On my relief from war duty, I felt that my work was no longer in South Africa but India. Not that there was nothing to be done in South Africa, but I was afraid that my main business might become merely money-making.
Friends at home were also pressing me to return, and I felt that I should be of more service in India. And for the work in South Africa, there were, of course, Messrs Khan and Mansukhlal Nazar. So I requested my coworkers to relieve me.
After very great difficulty my request was conditionally accepted, the condition being that I should be ready to go back to South Africa if, within a year, the community should need me.
I thought it was a difficult condition but the love that bound me to the community made me accept it. ‘The Lord has bound me with the cotton thread of love, I am His bondslave,’ sang Mirabai.
And for me, too, the cotton thread of love that bound me to the community was too strong to break. The voice of the people is the voice of God, and hear the voice of friends was too real to be rejected. I accepted the condition and got their permission to go.
At this time I was intimately connected only with Natal. The Natal Indians bathed me with the nectar of love. Farewell meetings were arranged at every place, and costly gifts were presented to me.
Gifts had been bestowed on me before when I returned to India in 1899, but this time the farewell was overwhelming. The gifts of course included things in gold and silver, but there were articles of the costly diamond as well.
What right had I to accept all these gifts? Accepting them, how could I persuade myself that I was serving the community without remuneration?
All the gifts, except a few from my clients, were purely for my service to the community, and I could make no difference between my clients and co-workers; for the clients also helped me in my public work.
One of the gifts was a gold necklace worth fifty guineas, meant for my wife. But even that gift was given because of my public work, and so it could not be separated from the rest.
The evening I was presented with the bulk of these things I had a sleepless night. I walked up and down my room deeply agitated but could find no solution.
It was difficult for me to forego gifts worth hundreds, it was more difficult to keep them.
And even if I could keep them, what about my children? What about my wife? They were being trained to a life of service and to an understanding that service was its reward.
I had no costly ornaments in the house. We had been fast simplifying our life.
How then could we afford to have gold watches? How could we afford to wear gold chains and diamond rings? Even then I was exhorting people to conquer the infatuation for jewellery.
What was I now to do with the jewellery that had come upon me? I decided that I could not keep these things.
I drafted a letter, creating a trust of them in favour of the community and appointing Parsi Rustomji and other trustees. In the morning I consulted with my wife and children and finally got rid of the heavy incubus.
I knew that I should have some difficulty in persuading my wife, and I was sure that I should have none so far as the children were concerned.
So I decided to constitute them, my attorneys. The children readily agreed to my proposal. ‘We do not need these costly presents, we must return them to the community, and should we ever need them, we could easily purchase them,’ they said. I was delighted.’ Then you will plead with mother, won’t you?
‘ I asked them. ‘Certainly,’ said they. ‘That is our business. She did not need to wear the ornaments. She would want to keep them for us, and if we don’t want them, why should she not agree to part with them ?’ But it was easier said than done. ‘You may not need them,’ said my wife. ‘
Your children may not need them. Cajoled they will dance to your tune. I can understand you’re not permitting me to wear them. But what about my daughters-in-law? They will be sure to need them. And who knows what will happen tomorrow?
I would be the last person to part with gifts so lovingly given.’ And thus the torrent of argument went on, reinforced, in the end, by tears.
But the children were adamant. And I was unmoved. I mildly put in: ‘The children have yet to get married. We do not want to see them married young. When they are grown up, they can take care of themselves.
And surely we shall not have, for our sons, brides who are fond of ornaments. And if after all, we need to provide them with ornaments, I am there.
You will ask me then.’ ‘Ask you? I know you by this time. You deprived me of my ornaments, you would not leave me in peace with them. Fancy you offering to get ornaments for the daughters-in-law!
You who are trying to make sadhus of my boys from today! No, the ornaments will not be returned. And pray what right have you to my necklace? ‘
‘But,’ I rejoined,’ is the necklace given you for your service or my service ?’ ‘I agree. But service rendered by you is as good as rendered by me. I have toiled and moiled for you day and night. Is that no service? You forced all and sundry on me, making me weep bitter tears, and I slaved for them!
‘ These were pointed thrusts, and some of them went home. But I was determined to return the ornaments.
I somehow succeeded in extorting consent from her. The gifts received in 1896 and 1901 were all returned. A trust deed was prepared, and they were deposited with a bank, to be used for the service of the community, according to my wishes or those of the trustees.
Often, when I needed funds for public purposes and felt that I must draw upon the trust, I have been able to raise the requisite amount, leaving the trust money intact.
The fund is still there, being operated upon in times of need, and it has regularly accumulated.
I have never since regretted the step, and as the years have gone by, my wife has also seen its wisdom.
It has saved us from many temptations. I am definitely of opinion that a public worker should accept no costly gifts.