In January 1926, I announced the suspension of my touring programme for about one year. At least up to December 20 next, I said I would not stir out of the Ashram, certainly not out of Ahmedabad, except for imperative reasons of health or some unforeseen event.

The reasons were three:

1. To give my tired limbs as much rest as possible. (Dr Ansari had sent elaborate instructions forbidding even all mental toil.)

2. To enable me to give personal attention to the Ashram.

3. To enable me to put the affairs of the All-India Spinners’ Association, satisfactory as they are, on a sound business-like basis.

I suffered from a fever towards the end of January and early February. Quinine was administered, and some injections were also. I agreed to the latter just to save a great deal of discussion. The Ashram Trust Deed, declaring 2,75,000 rupees as the trust, was prepared by me and Maganlal. Describing ourselves as “both Vanias by caste, by profession weavers and cultivators,” we declared the aims of the Satyagraha Ashram as:

1. Antyaja uplift.

2. Cultivation of cotton and development of the crafts connected with it.

3. To train workers for activities necessary for the moral, economic, and political uplift of India.

4. To establish and run schools to impart education in letters and other training.

5. To undertake other activities for public welfare such as cow protection, improvement of the breed of cows, etc.

On February 13, Swami Shraddhanand came to the Ashram. He opened his heart out to me. He said: “I get many letters holding threats to my life. But they do not worry me.” My half-sister’s son Mathuradas had taken ill. Devadas went to Deolali to nurse his cousin to health, and Mahadev took charge of Young India duties. Mathuradas was unhappy at his continuing illness and at being the cause of trouble to Devadas and Mahadev. “Mahadev should bear the inconvenience on account of Devadas’s absence,” I wrote to Mathuradas, “and as for Devadas, he has nothing to lose if his stay there is prolonged. Only through service comes spiritual elevation.”

Mathuradas’s worries continued, and I reassured him again: “Devadas is prepared to stay there till you recover your health. He does not think this will in any way hamper his growth.” In April, on learning of Manilal’s wanting to marry Fatima Gool, I wrote to him: “You are a free man; so, I cannot force you to anything …. You may not [if you marry Fatima] be the right person [anymore] to run Indian Opinion.”

“I cannot,” I said, “ask for Ba’s permission. She will not give it….” I told him in the letter, “You cannot forget nor will society forget that you are my son.” I added, “Ramdas and Devadas also have arrived independently at the same conclusion as mine.” Devadas, who was taking care of Mathuradas, took ill himself. It was an attack of jaundice. When he returned to the Ashram, I could see he had gone very weak. One could not bear looking at him. I was never troubled about Devadas’s illness; I was troubled about his suppression of it till it had gone too far.

The World Conference of Students invited me to a conference in Finland. I thought about who might accompany me if I were to go. Writing to Jamnalal Bajaj on April 25, I said if I was to go to Europe, I must think of who is to accompany me. My initial intention was that Mahadev and Devadas should accompany me, but Devadas, meanwhile, was found to be in need of surgery for appendicitis. I was not at all worried, but there is always some risk in chloroform. There is always such risk in every operation.

I asked Jamnalalji to advise Devadas “not to be nervous if the pain continues; some patients feel it but only for a couple of days”. And I wrote to Devadas on the day of the operation, “By the time you get this letter, it will be more than 24 hours since the operation, and you will be chatting happily with friends….” And I told him I had once witnessed an operation which resulted in the patient’s death. But that was all due to the doctor’s complete incompetence. This happened in Johannesburg.

Devadas recommended to me that I read Thomas Hardy. I had not read a single book of Hardy’s, I told him. He was or is a good novelist – that’s all I knew about him. Manilal wanted to come on a visit to India. “When you come,” I wrote to him, “be armed with a notice to me ‘Marry me off in fifteen days’ time, I must take the next steamer!’”

Miss Katherine Mayo met me in the Ashram on March 17. She asked me: “Would not the young men [of India] be doing better service to the country if, instead of fighting for political advantage, they effaced themselves, went to the villages, and gave their lives to the people?” My answer was: “Surely. But that is a counsel of perfection. All the teaching we have received in universities has made us clerks or platform orators. Even today, I am told I must go to the council to tell the government the needs of the people and debate them on the floor of the house. No one says, ‘Go to the villages.’”

Hakim Ajmal Khan wrote to me towards the end of March, asking me to shift to a cooler place. I told him that the weather at the Ashram was delightfully cool and one needs to use blankets in the mornings. I cannot imagine a better climate anywhere else. I am walking well, at least an hour daily. I am eating well and speaking well. I am putting on weight at the rate of nearly one pound per week.

On October 10, 1926, I executed my Will. The text read: “I do not possess any property of my own. If, after my death, any article is found to be of my ownership, I bequeath the same to the trustees of the Satyagraha Ashram. I also bequeath to the aforesaid trustees all my rights in whatever books I have written, or I may write hereafter…. The income derived from the said books and articles or from copyrights thereof and the property found to be of my ownership is to be used for carrying out the objects of the Satyagraha Ashram according to their discretion….”

Over a period of nine months, from February 24, 1926, to November 27, 1926, during the morning prayers, I spoke on the Bhagavad Gita. Mahadev Desai and Punjabhai took them down in notes. I left the Ashram on December 3 for Wardha, where I had occasion to visit the untouchable quarters. The awakening that has come into being amongst them has made them dissatisfied with the progress of the campaign against the curse of untouchability.

On December 23, I reached Calcutta. Swami Shraddhanand was assassinated by one Abdul Rashid on this day in Delhi. Shraddhanandji had become seriously ill about a month earlier. Dr Ansari, as his physician, was giving him all the loving attention he was capable of giving. God had willed for him a martyr’s death, and so, though he was still on his sick bed, he died at the hands of an assassin. At the All-India Congress Committee’s session in Guwahati on December 26, a resolution was passed expressing its horror and indignation at the cowardly and treacherous murder.

Moving the resolution, I said Swamiji was a hero of heroes, the bravest of the brave. This is a thing which should not have happened in India – India, where both Hindus and Muslims are proud of their faiths. I have studied the Quran with the same reverent attention as I give the Gita, and I say that the Quran nowhere sanctions or enjoins such murders.

Shraddhanandji had been severely criticised in the Mussalman press for his Shuddhi Movement. I myself could not accept his standpoint. I do not accept it even now. But in my opinion, he had a complete defence of his own position from his own standpoint. He had told me that his shuddhi excluded any feeling of ill will towards the Mussalman, that it meant purification of the self and of the great community to which he belonged. I did not know who Abdul Rashid was, but I wished to plead for him.

The fault was ours. The newspaperman had become a walking plague, spreading the contagion of lies and calumnies. He exhausted the foul vocabulary of his dialect and injected his virus into the unsuspecting and often receptive minds of his readers. In Shraddhanandji’s death, secret and insidious propaganda had done its dark and horrible work, unchecked and unabashed. It was we, the educated and semi-educated, who were responsible for the hot fever which possessed Abdul Rashid. I did not even regard him as guilty of the Swami’s murder. Guilty, indeed, are all those who excited feelings of hatred against one another. I appealed to people who hold dear the memory of Swami Shraddhanandji to boycott papers which foment hatred and spread misrepresentation.

Excerpted with permission from I Am an Ordinary Man: India’s Struggle for Freedom (1914–1948), Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, edited by Gopalkrishna Gandhi, Aleph Book Company.