Interlude in England and a Christmas Gift
ON MARCH 5 was signed the Gandhi-Irwin Pact and on August 29 Gandhi sailed for London to attend the Second Round Table Conference as the delegate of the Congress. "There is every chance of my returning empty-handed", he said, as he embarked. He was right. But though he returned empty-handed, his visit was not without good results. He had by now become a legend and fantastic stories, some kind some malicious, had spread about him. It was good therefore for the British people to see for themselves how simple, kindly and irresistible was the charm of his personality, how universal his sympathies, how keen his humor and infectious his laughter.
In London, he declined to go to a hotel and stayed at Kingsley Hall, a social service centre in the East End, where he soon won the hearts of the young and old. His kindliness and his humour broke down the barriers of national and race prejudice. When asked why he chose to wear only a loin-cloth, he replied, "You people wear plus-fours, mine are minus-four." He went to Lancashire where his agitation against foreign cloth had caused unemployment. The workers cheered him and one of the unemployed said : "I am one of the unemployed, but if I was in India I would say the same thing that Mr. Gandhi is saying."
On his way back he visited Romain Rolland in Switzerland. It was at a meeting of the pacifists at Lausanne that he explained why rather than say, god is Truth, he would say, Truth is God.
The day he reached Bombay he said: "I am not conscious of a single experience throughout my three months stay in England and Europe that made me feel that after all East is East and West is West. On the contrary, I have been convinced more than ever that human nature is much the same, no matter under what clime it flourishes, and that if you approached people with trust and affection you would have ten-fold trust and thousand-fold affection returned to you."
But the immediate experience that awaited him hardly bore out this optimism. Even before he had reached India, the effect of the Gandhi-Irwin Pact had been destroyed by the repressive policy of the new Viceroy, Lord Willingdon. India was being ruled by Ordinances, and shooting and arrests had become the order of the day. Jawaharlal Nehru who was coming to Bombay to receive Gandhi was arrested on the way. "I take it", said Gandhi when he landed on December 28, 1931, "that these are Christmas gifts from Lord Willingdon, our Christian Viceroy." A week later Gandhi himself was arrested and locked up in Yervada Jail without trial.
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