My Childhood at Phoenix Settlement
I was born on 19th of October 1928 on my grandfather’s farm, which was fifteen miles away from the city, and in those days around us were plantations of sugar cane fields. Over 100 acres of land was called Phoenix Settlement. It was the most beautiful piece of land, untouched by the then racial laws. It was a hard life for my parents. There were no proper roads to go into the city. If it rained there was mud all over and the little bridges would be over-run by the water and it was impossible to go anywhere.
My father had told the midwife to come a few days before I was due to be born. But I decided to make my arrival before then. My father had always wanted to be a doctor, so he had read everything about child-birth and while the driver went to bring the midwife my father did everything for my mother and when the midwife came after two hours, I was born, cleaned and my father cut the cord and made my mother comfortable and everything was clean and tidy. Thus I came into my parent’s life. Their first born.
My father was Manilal, the second son of Mahatma Gandhi, whom he had left in charge of the Phoenix Settlement at the tender age of eighteen. This was the beginning of his and later our lonely life away from family. It was never lonely on the farm because there were the people who worked in the press for “Indian Opinion” founded by my Grandfather in 1903 and then there were the people who worked on the farm. All these people were our family. When my Grandfather left South Africa all the settlers also left to pursue a life of material gain. Most of the Indian printing presses in Durban began from Phoenix. My father was the only one left to run the Settlement as my Grandfather has wished it to be run as a non-money making place, to serve the Indian Community. My father did so and he lived and died a poor man. Had he chosen he could have been a rich farmer or a rich printing press owner, but he chose to live as his father wished.
My mother, Sushila was born on August 24 1907. Her parents were Mr and Mrs Nanabhai Mashruwala. They resided in the town of Akola in the province of Maharashtra. Her father was a wealthy land-owner and he also owned Kodak films and camera shop. She was the eldest of six brothers and sisters. Her paternal uncle, Kishorelal Mashruwala was a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi and he lived in the Sevagram Ashram. He was a well-known author of many books. Through him Sushila’s family became close to Gandhi.
In 1927 when she was 20 years old, my grandfather Mahatma Gandhi approached her father for her hand to marry his second son, Manilal who resided in Phoenix, Natal, South Africa. By this time the Mashruwala family had become fully involved in the freedom struggle and they had rejected foreign goods and only wore Khadi - a hand-woven cloth. Nanabhai was quite honoured by the proposal, but he pointed out that at the age of sixteen Sushila had become partially deaf owing to an overdose of quinine. Gandhi wrote to my father who was about 32 years old, but Manilal was agreeable to a choice made by his father. So the marriage was arranged with the strictest simplicity as this was Gandhi’s wish.
When I was a year old my parents decided to go to India so that both sides of my grandparents could see me. Here I have to tell you a story of both my grandfathers. As soon as they heard of my birth, my maternal grandfather [Nanabhai] who liked astronomy took out his books and calculated the time that I was born and saw that I was a Libra and according to the Hindus they have special alphabets for every star, so he wrote to my parents that I should be named Dhairyabala [maid of courage], as the letter D came under my star. So my father rushed to the registry office and got my birth certificate under the name of Dhairyabala. A week later my paternal grandfather [Gandhi] who did not believe in astronomy wrote that he wanted me to be named Sita. He felt that she was an ideal woman and those qualities would come to me so my father went back and registered me as Sita alias Dhairyabala!
When we got to India my Gandhi grandparents were very pleased to see me and my grandfather said that I looked just like my grandmother Kasturba. My grandfather was busy preparing for the salt march and my father was keen and happy to join him but my grandfather told my mother that she should stay with me at her parent’s home. My mother was very disappointed but we went to her maternal home. The salt march went on and the British took vibrant action and my father was beaten up and put into jail for a month. During that month I became very ill and at first they couldn’t diagnose my illness and then they found a swelling on my left ankle and they found that I had osteomyelitis and I was very small to be operated on and it was spreading very fast. My two maternal aunts [Ansuya and Manju Mashruwala] were doctors and everyone felt that my father should be released before I die. My grandfather pleaded with the British authorities to release him but they refused. My family was sure that I would not last another day, so my aunt’s colleague decided to operate on my leg and remove the infected part and so they went ahead and with all their prayers I survived and by the time my father was released I was recovering. Soon after this we returned to South Africa amidst very sad farewells on both sides of the family. In those days we travelled by ship and it took three weeks to get to South Africa -during that period I had completely recovered from my illness.
I remember my life on the Settlement when I was five. We had a beautiful garden surrounding the house and in the middle of it was a very tall coconut tree which was planted by my grandfather. A little way from the house was a grove of Mango trees and they bore every type of mangoes and these were also planted by my grandfather. I remember a tall Xmas tree, which was a little away from the house and one night during a heavy storm it was struck by lightning. There were a few little houses surrounding our house where the press and farm workers stayed with their families and my father had encouraged all to grow gardens. We had a beautiful white horse and often sat on him. We also had five or six cows and calves and dogs and cats. My father loved animals and so I grew up loving them too.
I was the only child till then and I felt like a little princess. When I turned six, my brother was born and he was named Arun. I was very thrilled with the new baby and loved helping my parents to take care of him. That year my father put me in the school in the city run by nuns. It was the best school in town and was known as St. Anthony’s School. At first my father sent me by car and then the driver would come back in the afternoon to fetch. After one year this proved to be too expensive, so my father rented a room with bath and kitchen in the city from a Natal Indian Congress colleague, Dr. [Monty] Naicker. My mother, brother and I stayed here during the week and we went home over the weekends. After a year this also proved to be expensive, so then I stayed with a close friend of the family, Rev. Sundrum and I was happy there as he had a daughter [Monica] who was my age and other elder children who went to the same school. Rev. Sundrum was the pastor of the St. Aidan’s Mission Church.
I spent a few happy years with them and then it was time for my brother to be enrolled in school. So we travelled by car again, but then the 2nd World War started and there was petrol rationing so Arun and I started taking the train. Many teachers and other children travelled by train. I remember so clearly when my father took us to the station he met a teacher Mr. Sham and he requested him to take care of us. Soon we became quite used to travelling by train, but it was a hard life. I had to get up at five and get myself and my brother ready and then we walked one mile through the sugar cane fields to the main road to catch the station bus as the nearest station, Duffs Road, was five miles away from our home. So we took the bus to take us to the station where we took the train at 7.00 am which brought us into the city at 7.30 am and then we had to walk another mile to school, just in time at 8.00 am. The nuns were very strict with latecomers so we had to see that whole process in the morning went off without a hitch. In the afternoon we walked again to the central station where we took the 3.30 pm train and we got off at the Duffs Road station. My father would pick us up and we were tired and ravenous when we came home. But there was just enough time to eat, go for evening prayers, do our homework and get everything ready for the morning and go to bed. This was our routine for the next five years.
As I write I overlooked an important incident in my life when I was about seven years. The British Government in India had decided to send High Commissioners to South Africa and they were quite a few and I vaguely remember them coming to Phoenix to spend a Sunday with our family. But the one that remained in my mind was Sir Kunwar Maharaj Singh. In those days we non-whites were not allowed in any hotels on the Marine Parade or go to any other part of the beach front except the section especially allowed for us. All the High Commissioners were put in a special suite at the Edward Hotel. Sir Maharaj Singh, his wife and daughter who was about my age stayed there and they could use all the facilities at the beach, but their little daughter was lonely. So one day I accompanied my father and while he and Sir Maharaj Singh were busy, his daughter Prem and I were taken to the paddling pool by her governess and we enjoyed ourselves with the games and boats and we were the only two non-white children amongst the whites only children – but we were oblivious to this and had fun and this became a regular outing for us for over a year and we became good friends and they spent many holidays at Phoenix. In Phoenix I didn’t feel any racial discrimination as we had Blacks, Whites, Indians and Coloureds coming regularly to the Settlement and everyone was natural.
I first experienced the discrimination when we started travelling to school on the train – there were separate compartments for us at the end of the train, that couldn’t make it to the platform and it was with great difficulty we climbed on and got off. Life at St. Anthony’s School was good. The nuns were very good and we had very good white teachers and the Father of the Roman Catholic Church was so good and kind to us. That image comes before my eyes and then and now he looked like Christ to me. At the end of the year, he took the whole school for an outing to Finland [Fynnland]. It was a lovely picnic spot and the beach where the water was very safe [sic]. I don’t even know if that spot exists any more. Those were very happy days at St. Anthony’s School.
I was in Std. IV when the war really came to North Africa and in our lives. My teacher looked very sad. One teacher’s husband had gone to war and another teacher’s three sons had joined up. The school was involved in the war effort. We knitted scarves and jerseys for the soldiers. We had regular air raid practices and were taught to go to the nearest air raid shelter. We had blackouts every night and regularly saw soldiers marching through our streets from all over the allied countries. This was the beginning of my confused childhood.
Some of our Jewish friends who were settlers on Phoenix Settlement and kept in close contact with us stopped coming to our home. My father forbade me to take any part in the war effort and the sweet and kind nuns were cold to me. I didn’t understand it all, I was only twelve years old and I know that many of my teachers lost their husbands or sons during that time and I heard how wicked the Germans and Japanese were and also how wicked my grandfather was! So I knitted while travelling by train to and from school and hid it all at home. All the Indians called for non-participation in the war until Russia joined in and then my father was the lone voice carrying my grandfather’s call for non-participation in the war. All the Congress people changed as soon as Russia joined the war. My father was alone and he couldn’t make me understand my grandfather’s view.
I was out of St. Anthony’s School after Std. VI and went to Indian Girls’ High School. In our first year in high school we were brought down to earth. We were with children –girls from other primary schools and we were not popular because of our good manners and behaviour! Sastri College was the High School for boys and there was Indian Girls’ High School for girls. I was confused when some of the teachers also ridiculed us, as spoilt brats from an elite school and our only crime was that we were neat, tidy and well-mannered and our English was very good. The nuns didn’t spoil us at all. We were well disciplined and I remember being caned for coming late and then asked for the reason why and it was usually because the train was late.
When I was twelve on the first day of our July holidays we woke up late and were told not to make a noise. My father took my brother and I to their bedroom and I saw my mother lying in bed and I got worried but then I saw the tiny baby next to her. What a surprise and what a happy holiday! I instantly became the baby’s little mother, kept an ear for a little cry and I would be beside her as you know that my mother was deaf. I used to sing to her and carry her and baby-sit her and my brother when my parents went out. At three, my sister Ela was attached to me. The war was still going on and I was more confused than ever because many Indians had joined up as well. Then one day I was told that my grandfather had disowned his eldest son. We were such a close family that it was hard for me to understand and my father was hurting inside.
During the time that I went to St. Anthony’s School and Girls’ High School, my day began at 5.00 am and when my brother and I were picked up at the station it was 4.30 pm and when we got home it was 5.00 pm and we were looking forward to a hot meal. My father had always carried out the evening prayer at 5.30 pm and we recited the same prayers as my grandfather’s prayer meetings. There were about five families living on the settlement and a couple of young men who worked in the press were from the city and they boarded with us. All of these people and specially the children attended the prayers. My father had taught us and them to recite the prayers of all religions and sing bhajans. After this we just had time to do homework and go to bed at around 8.30 pm
My father’s day began very early at 5.00 am. He used to go for a walk about five miles every morning and when he got back, he had breakfast and my mother and he did a bit of gardening around the house and then he went to the press and got involved in the printing of our weekly paper the “Indian Opinion”. We had four Indian men and one African who did the setting of types – my mother came to the press in the afternoon and taught two of the men compositing in Gujerati. Every thing was by hand as we had no electricity. When the proofs were made in a hand operated machine, my parents did the proof reading – my father did the English and my mother did the Gujerati.
We had a large machine to print which was operated by battery – but the feeding of the paper was done by hand and the pages that were hand set were blocked into the size of pages and as it got printed one person would receive the printed version at the other end and another would use a hand operated machine to cut into separate pages. The person who worked in the office wrote out the addresses on a folder.
The press worked all night on a Thursday. We all helped. Some put the paper together, others folded, one person put glue on the folder and some of the staff wrapped the paper in the folders and one person stamped them and then they were put in post bags sorted out for different areas. Friday morning the paper was taken by car to the main Post Office in Durban. On Fridays my parents went to the city and we stayed after school with some friends. My father would go to the Indian shops in Victoria Street and bought groceries and vegetables and fruit and my mother would visit friends who lived in the city in Victoria Street and Grey Street.
Invariably my father would collect some children to come and stay over the weekend. The press was closed until Monday and we had a lot of visitors on Sunday. The children always looked forward to coming with us on Friday night and my father made all of us do the cleaning and tidying up and on Sunday early morning he and we children would walk about three miles to the Inanda Falls. It was a beautiful picnic spot where there were little falls where we could bath and there was one big falls that fell below and joined a river. My father would find a spot and make us look for wood and we would make a makeshift stove and we would start the cooking – mainly rice and potato curry. Then our mothers and the other children’s fathers would come by car. We would have lunch, wash up the dishes and then after tea we would pack up and go home by car.
My father was a child with children and he would organize games for us. Sunday afternoons the visitors came and they looked around and saw the press where my mother had started a little book shop of Gujerati books from Navajivan18 in India and then it was prayer time after which the visitors all returned to Durban.
Phoenix Settlement was 100 acres of land – my father had let 50 acres surrounding Phoenix to the Natal Estate Sugar Association. It brought some money in and kept out squatters. The other 50 acres, some of it was used by the people who stayed there and the rest was used for vegetables for the market. We also had cows – they were milked twice a day and my mother had a machine to separate the milk and cream. It was also hand operated. The cream was made into butter and ghee [clarified butter] for us and the milk was sold every morning and evening cheaply to the people who lived nearby.
My parents both loved animals. We had dogs and cats and someone gave us love-birds. My father built a large cage around a tree and put them there. Someone gave my mother a monkey and he became another child in the family. He too had a cage around a tree but he was put in there when there were visitors. I still remember how he loved my mother and how he liked to clean our hair and he would slap us if we tried to move away. One day he stole my father’s glasses and my mother had to coax him out of the many trees, but he brought the glasses and gave it to my father.
Apart from no electricity there was no water. We used lamps and for water my father used a well that was there during my grandfather’s time. From this well pipes were laid and water was channelled to the press and our home and one or two pipes were outside where others could collect the water, but in our house we had running water in the kitchen and bathroom, but this was not suitable for drinking. So we collected rain water in the tanks by drains laid on the roof and the water went through a fine mesh into the tank. As I write all this, it makes me think how much my parents had to do to maintain Phoenix Settlement and produce a paper in the jungle with no mod-cons and how much we took it all for granted because they never complained. Later a close friend of my father [Babar Chavda] became a Trustee and he provided us with a motor that generated light to the press and house.
The well never dried up. Many nearby Africans drew water from the well. When my father died and a group of people took up the maintaining of Phoenix Settlement, the water dried up in the well and till today we hear about the lack of water or electricity. My father was a strict man and yet he was full of fun. But he had certain values and he lived by them. When I was a child I learnt that my father wouldn’t tolerate lies or laziness or slip-shod ways. His staff loved him, but wouldn’t dare do anything to make him angry. Mr. Alpha [Ngcobo] who was the senior amongst the press staff always warned the younger staff that they must be strict about time and they must be good at whatever they were doing and they would stay out of trouble.
I remember quite a few times when my father was angry. Whenever he went to the city he would bring sweets and chocolates for all the children who lived on the farm and were my playmates. He would tell us when he would distribute the sweets and I wouldn’t dare touch one before that, but the other children would help themselves and I got into trouble, because my father would ask me who touched the sweets and I was hesitant to carry tales, so I was punished – he would lock me up in a room until I admitted taking the sweets and when the other children heard of my punishment, they would come and confess to my father and then he would let me out.
My father always told me that I must be careful about who likes us. It may be because of our name. Because of this he never felt that he was good enough and I always became wary. He demanded that absolute truth is necessary. If he or anyone asked us where something was we were never to say “I don’t know”, but we were to say “I will find it”. These lessons have stuck to me even now. My children always say “don’t ask mummy where something is because she will start hunting for it”.
He also valued cleanliness and tidiness and we had to see that this was done – though we lived on a farm where there was sand and mud but our house was spotless. The floors were shining, even our coal stove was shining. We had huge brass lamps and every week they were shined with brasso. On Friday the press was left clean and tidy.
I remember my father in Khaki shirt and pants and sandals and my mother in khadi saries. When my father went into the city he would wear suits and in those days there were Indian tailors and they made the suits for my father and he was so well dressed – the suit would be pressed with matching tie and shirt and his shoes would be shined by himself. I don’t remember my father asking any of us to do these things for him. When he returned from the city he would put his clothes away neatly. I don’t remember my father asking one of us or the servants for a glass of water and he was a stickler for steaming hot tea and food and so we had a table just out of the kitchen so he had everything hot.
My father was a very well loved man and when he took his morning walks he would pass Mr [Rev.] Dube’s Ohlange Institute and pop in and have a chat with him. Then he would pass the Shembe Colony and the first Mr. Shembe was a very good friend and they were and still are a very religious sect and most of the farm workers came from this sect. They didn’t work on Saturdays and didn’t believe in medicines. Often my father got very upset when he could see that some of them or their children were very ill and needed medical care but he could not persuade them to see a doctor and he had to stand by helplessly and see them die.
After Shembe he would pass the Ramgobins who owned most of the land in Inanda and had buses and shops. My father got on well with the eldest brother Mr. Ramdhari, who was a simple man. He was happy with a small piece of land and one shop. He let his brother run the big estate. Mr. Ramdhari’s sons [Dhookie and Hiralal] loved my father and were always ready to help us when we needed help.
In the city my father had many good friends – the Rustomjees Mr Omar Jhaveri, and Mr. & Mrs. Christopher and the Godfreys and the Metha family. One of my father’s nephew and my grandfather’s brother’s family, Mr. S.A. Gandhi came to us when I was about seven. For a while he worked in the press and after a year he sent for his wife. But he came to make a better life, so he left Phoenix and moved to the city and started business and he is still around today – at 85 he is a self made man. He has achieved his dream of being a rich man.
The Rustomjees lived in style and I remember as a child we would go to his house the “Mayville Castle” and he would have lavish parties and we children would be taken care of by nannies. I seem to remember the Duke of Windsor coming to South Africa when I was very small and Mr. Sorabjee Rustomjee had banquets for him. My father got on well with the elder brother, Mr.Jhalbhoy Rustomjee who was also a Trustee of the Phoenix Settlement. He was wealthy too but a quiet and simple man.
My grandfather’s friend and the first Trustee of the Settlement, Mr. [Hermann] Kallenbach was also in the city and he became one of the top architects of Durban. He built many apartment buildings on the Marine Parade and he was a regular visitor in Phoenix, he was a substitute grandfather to me, but during the war he was not happy with us as he had many Jewish relations in Germany who had suffered under Hitler. When Bapuji’s home– which was built of wood and tin was falling apart, Mr. Kallenbach designed a house nearby and he taught the labourers to make cement blocks, because it would be cheaper. He also designed the house with double-doors so we could keep the top open and the bottom closed. Phoenix had a lot of snakes and many times I was saved from them by my cats and most of the snakes were poisonous. When this house was ready we moved into it and it was named “Kasturba Bhuvan”. Later my father re-built the old house exactly as it was in my grandfather’s time and he called it “Sarvodaya” [The Welfare of All] and we kept books and photographs of my grandfather’s days in South Africa in it and we also used Sarvodaya for our evening prayers.
My father was a good father and husband. He had to travel round South Africa to collect money for the press and make new subscribers. He always planned those visits during the school holidays and took us all along. When going to Cape Town we passed and stopped over all the country towns and enjoyed the beautiful sceneries. Most of the Gujerati people in the Cape were of the shoe maker class and they had shoe shops and fruit shops and they were all very fond of my parents and they used to have welcome meetings for them.
My mother used to speak to the women who had adopted the western style of dressing in dresses and scarves over their heads. My mother urged them to go back to their eastern dressing in the sarie and they listened to her and changed completely. When Ela was only six months old we went to the Cape and we went on the Table Mountain for the first time.
Another trip we went to the Transvaal – the Indians there were in business and their wives and children were in India. On one of these trips my father went to Johannesburg but we were invited to stay with Dr. [Yusuf] Dadoo’s parents in Krugersdorp. They were very wealthy and they had a departmental store. Dr. Dadoo’s parents urged my father to convince him to marry and settle down. My father did try to no avail. To his father’s anguish, Dr. Dadoo was a dedicated communist and my father spent most of his time with him in his small flat in Johannesburg and we also went there to visit. He was such a handsome man and what a loss to the Indian girls! Eventually he had a close relationship with a white woman and his medical career was sacrificed to politics.
So this then was my life in the fourteen years that I spent in this country. All this was about to change because my father felt that I should meet my grandfather and understand his ideals. My father and his brothers had no carefree childhood and as a young man he was left alone here with the burden of his father’s ideals on his young shoulders.
In India with Bapuji
When I was in Std. VIII my father and mother were discussing taking me to India. My heart was heavy with the thought of leaving my friends and my family on the Settlement. The people there were like my family – I didn’t know any other family. My father’s gardener was Ayakhanoo who had been with us most of his life. His son [Moonsamy] was with my mother from the age of ten when she came to Phoenix as a young bride. My mother taught him to cook and when he was in his teens my father taught him to drive and he became my father’s driver. He even got married on the Settlement – the first wedding there.36And he decided to join the war and one day he was gone and all of us were very worried. This then made my father’s mind up and so we prepared to go – during the war.
I was so upset at this big change in my life that the dangers of war didn’t strike me until we were sailing away from Durban. My eyes were full of tears and I felt my heart would break when parting from my mother and my baby sister. As we were standing on the deck of the ship, I felt with my family and friends I was leaving my childhood and carefree days behind and the tears were streaming down my cheeks though I had my beloved father’s arms around me.
On the first day the reality of danger of war came to me. We had to sail in complete darkness and any time air raid sirens went off and we were told what to do and where to go. Often in the morning we would find the ship going in a different direction or we were leaving a smoke screen behind us. Whereas we would have reached India in two weeks it took us a month.
We were travelling by a British India ship and our first stop after we left Durban was Lourenco Marques – today known as Maputo. The “Indian Opinion” came here and so my father was well-known and
many friends came to take us offshore. We went to the Ginwala family who were also old friends. They were our present Speaker of parliament [Frene Ginwala’s] parents and uncle and cousins.
Our next port was Beira and here too my father was known, because of “Indian Opinion”. Many people came to meet him. They were all mostly Indian businessmen and many people came from Nyasaland, now Malawi, and Zimbabwe to take the ship to India. We spent two days with a Sindhi couple who had no children that they wanted to adopt me! After this port we were at sea almost ten days. My father as usual took his walks around the deck and made many friends and they taught me how to play deck tennis.
We reached Dar-es-Salaam (now in Tanzania) after ten days. Here too, my father was well- known. I particularly remember the Singh family. He was a police superintendent and he had daughters of my age and older and one of them was going to India. So when we left Tanzania I had this girl as a friend and the next day I met an older Khoja girl who was also going to India with her father and a Khoja young dentist who was going for further studies and we all became very good friends.
After Tanzania came Zanzibar and both ports were not big enough for ships to go in so we had to take little ferries. It was nerve racking to go down the steps of the ship and jump into these boats. Zanzibar was uneventful. Though I found that the Africans were more or less like the Indians. Then it was another week at sea till we came to Mombasa a big port and my father had many friends. One of them was the Pandia family and another was the Tandree family. The Tandrees moved to South Africa and one of them married the late Mr. M.B. Naidoo. Many passengers came on board here and usually Indians travelled in 2nd class or 3rd class (which was travelling on deck). The next morning when my father was taking his usual walk, I saw that he had with him an incredibly handsome man and my father introduced him to me. He was Vikram Sarabhai. My father and he became inseparable, though he was in the 1st class. His elder sister Mridula Sarabhai had joined Bapuji’s movement.
Our next port was after ten days and it was Goa – the next day we would be in Bombay. Another sad parting – in 30 days we made close friendships and the officers who were mostly Goanese became very friendly. This was early 1943 and I felt sad all over again.
Now I must mention one incident that happened before I left South Africa. Most British ships were diverted to South Africa and on one of those ships was Indira Gandhi, then Nehru, & Feroze Gandhi and some other students were going to India. My father and the NIC members and the Rustomjees got them off the ship and gave them a grand reception. That Indira was such a shy and unassuming girl and we soon found out that Feroze and she were in love and they made a good pair.
So from Goa everyone was busy packing and during the night we could see the lights of Bombay and everyone was sighing with relief that the journey had ended safely. One British India ship on its way to South Africa was torpedoed and nearly all the people were lost, some who survived had lost entire families. We were going to get off at Bombay and the next day we would be leaving for Panchgani where my grandfather was recouping at the Sarabhai cottage after being released from the Aga Khan Palace when he lost his wife and his secretary. So the next morning a new period was to begin in my life. During the thirty days at sea I felt I had grown up so much.
On reaching Bombay, the ship’s staff were very busy closing up the ship and they were happy to get home and see their near and dear ones but for us, the passengers, were sad good byes after being a month together – in danger. We exchanged addresses, but in our hearts we knew we would never meet again and we were scared of facing the future in an unknown land amongst unknown people. When we went up on the deck as the ship landed, I was horrified by the hordes of people in the docks dressed in unfamiliar clothing and as it was June the damp hot air hit us and I was more miserable. My father recognised some of his relatives and he was very excited. He too was sad to part with his good friend Vikram Sarabhai.
At last we got off the ship and met our relatives. There were my maternal uncles and aunts and families – cousins who were my age, but were also hesitant to make contact with us. We stayed in Bombay for two weeks. During that time I met two of my cousins – my uncle Harilal’s daughters. My elder cousin [Rami] was as old as my parents but I soon became friendly with her daughters – one who was my age and the others a bit younger. My other cousin [Manu] - uncle Harilal’s daughter - was his youngest child but she was much older than me and she was married to my maternal uncle [Surendra Mashruwala]. They had one daughter [Urmi] who was as old as my sister Ela. My elder uncle had three sons one elder than me, one as old as me and the other was younger and they too had a sister as young as my sister and we soon got on well. But they said I spoke Gujerati like a Parsee. In Durban my mother had taught me to speak, read and write Gujerati. My one maternal aunt was older and a widow and the younger ones were training to be a teacher and a doctor. They were a large family and close knit and they were very fond of my father as he was the only brother-in-law.
Bapuji had been released from Aga Khan’s Palace and had gone to Panchgani to recoup and what a coincidence that his host was the Sarabhai’s youngest cousin. We were soon to leave for Panchgani. Needless to say that I found Bombay very dirty. In those days South Africa was very clean. We left Bombay for Poona by train and then took a bus to Panchgani. As we drove away from the city I felt happier to see the greenery and the beautiful countryside. And so we reached Panchgani and the surroundings were so much like Phoenix – that I felt happy to get to the house and I was afraid to meet my grandfather who dominated my parents’ lives.
My father told me that I should bow down to everyone. So we walked into the house and I saw my grandfather - for the first time in my adult life - sitting on the floor on a white cushion and he had a white dhoti on. When we arrived in Bombay my father too wore a white khadi dhoti and kurta and my aunt’s tailor had stitched white punjabis for me.
When he saw us he had a broad smile on his face and looked at us over his glasses. My father prostrated before him and he had tears in his eyes for the mother he had lost and for the father whom he had longed to see and then I bowed down to him and he said that “Kastur has come back”. After him, I bowed down to Shri Pyarelal, his secretary, Sushila Nayar, his doctor, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, sister of Maharaj Singh, and Miraben, originally Miss [Madeleine] Slade, who was like a daughter to my grandfather. Then I met my cousin Kanu Gandhi - he was Bapuji’s nephew and he hugged me, then Manuben Gandhi, another niece who was nearer my age, and last Abha who was a Bengali girl who had lived in the Ashram all her life and took care of my grandfather’s food and clothes. She later married my cousin, Kanu Gandhi, who was a wonderful photographer and they all made me feel at home.
In the evening we walked to the nearby hall for evening prayers and that’s when my grandfather put his arm around my shoulder and he asked me about our trip and told me that the next day I should write my first impressions of India. As we neared the hall I saw so many people who had come from the surrounding areas to just get a glimpse of my grandfather or to touch his feet. The prayers were the same as we had in Phoenix, and in the end Abha sang a bhajan in a very sweet voice. And then my grandfather spoke to the people about the struggle which was not over yet. Then we went back to the house where we met Dhirubhai Sarabhai and I was told that he was Vikram Sarabhai’s youngest brother.54 After a light supper we went to bed.
We awoke at 4.00 am for morning prayers. My cousins took charge of me. Kanu Gandhi took me for a walk and showed me the beautiful countryside and then Abha and Manuben gave me a very simple breakfast and showed me where I could bath and wash my clothes and hang them. I helped Manuben and Abhaben peel and cut fruit for my grandfather and we took it to him at 10.00 am I sat before him and he asked me many questions about my studies and I told him that I went to a Roman Catholic school run by Irish nuns and they were not too pleased with him because he had asked Indians not to join up. I told him that the war was so near us and we had heard the atrocities committed by Hitler on the Jews.
He explained to me that during the first war the Indians helped fully in the war and Britain had promised to give India their independence, but they did not keep their promise. On the other hand, many Indians sacrificed their lives and all the grain was used for Britain and Bengal suffered a big famine. At the time the war was not over yet, the atrocities committed by the Germans on the Jews had made news, but no one knew just how bad it was until the war was over. I still wasn’t very convinced but he asked me to write my first impression of India.
I must mention here that my father’s devotion to his father was phenomenal, though my grandfather didn’t shower him with fatherly love. My father slept at his feet and helped with his massages and bath and just sat by him and saw to it that his every need was supplied and he was completely at peace with himself, whether Bapuji spoke to him or not. It just struck me how devoted he was to his father and when they spoke of Kasturba he had tears in his eyes. I felt that had he had his own way he would have spent every minute of his life with them and what a big sacrifice it was for him to stay in South Africa ever since he was 18.
Of all his sons, my father had made the biggest sacrifice to be away from his parents and brothers to carry on with his father’s vision in South Africa. He applied himself to the last letter and word for the rest of his life. People didn’t recognize him during his lifetime and to this day though he was the loudest voice against apartheid and he served many prison sentences when his father was here.
There are relatives of other people who went to prison who are recognized to this day. Only my father’s name is never mentioned. Later he served prison sentences with ordinary criminals. He exposed the condition of the prisons then and yet to this day I have to hear his name with those who spent a lot of time on Phoenix Settlement. He had set himself very strict rules to reach the heights of my grandfather not because he was aspiring to be him but he was obeying him. It hurts me that when small time passive resisters are recognized, my father is never mentioned.
After two weeks in Panchgani we went to meet my uncle Devadas. Here again I saw the deep affection between the two brothers. Devadas was the editor of “Hindustan Times”, the most popular paper in New Delhi. My uncle lived in style with cook and chauffeur and I got on well with my three cousins. Gopal was not born yet.59 My uncle took us to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and we stayed in a big hotel and he told us we would go at midnight to see the Taj Mahal and there was a full moon. When we went there it was awesome – the most beautiful sight with the memories of a great love. I have seen the Taj Mahal many times, but I remember this first time, the best.
After a couple of days in Delhi we went to Akola in Maharashtra, to my maternal family. A few vague memories were in my mind when we were in India when I was about eight. That was the last time I met my grandmother, Kasturba, in Sevagram. My maternal uncle was a wealthy businessman and owned land behind his home. In the early days he had the sole rights to Kodak and when I was eight we saw many Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin movies. All my aunties and uncles had been to prison except my eldest uncle who had severe asthma and another who was born a cripple and my youngest aunt who used to get fits.
The family were devoted followers of Swami Narayan Religion. We had a little temple in the house and my aunt’s whole day went towards the pooja63 – it started at 4.00 am when the temple was opened and milk served and only thereafter we could have breakfast. About 10 am my aunt gave the small statues a bath with sandalwood water and dressed them in special clothes and set them on the throne and she lit the lamp and put flowers at their feet and then served them with special sweets made at home and only then we were allowed to eat the sweets. Then lunch would be served to them and thereafter we could eat even the paan and sopari.64 No one was allowed to go to the kitchen without having had a bath. After lunch the temple was closed for siesta.
At 3.00 pm it would be opened again and tea and savouries were served and then we could have them. In the evening supper was served and about 9.00 pm the arti65 was said by the whole family. Thereafter my aunt would dress them in their night clothes and each statue had a little bed and pillow and blanket and then the temple would be closed for the night. This ritual went on for generations. The story goes that Swami Narayan Maharaj had come to our home and my mother’s uncle was very ill and he got better when Swami Narayan prayed at his bedside and ever since he was known as Kishorelal Ghanshyam Mashruwala. He and his wife lived in Sevagram and he was a very well known author.
When the freedom struggle was on, my eldest uncle and the crippled uncle would print anti-govt. pamphlets and an Indian boy who had been with the family used to go out and distribute. Then once, when the police raided the house this boy took the cyclostyle machine and papers through the back door and threw it all in the well next to the house and the police were not able to find anything in the home. They lost most of their wealth in this way and the earners in the family were all in prison. Akola was a small clean town and everyone knew everyone. People would go for walks in the evening. The town had a beautiful river and boating club. Every one loved my eldest uncle and as he couldn’t go out much because of his asthma, everyone would pop in to see him as they went for their walks.
For me it was a big cultural shock to adjust to an orthodox family. Most of the time I didn’t know what to touch or not. Then the biggest shock came when my grandmother asked if I reached menstruation and when I confessed it she told me that for the first three days I wasn’t to touch anyone. I would be given my meals outside the kitchen area and my dishes would be separate. I should use the bathroom outside. On the fourth day, the domestic woman would pour water with a bucket over my head and then I was to have a head bath in the bathroom inside. There was a garden bench in the front yard and if I was sitting there no one else could sit there. My youngest uncle was a bit older than myself and many of his friends would come to see him and my grandmother would shout that no one must sit on that bench. I wanted to die then.
There was a Punjabi67 family who lived in the backyard and they had a daughter just my age. We became very friendly and I used to spend most of my time on those three days of the month at her house and out of the way of everyone. This period in my life was a big cultural shock. My Punjabi friend next door became lifelong friends – a very short life – because she died after I returned to South Africa. I just couldn’t believe it because she was so full of life and she was very dear to her very strict father. He too died soon after her. There were just an elder brother and younger sister and parents in the family. When I went to India last year,68 I went to see the brother – he too was dying. He has daughters who are now his sister’s age and a flood of memories came back to me of my very dear friend Naboo – short for Narmada.
After two weeks there we went to Sevagram. The next station after Akola was Wardha, and then we had to travel the ten miles to Sevagram by bullock cart. It was another experience for me. In Wardha my father and I met the Bajaj family – the whole family, though very wealthy, were devoted to my grandfather.69 We reached Sevagram in a few hours. I would rather have walked! Bapuji was there and Sevagram looked so much like Phoenix, but my bones were aching. So after a bath and a light meal I slept. The next morning I saw Sevagram and everyone was busy since the 4.00 am prayers.
My cousin-in-law Abha initiated me on how one lived in Sevagram. After the prayers everyone went about their duties. Some went to the farm. The ladies and girls went to the well where there was a make-shift bathroom. I was shown how to draw water from the well and have a bath and wash my clothes and then we proceeded to the communal kitchen where we went to prepare breakfast for all the people in the Ashram. It was a simple meal of roti, homemade butter, milk and fruit. The bell went at 8.00 am and all of us sat on the floor to have breakfast. We said a prayer before and we washed our own dishes and then we were allocated work for the morning.
I was told that if I was going to stay there I would have to clean the toilets before my bath and then I was to help clean up the yard and after breakfast I was to help the ladies to prepare a lunch – dry roti made of wheat which was ground by hand in a hand operated machine. There were boiled vegetables, yoghurt and gol [molasses] and homemade butter and some fruit. The young people like me went to the older people for lessons and I found that there were very learned people amongst the ashramites. I especially remember Vinobha Bhave who taught me Maths and Science. Then somebody taught me to spin, first with the takli and when I had learnt that then I would gradually be taught the charkha.
During the first morning I went to meet my mother’s uncle Kishorelal Mashruwala and his wife Gomati. They had a little cottage in Sevagram and it was spotlessly clean. Kishorelal was very asthmatic and he reminded me of my eldest uncle in Akola. Then I went and met the family of Bapuji’s late secretary Mahadev Desai who died in the Aga Khan Palace. His wife and son, Narayan, who was nearer my age also lived in a little cottage. This is the only time I spent with my father as he slept at his father’s feet and waited on him all day. He helped to massage him and then he helped him with his bath. While Abha gave him his breakfast, my father would wash Bapuji’s clothes and his own and after his bath he would once again sit by Bapuji and talk to him when he was free.
Rajkumari Amrit Kaur and Miraben and Pyarelal sat in the same cottage as Bapuji and my father would sit with them. The Ashram was very busy in 1944. All the Congress leaders would visit him, as they were also just released. During the morning and evening walks, he would walk all around the Ashram and this is when we had a chance to be his walking sticks. He would go and see his cows who were also named after the Ramayana characters and his goat and that’s when I got to meet the various leaders. There was also a Parsee lady who was called Khorshedben with him. She was from a wealthy family as was Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur, and had left everything to come and live in the Ashram.
My uncle Ramdas came to meet my father. He stayed in Nagpur and his daughter Sumitra who was a year younger than me, came with him and we were going to stay in the Ashram for that year. So we became very close. My father left for South Africa and I felt alone. Sumitra and I were kept so busy doing some studying, learning cottage industry and visiting villages. In the Ashram there were a couple, Arya Naikum [Aryanayakam] and Ashadevi, who conducted a school where they taught Hindi, English, Music and Drama. My cousin and I went to them for a few hours and they staged many of Tagore’s plays in which my cousin and I participated.
This was another culture shock for me after Akola. I stayed in Sevagram until 1945 when the school term began. This was a very enlightening period in my life when I met most of the leaders who came to see Bapuji. Some were communists and socialists who did believe in non-violence and came to hide from the police, but Bapuji warned them that he couldn’t hide them and they should give themselves up.
I remember among them Aruna Asraf Ali, Jaiprakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia. The husband of Aruna was a Gandhian and Prabhadevi Narayan was also a Gandhian. I met Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, Acharya Kripalani, Sucheta Kripalani and Pandit Nehru. Nehru always had time for us and was very affectionate. Sardar Patel in his way was also affectionate but we were scared of him. Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan was the gentle giant. I became very close to Acharya Kripalani and his wife Sucheta and Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur was very affectionate. We never ever got close to Dr. Sushila Nayar and she was very possessive of Bapuji even though we were his granddaughters.
Abha, Kanu Gandhi and I became very close. Both sang beautifully and in the evenings Kanubhai would sing a chapter from the Ramayan. He was a good photographer and he could have made a fortune from his photographs but all his life he lived like Bapuji and when Bapuji died, he started an Ashram in Trambu near Rajkot to be near his father, Narandas Gandhi. He went around the villages to spread Bapuji’s message and he died in one of the villages of a heart attack as he couldn’t get medical treatment fast enough.
A number of times I went with Bapuji by train to Delhi where we stayed in the Bhangi Colony. I was always amazed at the thousands of people who were at the station to see the train that Bapuji was in. Always Bapuji would open the windows and only those who were close enough to the train managed to see him. I also went with him to Simla when the British Cabinet Mission came to see him. Simla was beautiful and we stayed in the home of Sir Maharaj Singh. It was a very important time in the history of India and all the important Congress Members were there and I was very fortunate to meet them all and when we returned to Delhi I met the Mounbattens and the famous Life reporter Margaret Bourke White and other important journalists from Britain. One of them took a photograph of me when I was carrying a baby goat. It was such a nice photograph and I wonder where it could be now.
The holidays were over and the 1945 term for school was to begin. I told my grandfather that I had learnt a lot with him but I still felt that I should finish my matric. So I went to my maternal family in Akola which is very near Wardha and tried to enter a high school. But they wouldn’t recognize my South African education, though both countries at the time were under the British Government. So I entered as an external student for my matric and my uncle organised for a tutor for me. He was a retired school teacher and he was brilliant and a hard task master. He taught me Maths and Science and Sanskrit.
So my life in Akola from June 1945 to May 1946 was work, work and more work – but Naboo, my neighbour, and I became very close friends. Life at my uncle’s home was very full because he was a severe asthmatic, but very sociable, so people always came here to see him. The Kodak franchise he lost during the Freedom struggle and also some of his land. Staying here, I realised what a sacrifice my mother had made to leave a full house and come and stay in a strange country and on a secluded farm. I understood my parents’ sacrifice without a single word of complaint, as they were told by my grandfather to do so.
My parents came in 1946 after I had written my matric exam. I was glad to see them. My father rented a flat in Bombay in a sanatorium at Walkeshwar and we spent a happy time there with family and friends waiting for my results. In May 1946 the results came out and my father came home with sweetmeats and he had invited my uncles and aunts and cousins to celebrate my passing in the 2nd division with an A in English. We were all very happy and later decided that I should to go Benares Hindu University as Sir Radha Krishnan was Vice Chancellor there and we knew him when he had come to South Africa. I and my cousin (Ramdas Gandhi’s eldest daughter) went to Benares and my mother and sister and brother spent some time with her family and in Sevagram.
My first glimpse of Benares Hindu University was wonderful. My youngest maternal uncle had said it was a beautiful place as he had just finished his engineering degree there.84 The university had its own station, the Benares Cantonement and what a pleasure it was to get off here. It was a little university town clean, quiet and neat and we entered the walled-in university on the beautiful Ganges River. As we entered the ladies college and hostel were the first buildings. They were walled-in but beautiful trees and gardens were inside. Further were the lecturers’ houses and the Chancellor’s, Madan Mohan Malaviya, and the Vice Chancellor’s houses. Then there was the big University Hall and further down were the Science College and the Engineering College and then the boys’ hostel.
I fell under the spell of its beauty and I shall always remember it so. The little town outside had a school opened by Annie Besant and coffee houses and cinemas and we often went there after classes. My aunt had a friend there who lectured at the women’s college who was my guardian. I was very very happy there – the university was not crowded and just ten or twelve of us had joined the Inter- Science class so it was a mainly boys’ college. Every Sunday Sir Radha Krishnan would speak to us and we all would attend. In recent years, an old friend was invited to the university and he was very happy, but when he went there the university was over-crowded and the students lived in the guest houses. The peace and tranquillity had gone and there was no resemblance to the period when we were there. He was so upset that he wrote to me that if I wanted to keep my beautiful memories of our Golden Period I shouldn’t ever go. Though I was invited by the vice-chancellor recently I did not go. This was the most beautiful and peaceful period in my life and I want to always remember it so.
Two things happened in the first year of my life there. Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya died and it was a very big and tragic affair in the history of Benares Hindu University. For the first time in my life a great person had died and all the students went to the funeral which was held on the banks of the Ganges. We all stood on boats and it was a very big and sad affair. The second thing that happened was my local guardian was diagnosed as having stomach cancer. She fought it very bravely and continued to teach whilst she had treatment.
One of my room-mates was a very good singer and she wrote songs in Hindi and one day I told her that my favourite [film] star was Ashok Kumar and she told me that he lived in the same town as her family. So when we went home for Diwali I went to her home in Khandwa. On our way back I stayed a day with her family and I met Ashok Kumar’s entire family. His father was the district magistrate and my friend’s father was a doctor in the small town. Ashok Kumar’s two brothers Anup and Kishore85 went to school with her. That was a high-light in my young life.
When we returned to Benares Hindu University my local guardian was still quite ill and had gone to Bombay for treatment. In her place, her friend, Miss Misra, became my guardian for a while. I later discovered that her brother was Suman Misra – India’s famous tennis player. I had settled in my routine in the hostel as well as the college. In those days many girls did not go to college and so we were a small group of a couple hundred girls and we got to know each other well.
During this time, Saigal the famous singer died and that put the students in the depths of gloom. We all sat in the common room in our spare time listening to the radio which played his songs and told about his life. One day my other room-mate who was an older person and a Punjabi (she was a widow and doing her arts degree) asked me to go with her to one of the engineering college hostels as she wanted to meet her cousin. Girls never went about there ever or alone so I went along with her. The men’s hostels were near the other end of the university, so it was quite a walk and we finally reached there and we were let into her cousin’s room. The room was for two people. As we were let in by her cousin who was a Sikh – she introduced me to him as her room-mate and he introduced us to his room-mate. He was a Punjabi but not a Sikh and they were both in their 2nd year of Metallurgical Engineering. While she was talking with her cousin, we two got in a conversation and something clicked between us. His name was Krishan Kumar and he was from Lahore. My friend’s cousin was Jugjeet Singh. Krishan was a very quiet person and he was very good looking. After an hour or so we returned to our hostel.
The next week Sushila’s cousin came to our hostel to meet her. We had a beautiful garden with a huge banyan tree and there were seats under it where we were allowed to see our visitors. Sushila came to call me and said that Krishan had come to see me. His friend was very surprised when he told him that he wanted to come and I was also very surprised too. He was a very quiet person and just seeing each other for the first time something grew between us. And when he came to see me it seemed so right and we talked and time seemed to fly. But I knew then that for him to visit me regularly I had to get permission from my local guardian and I explained everything and she gave me her written permission. She was very ill and she told me that she was going to Bombay for treatment – that was the last time I saw her. She died a few months later.
Krishan and I continued seeing each other. He showed me some lovely places around Benares. One such place was Sarnath where Lord Buddha left his worldly life and went into deep samadhi. I saw more of Benares City and once or twice we went to gazhals concerts. I had to get back in my hostel before 6.00 pm There was one cinema house and once we went there. I can still remember the movie, “For Whom the Bell Tolls”.
In early 1947 my grandfather had come to Patna and I went to see him and I told him about my feelings. He said he would have to meet him and then would decide what we should do. I wrote to my mother in Akola and when we broke up for Independence Day Krishan came with me to Akola. All this time I just knew that his home was in Lahore and he had two older sisters who were married and two younger brothers. The youngest brother was Shanti and he was as old as me and because of ill health he lived at home and went to a college there. He too was in the first year. So we went to Akola – neither of us had any doubts and he wanted to meet my mother before she left for South Africa. There was something very deep and lasting between us from the moment we met.
My family all liked him in Akola. My grandmother who was very strict, even she approved of Krishan and suggested that we get engaged on the 14th August at midnight when India became free and in front of her beloved Swami Narayan Temple. The family all decided and we went along with it. It was the happiest day of my life. Krishan left Akola on the 16th. Till then we didn’t hear the terrible aftermath of partition. Krishan left me to go to his parents in Lahore.90 His father was a railways inspector. That was the last time I saw Krishan or heard from him. We were joined in a holy ceremony but cruel fate parted us forever. By the 17th we heard of people who were fleeing on both sides. My mother left for South Africa with my brother and sister. Most of my friends in Benares Hindu University were from Lahore, Bengal and Karachi and we were hearing terrible stories. The news reels in movie houses showed people fleeing and lots of bloodshed and I had heard nothing from Krishan. I didn’t even know his address in Lahore and my uncles and grandmother wouldn’t let me go back to Benares because it was a long journey and Aligarh University was just next door.
So I didn’t return and had no contact with my friends. I enrolled in the local college for Inter-Arts. I wrote a few letters to Benares Hindu University in September 1947 and received no reply. Krishan had told me that he would speak to his family and then contact me. By December I was frantic, I wrote to Delhi, to my cousins who were with my grandfather and asked them if they had heard anything from Krishan as the refugees were pouring into Delhi but all around me was silence.
I eagerly awaited the post but there was nothing. Then, the horrible assassination of my grandfather took place. My uncles and granny wouldn’t even think of trying to send me. They said I would be crushed to death and no one would make way for me and anyway the train wouldn’t take me there in time and I couldn’t make it to Nagpur as no one had a car and these was only one plane to Delhi. So I was thrown into more tragedy. Reliving those days bring a lot of pain in my heart. So I couldn’t go to the funeral neither could I go to Allahabad for the immersion of the ashes and my heart was filled with deep sorrow. I had lost Krishan and then I had lost my grandfather. I just wanted to come back to South Africa – I felt no one cared about the deep sorrow in my heart. I still wrote to Pyarelal, my grandfather’s secretary and Abha, my cousin-in-law, whether any of them could give me news about Krishan – but there was just deathly silence. So I wrote to my father to arrange for me to come back to South Africa. There was more bad news for me.
Blessings from Bapu
The following are some letters from Gandhi to Sita’s parents and to Sita herself. They have been edited, so at times only extracts dealing with Sita specifically are reproduced. The letters cover a period of almost two decades from Sita’s birth to a few weeks before Gandhi’s assassination. Most of the letters were preserved by the family and handed over for publication in the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (Government of India, Publication Division). Gandhi’s secretaries also took to keeping copies of all letters he sent out especially in the 1940s.
Busy as Gandhi was in India he had time to discuss at length why he thought Sita, would make a good name for his grand-daughter. Nanabhai Mashruwalla, her maternal grandfather, had already sent a name for her, Dhairyabala, meaning maid of courage. Sita was the wife of Lord Ram and in the Hindu epic, the Ramayana she is captured by the evil Ravana. In her life, Gandhi saw purity and `the ideal woman’. His grand-daughter was then registered as Sita alias Dhairyabala.
To Manilal and Sushila, 14 January 1929
If it was left to me to give a name to Dhairyabala, I would call her Sita. It is a holy name. It is easy for friends to pronounce and suggests the virtues we wish her to have. I considered some other names too, but could not think of a better one.
To Manilal and Sushila, 19 May 1929
I have learnt from Nanabhai that you did not like the name Sita. And you have mentioned the reason in your latest letter. I appreciate your reason. It may be all right for Sushila to have Sita as her ideal but the child should have someone revolutionary. I cannot at the moment recollect any girl mentioned in the classics who would fulfil all these requirements. You should have acquainted me of your sentiments earlier. I shall now think of some other name. In our society as also among the English a person may have two or three names. Let Sita have two or three. In this way I wish to justify the name Sita. Sita is the last word in wifehood as it is in maidenhood. Moreover it is my ideal to make a person lead a life of independence and purity in spite of being married. Sita, Parvati and others have fully attained both these ideals. According to the accounts in the Ramayana and other works they were free from passion. Sita experienced no difficulty when she was separated from Ramachandra. She was so free from passion that the lascivious Ravana could not touch her. A woman should pray for freedom from passion although her name may be Sita. That is why Sita is one of the seven satis. Sati does not merely mean one faithful to her husband. Sati signifies freedom from passion. Sita had two children. This need not be regarded as wrong on her part, because it is mentioned in this context that Rama and Sita came together out of a desire for progeny. It is not so today. Now children are born as a result of passion; a person like me therefore regards begetting children as forbidden. I am, of course talking about the belief in regard to Sita and others; Sita should not be regarded as a historical person but as our ideal woman. We do not worship the historical Rama and Sita. The Rama of history is no more now. But the Rama to whom we attribute perfect divinity, who is God directly perceived, lives to this day. Reciting the name of this Rama would save us; the Rama of history, who is qualified by attributes, good or bad, would not have the strength to save. If you do not follow all this you should by all means, discuss it with me. In all my reading I have come across no ideal loftier than Sita. This name therefore is extremely dear to me. Again, it is sweet to utter, short, and the two syllables too are easy. It has no compound syllable. And the name is by itself musical, ending as it does with a long a.
But I do not insist that you call the child by this name. There is nothing wrong if you give a name of your own choice. You may give her a name indicative of the qualities that you wish her to have. Find it in some religious books or novels. On my part I shall certainly search for another.
Manilal, Sushila and Sita visited India in December 1929. What was meant to be a short trip turned out to be an extended one. Gandhi launched his salt satyagraha, a protest against the British monopoly over salt production and sale. In March 1930, he started out with a group of volunteers, including Manilal, from Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad and marched to the sea-side at Dandi. Gandhi was imprisoned in May 1930; Manilal too spent nine and a half months in jail and was only released in March 1931. While on the march, Gandhi thought about his daughter-in-law, Sushila, and Sita. He gives her advice on how to cope with ashram life but also leaves room for her to `run away’ to her family if she is not happy. Sita and Sushila move to Akola and, sitting in jail, Gandhi gives Sushila’s sister, Tara, advice on how she should look after the two year old. He wants his grand-daughter to learn Sanskrit, the Gita and to develop an Indian nationalist spirit. Sushila was eager to join the struggle herself but Gandhi wanted to know what arrangements she would make for Sita. Sushila spent many hours picketing liquor stores and promoting the boycott of foreign cloth. Sita, in the meantime was not keeping in the best of health. From jail, Gandhi offers advice on her diet.
Letter to Sushila, 26 March 1930
And I believe that you wish to keep Sita at Akola. You, too, must then stay there. She should live where you do, and you should live where she does. But I do not believe that you cannot bring up Sita in the Ashram . If you use your imagination, you will realise that you will get nowhere else the atmosphere you have in the Ashram. Old and young, all absorb imperceptibly a great deal from the moral atmosphere surrounding them. There is only a half-truth in your belief that the children there are ill-mannered. In the Ashram we try to make the children independent-minded. They are not punished physically and, therefore, they seem to have become ill-mannered. But I am sure that the ultimate result will be good. However, if you decided to stay in the ashram and to keep Sita there, you must observe the following rules :
- You should not leave Sita unattended to do any work.
- You must take a promise from anyone to whom you may entrust Sita that he or she will give her nothing to eat.
- Sita should be fed at fixed hours.
- If possible, she should be kept on milk and fruit only.
- [You] must take some exercise every day.
- If you or Sita do not keep good health, you should run away from the place.
You should follow these rules disregarding opposition from anybody. If you do not have the strength of mind to do that, I think it will be difficult for you to stay in the Ashram.
To Sushila, 7 September 1930
Sita’s illness has lasted too long. Are you not able to discover the cause? As I have not seen her myself, I do not have the courage to say anything in the matter. But I make this suggestion. It would be advisable to keep her chiefly on milk, curds and fruit instead of giving her a variety of things to eat. If she is given toast, it should be of brown bread. I see no need to give her porridge. If you wish, you may give her cod-liver oil. I myself would never think of giving it to anyone. But you should attach no importance to this view.
To Tara Mashruwala, 8 November 1930
You can teach Sita a little Sanskrit even as she plays with you. She should of course sing Jhanda Uncha Rahe Hamara [May our Flag Fly High], but likewise she should keep murmuring some easy verse from the Gita
To Sushila, 7 December 1930
Do you also wish to follow Manilal? Will you carry with you or leave behind Sita alias Dhairyabala alias whatever names you have given her?
The family had been back at Phoenix since early 1931. When Sita is five years old her parents begin to think about her education and they are keen to put her in a formal school. Gandhi who had from a very long time believed that formal conventional schooling did little for one, advises them against it. He advises them that as he had never sent Manilal or his younger brothers to school, so too Sita should receive a home education based on `character building’ till she was sixteen. Again he advocates a good knowledge of the Gita and Ramayana and as many Indian languages as she can master. When Sita begins school at St Anthony’s in Durban and Sushila has to move from Phoenix to live during the week in Durban, Gandhi does not condemn them but warns against `an infatuation for English’
To Manilal and Sushila, 13 January 1934
Personally I like Sita being talkative and mischievous. It is for the parents to put these qualities to good use. They can in this way impart a good deal of education. Naughtiness and talkativeness are a kind of energy, like steam. The energy of steam is conserved and used to drive big trains and steamboats. A child’s energy can be used in a similar manner. If we understand it and use it wisely, it can produce excellent results. Instead of making Sita write the letters of the alphabet, you should teach her just now to draw geometrical figures. After that you may teach her to draw pictures of objects and last of all to write the letters. But before doing that you should teach her to recognize the letters, and to understand the meaning of words. You can give her some knowledge daily through stories. You can easily teach her something about history, geography, science and tell her stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. She can learn all these things in play. This will not tire you; on the contrary you will enjoy teaching her in this manner. Through this you yourself will learn something daily and Sita will get the best possible education. She can learn English, Gujerati and also Hindi at the same time.
To Manilal and Sushila, 2 January 1935
I have noted what Sushila writes about Sita. It will be enough if she is educated as you four brothers were educated by me. I don’t repent it. … what children get in the loving company of their parents they can get nowhere else. Sita need not be sent here. Know that you have a duty towards Sita as you have your other duties. … Just by her trying to pick up your calling she will train herself. She will pick up your speech whether decent or indecent. If you know your grammar she will learn it. If you keep your accounts, she will learn her arithmetic. She will dust, cook, fetch water, tend the plants, learn press work. In this way by learning yourselves and helping others learn, you will rise higher and higher. When she grows up you can send her elsewhere where she can learn more. … This is true education. Give up your fondness for schools. It is my firm belief that although the schools may offer you a free play for the intellect they do little towards character-building. I myself know many who have suffered in character by going to school. I do not know of many people who could add lustre to their character by attending schools. I for one believe that those parents who send their children to school do not observe their dharma [duty]. Yes, when the children grow up, that is , say, attain the age of sixteen, they can do whatever they like. Hence, let Sita remain under your personal care till she is sixteen so that she turns out an accomplished girl and may not suffer any kind of handicap. To achieve this she should participate in all your activities and play her part intelligently. With this you will have observed your dharma.
The purport of all that I have said is only this : Forget for the time being your obsession with schooling for Sita. Let her have as much English, Hindi, Gujarati as you two can give her. Teach her your calling. You can impart to her plenty of knowledge through everyday conversation. In this way she will be making rapid progress. The right thing for her is to stick there. Teach her the prayers, bhajans, etc. She should learn the Ramayana and other stories. Let her know about the Gita and other books. Some books you and Sushila have to read just for Sita’s sake.
To Manilal and Sushila Gandhi, 8 June 1936
I have not the least grudge against Sushila’s going to live in the city. One has to practise self-denial for the children’s sake. Without this the latter cannot advance in life. It is just proper that both [the children are with you]. I shall be satisfied if you do not Anglicize them, but bring them up under the influence of dharma. Do not let them forget their mother tongue and also teach them Hindi. I should like them to learn Tamil since you are living there. None of your acts should encourage in them an infatuation for English. They will acquire a working knowledge of the language. However, if one acquires knowledge through one’s mother tongue, one can better understand, digest and utilize it in ones’ life. But then this is what I think is wise. It is for you to adopt the course that you both find agreeable. There is no question of doing anything merely to please me.
First Letters to Sita
Gandhi’s first surviving letter to Sita was written while he was living at Segaon at Wardha and she was nine years old. Old enough, she had begun communicating with her grandfather and wrote him regular letters. He comments on her handwriting, corrects her spelling and urges her to know her Gujerati too. In 1939, the main discussion in the Gandhi household at Phoenix was the resistance campaign which Manilal and Dr Yusuf Dadoo and others were planning to protest against restrictive land laws in the Transvaal. Sita, not yet eleven, gets her grandfather’s attention by proclaiming her desire to join the struggle.
To Sita, 11 October 1937
Your handwriting is very beautiful indeed.
Write Gujerati also in an equally beautiful hand. Write in both the languages. I hope you will show us your face some day. If you were here Kanam [Ramdas Gandhi’s son] would get company and I would teach you according to the new method. Do you know what this method is? Ask Sushila.
To Sita. 8 August 1939.
I got your note. If you too go to jail, who will run the Indian Opinion!
To Sita, 8 March 1940
I could reply to your letter, only today. You should write in ink. Your English handwriting is beautiful, but your spelling seems very poor. Not `coposition’ but `composition’, not `georaphy’ but `geography’. Your Gujerati handwriting is hardly legible. I shall wait and see what your reply is like.
To Sita, 25 February 1941
I got your letter. Your English is still weak. But it will improve gradually. The handwriting is not bad. Do not forget Gujerati.
In India, Panchgani and Sevagram 1944
After hearing of Kasturba’s death in February 1944, Manilal was anxious to see his father. Now fifteen, Sita was asking far too many critical questions about her grandfather such as why he was not supporting the war effort when Hitler’s Germany was doing such damage to Europe. Manilal felt that she did not quite understand Gandhi, his philosophy of life, his relationship with his sons and he decided that she needed to spend some time with Gandhi who had at last been released from prison. The two of them set out in June 1944 and on arrival went to Panchgani, a beautiful hill station, within reach from Poona where Gandhi was recuperating. Later they joined Gandhi at his Sevagram Ashram near Wardha. Gandhi, aware that Sushila is alone at Phoenix, writes to her giving news of Manilal and Sita. The letters express Gandhi’s wishes for Sita’s education. According to him the Talimi Sangh was the best for her. The Nayee Talim (New Way) focused on character building, service and manual labour amongst literary study. Aryanayakam and his wife Ashadevi were among the teachers. Other residents at Sevagram included Gandhi’s nephew Chhaganlal and Kashiben Gandhi, Kishorelal and Gomati Mashruwala and Ramdas’s daughter Sumitra (Sumi). After a few months of ashram life, Sita, however, decides on a formal education and goes off to Akola. Gandhi is not peeved at all. Initially, he found Sita reserved but `intelligent’. A close bond soon developed between them and he had great hopes for the now sixteen year old girl.
To Sushila, 16 July 1944
I have thought over the matter carefully. I think that Sita should stay on in Sevagram. She will get the good company of Aryanayakam and Ashadevi, and be educated on the lines of the Talimi Sangh. She will get Gomati’s protection. Gomati is a saintly woman. Kashi and Durga also are there. And so her Gujerati, Sanskrit , Hindi and English will be taken care of.
To Sushila, 26 July 1944 (from Panchgani)
I am glad that Manilal and Sita have come. … Sita is a very good girl. I have not been able to make friends with her as much as I would wish. But I think, I will be able to do so. She is intelligent. The most important thing is to see that she always remains as healthy as she is today. Good health is the most important blessing of life. Do not worry about her. If you worry about Manilal, I would certainly consider you silly.
To Sushila, 18 September 1944
Manilal has devoted himself completely to my service, and is thus paying his filial debt. Do not worry about him. SIta has taken her place in the Nayee Talim school at Sevagram. Sumi is with her, as also the daughter of a Bihari gentleman named Lakshmi Babu. The fourth is Ashadevi’s own daughter. There are thus four girls in all. Ashadevi has become their mother. She is a learned woman. According to me this type of education is the best. All these four girls learn with the other children at Sevagram, and also teach them a few things. Do not get frightened at this news. Sita herself voluntarily decided to join this school. But of course it was I who was responsible for putting the idea in Manilal’s and Sita’s minds and luring them on. I would have tried to lure you too, If you had been here. God alone knows, of course, whether you would have yielded or not. Now that you have learnt to drive a car, how can I keep pace with you? By all means go ahead.
To Sushila, 12 October 1944
Sita did stay here, but she wants to soar high up in the sky. Most probably she will attend school in Akola. She is a fine girl. She has become very friendly with me.
To Sushila, 3 November 1944.
I too would have been happy if Sita had stayed with me. But I see that her interest lies in going through the modern style of education. She is a nice girl. She will earn a good name and bring credit to us.
Studying at Akola, 1944-1946
While Sita is at Akola, Manilal has returned to South Africa. Gandhi takes great pains to keep in touch with her so that she might not feel alone. He is concerned about how she is adjusting to the heat in India which will get worse in the months to come. He gives her advice on strengthening her body, responds to her anxieties when she has bad dreams. In April 1945, Manilal, Sushila, Arun and Ela have all come to India for an extended stay. While they travel and go to Sevagram, Sita is bound to Akola and her studies. Gandhi writes words of consolation to her. He corrects her language and comments on her new hobby, rowing. He thinks about his grand-daughter who would like to see him as his train passes through Akola through the late night. He, however, says if she expects letters she has to also write letters. He writes to his former secretary in South Africa, Sonja Schlesin, that Sita was thriving in India. Then Sita passes her exams and Gandhi jokes `why would she care to write’.
To Sita, 27 November 1944
I have your letter. The handwriting is beautiful. You should make your letters slightly bigger. It has now grown pretty cold here. Build up your body with the same devotion with which you are pursuing your studies. Do not be lax about anything.
To Sita, 24 February 1945
I have your letter. You draw your matras [strokes above Gujerati letters] too long, as I illustrate with here. Draw them as I do or if you must have a knot at the end make it very small. Consult your teacher. It will be very hot by 20th April and hotter still in May. I don’t know where I shall be then. I should like you to spend the hot season in a cool place. I am happy that you are getting along nicely.
To Sita, 27 February 1945
We are poor. We want to live with the poor, hence we should learn to put up with the sun and rain. But put up with only as much as you can. Don’t ruin your health.
To Sita, 27 March 1945
Only this much for today. Why are you afraid of dreams? You must not cry. You get dreams owing to indigestion. Sometimes dreams are due to our impatience. Many a time we worry unconsciously and then we get dreams. In such cases we should keep repeating Ramanama. [Lord Ram’s name]. Remember that it is an unfailing remedy. Teach me how to row.
To Sita, 6 May 1945
I suppose this time I should excuse you for writing in pencil. Don’t say cleaning duty - say cleaning work or dharma to clean up. Duty means dharma. It is not `bheen’ but `bhinna’. It is `sunvu’ and not `shunvun’. It is `bauddhik’ and not `baudheek’. It is `farvun’ and not `trip’. …
Manilal has arrived. The weather here is good. It is a pleasant thought that by now you are feeling quite at home there. It will help you a lot, If you preserve your health.
To Sita, 12 May 1945
Your handwriting is good. The letters are clear but too small. Cultivate the habit of writing a bigger hand. You will then get into the habit of writing uniformly either in small or big handwriting. I am glad you are now fully engrossed in work. …
You should learn to preserve excellent health in any climate. It is possible to do so.
To Sonja Schlesin, 13 May 1945
Matriculation here is not simpler than yours. But for Sita it would be somewhat easier here. She is getting on well and gaining the experience she would never have got there. She wants to fit herself for service. There is no restraint upon her freedom.
To Sita, 29 May 1945
Your handwriting is good. Write to everybody in the same way. Equally good handwriting is for everyone. Shivir agni [camp fire] seems all right. You can say that on that day we had lit shivir agni all over the place.
To Sita, 25 July 1945
I read your letter. Your curriculum is good. You are working hard. Do not worry about whether you will pass or not. Don’t do anything at the cost of your health. Do not write in a small hand. Examine carefully what is written in this postcard.
To Sita, 3 September 1945
I wanted to reply to you immediately but so many days have gone by.
Student life is a kind of strenuous and perhaps a difficult sannyasa. During that time one should not think of one’s parents or be unhappy or cry because of separation from anyone. At the moment concentrate solely on your studies. Taking care of yourself is included in it. You must be carrying on well. Do not get disheartened if there are difficulties in the way. To learn to overcome difficulties is an integral part of education.
To Sita, 27 September 1945
You write in bold and distinct characters and therefore they look beautiful. Never mind if writing thus takes more time. Ultimately that won’t take much time.
You must not fail. Do come to me after your examination is over. You must not let the examination weigh on your mind. Why should it when you have worked so hard?
Arun and Ela are quite cheerful. Arun is still quiet but Ela makes up for it.
To Sita, 9 December 1945
You seem to be demanding too much. How can you expect a letter from me unless you write to me? I know that you are keeping well and are working hard. Pass the examination. Come to me when you can. I am glad to know that you do rowing. It is a good exercise. Row the boat of India, too. Take care of your health while studying.
To Sita, 4 March 1946
Why need you write if I do not? Moreover I am busy in my field of work and you are busy in yours. Both of us being thus busy, there is nothing wrong in our not writing to each other in the absence of some special reason. See that you succeed in your examination.
I know that whenever I pass through Akola, you have to go back disappointed as I would be sleeping. But remember Manilalbhai’s ghazal [Manibhai Dwivedi’s poetry] “Immortal hope lies hidden in countless disappointment” and keep on hoping.
To Sita, 5 March 1946
I got your postcard. I like your confidence that you will pass. It will bear fruit. Keep up your courage and peace of mind at the time of the examination, too. You may come whenever you wish to. Your place will be reserved.
I wrote you one letter yesterday.
To Manilal and Sushila Gandhi, 30 May 1946
I am glad that Sita has passed. … Your plan that all of you go away leaving Sita in Benares is also good. …PS Now that Sita has passed, why would she care to write?
At Benares Hindu University, 1946-47
While Sita registers at Benares Hindu University, her father returns to South Africa, her mother, brother and sister are at Akola. Gandhi once again focuses on handwriting, grammar, and the importance of learning Indian languages. Aware of the influences of academic training, he reminds Sita that `useful education’ could be attained by retaining touch with villagers and teaching them how to spin. In October 1946, Manilal participated in the passive resistance campaign in Durban. This was against the law imposing segregation on Natal Indians. He was sentenced to one month in prison. Sita wants to return to South Africa to assist her father - the newspaper has still to be run. Gandhi advises her to complete her education first. Sumitra and Sita later visit him in Patna, Bihar and he gives them advice about the benefits of regular prayer and how ashram life could be reproduced wherever one was.
To Sita, 26 July 1946
I had occasion to see your handwriting after many days. I was glad all the same for the opportunity. There is a slight deterioration in the handwriting. You should improve it gradually. Your language also is not grammatically correct. You have eaten up the vowel marks. Don’t do it hereafter. If you do not revise what you have written it cannot be considered to have been written. People who formed such a habit have been saved from a great many difficulties. If your pen cannot express what you think, will not the reader misconstrue the meaning? There are many instances of this having happened.
The news that Manilal has reached Durban appeared in the newspapers. It was two or three days ago. You need not worry about anyone. Be engrossed in your study. Master your mother tongue by studying it at home. You will certainly master Hindustani. Learn thoroughly carding, sliver-making, spinning and doubling the yarn. And spin with the same thoroughness. Do not cultivate the mind at the expense of the body. One can make real progress only if all the three things develop simultaneously. Both sisters [Sumi and Sita] should read both my letters.
To Sita, 18 August 1946
I have your letter. Your handwriting is good, but there is still room for improvement. Try and see what you can do. It is not proper that you give me no news about Sumi. Learn Urdu by your own efforts. In my view, you will be receiving more useful education if you start going among the villagers and propagate spinning, etc.
Why do you write “majah” instead of “Maja”.
To Sushila, Arun and Sita, 23 October 1946
Sita will have recovered by now. I like her plan of rushing to Manilal. But she must not give up what she has undertaken. I will say she has rightly fulfilled her duty if she takes up Manilal’s work in South Africa after completing her education.
To Sita, 13 April 1947
I will be reaching Patna today. Come and join me as soon as you can get relieved there. Do not worry about anything.
Talk with Sita and Sumitra at Patna, 26 April 1947
One may give up everything but not prayer. Prayer is the broom that sweeps clean our minds. If you stop praying, all the rubbish and cobwebs will accumulate in our minds and make our inner being impure. I expect all of you who are in the college to get up early and create an atmosphere for prayer. It has been my wish - and will always be wherever I am till I breathe my last - that every member of the Ashram, boy or girl, man or woman, wherever he or she may be, should create the atmosphere of the Ashram. If nothing else, at least spinning, simple food, simplicity, khadi and prayer ought to become the permanent features in one’s life after one has stayed in the Ashram.
An Engagement, 1947
While visiting Patna, Sita spoke to Gandhi about her desire to marry Krishnakumar (Krishan), a fellow student. Sushila too wanted his advice. Gandhi took a strong position that the couple should test their commitment by a seven year waiting period during which there should be no communication. The Mashruwala family eventually decided that a formal engagement ceremony was appropriate and on the night of the 14 August 1947 Sita and Krishan are engaged. Traditional customs such as this had little meaning for Gandhi and he jokingly enquires of Sushila as to what this now signified in practice. This was a low period in Gandhi’s life as the new independent states of India and Pakistan were born. He spent his time in Calcutta bringing peace amongst Muslim and Hindu communities infected by the narrow communalism that partition brought to the fore.
To Sushila, 15 May 1947
I met Krishnakumar. He stayed with me for three days. He did not like the condition of refraining from correspondence. I told him I would be able to decide only after seeing Sita again. He seems to be a nice person. I could not talk much with him. Sushila Pai was with me at that time. I asked her to have a frank talk [with him], which she did. If both of them willingly agree to wait for seven years, I would have no objection to their marriage.
To Sushila, 28 July 1947
If Sita were to marry today, she would not have my blessings. The world endures through vows. If I had not taken a vow before my mother, today I would be a drink-addict, a meat-eater and a lecher. If I was saved from these vices, the credit goes to the vow. And I had not taken the vow of my own free will, but at my mother’s instance and through my eagerness to go to England.
But in this case you are the mother and Manilal is the father, and I admit that the father and mother know better than the grandfather. Therefore what you two advise will be best. If you leave the decision to me, I shall not be able to take any other view.
To Sushila, 19 August 1947
What do you mean by saying that Sita is betrothed? According to me, the betrothal took place the day they stole each other’s hearts. Does betrothal mean that they have now taken a step further and can take more liberties with each other?
Sita becomes a victim of partition, she loses contact with Krishan who returned to Lahore, now in Pakistan. She decides she wants to go back to South Africa. Sushila, Arun and Ela had themselves returned in 1947. Gandhi’s very last letter to Sita was written on 6 January from New Delhi. He wrote at 4.30 in the morning first to Sita who was in Akola, then individually to Manilal, Sushila, Arun and Ela in South Africa. Sita’s goal is to be of service to her father in his work at Phoenix, something that finds favour with Gandhi. `Who knows what is in store’, he tells his grand-daughter. Twenty-four days later he was assassinated. Sita returned to South Africa in June 1948.
To Sita, 6 January 1948
I have your letter. The previous one was long and I could not cope with it. I am writing this immediately after prayers. It is good that you have decided to go to Phoenix. When you go there you will be able to form your own ideas, Your dream of helping Manilal will also materialize to some extent. Who knows what is in store?
To Manilal, 6 January 1948
Now that Sita is going there you will get all the help you need. I agree that her studies will suffer there. But she will certainly learn what I believe she ought to learn, namely, whatever she can while helping her parents in their work under their own guidance. This is real economics.