Every organization has a unique culture and any act to bring about a sustainable change needs to be sensitive to the existing culture. Gandhi, in 1915, either didn’t understand this yet or he hadn’t fully internalized it. Gandhi had a four day visit to Shantiniketan in February 1915 a month after his arrival in
In 1904, Gandhi had established an Ashram in
The phoenix family had been assigned a separate quarters at Shantiniketan. Maganlal Gandhi, Gandhi’s close associate in Phoenix Farm, was their head, and he had made it his business to see that all the rules of the Phoenix Ashram should be scrupulously observed. Among Gandhi’s friends Andrews and Pearson were also present.
Soon after his arrival Gandhi mixed with the teachers and students and engaged them in a discussion on self-help. He suggested to the teachers that, if they and the boys dispensed with the services of paid cooks and cooked their food themselves, it would enable the teachers to control the kitchen from the point of view of the boys’ physical and moral health. Also it would give lessons on self-help to the students. Some nodded their head tentatively, some appeared more enthusiastic. Gandhi invited Rabindranath to give his opinion. He said he didn’t mind it provided the teachers were favorable. To the boys, he said, “The experiment contains the key to Swaraj”.
Thus started an experiment involving the entire community of 125 boys and their teachers. Boys were running the kitchen, handling the garbage, cleaning the latrine, sweeping the ground and as Gandhi’s biographer Louis Fischer puts it, “forsaking the muse for the monk”. Pearson was looking after the cooking part and Nagenbabu was looking after the sanitary cleaning. It was difficult for the students. Some began to show early fatigue. Cleaning of vessels was especially tedious. A group of students played sitar next to the kitchen so as to make the task feel less cumbersome.
Gandhi had to leave Shantiniketan abruptly to attend Gokhale’s funeral. And the experiment was stopped after some time. As Gandhi notes in his autobiography, “I am of the opinion that the famous institution lost nothing by having conducted the experiment for a brief interval, and some of the experiences gained could not but be of help to the teachers.”
Gandhi and Tagore were united by their love for
An autobiography, M. K. Gandhi (part V, chapter IV, Shantiniketan)
The life of Mahatma Gandhi, Louis Fischer, HarperCollinsPhoto: mkgandhi.org (Gandhi in 1915)