Upon the Farm oranges, apricots and plums grew in such abundance that during the season the Satyagrahis could have their fill of the fruit and yet have a surplus.
The spring was about 500 yards away from our quarters and the water had to be fetched on carrying poles.
Here we insisted that we should not have any servants either for the household work or as far as might be even for the farming and building operations. Everything therefore from cooking to scavenging was done with our own hands. As regards accommodation for families, we resolved from the first that the men and women should be housed separately. The houses therefore were to be built in two separately. The houses therefore were to be built in two separate blocks, each at some distance from the other. For the time it was considered sufficient to provide accommodation for ten women and sixty men.Then again we had to erect a house for Mr. Kallenbach and by its side a school house, as well as a workshop for carpentry, show making, etc.
The settlers hailed from Gujarat, Tamilnad, Andhradesh and North India, and there were Hindus, Musalmans, Parsis and Christians among them. About forty of them were young men, two or three old men, five women and twenty to thirty children of whom four or five were girls.
The Christian and other women were meat-eaters. Mr. Kallenbach and I thought it desirable to exclude meat from the firm. But how could we ask people, who had no scruples in the matter, who had been habituated to taking meat since childhood and who were coming over here in their days of adversity, to give up meat even temporarily? But if they were given meat, would not that swell our cost of living? Again should those who were accustomed to take beef be given that too? How many separate kitchens must be run in that case? What was my duty on this point? Having been instrumental in giving monetary help to these families, I had already given my support to meat-eaters as well as beef-eating. If I made a rule that meat-eaters should not be helped, I would have to prosecute the Satyagraha struggle through vegetarians only, which was absurd as the movement had been organized on behalf of all classes of Indians. I did not take long clearly to visualize my duty in these circumstances. If the Christians and Musalmans asked even for beef, that too must be provided for them. To refuse them admission to the Farm was absolutely of the question.
But where love is, there God is also. The Musalman friends had already granted me permission to have a purely vegetarian kitchen. I had now to approach Christian sisters whose husbands or sons were in jail. I had often come in such intimate contact with the Christian friends who were now in jail and who had on similar occasions consented to having a vegetarian dietary.But this was the first time that I had to deal at close quarters with their families in their absence. I represented to the sisters the difficulty of housing accommodation as well as of finance and my own deep rooted sentiment in the matter. At the same time I assured them that even beef would be provided for them if they wanted it. The sisters kindly consented not to have meat, and cooking department was placed in their charge. I with or without another man was detailed to assist them. My presence acted as a check upon petty bickering. The food was to be the simplest possible. The time as well as the number of meals was fixed. There was to be one single Kitchen, and all were to dine in a single row. Everyone was to see to the cleaning of his own dish and other things. The common pots were to be cleaned by different parties in turn. I must state that Satyagrahis lived on Tolstoy Farm for a long time, but neither the women nor the men ever asked for meat. Drink, smoking, etc. were of course totally prohibited.
As I have already stated, we wanted to be self-reliant as far as possible even in erecting buildings. Our architect was Mr. Kallenbach of course, and he got hold of a European mason. A Gujarati carpenter, Narayandas Damania, volunteered his services free of charge and brought other carpenters to work at reduced rates. As regards unskilled labour, the settlers worked with their own hands. Some of us who had supple limbs literally worked wonders. A fine Satyagrahi of the name of Vihari did half of the carpenter’s work. The lion-like Thambi Naidoo was in charge of sanitation and marketing for which he had to go to Johannesburg.
One of the settlers was Pragji Khandubhai Desai who had never been accustomed to discomfort all his life, but who had here to put up with bitter cold, a hot sun and sharp rains. In the beginning we lived in tents for about two months while the buildings were under construction. The structures were all of corrugated iron and therefore did not take long to raise. The timber too could be had ready-made in all sizes required. All we had to do was to cut it to measure. There were not many doors or windows to be prepared. Hence it was that quite a number of buildings could be erected within such a short space of time. But all this labour was a heavy tax on Pragji’s physical constitution. The work on the Farm was certainly harder than in jail. One day Pragji actually fainted thanks to fatigue and heat. But he was not the man to give in. He fully trained up his body here, and in the end he stood abreast as a good worker with the best of us.
Then there was Joseph Royeppen a barrister free from a barrister’s pride. He could not undertake very hard work. It was difficult for him to take down loads from the railway train and to haul them on the cart, but he did it as best he could.
The weak became strong on Tolstoy Farm and labour proved to be a tonic for all.
Everyone had to go to Johannesburg on some errand or other. Children liked to go there just for the fun of it. I also had to go there on business. We therefore made a rule that we could go there by rail only on the public business of our little commonwealth, and then too travel third class. Anyone who wanted to go on a pleasure trip must go on foot, and carry home-made provisions with him. No one might spend anything on his food in the city. Had it not been for these drastic rules, the money saved by living in a rural locality would have been wasted in railway fares and city picnics. The provisions carried were of the simplest: home-baked bread made from coarse wheat flour ground at home, from which the bran was not removed, groundnut butter also prepared at home, and home-made marmalade. We had purchased an iron hand-mill for grinding wheat. Groundnut butter was made by roasting and then grinding groundnuts, and was four times cheaper than ordinary butter. As for the oranges, we had plenty of them on the Farm. We scarcely used cow’s milk on the Farm and generally managed with condensed milk.
But to return to the trips. Anyone who wished to go to Johannesburg went there on foot once or twice a week and returned the same day. As I have already stated, it was a journey of 21 miles and back. We savedhundreds of rupees by this one rule of going on foot, and those who thus went walking were much benefited. Some newly acquired the habit of walking. The general practice was that the sojourner should rise at two o’clock and start at half past two. He would reach Johannesburg in six to seven hours. The record for the minimum time taken on the journey was 4 hours 18 minutes.
The reader must not imagine that this discipline operated upon the settlers at all as a hardship. On the other hand it was accepted cheerfully. It would have been impossible to have a single settler if force had been employed. The youngsters thoroughly enjoyed the work on the Farm and the errands to the city. It was difficult to prevent them from playing their planks while engaged in work. No more work was given to them than what they willingly and cheerfully rendered, and I never found that the work thus done was unsatisfactory either in quantity or in quality.
A paragraph may be devoted to our sanitary arrangements. In spite of the large number of settlers, one could not find refuse of dirt anywhere on the Firm. All rubbish was buried in trenches sunk for the purpose. No water was permitted to be thrown on the roads. All waste water wascollected in buckets and used to water the trees. Leavings of food and vegetable refuse were utilized as manure. A square pit one foot and a half deep was sunk near the house to receive the night soil, which was fully covered with the excavated earth and which therefore did not give out any smell. There were no files, and no one would imagine that night soil had been buried there. We were thus not only spared a nuisance but the source of possible nuisance was converted into invaluable manure for the Farm. If night soil was properly utilized, we would get manure worth lakhs of rupees and also secure immunity from a number of diseases. By our bad habits we spoil our scared river banks and furnish excellent breeding grounds for flies with the result that the very flies which through our criminal negligence settle upon uncovered night soil defile our bodies after we have bathed. A small spade is the means of salvation from a great nuisance. Leaving night soil, cleaning the nose or spitting on the road is as in against God as well as humanity, and betrays, and betrays a sad want of consideration for others. The man who does not cover his waste deserves a heavy penalty even if he lives in a forest.
The work before us was to make the Farm a busy hive of industry, thus to save money and in the end to make the families self-supporting. If we achieved this goal, we could battle with the Transvaal Government for an indefinite period. We had to spend some money on shoes. The use of shoes in a hot climate is harmful, as all the perspiration is absorbed by the feet which thus grow tender. No socks were needed in the Transvaal as in India, but we thought that the feel must be protected against thorns, stones and the like. We therefore determined to learn to make sandals. There is at Marian hill near Pine town a monastery of German catholic monks called the Trappists, where industries of this nature are carried on Mr. Kallenbach went there and acquired the art of making sandals. After he returned, he taught it to me and I in my turn to other workers. Thus several young men learnt how to manufacture sandals, and we commenced selling them to friends. I need scarcely say that many of my pupils easily surpassed me in the art. Another handicraft introduced was that of carpentry. Having founded a sort of village we needed all manner of things large and small from benches to boxes, and we made them all ourselves. The selfless carpenters already referred to helped us for several months. Mr. Kallenbach was the head of the carpentry department, and as such every moment gave us the evidence of his mastery and exactitude.
A school was indispensable for the youngsters and the children. This was the most difficult of our tasks and we never achieved complete success in this matter till the very last. The burden of teaching work was largely borne by Mr. Kallenbach and myself. The school could be held only in the afternoon, when both of us were thoroughly exhausted by our morning labour, and so were our pupils. The teachers therefore would often be dozing as well as the taught. We would sprinkle water on the eyes, and by playing with the children try to pull them up and to pull up ourselves, but sometimes in vain. The body peremptorily demanded rest and would not take a denial. But this was only one and the least of our many difficulties. For the classes were conducted in spite of these dozing. What were we to teach pupils who spoke three languages, Gujarati, Tamil or Telugu, and how? I was anxious to make these languages the medium of instruction. I knew a little Tamil but no Telugu. What could one teacher do in these circumstances? I tried to use some of the young men as teachers, but the experiment was not altogether a success. Pragji’s services were of course requisitioned. Some of the youngsters were very mischievous and lazy and were always on bad terms with their books. A teacher could not expect to make much headway with such pupils. Again we could not be regular in our teaching. Business sometimes took Mr. Kallenbach as well as me to Johannesburg.
Religious teaching presented another tough problem. I would like Musalmans to read the Koran, and Parsis the Avesta. There were one Khoja child, whose father had laid upon me the responsibility of teaching him a small pothi of that sect. I collected books bearing on Islam and Zoroastriansim. I wrote out the fundamental doctrines of Hinduism according to my lights, I forget now whether it was for my own children or for the Tolstoy Farmers. If this document was now in my possession, I should have inserted it here as a landmark in my spiritual progress. But I have thrown away or burnt many such things in my life. I destroyed such papers as I felt it was not necessary to preserve them or as the scope of my activities was extended. I am not sorry for this, as to have preserved all of them would have compelled to keep cabinets and boxes, which would have been an eyesore to one who has taken the vow of poverty.
But this teaching experiment was not fruitless. The children were saved from the infection of intolerance, and learnt to view one another’s religions and customs with a large-hearted charity. They learnt how to live together with blood-brothers. They imbibed the lessons of mutual service, courtesy and industry. And from what little I know about the late activities of some of the education which they received there has not been in vain. Even if imperfect, it was thoughtful and religious experiment, and among the sweetest reminiscences’ of Tolstoy Farm, the reminiscences of this teaching experiment are no less sweet than the rest.
But another chapter must be devoted to these reminiscences.