generosity. After all, his riches are only for the use of the country. If you spend after your workers you are sure to find you get a rich return. And will the brother wound the heart of his own sister ? And of a sister, such as Ansuyabehn is ? I, for one, have found her a very pure soul. It is but in the fitness of things, if her word becomes law to you. You will thus discharge a double duty in a single act; that of allaying the discontent of your workers and of winning the blessings of your sister. I know my trespass too is doubly presumptuous. In a single letter I have interfered in your business, as well as in your family affairs. You will please forgive me.

Vande Mataram1
Mohandas Gandhi"

1. 'Bhai' & 'bahan' or 'behn' are addresses of respect and love, meaning 'brother' and 'sister.'

2. Sujna?Well knowing?wise, a term of special respect. 'Ji' also is a suffix of respect.

Though the name of his benefactor has not been given out by Gandhiji in his Autobiography (see Chapters IX and X, part V), it is now an open secret that it was Sri Ambalal Sarabhai who rushed to Gandhiji's aid during perhaps the most acute financial crisis, which his Ashram had to face. His admission of an 'untouchable' into the Ashram fold caused an uproar, and his supporters-all orthodox Caste Hindus?stopped their aid at once. They took this step, despite a clear notice from Gandhiji, at the very outset of his founding the Ashram in Ahmedabad, that he would admit an 'untouchable' Hindu, if an occasion arose. Ambalal Sarabhai's timely munificent aid was for Gandhiji a manna from heaven. The letter is portent of Gandhiji's fight against this patron for the cause of labour, which among others was dear to his heart.