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Gandhi's Passion

this kind of unscientific view of things is too readily

accepted by a large section
of our countrymen," Gurudev Tagore announced.10
Bihar's Dr. Rajendra Prasad, who had just been released
from prison,
worked round the clock to help save those most severely
burned and
wounded. Prasad's selfless quake relief work first brought
the name of India's
first president to national prominence. Though many urged
him to
rush to Bihar, Gandhi refused to cancel his Harijan tour. "I
am tied to Bihar
by sacred ties," Gandhi replied. "Perhaps I am serving her
best by remaining
at my post."11 He then repeated his belief that the
calamity was God's
"chastisement" for the "grave sin" of untouchability.
"Visitations like
droughts, floods, earthquakes and the like, though they
seem to have only
physical origins, are, for me, somehow connected with
man's morals."12
Pacifist Muriel Lester now came to India, and visited her
friend the
governor of Bengal, after meeting with Gandhi. She was
invited to dine
with the governor but failed to get him to commit resources
to Bihar. She
then went to see the viceroy. By late February, Gandhi
decided to alter his
Harijan tour itinerary so as to visit Bihar before going to
Bengal. Muriel
joined Gandhi on his tour of Bihar in mid-March 1934.

Agatha Harrison,
who was also a leader of London's Quakers, reached
Bombay two days
later, and journeyed directly to Bihar to tour with them.
Gandhi addressed
Bihar's Central Relief Committee in Patna, after visiting
several centers of
disaster. "Let us, in the face of this calamity, forget the
distinction between
Hindus and Mussalmans as well as between Indians and
Englishmen," he
told them. "We are going to work not as Congressmen but
as humanitarians
... in a humane task."13
Gandhi now found it more difficult to sleep as this tour
continued, rising
at one in the morning instead of three. "Please do not get
alarmed," he
wrote Brother Vallabh. A gang of angry, high-caste Hindu
thugs had just
recently attacked him as he was getting into his car, badly
denting the car
with stones. He narrowly escaped that assault, after which
he decided to
leave the temple town of Puri and its vehicular travel,
venturing off on a
walking tour of rural Orissa, alone with Mira and just a few
others. He enjoyed
this pilgrimage on foot, along village paths and tribal jungle
"We are camping in the open air on the outskirts of the
village. A hut-like
structure has been put up for me."14 He knew, of course,
that as soon as the
"rains set in" this method of touring would prove more
difficult, if not impossible.

He was ready then to "camp" in the hinterland, finding it
more congenial to his passionate, aging temperament
than the hustle and
bustle of urban life.
In mid-June, Gandhi and his followers all returned by train
to Bombay,
where Muriel and Agatha awaited him to say good-bye
before sailing
home. Mira then impulsively decided to join the other
English ladies.
Gandhi's first letter to his departed beloved began: "It was
a chilly parting.
[ 176 ]

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