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Wednesday, 14th January, 1948

His life was thrown down as a gauntlet

Bapu was fasting and practically the whole nation was praying that the frail apostle (already not in the best of health) should be able very soon to achieve a favourable outcome from the harrowing ordeal he had imposed on himself through his latest publicly uttered protest-statement as a soldier of Non-violence. Across the length and breadth of the land, leaders and the common people were consumed with concern. Premier B. G. Kher of Bombay said, It is a terrible decision. S. K. Patil, president of the Bombay Provincial Congress Committee, said in an overwrought voice, This is very distressing news. The self-effacing Gandhian, Gulzarilal Nanda, commented, The only person who can say anything on the fast is Mahatmaji himself. Bapu himself, his life thrown down as a gauntlet, showed how one needed to work even in the midst of grave challenges and terrible crises: this formula he gave to a friend,Do things calmly, patiently and politely. Living up to his own counsel, he told the people in a statement, I would beg of all friends not to rush to Birla House, not to try to dissuade me, nor be anxious for me. I am in God''s hands. The people should turn the searchlight inwards, for this is essentially a testing time for all of us. Those who remain at their post of duty, and perform it diligently and well now more than so hitherto, will help me and the cause in every way. Taking deliberately measured steps towards the greatest sacrifice, in his calm, patient and polite manner, Gandhiji wrote to Sharda G. Chokhawala, who lay gravely ill, I should not like you to lose your peace of mind even when nearing death. He or she who has Sri Rama in the heart, even while lying on a sick-bed is, in fact, serving the people. Goodwill for others is itself a form of service. To a person with such devotion, life and death are both the same thing. I want you to cultivate such a state of mind. Blessings from Bapu.

Another letter went to a bereaved person, Kedarnath Sahni, who had lost his wife. In it the Mahatma said, There can be no cause for grief. Anyway the body is destined to perish some day or the other. Some now, some later.

By eleven on the morning of the 14th, Gandhiji had completed the first 24 hours of his fast. Dr. Jivraj Mehta and Dr. Sushila Nayyar were in constant attendance upon him. They said in a bulletin that Bapu had slept peacefully the previous night. He had been drinking hot water only, sipping it now and then. Of course, he had not made any change in his demanding routine of daily work. He had walked to the prayer meeting the previous evening, and spoken after prayer for the usual fifteen minutes. The only change on Wednesday morning was that he did not take the customary walk outside his room. The doctors urged In spite of this, we would urge that every day of his fasting without food increases both immediate and future danger to his life.

C. Rajagopalachari, Governor of West Bengal, who knew Bapu very closely, said in Calcutta, We have witnessed numerous cruelties and barbarities. When even enlightened men become callous, a person like Gandhiji feels that life itself is purposeless. One can understand why Gandhiji feels that in the present circumstances life is not worth living.

Taking a tack different from what many other concerned associates of the Mahatma did, Rajaji said, I have wrangled with him on many occasions before asking him not to fast. This time, let me confess, I am not inclined to wrangle.