INDIAN IMPRESSIONS

By YONÉ NOGUCHI

I HAPPENED to be in Nagpur towards the end of December last year, and to see there something of the Golden Jubilee of the Indian Congress," a quite exciting national affair, naturally not devoid of self-glorification. Accompanied by Justice Niyogi, I left Maharaj Bagh Garden where a reception and speeches were given, and then visited a Swadeshi exhibition a short distance away. The electric lights shone brightly over the booths heavily loaded with a hundred industrial products, clay toys from Lucknow and Madras, brass plates and rugs from Kashmir, and all sorts of homespun cotton cloths. The first thing I saw there was a large picture suspended high in the air by ropes, in which Gandhi, a smiling toiler at the spinning wheel, was seen clothing a lady, the central figure of the picture. The purpose of this pictorial advertisement, the Propagation of the domestic cotton industry, was emphasized, as I soon found when going round the exhibition, by five or Six Women who were demonstrating their spinning art on a small wooden machine.

The Indian hand spinning-wheel, Charkha as it is called, is a simple but precise machine, something like the one we used to see in our Japanese villages half a century ago. The cheapest Charkha, I am told, does not cost more than three rupees. I do not know when Gandhi began to propagate the use of this machine, but the amount of cotton cloth which village people of India produce by their own hands today, I understand, is as much as three hundred thousand yards. This subsidiary industry has already proved to be a vital factor in Indian village life and it is not too much to say that, if Gandhi's Charkha movement becomes more generalized throughout the country, the solution of the problem of subsistence, at least in part, through "self-support and self-sufficiency," will not be far distant. Doubtless, this homespun cotton cloth, a specimen of which I had seen in the dress of Pandit Malaviya of the University, Benares, has no refinement like that of the cloths which modern factories produce with scientific uniformity, but beauty is perceptible beneath its rustic homeliness. Considering the real conditions of the country, where development of the highly organized modem factories would bring ninety-nine people out of one hundred to starvation for one man's benefit, and where the vast plains, lean and waste, cannot easily be made productive, there is nothing more momentous for India today than the lesson of "self-support and self-sufficiency."

It is foolish to sell a product cheaply as raw material, only buying it back again at a high price when it assumes a different appearance. The history of the spinning-wheel in India, it is said, is as old as the Vedas. And the people have inherited a legacy of skill in handling it. The rigours of the climate drive them within doors during half the year. If they are busy turning the wheel there, their minds are troubled by neither religion differences nor hatred hatched from the caste system, and they can save themselves from evil thoughts that enslave them in idleness. Since they are not labourers depending on other, they are not in danger of being thrown out of employment. They can sell their production any time when it is more than they need for their homes. I agree with the believers in the Charkha, Gandhi's followers, who say that, apart from material considerations, the spiritual effect of the wheel is of the utmost significance because its buzzing sound causes people to forget life's ills.

Leaving Nagpur for Bombay, I stopped over at Walda, an insignificant country town but the spiritual centre of the Gandhi movement. I was glad to see Gandhi with a fitting background in his Ashram, a monastery or refuge, where, unlike the ardent ascetic, this modern prophet responds to every pulsation of hope or pain in his nation's life. In view of his illness, he was lying down in a tent pitched upon the flat roof of a two-storeyed concrete house, square in form with a yard in the centre. I found him with a saintly little smile revealing his broken teeth, stretching out his bare legs, as lean as a cricket's and as stiff as steel wire, which one of his disciples was shampooing. I found difficulty In connecting this seemingly simple and unaffected man with the heroic fasts that had made the mammoth soul of England Once tremble in fear. Noticing that he put on his head something wrapped in cotton cloth, I asked him what it was. He said that it was wet earth which, according to his doctor's advice, was good for a man like him whose blood pressure was high. Then with a smile in which cynicism and philosophy commingled, he exclaimed: "I sprang from Indian earth. So it is Indian earth that crowns me.

After a little talk, I bade him farewell and descended the stairs to meet three or four of his disciples, who were waiting to take me round the Ashram. Passing by a place containing beehives, I was taken into a shed to see a bull turning a stone mortar and making oil out of rape-seeds. Then I went to another place where  paper-making experiments were in progress. One of the disciples said: How simple it is to make paper!  If this paper-making becomes popular in our country as a subsidiary industry, we shall be able to keep a great deal of money at home." It need hardly be said that the spinning-wheel, the Charkha, holds an important position in the Ashram. A little flat wooden box was brought out, which revealed, when uncovered, a miniature wheel invented by Gandhi himself during his leisure moments in prison. The explainer said: "You can put it even into a hand-bag and carry it in the train to fill the vacant hours by turning it."

Then he said further: "Gandhi is remarkably scientific.  And his patience always brings his inventive mind to complete success.  Had he been a watch-maker, he would have the best watch in the world to his credit. As a surgeon or a lawyer, he would also fill the highest place. But describing himself as a farmer and a weaver by profession at his trial in 1922, he pledged himself to the sacredness of manual labour. Among the various kinds of such work he regards weaving most highly, because it gives one a habit of exactitude and a mental training in keeping strictly to the law of economy. Gandhi hates waste more than anything else. Believing that manual labour alone can give a new life to India, he makes the Charkha his own symbol, and calls the people to the holy banner of an independent life."  It is only incidental that his movement appears to be a rebellion against the British yoke, because, while seeking to save India from corruption, it would also save the other countries of the world through its great lesson of creative energy, the propagation of life close to the soil. The importance of service within one's immediate surroundings as against a groping after distant ideals is not limited to India only; the manliness of the "self-supporting and self-sufficing" Swadeshi spirit must be recognized through all time and throughout the whole world.

Gandhi cannot find any higher way of worshipping God than by serving the poor and identifying himself with them. When he goes on a railway journey, for instance, he always takes a third-class ticket reminding himself that he also belongs to the lower orders of mankind where humanity and love are found to be the richest. As one who has spent the best part of his life with working-class people and has shared joys and sorrows with them equally, Gandhi offers to his friends the spinning wheel as an inspiration of the "self-supporting and self-sufficing" life.

I left Gandhi's house when the sun was still high in the sky, but afternoon breezes already began to kiss one's cheeks. Like the other Indian towns, Walda was half buried in feathery sands and dust, which cows and sheep shared with loin-clothed men, saints or loafers. Passing through the streets, I was delighted with the glorious oranges which made a street-stall of rush-mats look so beautiful. At the station a large basket containing a hundred fruits from Gandhi's orchard had been sent with his compliments to await my arrival.  

Lying alone in my compartment of the train for Bombay, I could not put away from my mind for some time the image of Mahatma Gandhi. Once I had the pleasure of reading his little essay entitled "Voluntary Poverty," in which he expressed his joy at discarding the things that belonged to him before. He says: "One after another the things slipped away from me. And I can say a great burden fell off my shoulders, and I felt that I cou1d now walk with ease and do my work likewise in the service of my fellowmen with great comfort and still greater joy." For anybody in a country like India to live with anything more thin bare necessities, he believes, means living like a robber. Unless you be like one who sleeps outside with nothing on his body, you have no right to declare that you can save India and the Indians. I am told that even the cloth with which Gandhi covers his loins is reduced to the very minimum. He loves Daridranaryana, "God of the Poor," because, to use his own words, "he is the most sacred, inasmuch as he represents the untold millions of poor people as distinguished from the few rich people." It 'Is natural that Gandhi should advance from this eulogy of poverty into asceticism through which one's five senses are to be controlled as a method of self-purification. Therefore, the fasting with which he astonished and frightened the world some years ago was to him nothing extraordinary at all.

Through his periodical, Harijan, meaning "Untouchable", Gandhi is now striving with all his might for the emancipation of this unfortunate class; identifying himself with its interests, I understand, he adopted one of its people as his son. There is no greater barrier to India's unification than the caste system. unreasonable convention breaks down, the establishment of a strong nation with each person as a unit on an cannot be realized. I know of no other countre where love and mercy are talked about so eloquendy as in India. Yet, since the day of Buddha so many great Indians, saints and reformers, have left their talk on humanity in their books. It is appealing even to think what a great task lies before Gandhi and his followers. Gandhi sought to bring love into politics with his doctrine of "Non-violence," and in doing so he did not address himself alone to the British people. His spiritual power was so great that he forced the whole world to face the question of whether or not it was irrevocably lost to love. Yet, it. was true that he brought actual struggle nearer, While the heaven he created was only that of spiritual triumph. Now, leaving politics to others, he enters into a larger kingdom where he associates himself with eternity. He will feel safer, I am sure, like Browning's "Patriot," to be paid by God what the world owes him.

I visited Sarnath near Benares, one of Buddha's landmarks in India, where a handful of Buddhist priests, in keeping with the atmosphere of the lonely ruins, were lighting candles to the Holy Wheel of the Law." Between self-mortification and austerity on the one hand, and indulgence and pleasure-seeking on the other, Buddha found a "Middle path," the doctrine on which he based his "Eight tenets of Righteousness." Seeing how Indian minds swing from asceticism to worldliness, from one extreme to the other, Buddha's doctrines, I think, should be accepted even today as a living light. And the human suffering from disease and poverty, which caused Buddha to leave his. happy castle in a search for religious truth, exists today almost unchanged. I have no mind to ascribe Gandhi's initiation of his relief movement to the same spectacle, and I do not know why I should connect him with Buddha; but Gandhi and Buddha both agree in love and "Non-violence." And both of them sought light in prayer; to them prayer was never a refuge of cowardice, but the spiritual stronghold where the soul's perfection should be protected. In a little essay," Prayer," Gandhi says: "Prayer has not been a part of my life as truth has been. Prayer came out of sheer necessity. I found myself in a plight where I could not possibly be happy without prayer. The more my faith in God increased, the more irresistible became the yearning for prayer. life seemed to be dull and vacant without it." While Buddha preached of Nirvana, Gandhi surrendered to his immediate surroundings, attempting to solve the problem of human need through his spinning wheel. I surely believe that for Gandhi this simple machine buzzes as a prayer to God, as does the Buddhist prayer-wheel.

On one of a few occasions when, leaving poetry and art, I talked of politics and social reform, Yajineswara Chintamani, a journalist in Allahabad, assured me that politically India today is standing still. That was what I expected, since England seemed disposed to leave the Indians to indulge in their passion for perpetual talk. Besides, the sense of justice, no doubt a great moral asset among individuals, is hardly powerful enough to break the net-work of international politics. Coming to immediate questions, Chintamani dwelt on the farm-village life, saying that without knowledge of it one would be unqualified fully to understand India's agony. He said: "How appalling it is to see starving farmers only too glad to have the washed rice water from their rich neighbours!" Although I had no time to make a study of rural conditions, I was given several opportunities during my journey of five thousand miles in India to have glimpses of the poor village life. Covering their waists with a dirty rug, women were seen by a falling mud house, the inner darkness of which only revealed a little brass-made water Pot, beautifully polished. Whenever my thought goes back to such a sight I agree with Pandit Jawahalal Nehru that Indian Problems are more economic than political.

Although prepared by previous knowledge I was astounded at the landing whaff of Calcutta to become virtually a captive of beggars with lamentable appeals. And this gloomy experience has again repeated at the Kali Temple where I found difficulty in distinguishing real pilgrims from the begging crowds. Even Chawringi, a fashionable thoroughfare with the best European hotels and museums, was a favourite haunt of beggars and of others who will become beggars at any time. Those homeless people live and die on the public road. If any one kicks their sleeping heads on his way home from a late reception, he is punished by the law, I am told. This is probably an expression of kindness and an act of compensation on the part of the rulers who cannot provide these heads with either a roof or a pillow. Once, on my way to the Japanese Consulate-General near Dalhousie Square, I saw three official trucks overloaded with beggars looking like half-burned firewood or dirty lava. This ghostly spectacle of deformity and disease reminded me of Okyo's scroll of Hell with the damned spirits languishing in their pains. I have no exact knowledge of the number of people belonging to this class, although it must be amazingly large. I cannot help wondering what concern they have with ideas of uplifting their lives, and what benefit they have obtained from modern civilization. You cannot blame them if they are utterly indifferent to their country's problem of independence and freedom, when you think that they are not a creation of one age alone.

We know that two thousand years ago Asoka, a Buddhist emperor, as seen from his monolithic columns and rock edicts in existence today, was certainly an extremely devout and humane man. Admitting his mercy and almsgiving, I do not know what real service he did for elevating the masses of his time. There were many powerful Moharnmedan emperors who made their Mughal age distinguished. The grand mien of the Emperor Akbar is traced on the walls of the Agra Fort in granite or marble; the Emperor Shah Jahan built the greatest mausoleum I in the world, the Taj Mahal, in memory of his favourite queen, spending some two billion rupees. But we are not told that these emperors popularized the knowledge of letters or that the taught the masses a sense of honour. Road-building in India was left to the British rulers; and it was perfectly accomplished for they had a taste for such a crusade of cement and asphalt. But the low people were again forgotten and their conditions were not one whit improved on those of Buddha's time.

There is, on the other hand, another world, a home of culture and high-thinking, where libraries and fine senate houses cut a figure in Western fashion. As an invited lecturer, I found in this academic world hundreds of brilliant scholars and savants, most of them educated in England, rich in experience of travel. Among the universities I visited, the Hindu University, Benares, comes first to my mind because of the striking contrast of its modernism to the religious fanaticism thriving by the river Ganges as of old. Having inherited all the properties formerly belonging to the Government-General, the University of Delhi delighted me with a huge garden the flowers of which looked so glorious against the purple curtain of the sky. The Osmania University of Hyderabad stands on the billowing breast of a table-land, bare, rouge-coloured, where the Mohammedan professors and students, I thought, could command a splendid situation for evening prayer.

But what surprised me most were the audiences at my lectures, always large and attentive. They caused me to think of the diffusion of English in India and reminded me of the fact that the country has already spent two centuries as a dependency. The English-speaking classes these long years have created there are by no means small, but in comparison with the total population of the country, more than three hundred minions, they are as a drop in the ocean. When I was told that the circulation of such influential papers as the Statesman, Calcutta, or the Times of India, Bombay, is not larger than fifty thousand, I could not help thinking that the sphere of educated people is sadly confined. Whether or not these educated people, as some Indian critics say, are merely intellectual vagabonds, they have to carry the future of the country on their shoulders. But they should know that nothing can be done without taking thought for the masses, illiterate and dirty, living hardly at subsistence levels.

Even people of my humble class in India lead a materially handsorne life with motorcars and servants. They live in houses where, in conformity with climatic needs, the ceilings are high ~ the windows open on spacious gardens with tuff and flowers. Reception after reception was given in my honour, sometimes to my joy and often to my weariness. Being invited by a rich man to dinner, I found that his dining room was paved with marble and that the plates used were all made of silver. I had other surprise when I was told that the salary of a vice-chancellor of a university or a Justice of the Court was not less than forty thousand rupees a year. The contrast between such a salaried upper class and the lowest one composed of naked beggars and coolies makes me think again of the Indian pendulum which, skipping the middle, swings from one extreme to the other.

In interviews with newspapermen, I attributed Japan's rise to her present position as a nation to compulsory education, and incidentally pointed out that the circulation of some Japanese newspapers amounted to two millions. I am by no means an admirer of modern journalism, and sometimes agree with the ancient Chinese sage who said that learning was the father of sorrow; but when even the poorest rag-pickers in Japan are aware through the papers of the movement of the world, I cannot help being thankful for the general education that is diffused throughout our country. Therefore, I said to newspapermen in India: "Give your masses hunger for knowledge! Knowledge points to them the way to improve their lives. Popularization of education is the first and the last. It was painful to learn that ninety persons out of one hundred in India are illiterate. I saw in the third-class railway carriages painted figures of male or female by the side of compartment doors as an indication.

But considering that what the Indian masses immediately need is food rather than books, the possibility of compulsory education is far off. As long as the entanglements of the caste system remain, preventing individual choice in the matter of occupation, education, whatever it may be, cannot be anything but a superfluous burden. What use will be one's knowledge of letters when one's caste demands that one shall become a floor-sweeper?

I visited Waltair, where I lectured overlooking the beautiful Bay of Bengal, Sir Sarpevalli Radakrishnan, the Vice-Chancellor of the University, who presided at my lectures, deplored in the course of private conversation that religious disease in India was chronic. I thought then that he had in his mind the sad penances I observed on the banks of the Ganges and elsewhere. Before I went to India I was told that, because the Mohammedans kill cows, the Hindus, who regard this as a sacred animal, often fight with them to the death on the Mahommedan "Day of Sacrifice." No trouble of a serious nature between the two races came to my knowledge, except the news that with the report that an Indian representative in Africa, a Mohammedan, married a Hindu lady under the promise of conversion, a mass meeting of the Hindus was held in Calcutta as an opposing demonstration.

Mrs. Sarojini Naidu, a Hyderabad poetess and an old friend of mine, invited me to tea one day in Bombay to meet her young Indian friends. All of them, men and women, I found, were handsomely dressed, with the world's culture and taste at their finger-tips. Looking at me with a smile, Madam Naidu asked me:

How many different races are here, do you suppose? And counting on her fingers, she said: "Just seven!"

I forgot to ask her then how many different languages were used in India.

 

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