A Chapter from the Collected works of Mahatma Gandhi : "Charity by young girls."
VOL. 23: 6TH APRIL, 1921 – 21ST JULY, 1921 PP. 330-333
152. MADHURI AND PUSHPA
Madhuri and Pushpa are girls of six or seven. It was my greedy hunt for contributions to the Tilak Swaraj Fund that had taken me to the family.
While I sat surrounded by the men and women members of the family, all full of love for me, Madhuri came up, walking with slow, hesitant steps. I called her to me. Unfortunately, they had given me a chair, tables and chairs being the normal thing in the family. Seated in a chair, how could I take up Madhuri? So I drew her to me and put her head on my lap.
“I have cheated you.”
“Elders may cheat me, not kids. You cannot have cheated me.”
I replied with a smile, observing Madhuri’s features the while. “But I have really cheated you; I gave you only a rupee and a half”, she said with courage.
“Then, I must say, I have been really cheated. With so many ornaments on you, you gave me only a rupee and a half?” I said, and took Madhuri’s little hand in mine. Her bangle danced in my palm. I continued:
“You should then do expiation. Kids should be perfectly innocent. They never cheat anybody. To expiate means to wash off one’s sin, to cleanse oneself. You ought to do so now.” “How is it possible to be cleansed now? The fact remains that I have cheated you.”
“There is an easy way. You have realised that you ought to have given me your ornaments. That is what made you say you had cheated me. You should now give me all your ornaments and your sin will be washed off.”
Madhuri’s face, bright till now, fell somewhat. I saw this and resumed:
“What should kids have to do with ornaments? We appear handsome through our actions. Besides, ornaments may be lost. Better give them to help some good cause. And you seem to be a good girl! Your confess your error too. You should willingly give your ornaments. I shall utilize them to supply spinning-wheels to the homes of the poor, and to educate children like yourself. Other little girls like you have also given their ornaments.”
There were two little ruby pendants on Madhuri’s ears and on her wrists a pair of bangles with strips of gold and another pair of glass bangles. She whispered:
“Will it be all right if I give these glass bangles?” I wondered what reply I could give to this child. Shall I take her with me and adopt her as my daughter? But, then, I thought, I have so many daughters like her! And, for the present, I am but a miserly Bania, who knows only grabbing. So I said:
“I can get money even for your bangles. But I want all your ornaments. Surely, it should not be so very difficult to part with them! For one thing, your sin will be washed off and, for another, they will come in useful to me. Your ornaments will help us in winning swaraj. Won’t you give me all?”
“I shall not give my gold bangle at any rate. Will you accept these (pointing to her pendants)?”
Now that is something. How nice it would be, though, if you gave me these bangles as well?”
Madhuri felt somewhat unhappy. I kissed her and said, “All right, give me your pendants.”
She ran away, returning in a minute. While she was removing the pendants, I said: “But have you obtained mother’s permission?”
“Yes, she has given her permission.”
“She told me to give everything, but I don’t like to part with my bangles.”
Madhuri removed the pendants and dropped them into my hands. A tiny gold link had fallen on to the ground. She looked for it carefully, found it and handed it to me.
Do what I might, though, I could not overcome my greed. My eyes would not turn away from the bangles. I did not yet know the girl’s name, nor whose daughter she was. I now asked and learnt her name, recognized the worthy gentleman who was her father, and said:
“Really, Madhuri, what do you see in these bangles that you love them so much? What should an innocent girl like you do with ornaments? Won’t you give your bangles too?” Madhuri softened. With her own hands, she removed a bangle and put it into my hand. This was a victory for me, I thought. But the victory was on Madhuri’s side. That little girl had stolen my heart. I envied her parents. “May all parents have such children,” I prayed from my heart. My faith in the success of our struggle for swaraj grew stronger. I said to Madhuri:
“You have been so wonderful. I will not accept the other bangle even if you give it. But is it willingly that you have given me what you have? You can take them back, if you wish to.” As I said this, I held out the ornaments before her.
“I gave them quite willingly and do not want them back.”
The answer brought fresh blood to me.
I went into another room to see the female members of the family. Some other kids had been following the conversation between Madhuri and me.
Pushpa, a neighbour’s daughter, removed her bangle and put into my hand.
“Have you obtained your mother’s permission?” “Yes, Sir. It is with her permission that I give this bangle to you.”
“And do you know my terms for accepting all these articles? Little girls who give ornaments must not ask their parents to replace them before we have won swaraj. If they have some others, they may wear them; but, for some time, they must not ask for new ones to be made.”
“I have got another such bangle with me. I won’t ask for a new one. I have given my bangle to you quite willingly.” Madhuri was looking on. She was also discussing something with her mother. She removed the glass bangles and the remaining gold one, and put them both into my hand!
“I accept this glass bangle. But I told you I would not accept your gold bangle even if you offered it. Please, therefore, do not give it. As it is, you have given much.”
“So far as I am concerned, I have given it away to you. I do not want it at all. I have given it willingly. Kindly keep it.” Madhuri scored a victory over me. I broke my word and accepted the other bangle. With wrists and ears bare, Madhuri looked more handsome, to me at any rate. I hugged her to my heart. Overcome with joy, I offered thanks to God. Madhuri now addresses herself to a task. She set to work to see other girls’ wrists stripped bare. Her efforts met with indifferent success.
Will God, however, judge her from the outcome of her attempt? He has said, in truth “Do your work; leave the result entirely to Me.”
For her part, Madhuri did her “work”, not for show but for the satisfaction of the great atman inhabiting her little frame. After exhorting Madhuri and Pushpa to wear khadi and ply the spinning-wheel and after securing a promise from the ladies of the family in regard to both, I left, all admiration in my heart for Madhuri and Pushpa.
If we do not get swaraj this very year, even through the sacrifice of such innocent ones, how great must have been the burden of sin accumulated by us, the so-called elders!
May God ever send into the world children like Madhuri and Pushpa! Let us, men and women alike, salute the stainless atmans of such children and learn from them.
I have written down this conversation thirty hours after it took place. I have reproduced it as well as I remember it. Even the children’s words are given as they were actually spoken, without any embellishment. I noted all the time that they spoke faultlessly.