He introduced me to Mahatma Gandhi and said, “Don’t think of him as just a boy. The whole day I have watched him, and I have discussed many things with him, because there was no other work. And he is the only one who has remained. Many had come but they left long ago. I respect him because I know he would have stayed here till the last day of existence. He would not leave until the train arrived. And if the train had not arrived, I don’t think he would ever have left. He would have lived here.”
Mahatma Gandhi was an old man; he called me close and looked at me. But rather than looking at me, he looked at my pocket – and that put me off him forever. And he said, “What is that?”
I said, “Three rupees.”
He said, “Donate them.” He used to have a box with a hole in it, by his side. When you donated, you put the rupees in the hole and they disappeared. Of course he had the key, so they would appear again, but for you they had disappeared.
I said, “If you have the courage, you can take them. The pocket is there, the rupees are there, but may I ask you for what purpose you are collecting these rupees?”
He said, “For poor people.”
I said, “Then it is perfectly okay.” And I myself dropped those three rupees into his box. But he was the one to be surprised, for when I started leaving, I took the whole box with me.
He said, “For God’s sake, what are you doing? That is for the poor!”
I said, “I have heard you already, you need not bother repeating it again. I am taking this box for the poor. There are many in my village. Please give me the key, otherwise I will have to find a thief so that he can open the lock. He is the only expert in that art.”
He said, “This is strange….” He looked at his secretary. The secretary was dumb, as secretaries always are, otherwise why should they be secretaries? He looked at Kasturba, his wife, who said, “You have met your equal. You cheat everybody, now he is taking your whole box. Good! It is good, because I am tired of seeing that box always there, just like a wife.”
I felt sorry for that man and left the box, saying, “No, you are the poorest man, it seems. Your secretary does not have any intelligence, nor does your wife seem to have any love for you. I cannot take this box away – you keep it. But remember, I had come to see a mahatma, but I saw only a businessman.”
That was his caste. In India, baniya, “businessman,” is exactly what you mean by a Jew. India has its own Jews. They are not Jews, they are baniyas. To me, at that age, Mahatma Gandhi appeared to be only a businessman. I have spoken against him thousands of times because I don’t agree with anything in his philosophy of life. But the day he was shot dead – I was seventeen – my father caught me weeping.
He said, “You, and weeping for Mahatma Gandhi? You have always been arguing against him.” My whole family was Gandhian, they had all gone to jail for following his politics. I was the only black sheep, and they were, of course, all pure white. Naturally he asked, “Why are you weeping?”