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Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948)

From The Vegetarian (London), April 16, 1892:


IT Was on the 12th June, 1891, that I left for Bombay after three years' stay in England. A beautiful day it was the sun shone brilliantly no overcoat was needed to keep off the cold breezes.

It was at is 11.45 that an express train carrying the passengers left the Liverpool-street Station for the docks.

I could not make myself believe that I was going to India until I stepped into the steamship Oceana, of the P. and O. Company. So much attached was I to London and its environments ; for who would not be? London with its teaching institutions, public galleries, museums, theatres, vast commerce, public parks and vegetarian restaurants is a fit place for a student and traveller, a trader, and a "faddist " - as a Vegetetarian would be called by his opponents.Thus, it was lot without deep regret that I left dear London. At the same time I was glad because I was to see my friends and relations in India after such a long time.

Oceana is an Australian steamer, one of the largest boats of the company. She weighs 6,188 tons and her horsepower is 1,200, When we stepped into this vast floating island, we were treated to a good refreshing tea, to which all (passengers and friends alike) did justice. I must not omit to say that the tea was served gratis. At this time a stranger would have taken them all for passengers (and they were a goodly number), from the ease with which they were taking their tea ; but when the bell rang to inform the friends of the passengers that the ship was going to weigh anchor, the number appreciably melted away. 'I'here was much cheering and waving of handkerchiefs when the ship steamed off the harbour.

It may be well here to contrast the Oceana with the Assam into which the Bombay bound passengers had to tranship at Aden. 'I'here were English waiters on the Oceana, always neat, clean, and obliging. Out the other hand, there were Portuguese waiters on board the Assam, who murdered the Queen's English, and who were always the reverse of clean, and also sulky and slow.

There was, moreover, a difference of quality in the food supplied in the two steamers. This was evident from the way in which the passengers were grumbling in the Assam. Nor was this all. The accommodation in the Oceana far outdid that in the Assam ; this, however, the company could not help ; they could not throw away the latter because the former was better.

How did the Vegetarians manage in the ship? would be an apt question.

Well, there were only two Vegetarians, including myself. Both of us were prepared in case we did not get anything better, to manage with boiled potatoes, cabbage and butter. But we had no reason to go to that extreme. The obliging steward gave us some vegetable currie, rice, stewed and fresh fruit from the first saloon, and last, but not, least, brown bread ; so we had all we wanted. Undoubtedly they are very liberal in giving good and sufficient food to the passengers. Only they go too far ; so at least it seems to me.

It would not be amiss to describe what the second saloon menus contained, and how many meals the passengers had.

To begin with, the first thing in the morning, an average passenger would have a cup or two of tea and a few biscuits. At 8.30 a.m. , the breakfast bell would bring down the passengers to the dining-room. They were punctual to the minute in their meals, at any rate. The breakfast menu generally contained oatmeal porridge some fish, chop, currie, jam, bread and butter, tea or coffee, etc., everything ad libitum.

I have often seen passengers take porridge, fish, curry, and wash down with bread and butter and two or three cups of tea.

Hardly had we time to digest the breakfast, when, bang - it was the dinner-bell at 1.30 p.m. The dinner was as good as the breakfast: plenty of mutton and vegetables, rice and currie, pastry, and what not. Two days of the week all the second saloon passengers were served with fruit and nuts in addition to the ordinary dinner. But this, too, was not sufficient, the dinner fare was so easily digestible that we wanted a
"refreshing" cup of tea and buiscuits at 4 p.m. Well, but the evening breezes seemed so soon to take away all the effects of "that little " cup of tea that we were served a high tea at 6.30 p.m. : bread and butter, jam or marmalade, or both, salad, chops, tea, coffee, etc. The sea-air seemed to be so very salubrious that the passengers could not retire to bed before taking a few, a very few (only eight or ten, fifteen at the most) biscuits, a little cheese, and some wine or beer. In the light of the above are not the following lines but too true

"Vour belly is your God, your stomach is your temple. your paunch isyour altar, the cook is your priest. . . .the seasonings and sauces are your chrisms. . . It is in the cooking pots that your love is inflamed, it is in the kitchen that your faith grows fervid, it is in the flesh dishes that all your hope lies hid . . . who is held in so much esteem with you as the frequent giver of dinners, as thes sumptous entertainer, as the practised toaster of healths?"

The second saloon was pretty full of passengers of all sorts. There were soldiers, clergymen, barbers, sailors, students, officials, and, maybe, adventurers. There were three or four ladies. We beguiled our time chiefly in eating and drinking. The rest of the time was either dozed away or passed in chatting at times in discussing, in playing games etc. But after two or three days the time between the meals seemed to hang heavy in spite of discussions and cards and scandals.

Some of us really warmed to the work and got up concerts, tugs-of-war, and running races fur prizes. One evening was devoted to concerts and speeches.

Now I thought it was time for me to poke my nose in. I requested the secretary of the committee who managed those things, to give me a quarter-of-an-hour for a short speech on Vegetarianism. The secretary obligingly nodded consent to my request.

Well, I made grand preparations. I thought out and then wrote out and re-wrote the speech that was to be delivered. I well knew that I had to meet a hostile audience, and that I should take care that my speech did not send my audience to sleep. The secretary had asked me to be humorous. I told him that I might be nervous, but humourous I could not be.

Now, what do you think became of the speech ? The second concert never came off, and so the speech was never delivered, to my great mortification. I fancy it was because no one seemed to enjoy the first evening, for we had no Pattis and Gladstones in the second saloon.

However, I succeeded in discussing Vegetarianism with two or three passeroers, who heard me calmly. and answered in effect,

"We grant your argument ; but so long as we feel happy on our present diet (never mind about our beinf dyspeptic at times), we cannot give it a trial!"

One of them seeing that my Vegetarian friend and I got nice fruits every day did give the V.E.M. diet a trial, but the chop was too great a temptation for him.

Poor man!

(To be concluded)