Table of Contents
It was ten-thirty on the evening of November 24, 1957, when the plane from Rangoon, Burma, landed on the airport of Calcutta, India. I had strange feelings of joy and anticipation for I was about to set foot on the soil of India, the land of my birth, after an absence of thirty-seven years. As the plane came to a stop, I could see that a large crowd had gathered. When my wife, my daughter, and I stepped off the plane, photographers' flash bulbs popped and we could hear the grinding of the movie cameras. Hundreds of people were milling about us with flower garlands in their hands. The first person to reach and embrace me was my bearded younger brother.
It was a really grand home-coming reception and welcome for a former son of India, now a member of the United States Congress, and a joyous occasion for me and my family. We were deeply touched and sincerely overwhelmed by the spirited and enthusiastic ovation given us by the crowd at the airport.
Our plane was scheduled to arrive at four-forty in the afternoon, but we were six hours late. Later we learned that from four in the afternoon till dark the streets of Calcutta had been lined with people, many of them young students, waiting to welcome us.
Throughout our three-day stay in Calcutta we were guests at a score or more receptions given by leaders of civic and business groups, and we even lunched with the governor of Bengal in the old historic Viceregal Palace of India. Such was the occasion of my arrival in the land of my birth after a long, happy, and rewarding stay in the United States of America.
I was particularly eager to visit the small village in the state of Punjab where I was born and meet and talk of old times together with the few surviving relatives and friends of childhood days. But one person who had loved me the most and whom I would have wanted above all else to meet was no more. My mother had died ten years previously. I have always carried the memory of my last conversation with her in the summer of 1920. The picture of my mother sitting on a low stool, saying good-by to me, trying bravely to suppress her tears, came often to my mind. Her last words to me were: "Son, make friends everywhere and no enemies."
My mother was a very devout and religious person, but she had no formal education. Indeed, she could not read or write her own name. This was also true of my father. My parents had been brought up in an age when India had passed into a new era, an era of British colonialism. In early times, history tells us there was a provision in the tax system of the country requiring each village to retain enough funds from the land revenue to hire a schoolteacher to instruct the village youth. But with the advent of British rule, the system of taxation was centralized and there was no money left for education. Thus, there were no schools in the villages in the years when my parents were growing up.
By the time I reached school age, my father and my two uncles had become comparatively wealthy as government contractors constructing canals and other public works, and they, as private citizens, had endowed a small one-room schoolhouse. They had also offered to pay the salary of a village schoolmaster. Thus the children of Chhajalwadi had the opportunity for primary education.
My father and mother may have been illiterate, but they were nonetheless well versed in the ancient traditions and culture of India. My mother could recite many long and significant passages from the old hymns and songs of Indian and Sikh literature. Her favorite verse, which I heard many times and which became a part of my teaching, may be roughly translated thus:
There is only one God and He is the source of all Light and Life. From one source spring all beings. We are children of one Father. How can one be high and another low? Who is good and who is bad?
Myself, I impose no fear on anyone, I am afraid of no one; when I fully understand the meaning of such behavior, then shall I become a true philosopher.
My parents, not having had the advantages of education, shared one single, burning ambition to provide their children with the best school and college education possible. The only time I can recall my father giving me a scolding or a spanking was when I once hid in a cotton field and refused to go to school at the village a half mile away. I was only ten when my father died, and my memories of him are dim. But his burning interest in our education stayed bright in my mind.
My early life in the village was very simple. My mother had raised a family of seven children, four boys and three girls. There were no nurses or doctors in the village and all she knew of hygiene, the treatment and care of children's diseases and safeguards from the epidemics was what she had absorbed from her own mother and the neighbors around the village.
The rules of conduct of old Hindu society have come down to the village people through word of mouth and the teachings of the village priests. The rules of hygiene were learned and practiced with the utmost care. As a child I was taught always to wash my hands before eating and to wash my hands and mouth after each meal. We were taught---and it was rigidly enforced---to brush our teeth every morning with a twig from the kikar tree. We chewed the twig, brushed our teeth with its flavory juice, and then threw it away. We were told that men were judged by their conduct and their speech. A young man should never talk loudly before his parents and elders. When walking, always follow your elders, teachers, and preachers.
How effective and how lasting the teachings of childhood are was brought home to me two years ago during my travels around the world. My wife, my daughter, and I were dinner guests at the American College in Jerusalem, Lebanon, on Christmas Eve, 1957. Among our hosts were two Catholic priests. They motioned me into the dining hall ahead of them, but I stood my ground. I said, "No, I cannot precede a man of religion." I could not. The rules and teachings of ancient Hindu society forbid it and I could not deny those rules I had learned as a child.
We were taught to salute and to bow our heads every time we met a man of religion, a teacher, or an elderly person. At home, every evening we listened to prayers sung from memory by either my father or my mother. Then, before going to bed, we said our own prayers. They were always couched in song, and were thus pleasant to recite and easy to remember.
As children we always had plenty to eat. There was not much variety, but Mother was an excellent cook. She could fry turnips, or peas, or cauliflower in butter with curry powder and spices, and I must say I have never tasted anything so rich and marvelous, not even in the many wonderful restaurants and hotels that I have visited throughout the world. Our food consisted mostly of vegetables and greens, plenty of milk, buttermilk, curdled milk, and butter. In the northern part of India rice is not the staple food, but is served only on special occasions, and is considered a delicacy.
One of the staples of the diet in Punjab is a pancake called rotee. My mother used to make the most delicious rotees I have ever tasted. Other members of the family and children were always fed first before Mother would eat her meal, and to this day I cannot understand the logic of Mother always eating the stale, one-day-old rotees. In answer to my question she said, "Son, we cannot waste food. These rotees, when they are warmed, are just as good and fresh, and Mother likes to eat them." But why eat the stale of yesterday and make the leftovers of today stale for tomorrow I could never understand.
My family ate meat. The only kind of meat available was goat meat and poultry, but meat was a special dish. We had it once a month on the average. My mother never tasted meat in her life, and yet she could cook it, and cook it well, for the rest of the family.
Sugar cane was a special favorite with us. In the wintertime, when sugar cane was in season, I remember that as boys we would go and sit in the middle of the sugar-cane field, cut the sugar cane, knock off the straw, peel it with our teeth, and chew it. It was a most marvelous and delicious pastime.
My family was exceptionally fortunate in having a small grove of trees on our land. We had tangerines, oranges, grapefruit--none of the Arizona, California, and Florida variety, but pomelos of the Far East and India variety. I loved going to the grove and picking the ripe fruit fresh from the trees. Fresh fruit was a real delicacy in that part of the world, for on the whole such fruit was not available to the villagers of Punjab. We had a few lime trees in our garden and I recall seeing people walk several miles to get a lime to use for medicinal purposes. The mango is the one fruit common to just about all parts of India, and farmers grow mangoes on their farms for their own use. As boys, I remember, we used to sit under a mango tree and eat mangoes by the bushel. Then, quite a number of farmers grew a few vines of cantaloupes and watermelons. We used to pick the cantaloupes fully ripe and chill them by letting them float in the cool stream of fresh well water as it was being pumped from the wells for irrigation. There was no refrigeration; no ice was available in the village, and I recall that one of our special delights was to go and buy some ice from the railroad train as it stopped at the station a few miles away.
Such was the village life of India, where I was reared by an unlettered but devoted and loving mother who nonetheless knew the art of raising children. My mother was the only doctor or dentist I knew. Her success may be judged by the fact that I was twenty-nine years old when I first had to sit in a dentist's chair.
It has been said that in India teachers and preachers will never starve. It is quite literally true, and as a tradition goes back to the ancient days of India's history, after the exodus of the Aryans from central Asia to the plains of India. In the elaborate caste system of the Hindus the top caste were the Brahmans, who became the teachers and preachers of the Hindu society. And, because of their superior learning and understanding of the history and literature of India, prominent Brahmans occupied responsible positions of power in government as the ministers of kings and emperors. In the rules of caste the early leaders of India made it an edict that no Brahman should ever possess any personal or real property. For that reason the needs and personal wants of the Brahman, the teacher, and the preacher, have always received precedence in the Hindu way of life. If a teacher or a preacher comes to a villager's home, the villager will afford him the best accommodations in the household and see that the visitor is served first, and with the best possible fare. A story is told of a Catholic friar who was traveling in northern India. During a hot summer day this missionary for Christ became tired, and spreading his sheet, lay down to rest under a banyan tree a mile outside the village. A little girl saw the friar lying in the shade of the tree and told her mother. The mother immediately sent the girl with a jug of fresh, cool water and some fresh fruit in a basket. When, after a few hours of restful sleep, the tired friar awoke, he saw a little girl swinging a small fan over him and watching the basket of fruit and the jug of fresh water. The little girl's mother did not inquire what the religion of the stranger was. It was her dharma, her religious duty, to give the preacher the gift of fruit and fresh, cold water and to send her daughter to fan him against the heat of the day.
Sister Nivedeta, Mrs. Margaret Noble, who wrote several books on Indian culture and religion, made her home in the native quarters of Calcutta while making a study of India's past. In recounting her experiences, she says that when she first arrived in Calcutta, she would find a basket of fruit and a jug of fresh, cold milk in front of her door each morning, and she never found out who the donor was. What she did not know was that it was the dharma of the neighbors to provide for the simple necessities of the student. It did not matter whether or not she was their friend or what her opinions concerning their culture might be. It mattered only that she was a student, and it was therefore their religious duty to take care of her.
How many other simple customs and taboos in the quiet life of northern India derive their origin from the basic hygienic and social needs of the community. I remember being taught as a child that if a man ever defiled the shade under a tree, the devil would possess him. So it is that shade trees along India's roads and thoroughfares furnish a clean place of rest for weary travelers seeking shelter from the hot sun. Often we used to see devout, religious people going about with brooms to sweep the space under the trees for travelers and strangers to use for rest and relaxation. During the afternoon hours it was the custom of the elders of the village to gather under the banyan trees and discuss ancient philosophy, religion, and modern politics. I remember eavesdropping on the elders, and occasionally someone would start reciting and singing the ancient hymns.
After one of these sessions an elderly uncle of mine told me, "Son, you can drink your own cow's milk one hundred miles away from the village." Naturally I questioned this. "How can you drink your own cow's milk a hundred miles away from the village?" I asked. "The milk would turn sour within a few hours and it would take at least ten days to travel one hundred miles."
"Son", my old uncle answered me, "when a man passing through your village from a hundred miles away is thirsty and tired, you invite him to your home and offer him a glass of milk. He will drink your milk and enjoy it and thank you. Then, when someday you are traveling in his village, he will offer you a glass of milk there. You will in truth be drinking your own cow's milk."
I remember another time being angry at a classmate. One of the village elders overheard me muttering and cursing. The old headman listened to me for a while and then said, "Son, come here; I want to show you something." I followed him as he climbed up a few steps onto the platform of a well and said, "Son, sit here, look down into this well, and repeat what I say." I did. "Son say "Good morning, sir, how are you this bright day?" The well echoed back, "Good morning, sir, how are you this bright day?" Then the headman said, "Say, `You damn fool, you look silly and crazy to me.'" I repeated the same and the echo came back, repeating my words. The headman said, "Son, that is how, when you grow up, you will find the world to be. In contact with people you will hear your own echo as you heard it from this well."
How many times during my life have I regretted that I failed to remember the remarks of the old headman in my village. Often we court difficulties and troubles and create animosities by making gratuitous and unkind remarks about others. Invariably the world will send the same back to us as the well did to that little boy in Punjab, India.
My family was very fond of fine Arabian horses and we had several good riding horses in our stable. My father's favorite was the blue mare. He used to take special and tender care of her at all times and would spend several hours every day keeping her and the other horses clean and brushed and in good trim. My brother, who was five years older than I, was a very good horseman. He used to ride Father's favorite blue mare bareback and I delighted in riding behind him holding tight around his waist. One afternoon we were riding out in the fields when I said, "Brother, why don't you do what Father always does and make the horse gallop? Hit her with the spurs and let the reins loose." He did, and though he was a good horseman he was not so heavy as Father, and when I lost my balance and pulled him down, we both fell. I fell on his leg and it broke at the thigh. He groaned in pain. "I can't sit up," he said.
I ran home as fast as I could. It was late afternoon and my father had just returned from the city of Amritsar. He took two helpers with him and together they carried my brother back to the house. There, my father, all by himself, set the broken leg, applied a splint, and tied it. The next day a surgeon and physician, Dr. Satyapal, was summoned from Amritsar. He checked my brother's leg, the bandage, and the splint, and pronounced it an excellent piece of bonesetting and said that nothing need be changed or disturbed. My brother recovered successfully and in his school years won several championships in quarter and half-mile races and became a better-than-average soccer and cricket player. At no time did he show any sign of weakness in that broken leg.
My father had learned the art of bonesetting from one of the elders of the village. He used to mend the broken limbs not only of human beings, but animals, and used neither chloroform nor sedative. How he managed to set the leg of a thirteen-year-old child I do not know, but it was done.
I was not altogether a model boy in my younger years. I had my share of quarrels and fights and disappointments in the life of the village. After finishing primary school, my cousins and I were all sent to the boarding school in Amritsar, sixteen miles away, for our secondary school education. I was eight years of age and came back to the village for the summer vacation. During the warm summer evenings the boys of the village used to go out into the plowed fields to play. One of the games we played involved setting up goals by piling up clods in piles ten feet apart. The teams would line up facing each other. A player would then go over to the opposing side holding his breath and repeat loudly, "Kabadi, kabadi." He could go in and wander among and chase any member of the opposing team, and if he touched one of them, the man was out. But he had to continue holding his breath and keep on saying "kabadi" loudly, and he had to return to his own side before running out of breath. If he lost his breath or stopped saying "kabadi," a player on the opposite side could tag him out by just touching him.
I wanted very much to play with the village boys. Grudgingly they let me join, but they resented my attitude and my dress, for I wore clean white clothes, and, as a student, I appeared altogether different from the rest of the boys. So no matter how much I wanted to be liked by the other boys, they all picked on me. I was shoved aside by one, thrown down by another. They used every excuse to get at me. By the time the evening was over I was bruised, my clothes were soiled and torn, and my spirit was crushed, and I went home crying to my mother. I put my arms around her neck, sobbing.
"Son, tell me what happened?" she asked. I told her, and she pushed me away, saying, "Son, you went out to play with boys of your own age and came home crying. Let that be the first and the last time. When you go out to play with other boys, you've got to take care of yourself. if you can't, just stay away."
During World War I Great Britain had promised the people of India a measure of self-government at the conclusion of the war as a reward for their wartime loyalty to the Empire. As a consequence, leaders of the Indian nationalist movement, represented by the Indian National Congress, suspended their agitation for self-rule and actively participated in the war effort. The soldiers of India fought heroically in all war theaters in defense of the Empire.
At the conclusion of the hostilities, the government of David Lloyd George changed its attitude toward the Indian Nationalists, and instead of fulfilling its promise of self-government for India, instituted a campaign to suppress the nationalist movement. This was coincident to similar actions taken in other parts of the Empire, such as Palestine and Ireland.
The Viceroy of India, without even bothering to consult the Indian members of the central legislature, by his sole authority promulgated and certified into law what was known as the Rowlatt Acts. These Acts not only curbed the freedom of the press but also suspended the right of free assembly throughout India as a precaution against the rising nationalist movement. Indian political leaders and the people generally looked on the Acts as an outrage against their national honor. Protest meetings were held throughout the country and resolutions were passed condemning the action of the British Government and the Viceroy.
At this time a hitherto little-known advocate of Indian independence, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, came to the forefront of the Indian nationalist struggle. He had won some attention as a leader of the Indians in South Africa in their protest against discrimination by the government of South Africa.
It is the custom in India and has been for centuries for the people to observe a national day of mourning--say, for example, on the occasion of the death of a well-loved prince or king--by holding an all-day fast. It was Gandhi's idea to use this ancient custom as a vehicle of protest and he therefore called upon the people of India to observe Sunday, April 6, 1919, as a day of national mourning for the people of India. He asked the people to assemble peaceably and pass resolutions protesting the passage of the Rowlatt Acts. As a result meetings were held throughout India and the people gathered to hear speeches by their political leaders protesting the repressive measures of the British Government. In some places, alas, there was violence. The nearby city, Amritsar, was one such place.
Fearing a rising of the nationalist movement under the leadership of two of the town's leading citizens, one a medical doctor, the other a distinguished scholar, the resident British commissioner in Amritsar ordered these two men arbitrarily arrested. When news of the arrest spread through the town, a large mob assembled in protest and started marching toward the commissioner's residence. While it was crossing the bridge over the railroad, the mob was fired on by the police under the orders of the British superintendent of police. Several persons were killed. The people immediately became violent and scattered to different parts of the town. They burned the British buildings and murdered the two resident English managers of the two English banks in the city. The commissioner forthwith proclaimed martial law in the city.
Next Sunday, April 18, was the Baisakhi day in India, a day equivalent to New Year's Day in the Western World. On this day, as was customary, people from the surrounding villages assembled in Amritsar. The city was the home of the Sikhs and had the golden temple and was therefore a place of pilgrimage. So on this day in 1919 thousands of people had gathered in Amritsar. As it happened the political leaders of the Indian nationalist movement announced that on this very same day there would be a public mass meeting in Jallianwalla Bagh, an open enclosure in the heart of the city. When this became known to the English general in charge of the area, he banned the meeting. Notices were posted throughout Amritsar and the general's proclamations were marked by the beating of the drums in the streets.
The meeting was held in spite of the order of the general, and when he heard about it, he left his headquarters a few miles outside of the city limits with a contingent of soldiers armed with rifles. Some fifteen thousand unarmed people were gathered together, listening to the speeches. The general immediately ordered a volley of rifle fire into the throng. The crowd began to disperse and run for shelter. In the confusion and rush to get away, hundreds of people fell or were pushed into two low wells in the area. Those who tried to climb out of the enclosure over a wall were shot down as the general directed the fire wherever the crowd was the thickest. Seven hundred and fifty people were killed and several thousand wounded.
In the subsequent investigation of this incident, which became known as the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre, the general appeared before Lord Hunter's investigating committee and was asked the question, "Why did you start shooting?"
"I wanted to disperse the mob because they had defied my order."
"Why did you continue shooting when the mob started to disperse?"
"I wanted to show them the might of British rule," the general replied.
"When did you stop shooting?"
"When my ammunition ran out."
Thanks to the vigilance of the British censors, news of the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre took several weeks to reach England and other parts of the world.
The reaction in the United Kingdom itself was very strange. A leading English newspaper initiated a subscription for a fund to be awarded to the general. Subsequently, the general was retired from service in the British Army of India on full pension to be paid out of the taxes collected from the people whom he had so mercilessly and unjustifiably murdered. When he reached England, he was awarded the equivalent of $50,000 in cash and a jeweled sword from the money collected through the newspaper's subscription in recognition of his gallantry and bravery in behalf of the Empire.
The people of India were deeply shocked. It was said that the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre had stirred the big heart of India to a boiling point. In protest, even the moderates who had hitherto been friendly toward the British revolted against British rule in India. Among them was Sir Rabindranath Tagore, one of the great poets of India. He had been knighted previously by the King for his loyalty to the Empire and his accomplishments as a poet and writer. He immediately resigned his knighthood and returned all the orders he had received from the King and the Empire. Others in high places in the government of India resigned their positions and the nationalist movement took on a truly united national flavor. Such great and famous Indian lawyers as C. R. Das in Bengal and Pandit Motilal New Nehru, the late father of the present Prime Minister of India, gave up their law practices, donated their entire properties to the cause of Indian nationalism, and joined the movement of Mahatma Gandhi. Motilal Nehru's palatial home became the headquarters of the Indian National Congress, and Nehru, Sr., himself traveled throughout India, urging people to join the nationalist cause.
Gandhi became the popular hero of the Indian people and it was they who gave him the unofficial title of Mahatma, or the Great Soul. He protested against being called Mahatma, but the people were not to be denied, and the cry of nationalists all over the country became "Mahatma Gandhiji kee jai---Long Live Mahatma Gandhi!"
Mahatma Gandhi was born of wealthy parents in the western part of India. His father was the prime minister of a native state. He was educated in India and later finished his studies and was admitted to the bar in the Inner Temple of London. He practiced law briefly in India and then went to South Africa, where he became famous as a leader of his people against the discrimination of the British Government of South Africa. In 1902 Gandhi announced to the world that he was going to espouse poverty. He gave all his worldly possessions to charity and vowed that from then on he was going to live as simple a life as the poorest of his people. He dressed in cheap garments and slept on the floor. He wanted to identify himself with the humblest of his own people.
Mahatma Gandhi was a great leader of men and the secret of his greatness lay in the fact that through a long period of self-discipline he had completely mastered himself and his passions. Throughout his long period as leader of the Indian nationalist movement he was never known to have uttered one word of anger or shown any resentment or passion in any way.
When he came to the forefront of the Indian political movement, he gave to the people of India a new method of achieving their political independence. He called his movement passive resistance and non-cooperation with the British Government of India. He had been a student of Thoreau and had corresponded during his early years with Count Tolstoy. Thoreau once wrote that when the officer has resigned his office and the subject has refused allegiance, revolution is accomplished. That is exactly what Mahatma Gandhi started to do in India. The emphasis in Mahatma Gandhi's movement was on self-discipline and nonviolence under all circumstances. As he himself once said: "When nonviolence teaches us to love our enemies by nonviolent non-cooperation, we seek to conquer the wrath of English administrators and their supporters. We must love them and pray to God that they might have wisdom to see what appears to us to be their error. It must be the prayer of the strong and not of the weak. In our strength must we humble ourselves before our Maker. In the moment of our trials let me declare my faith. I believe in loving my enemies. I believe in the power of suffering to melt the stoniest heart. We must by our conduct demonstrate to every Englishman that he is as safe in the remotest corner of India as he professes to feel behind the machine gun. There is only one God for us all, and He is a God of love and truth. I do not hate an Englishman. I have spoken much against his institutions, especially the one he has set up in India. But you must not mistake my condemnation of the system for that of the man. My religion requires me to love him as I love myself. I have no interest in living except to prove this faith in me. I would deny God if I do not attempt to prove it at this critical moment."
At one time an English missionary put this question to Mahatma Gandhi: "Mr. Gandhi, where did you receive your inspiration for your movement of passive resistance? " Without any hesitation he replied: "By reading the Sermon on the Mount."
The enemies of Indian nationalism branded Mahatma Gandhi's movement as visionary. He was called a charlatan, a hypocrite, an unscrupulous educator, and a disguised autocrat. The vast number of his followers were branded as dumb cattle.
The British Government of India fought the rising tide of Indian nationalism with harsh and bitter countermeasures. Thousands of Gandhi's followers, among them the most educated and highly respected citizens of India, were jailed and other thousands were unmercifully flogged. In some cases they were even shot for no other offense than that of wearing the coarse and hand-spun Gandhi cap and singing the Indian national hymn. But in spite of all the oppressive measures used by the British Government of India, Mahatma Gandhi's influence grew until the masses of India were thoroughly imbued with the spirit of nationalism and determined to follow their leader under his principles of nonviolent noncooperation. Mahatma Gandhi had set as his goal the development in the people of India of a spirit of self-discipline and sacrifice. When this had been achieved he planned to call upon them to refuse to obey the British laws and refuse to pay taxes. In that way would he bring the British Government of India to a standstill and win his goal of achieving national independence.
Gandhi's theory is illustrated by an incident that grew out of the days of martial law in Amritsar in 1919. At that time the commanding officer ordered that all persons passing through a certain alley, where an Englishwoman once had been assaulted by a furious mob, should be made to crawl on their bellies. Those living in the neighborhood had submitted to this humiliation at the point of British bayonets.
When Mahatma Gandhi visited Amritsar he told the people: "You Punjabis with your tall, muscular bodies, you who call yourselves brave, submitted to this soul-degrading order. I am a small man and my physique is very weak. I weigh less than a hundred pounds. But there is no power in this world that can make me crawl on my belly. The general's soldiers could have bound my body in chains and put me in jail, or with their swords they could have taken my life, but if they had ordered me to crawl on my belly, I would have said, `Oh, foolish men, don't you see God has given me two feet to walk upon? Why shall I crawl on my belly?'" Thus Gandhi drew the distinction between the coward and the passive resister. The coward submits to force through fear, while the passive resister submits to force under protest.
In 1930 Mahatma Gandhi staged his famous salt march to the sea. Even though there were several natural deposits of salt in the mountains of India and India is surrounded on three sides by ocean, no one except the British Government itself was permitted to make any salt. In fact, salt was brought to India from the mines of Manchester, England, as ships' ballast. The ships went from India to England loaded with raw materials; on the way back they would bring only manufactured materials and salt served as ballast. Salt thus became a monopoly of the British Government, and yet the people of India were so poor they could not afford to buy enough salt for their needs. It was a cruel oppression that all people could understand. So Mahatma Gandhi announced that he was going to break that law. To do it, he was going to march to the sea and make a pinch of salt by boiling a bucket of water.
Mahatma Gandhi led a pilgrimage on foot over two hundred miles to the sea, preaching his message on the way. Eventually he reached Bombay and the seashore. He walked to the edge of the water, dipped up a bucket of water, boiled it, and made a pinch of salt, thus defying the British law. It was a signal for people all over India to disobey the established British salt laws.
Gandhi's aim was to remove from the minds of his people the terror of British rule. He knew once he had punctured the bubble of John Bull's bluff in India, half the battle would be won. In any event, his appeal to the people of India was immediate and universal, and I, along with most of my fellow students, became an ardent and active follower. Like them, I vowed to obey Gandhi's edict and never accept any service in the British Government of India.
I must confess that as late as 1917, when I was a junior in college, despite my interest in political affairs, my knowledge of the United States of America was next to nothing. I knew little beyond the fact that Washington, D.C., was the capital. The British rulers of my country had thought it highly important that English history be thoroughly taught the youth of India, but they did not think it important to pay any great attention to the American Revolution--a revolution which, in my opinion, has done more to bring joy and dignity into the lives of men than anything that has happened before or since in recorded history.
After the United States had joined the allies in World War I the newspapers of India began to carry the speeches of Woodrow Wilson, and I soon became a profound admirer of the American war president. I read his speeches over and over and over again, until I could literally repeat them from memory. His inspiring ideas and ideals--"make the world safe for democracy", "the war to end war," and "self-determination for all peoples"--appealed to my young heart. I hung a picture of Woodrow Wilson in my study, and through him I became acquainted with another great American war president, Abraham Lincoln. Indeed, I once made an overnight railroad trip to the University of Punjab to get two books on Abraham Lincoln and American history. I read the life story of that great man and studied his writings. Americans may perhaps take the Gettysburg Address for granted. To a young Indian college student it was a revelation and inspiration. It remains so to this day.
I was a student at the Prince of Wales College at Jammu in 1919 when the Big Four were conducting the Conference of Versailles. One of the topics of our college debating group was: "Would Wilson succeed with his 14 Points?" I, along with many of my friends, could not believe that the British would be willing to consent to the principle of "Freedom of the seas" nor Wilson's desire for "Open covenants, openly arrived at."
In that period another famous American's life came into focus. Theodore Roosevelt died and shortly afterward I came across a review of his life story in an illustrated London magazine. I was charmed by the personality of this colorful man and deeply impressed by his courage and determination to overcome all obstacles to achieve success.
One story impressed me particularly. In the course of an address to a group of high-school students, he remarked that he had seen a word on the door of the auditorium when he entered that could be a guide to their lives.
The students looked at the door and saw the word "Pull," and thought that was the word to which he referred. "No," said Roosevelt, "I mean the word `Push' which is on the other side." These scraps and pieces about American life and American leaders, gleaned from books, newspapers, and magazines, left a deep impression on me. But Lincoln's words in the Gettysburg Address, "Government of the people, by the people, and for the people," had particular meaning. India at that time had no jury trial and the practice of habeas corpus did not exist. Under British rule anyone could be taken into custody and his whereabouts kept secret from relatives and friends.
Nor was there such a thing as free elections. In fact, Indians had no voice in the selection of local, state, or national officials. Lincoln changed the entire course of my life. Defiant of the wishes of my parents, who wanted me to join the service of the British Government in India, I said to myself and to them, I must go to the United States of America, come what may. I took great pains to get hold of every possible book from which I could learn something of the history and the government of the United States.
Gradually my family became reconciled to my desire to go to America. Even so, after I graduated from the University of Punjab with a B. A. degree in mathematics, I had to wait for several months in Chhajalwadi for my passport to clear. During that time I busied myself with a number of small projects in the village. One of them involved the primary school where I had studied as a boy. As a primary school it went only up to the fifth grade. I urged my uncle to build new, larger quarters for the school and, with the help of the leaders in the community, I prepared letters and petitions to the district education board of Amritsar in an effort to convert it from a primary school of five grades to a middle school of eight grades. That application was accepted and granted. My uncle donated the building, and before I left India I had the great satisfaction of seeing the sixth grade already started in the school. Now it is a well-established middle school.
I also concerned myself with trees. Travel between the villages of India is done mostly on foot, or was in my day, and for the weary travelers shade trees at the crossroads and other locations provided a welcome haven from the hot sun. And from ancient days it has been considered a virtue for people to plant shade trees on the paths of travel in the country.
While waiting for my passport I became very much impressed by a middle-aged man who used to spend all his time gathering tiny seedlings and planting them along the various roads outside the village. This man's only son had left home a few years before and he had never heard from him, and in his loneliness he sought comfort in planting trees. I used to see him carrying water on his shoulders several miles in order to nurture his growing seedlings.
Since I was young and strong and possessed of the urge to do some good, I began to follow his example. I was able to plant a number of trees in places some distance from the village. Like the old man I used to enjoy carrying water to my seedlings to get them started. I learned later that some of those trees were kept growing because my mother nurtured them after I had left for America.
Almost all Indian villages in those days suffered from the oppression of the moneylenders. Villagers finding themselves in financial difficulties would borrow money from the village moneylender. Oftentimes the interest was so high that the loan would continue from generation to generation. This was one of the most common and one of the heaviest burdens Indians at that time were forced to bear. In order to relieve the situation, the government of Punjab had begun to sponsor cooperative banks for the use of the villagers. One of my former college friends was in charge of this program in my part of the country. I consulted with him and agreed to bring several leading citizens from my village to a meeting at his headquarters in the city of Tarn Taran, ten miles away. The meeting was most successful and we returned home and I was able to help organize two cooperative banks in my village. When I went back to India in 1957 I was delighted to learn that both of those banks were still operating.
But while I busied myself with these activities my thoughts were still on America. I had made up my mind to leave, and my family had finally agreed. I told them it was my intention to learn food canning with the hope of starting a canning industry in India, with the emphasis on the canning of mangoes. So I assured my family that I would study in the United States for at least two and not more than three years, and would then return home.
II. I Come to America
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