The jester in my camp of four

Soon after Harijan began publishing, an exchange of letters between the Right Honourable V S Srinivasa Sastri and Gandhi makes an appearance in the issue dated February 25, 1933. Gandhi has written to Sastri, a close friend but also a sharp critic, for a message for the new journal. Sastri, a ‘grammar Nazi’ writes back pointing out lapses of grammar in the first issue of the journal. He is making fun of the Mahatma for living in a world “racked by thoughts of sin and penance, confessions and truth-quests, satyagrahas and moral self-flagellations” and for the “grimness and suffocation” that surrounds him. “You badly need a privileged jester in your establishment,” he writes. Sastri’s letter is marked private but Gandhi urges Sastri to let him publish it. Excerpts from Gandhi’s answer to Sastri’s letter:

I wanted to share this letter with the public, because such a letter would help any publicist and his cause and that in an unexpected manner, more so when written without any thought of publication.

I want also to use the publication of the letter for easing the tension between Sanatanists and reformers. Let them learn that closest friendships can subsist between persons of contrary temperaments. As the public knows, Sastri and I have opposite views on many important questions. Our mutual regard and affection have never suffered on that account. There is no reason whatsoever why the same rule cannot be extended to parties and groups representing opposite schools of opinion.

The Sanatanists are out to defend religion as they believe it. I take their claim at its face value and deal with it as such. Why need they impute to me political motives when I solemnly assert that for me, too, the question of untouchability is a matter purely of religion? Would that the affection subsisting between Sastri and me prove so deep and extensive as to reach and affect the whole society!

But enough of this. I almost hear Sastri’s spirit whispering to me: ‘You are misusing the medicine prescribed to wean you from your disease of grimness and the like.’ Therefore, let me hasten to tell him and the public that I have in my little camp of four a specially privileged jester in Sardar Vallabhai Patel. He succeeds in bending me almost double every day with laughter over his unexpected sallies. Gloom hides her fiendish face in his presence. No disappointment, however great, can make him gloomy for long. And he will not let me be serious for two consecutive minutes. He will not spare even my ‘saintliness’! It may deceive simple people but never the Sardar or the Sanatanists. Both tear down the mask and compel me to see myself as they delight to see me.

To be just to the Sanatanists, let me admit that Vallabhbhai does not see me quite as the Sanatanists do. But that is beside the point. The thing that Sastri wants in our little family is there cent per cent. Next time he enters the Assembly or some such place, he must vote special thanks to the Government, for putting Vallabhbhai with me or me with him.

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