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Thursday, 1st January, 1948

Laying stress on simplicity

Deep sincerity in the practice of simplicity Bapu emphasised tirelessly. He was totally against ostentation and what economists term ''conspicuous consumption''. Flaunting of wealth and position by the fortunate few was something unacceptable to him in a nation where millions lived and toiled in grinding poverty and destitution. Gandhiji met Subhadra Gupta and a group of workers striving in their own way to bring succour to the teeming crowds of refugees. In conversation with the lady workers, the Mahatma raised some important questions. He said, "How can the refugees have confidence in you and respect for you when you go among them as up-to-date eyes decked out in silks? And dressed so, you tell them to wear self-spun Khadi, and to do their own cleaning tasks! Only if there is simplicity, sincerity, and purity within and without, will your work flourish." In his blunt manner, he continued, After doing full justice to your overloaded breakfast tables in your spacious bungalows, you alight before the refugees from posh cars, dangling stylish vanity bags, while those you must servecannot afford even the luxury of a bath for want of fresh clothes to change into. Social service these days has become a means for getting on in the world. Many socialites have consequently taken to this profitable hobby. There are, of course, exceptions, but they are few and far between. I want all social workers, and women particularly, to set fine examples of self-help, simplicity, and the dignity of labour."

A group of English admirers brought along by Rajkumari Amrit Kaur met Bapu in Birla House. Talking with them, the Mahatma observed, "No human being or religious institution is perfect in our imperfect world. Religious institutions arise in answer to the challenge of the age and in the set of circumstances prevailing at that time. Stoning prophets and erecting churches to their memory afterwards has been the way of the world through the ages! In the past, they could at least plead in mitigation that they did not know what they were doing. Now we can offer no such defence. And, as the Confucian saying goes, To know what is right, and not to do it, is cowardice." In theory, a perfect religion is possible, but mankind has not known any so far."

In his speech after evening prayers on Tuesday, Gandhiji referred to the problems plaguing India-Pakistan relations and said, "I know if we have a change of heart here in India, there will be a change of heart in Pakistan too. It will take some effort, no doubt, but there will be a change. After all, madness seized us only after it had seized the people of Pakistan. If sanity does not return, we shall lose both Pakistan and India. There will be a war and the present State cannot last." But even as the Mahatma wanted India and Pakistan mutually to come to amicable terms, New Delhi had moved the United Nations over Kashmir!

The first day of the New Year, 1948, saw Bapu pursuing his habits of old with greater vigour than before. One of the first letters he wrote before dawn was to his foreigner friend Karl Struve, living in Wenterf bei Reinbek. The Mahatma explained his sorrow over the mistake he had made in thinking that India''s freedom movement had truly been inspired by heart-felt non-violence. He wrote, "Whatever I have said does not refer in any way to a failure of Ahimsa. I refer rather to my own failure to recognise, until it was too late, that what I had mistaken for Ahimsa was not really that, but passive resistance of the weak, which can never be called non-violence in the remotest sense. The internecine feud going on today in India is the direct outcome of the energy that was set free during the 30 years'' action of the weak. Hence, the proper way to view the present outburst of violence throughout the world is to recognise that the technique of unconquerable non-violence by the strong has not been discovered yet. Not an ounce of non-violent strength is ever wasted. I must not, therefore, flatter myself with the belief, nor allow friends like you to entertain the view that I have exhibited any heroic and demonstrable non-violence as yet. All that I can claim is that I am sailing in that direction without a moment''s stoppage. This confession should strengthen your faith in non-violence, and spur you and friends like you to further action along that path.