The ‘Expensive Poverty’ of MK Gandhi

gandhi's poverty was expensive

“Do you know how much it costs every day to keep you in poverty?” asked sarojini naidu. Little did she know that her joke would be taken seriously and used to cast doubts on Gandhi’s lifestyle!

Sarojini Naidu, a poetess and close friend of Mahatma Gandhi, was a feisty, outspoken woman who was totally unfazed by his growing rock-star status (by the standards of the 1930s) and a global celebrity. She berated Gandhi for his attempts to live in poverty, as a semi-recluse, in his ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati River, at that time on the outskirts of Ahmedabad.

“Do you know how much it costs every day to keep you in poverty?” Little did Sarojini Naidu know that her joke would be taken seriously and used to cast doubts on Gandhi’s lifestyle! Gandhi’s response is unknown, but it is clear he was not offended, because he knew the accusation was true.

MK Gandhi is famed for his preference for a third-class ticket for his journey. However, every train journey in a simple third-class railway carriage cost the state because of the adoring millions who flocked to see him. They had to schedule special trains and reserve a whole compartment for him because of the crowds.

Though, Gandhi was very much frugal in his day to day life but quite selective at the same time. Not to forget ‘the giant entourage’ that accompanied Gandhi during his travels, on which once Jinnah himself made a remark, ‘I spend less than Gandhi on his tours despite travelling first-class.’ It was very much true, Jinnah travelled in style from one metropolitan town to another for his political and professional engagements.

Gandhi was distressed about the way dairy cows were treated in India so he took a vow to never again drink the milk of cows. However, his health was not good and his wife Kasturba and his doctors urged him to break his vow because he needed some animal protein. Gandhi started having goat’s milk. However, it cost a lot of money and effort to meet his daily requirement of goat’s milk in different parts of the world where he travelled.

It was one Chander Bali and his uncle a practising doctor in London arranged goat milk for Gandhi in London from November to January 1931. Mr Bali said: “My uncle was settled in London and his main client as a doctor were gipsies who used to come to him for treatment as he did not charge any fees from them. When Gandhi toured London to attend the first Round Table Conference in 1930, the Indian community was in a dilemma as to how to arrange goat’s milk for him. The community decided to approach Dr Kripa Pal Bali to contact one of his gipsy patients who used to rear goats… My uncle asked a gypsy patient to arrange a litre of goat’s milk each day during Gandhi’s stay. This was how goat’s milk was arranged for Gandhi in London.”

Whatever the reasons are, amidst his modest life, Gandhi was known more for his ‘Expensive Poverty’ which proves while the Mahatma had the image of a scantily clad man who lived an extremely simple life, and it was only on the surface.

1. In Search of Gandhi: Essays and Reflections
2. Keeping an Old Man in Poverty
3. Liberty or death: India’s journey to independence and division
4. Goat milk for Gandhiji