Pursuit of Truth & Pumpkins

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Mahatma Gandhi taking his last meal before the start of his fast - 1939
By Arun Gandhi

Pursuit of Truth
Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that most people during Grandfather Gandhi’s lifetime and after tend to follow his philosophy of nonviolence dogmatically and/or literally. To broaden people’s perspective he began to describe his philosophy as Satyagraha, or a Pursuit of Truth, instead of nonviolence. He believed life must be a constant and sincere pursuit of Truth. In simple terms, we must always strive to become better by being truthful to ourselves and the world.

Two simple episodes made me aware of how much Truth meant to Grandfather. The first was when my parents, my younger sister Ela, who was five- years-old then, and I at eleven, arrived at Sevagram Ashram, Grandfather’s service village.

Too Many Pumpkins
Life in the ashram was very simple and so was the food. But no one expected simplicity to mean eating boiled, unseasoned (not even salt), pumpkin for lunch and dinner every day. For health and work reasons Grandfather ate his special diet in his room. No one, not even my parents, had the nerve to ask Grandfather why we had to eat such a bland diet day and night. However, Ela, my five-year-old sister, could not be contained. She walked into Grandfather’s room on the third day and said, “Grandfather, I think you should change the name of this ashram and call it Kolagram instead of Sevagram.”

Grandfather looked up in surprise and asked, “Why do you say that, child?”

“Ever since we arrived we have been eating nothing but Kola (pumpkin),” she explained.

“Is that so?” Grandfather responded with genuine surprise. “If what you say is true then you are right, I must change the name of this place.”

That evening after prayers he called the administrator of the ashram, Muna Lal, and said, “I have heard this complaint from my granddaughter. What is your explanation?”

Muna Lal explained, “You said we should eat only what we grow on our farm.”

“Are you saying that our farm can produce nothing but pumpkins?” Grandfather inquired.

“No,” Muna Lal replied meekly, “But we planted only pumpkins and got a bumper crop.”

“So, you either find a way out of this dilemma or I will have to change the name of this ashram,” Grandfather said.

Eggs for Breakfast
The second episode happened several months later in the city of Poona (now Pune pronounced Poonay). Grandfather and several others from the ashram were there for nature cure treatment for various ailments. I had a daily regimen because grandfather believed that time is too precious to be wasted. One day after my regimen of early morning prayers and exercises, I was resting in the garden waiting for breakfast. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, snuck up from behind, put his arms around my shoulders and asked, “Have you had breakfast?”

“No,” I said.

“Would you like to join me?” he asked.

“Of course,” I said enthusiastically. Who wouldn’t want to have breakfast with such a great leader? We walked into the dining room and when someone came to take our order Nehru asked me “What will you eat?”

“Whatever you eat,” I said not knowing what that would be.

“I don’t think you can eat what I eat,” he said.

Nehru was aware, I am certain, that the Gandhi family, for several generations, were strict vegetarians and did not even eat eggs.

“Why not?” I asked surprised. “If you can eat it why can’t I?”

“Well, I am going to eat eggs and I don’t think your grandfather will want you to eat eggs,” he explained.

“If he allows you to eat eggs why would he not allow me?” I asked innocently.

“I am not going to argue with you. You had better go and ask your grandfather and if he says,yes you may eat eggs.'”

I ran to Grandfather’s room. He was in serious discussions with another political leader. I blurted out, “Grandfather, can I eat eggs?”

I can still see the look of utter surprise on his face, “Do your parent allow you to eat eggs,” he asked.

Without thinking I blurted out, “Yes.”

“All right then. You may eat eggs,” he said and resumed his discussions. That day I had my first omelette and did not like it at all.

Several weeks later when Grandfather met my parents he asked, “Do you allow the children to eat eggs?”

Of course, they said, “No.”

So they sent someone to bring me to Grandfather’s room. I was told I was in serious trouble and for the life of me I did not know why. When I walked into the room my parent’s were sitting on one side against the wall with their heads bowed. Grandfather was on his floor mat spinning his wheel. He beckoned to me to come and sit next to him.

“Remember that day in Pune you asked me if you could eat eggs and said your parents did allow you to eat eggs?” Grandfather asked, “I asked your parents and they said they have never given you eggs to eat. So who is right and what am I to believe?”

Again, without batting an eye, I said, “Grandfather we are allowed to eat cakes and I believe they contain eggs.”

He burst into laughter and said, “Young man, you will be a good lawyer.”

Grandfather valued truth and the truth did set me free!