|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
15th World Vegetarian Congress 1957
The Gandhis were Vaishnavas. My parents were particularly staunch Vaishanavas. ... Jainism was strong in Gujarat, and its influence was felt everywhere and on all occasions. The opposition to and the abhorrence of meat-eating that existed in Gujarat among the Jains and Vaishnavas were to be seen nowhere else in India or outside in such strength. These were the traditions in which I was born and bred.
A Friend Gives Me Meat
A wave of "Reform" was sweeping over Rajkot at the time when I first came across this friend... It began to grow on me that meat-eating was good, that it would make me string and daring and that, if the whole country took to meat-eating the English could be overcome... It was not a question of pleasing the palate. I did not know that it had a particularly good relish... We went in search of a lonely spot by the river and there I saw for the first time in my life - meat. There was a bler's bread also. I relished neither. The goat's meat was as tough as leather. I simply could not eat it. I was sick and had to leave off eating. I had a very bad night afterwards. A horrible nightmare haunted me. Every time I dropped to sleep it would seem as though a live goat were bleating inside me, and I would jump up full of remorse. But then I would remind myself that meat-eating was a duty and so become more cheerful. My friend was not a man to give up easily. He now began to cook various delicacies with meat, and dress them, neatly... This went on for about a year. But not more than half a dozen meat feasts were enjoyed in all... If my mother and father came to know of my having become a meat-eater, they would be deeply shocked. This knowledge was gnawing at my heart. Therefore I said to myself "Though it is essential to eat meat, and also essential to take up food 'reform' in the country, yet deceiving and lying to one's father and mother is worse than not eating meat. In their lifetime therefore, meat-eating must be out of the question. When they are no more and I have found my freedom, I will eat meat openly, but until that moment arrives I will abstain from it." This decision I communicated to my friend, and I have never since gone back to meat.
I Go Abroad
I was yet a stripling of eighteen without any experience
of the world ... I sailed at last Bombay.. An English passenger, taking
kindly to me, drew me into conversation... He laughed at my insistence
on abjuring meat, and said in a friendly way when we were in the Red
Sea, "It is all very well so far but you will have to revise your
decision in the Bay of Biscay. And it is so cold in England that one
cannot possibly live there without eating meat." I said, "Rest
assured it is a fib." Said he, "No one, to my knowledge, lives
there without being a meat-eater; you cannot live without it."
I replied "I think you for your kind advice, but I have solemnly
promised my mother not to touch meat, and therefore I cannot think of
taking it. If it be found impossible to get on without it, I would far
rather go back to India than eat meat in order to remain there."
Become a Vegetarian by Choice
I launched out in search of a vegetarian restaurant. The
landlady had told me that there were such places in the city. I would
trot 10 or 12 miles each day, go into the cheap restaurant and eat my
fill of bread, but would never be satisfied. During these wanderings
I once hit on a vegetarian restaurant in Farringdon street. The sight
of it filled me with the same joy that a child feels on getting a thing
after its own heart. Before I entered I noticed the books for sale exhibited
under a glass window near the door. I saw among them Salt's "Plea
for Vegetarianism." This I purchased for a shilling and went straight
to the dining-room. This was the first hearty meal since my arrival
in England. God had come to my aid. I read Salt's book from cover to
cover and was very much impressed by it. From the date of reading this
book, I may claim to have become a vegetarian by choice. I blessed the
day on which I had taken the vow before my mother, I had all along abstained
from meat in the interests of truth and of the vow I had taken, but
had wished at the same time that every Indian should be a meat-eater,
and had looked forward to being one myself freely and openly some day,
and to enlisting others in the cause. The choice was now made in favour
of vegetarianism, the spread of which henceforward was to be my mission.
I Read Book After Book
My faith in vegetarianism grew on me from day to day, Salt's book whetted my appetite for dietetic studies. I went in for all books available on vegetarianism and read them. One of these Howard Williams' "The Ethics of Diet ", was a biographical history of the literature of humane dietetics from the earliest period to the present day. ". . .Dr. Anna Kingsford's "The Perfect Way in Diet" was also an attractive book. Dr. Allinson's writings on health and hygiene were likewise very helpful. He advocated a curative system based on regulation of the dietary of the patients. Himself a vegetarian, he prescribed for his patients also a strictly vegetarian diet. The result of reading all this literature was that dietetic experiments came to take an important place in my life. Health was the principle consideration of these experiments to begin with. But later on Religion became the supreme motive.
Meanwhile my friend had not ceased to worry about me... When he came to know that I had begin to interest myself in books on vegetarianism, he was afraid lest these studies should muddle my head, that I should fritter my life away in experiments forgetting my own work, and become a crank. He therefore made one last effort to reform me. He one day invited me to go to the theatre. Before the play we were to dine together at the Holborn Restaurant, to me a palatial place and the first big restaurant I had been to since leaving the Victoria Hotel... The friend had planned to take me to this restaurant evidently imagining that modesty would forbid any questions. And it was a very big company of diners in the midst of which my friend and I sat sharing a table between us. The first course was soup. I wondered what it might be made of, but durst not ask the friend about it. I therefore summoned the waiter. My friend saw the movement and sternly asked across the table what was the matter. With considerable hesitation I told him that I wanted to enquire if the soup was a vegetable soup. "You are too clumsy for decent society," he passionately exclaimed," If you cannot behave yourself, you had better go. Feed in some other restaurant and await me outside." This delighted me,. Out I went. There was a vegetarian restaurant close by, but it was closed. So I went without food for that night. I accompanied my friend to the theatre, but he never said a word about the scene I had created. On my part there was nothing to say.
There was a Vegetarian Society in England with a weekly journal of its own[The London Vegetarian Society and its paper "The Vegetarian" - R.W.] I subscribed to the weekly, joined the society and very shortly found myself on the Executive Committee. Here I came in contact with those who were regarded as pillars of vegetarianism, and began my own experiments in dietetics. I stopped taking the sweets and condiments... I gave up tea and coffee as a rule and substituted cocoa... I gave up eggs and the experiment alike... This was a hardship inasmuch as inquiry showed that even in vegetarian restaurants many courses contain eggs. Full of the neophyte's zeal for vegetarianism, I decided to start a vegetarian club in my locality, Bayswater. I invited Sir Edwin Arnold, who lived there, to be Vice-President. Dr. Oldfield who was Editor of "The Vegetarian" became President. I myself became the Secretary. The club went well for a while, but came to an end in the course of a few months, for I left the locality.
On the eve of my departure for home, I invited my vegetarian friends to dinner in the Holborn Restaurant referred to in these chapters. "A vegetarian dinner could be had" I said to myself, "in vegetarian restaurants as a matter of course. But why should it not be possible in a non-vegetarian restaurant too?" And I arranged with the manager for the Holborn Restaurant to provide a strictly vegetarian meal. The vegetarians hailed the new experiment with delight.