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Inhabiting India £5 the various organisations that invited him displays the curiosity about the man who led the Indians in South Africa. Gandhiji visited hostels for Dalit students, women’s organisations, the Muslim League, the Hindu Sabha, the Servants of India Society, institutions promoting ayurveda, the Cosmopolitan Club, the YMCA, and various ‘gurukulas, madrasas and orphanages. The persons he met included leaders of political parties, government officers, educationists, social reformers, literary figures (especially from Gujarat), many rulers of Saurashtra, scientists like Jaykrishna Indraji, industrialists, Mahatma Munshiram, Maharshi Karve and many other younger public workers. This gives us an indication of the efforts he made to establish connections with the common people and leaders of India as soon as he returned to the country. Perhaps the most significant event for Gandhiji was the founding of Kochrab Ashram. Gandhiji established the ashram in a bungalow of barrister Jivanlal Vrajlal Desai, then situated outside the city of Ahmedabad, on the western bank of Sabarmati and performed the vastu ceremony of the ashram on 20 May; to perform the ritual he wore a cap as well. On 22 May, Gandhiji began living at the ashram.The ashram was formally founded on the 25 May. Many consider 20 May to be the day on which the Kochrab Ashram was founded. Many places had been suggested to Gandhiji as a site where he could establish the ashram. Swami Shraddhanandji had wanted him to settle in Hardvar. Some of his Calcutta friends had suggested Vaidyanathdham in Bihar as a possible place. Others had urged him to choose Rajkot. On the choice of Ahmedabad, Gandhiji says: “When I happened to pass through Ahmedabad, many friends pressed me to settle down there, and they volunteered to find the expenses for the Ashram as well as a house for us to live in. Thad a predilection for Ahmedabad. Being a Gujarati I thought I should be able to render greatest service to the country through the Gujarati language. And then, as Ahmedabad was an ancient centre for handloom weaving, it was likely to be the most favourable field for the revival of the cottage industry of hand-spinning. There was also the hope that, the city being the capital of Gujarat, monetary help from its wealthy citizens would be more available there than elsewhere:? It appears that practical considerations were key to Gandhiji’s choice of Ahmedabad as a place to establish the ashram. He was convinced that he would best serve the country through the Gujarati language. At the time the ashram was established, Gandhiji wrote better English than Gujarati. Despite this he chose Gujarat because of the Gujarati language. His insistence on education through the mother 7. Gandhi, M.K., An Autobiography, p. 329. 16 My Life is My Message/I tongue was a result of a deeply felt conviction. His conviction was in accordance with the theories of education. Since his South African years, Gandhiji had preferred to write in Gujarati. He chose to write the book which was the key to his philosophy in Gujarati. He rendered the book in English later when the need arose. The wealth of the Gujarati mercantile community was another reason for choosing Gujarat over the other provinces. With his experiences in South Africa, Gandhiji was aware that monetary help was crucial for the service that he wished to render. He had received a promise that friends in Ahmedabad would find funds for the expenses of the ashram. Moreover, he was certain that it would be easier for him to raise resources for his work in Gujarat. Sabarmati had other advantages as well. Of the places suggested to him two were ancient centres of Hindu pilgrimage in India. Hardvar is one of the four principles sites of the Kumbha. Many sadhus and ascetics had their ashrams on the banks of the Ganga. Vaidyanathdham is one of the twelve centres of the Jyotirlinga. Every year scores of pilgrims went there carrying the waters of the Ganga for worship. Both these places were infested with pandas and purohits. Religion was important in Gandhiji’s ashrams. But his view of religion cut across boundaries of sectarian considerations; it sought to go beyond rigid conservatism and disrespect for other forms of belief and worship. His idea of religion was also not conditioned by notions of ritual purity and impurity and social hierarchies. In his ashrams, the openness of the modern mind was based on a foundation of ancient culture, His ashrams espoused work but not rituals; there was quest for truth but not the arrogance of knowledge; there was worship and devotion, but the devotion was to humanity, His ashrams in South Africa had heralded a new tradition, created new paths. His ashram in India was being established to create new traditions appropriate to the needs of the first half of the twentieth century. Two years later, when the ashram was shifted from Kochrab to Sabarmati, there was iu bat ristcr’s bungalow there, waiting to be occupied by the ashramites. The ashramites lived in tents, cleared the thorny vegetation, brought sand from the riverbed and built simple dwellings with their own labour. The sadhak-aspirants from different religions and different languages came there to seek initiation into a life of service through labour, simplicity and self-denial. The ashram stood on the battleground of swaraj. It was flanked on one side by the crematorium; on the opposite bank stood the jail. The ashramites, Gandhiji used to say, would learn to be free of fear of both death and imprisonment. Gandhiji’s struggle for freedom was not confined merely to political transformation; the economic and social dimensions of freedom were equally important to him. The first crucial test of their resolve was in the social sphere, Even before the ashram was established at Kochrab, Gandhiji had made his intentions clear to a friend, saying, “If an untouchable family is desirous of joining the Ashram they Inhabiting India 17 would certainly stay with me” The Vaishnav friend had disregarded this by saying, “Where ’ is the untouchable who would observe the rules of the Ashram and satisfy your conditions?” In a few days the ashtam was put to test. Thakkarbapa was a member of the Servants of India Society founded by Gokhaleji. He was one of the first visitors to the Kochrab Ashram. His heart felt deeply for the poor, the suffering, the oppressed and the neglected. Gokhaleji wished for Gandhiji to join the Servants of India Society, but he never compelled him. After Gokhaleji’s death, Gandhiji saw at a meeting of the Society that despite immense personal regard for him many members were not convinced of his satyagraha methods. In the absence of unanimity of opinion, Gandhiji chose not to join the Society. However, in his heart he always nurtured good feelings for it. Thakkarbapa was a Gujarati; the poor, the wretched, the oppressed and the neglected had a special place in his heart. He was of the same age as Gandhiji, and the two formed an affectionate relationship. He sent Gandhiji a letter: “A humble and honest untouchable family is desirous of joining your ashram. Will you accept them?” Gandhiji himself was unprepared for this. He had not expected that an untouchable family would agree to live in his ashram so soon. He showed Thakkarbapa’s letter to his companions. Some of them welcomed the idea. Gandhiji wrote to Thakkarbapa expressing their willingness to accept the family, provided they agreed to abide by the rules of the ashram. This created a flutter among his inner circle. South Africa was a distant land. Untouchability was not strictly observed in that foreign land. It never came in the way in the ashrams, the satyagrahi marches or the jails. In India, untouchability was a part of the Hindu society and its ancient traditions and samskar. The first difficulty was with regard to the use of the well. Dudabhai, his wife Daniben and their daughter Lakshmi agreed to abide by the rules. Dudabhai was a teacher in Bombay. The ashramites accepted them.The well from which the ashramites drew water was shared with the owner of the bungalow. That became the source of contention. The water-lifter at the well insisted that drops of water from the buckets of the ashramites would :pollute him. He started harassing and swearing at Dudabhai. Gandhiji told everyone to disregard the abuses and to continue to draw water. The water-lifter became ashamed when he realised that along with Dudabhai, Gandhiji and the others were also receiving his abuses without retort. But this was a minor problem. The turmoil in the city was severe. The Vaishnav businessmen of Ahmedabad stopped monetary help to the ashram. Rumours of social boycott of the ashram and the ashramites reached Gandhiji. He told his associates, “If we are boycotted and denied the usual facilities, we would not leave Ahmedabad. We would rather go and stay in the untouchables’ quarters and live on whatever we could get