Mahatma Gandhi Community Forum


by Jeff Knaebel on the 127th day of his stateless freedom
24 October 2009

“I have not the slightest doubt that, but for the pair, truth and non-violence, mankind will be doomed. We can have the vision of that truth and non-violence only in the simplicity of the villages”

LETTER TO H.S.L.POLAK, [LONDON], October 14, 1909
• “My main purpose was, in all the questions that were addressed to me, forgotten, and details were warmly taken up and discussed. The following are the conclusions:
• There is no impassable barrier between East and West.
• There is no such thing as Western or European civilization, but there is a modern civilization, which is purely material.
• The people of Europe, before they were touched by modern civilization, had much in common with the people of the East; anyhow, the people of India and, even today, Europeans who are not touched by modern civilization are far better able to mix with the Indians than the offspring of that civilization.
• It is not the British people who are ruling India, but it is modern civilization, through its railways, telegraphs, telephones, and almost every invention which has been claimed to be a triumph of civilization.
• Bombay, Calcutta and the other chief cities of India are the real plague spots.
• If British rule was replaced tomorrow by Indian rule based on modern methods, India would be no better, except that she would be able then to retain some of the money that is drained away to England, but, then, Indians would only become a second or fifth edition of Europe or America.
• East and West can only and really meet when the West has thrown overboard modern civilization, almost in its entirety. They can also seemingly meet when East has also adopted modern civilization. But that meeting would be an armed truce, even as it is between, say, Germany and England, both of which nations are living in the Hall of Death in order to avoid being devoured, the one by the other.
• It is simply impertinence for any man or any body of men to begin or contemplate reform of the whole world. To attempt to do so by means of highly artificial and speedy locomotion is to attempt the impossible.
• Increase of material comforts, it may be generally laid down, does not in any way whatsoever conduce to moral growth.
• Hospitals are the instruments that the Devil has been using for his own purpose, in order to keep his hold on his kingdom. They perpetuate vice, misery and degradation, and real slavery.
• I was entirely off the track when I considered that I should receive a medical training. It would be sinful for me in any way whatsoever to take part in the abominations that go on in the hospitals. If there were no hospitals for venereal diseases, or even for consumptives, we should have less consumption, and less sexual vice amongst us.
• India’s salvation consists in unlearning what she has learnt during the past fifty years. The railways, telegraphs, hospitals, lawyers, doctors, and such like have all to go, and the so-called upper classes have to learn to live conscientiously and religiously and deliberately the simple peasant life, knowing this.
• “Civilization is that mode of conduct which points out to man the path of duty. Performance of duty and observance of morality are convertible terms. To observe morality is to attain mastery over our mind and our passions. So doing, we know ourselves. The Gujarati equivalent for civilization means “good conduct”.
• “If this definition be correct, then India has nothing to learn from anybody else. We notice that the mind is a restless bird; the more it gets the more it wants, and still remains unsatisfied. The more we indulge our passions, the more unbridled they become. Our ancestors, therefore, set a limit to our indulgences. They saw that happiness was largely a mental condition.

A man is not necessarily happy because he is rich or unhappy because he is poor. The rich are often seen to be unhappy, the poor to be happy. Millions will always remain poor. Observing all this, our ancestors dissuaded us from luxuries and pleasures. We have managed with the same kind of plough as existed thousands of years ago. We have retained the same kind of cottages that we had in former times and our indigenous education remains the same as before. We have had no system of life-corroding competition. Each followed his own occupation or trade and charged a regulation wage.

It was not that we did not know how to invent machinery, but our forefathers knew that, if we set our hearts after such things, we would become slaves and lose our moral fibre. They, therefore, after due deliberation decided that we should only do what we could with our hands and feet. They saw that our real happiness and health consisted in a proper use of our hands and feet.

They further reasoned that large cities were a snare and a useless encumbrance and that people would not be happy in them, that there would be gangs of thieves and robbers, prostitution and vice flourishing in them and those poor men would be robbed by rich men. They were, therefore, satisfied with small villages.


A new calf was born last night to our lion-hearted host Sri Ratanvir Singh, so our dinner, served with love and affection by host and son, was very late.

This morning the sun comes much earlier to this high ridge village than to the shaded valley below. It is good, and our morale is higher.

Sri Ratanvir insists against our objection in giving us a kg of sugar, as if we are embarking upon an expedition into the great unknown. As well, he added two handfuls of apples.

We got underway at 0900 hrs, with Ratanvir in the lead to show us the first part of the trail. Devendrabhai estimates that we may climb as much as 3,000 ft today, from 8,000 ft elevation at Dhumreda to 11,000 or more at Muraldanda Pass. This is the last place name known locally.

Ratanvir is deeply respected because alone among his villagers he left meat eating and hunting small animals and using Yak for food. Slowly he convinced others, and now his entire village is vegetarian only. He also limits his cow milking to only what is left after the calf has had its fill.

We are informed that the big wild animals – bear and leopard – have been extinct in this area for a long time.

We are very fortunate to have Ratanvir’s guidance, for the trail is ambiguous, with many bewildering crossing paths. Niraj-ji becomes weak with gastric trouble, and 50-year-old Ratanvir takes his heavy pack and walks on more swiftly than the rest. At 1035 he leaves us to proceed on our own. What a great soul, so full of love for others.

At 1148 hrs Devendrabhai catches sight of the Kinnaur Kailash peaks, gems sparkling in the northeast distance. At noon, nearing the end of our water and Jeff’s strength, we find a small spring below a little plateau. Devendrabhai rejuvenates the flow and digs a small pond in the leafy muck below so that animals will have a water hole.

Our lunch camp at the spring is just at the 10,000 ft tree line. We have climbed 2,000 ft in three hours. We cook with wood fire on a small flat knob in the warm sun, blessed with the darshan of Kinnaur Kailash. There is fresh snow on their front flanks at an elevation below us.

At 1456 hrs we hit the trail again toward unknown village and with unknown distance to water. From above 11,000 ft we view the awesome beauty of a sweeping panorama of the Grand Himalaya.

We see wild parsley, sage, eagle, and hear the cry of marmots. It is very cold with high wind when we reach the Muraldanda crest at 1715 hrs. We have climbed more than 3,000 ft to reach elevation of more than 11,000. Only by Devendrabhai’s wits and strength are we able to get our two dome tents erected.

At 1915 hrs, cold and hungry, we crawl into sleeping bags while the wind threatens to dislodge our tent.

Today we walked 12 km – tally 1,033.


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