I can see the train. Gandhi was traveling, and of course he traveled third class. But his “third class” was far better than any first class possible. In a sixty man compartment there was just him and his secretary and his wife. I think these three were the only people. The whole compartment was reserved. And it was not even an ordinary first-class compartment, because I have never seen such a compartment again. It must have been a first-class compartment, and not only first class, but a special first class. Just the name plate had been changed and it became “third class” so Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy was saved.
I was just ten. My mother – again I mean my grandmother – had given me three rupees. She said, “The station is too far and you may not be back in time for lunch, and one never knows with these trains: it may come ten hours, twelve hours late, so please keep these three rupees.” In India in those days, three rupees was almost a treasure. One could live comfortably for three months on them.
She had made a really beautiful robe for me. She knew I did not like long pants; at the most I wore pyjama pants and a kurta. A kurta is a long robe which I have always loved, and slowly slowly, the pyjama has disappeared, only the robe remains. Otherwise one has not only divided the upper body and the lower body, but even made different clothes for each. Of course the higher body should have something better, and the lower body is just to be covered, that’s all.
She had made a beautiful kurta for me. It was summer and in those parts of central India summer is really difficult because the hot air going into the nostrils feels as if it’s on fire. In fact, only in the middle of the night can people find a little rest. It is so hot in central India that you are continuously asking for some cold water, and if some ice is available then it is just paradise. Ice is the costliest thing in those parts. Naturally, because by the time it comes from the factory, a hundred miles away, it is almost gone. It has to be rushed as quickly as possible.
My Nani said I should go to see Mahatma Gandhi if I wanted to and she prepared a very thin muslin robe. Muslin is the most artistic and the most ancient fabric too, as far as clothes are concerned. She found the best muslin. It was so thin that it was almost transparent. At that time gold rupees had disappeared and silver rupees had taken their place. Those silver rupees were too heavy for the poor muslin pocket. Why am I saying it? – because something I’m going to say would not be possible to understand without it.
The train came as usual, thirteen hours late. Almost everybody was gone except me. You know me, I’m stubborn. Even the station master said, “Boy, you are something. Everybody has gone but you seem ready to stay the whole night. There is no sign of the train and you have been waiting since early this morning.”
To come to the station at four o’clock that morning I had to leave my house in the middle of the night. But I had not yet used those three rupees because everybody had brought so many things with them, and they were all so generous to a little boy who had come so far. They were offering me fruits, sweets, cakes, and everything. So there was no question of feeling hungry. When the train finally arrived, I was the only person there, and what a person! Just a ten year-old boy, standing by the side of the station master.