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Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948)

From The Vegetarian (London), March 14, 1891:

Indian Shepherds
Part VI.

The only flaw that can be found in his mode of living is the paucity of baths. In a hit climate baths are very useful, while a Brahmin would have his bath twice a day, and a Vaishya once a day, a shepherd would have only one bath a week. I shall here again digress to explain the manner in which the Indian takes his baths. Generally he has his baths in the river flowing near his town, but if he is too idle to go to the river, or is afraid of being drowned, or if there is no river near his home town, he has his baths at home. He takes water from a large vessel placed near him, with a goblet and pours it over his body, because he believes that the moment you plunge into stagnant water you render it impure and therefore unfit for further use. For the same reason he would not even wash his hands in a basin, but have someone to pour it over his hands or do it himself by holding the goblets between his arms.

But to return, the paucity of baths does not, it seems, materially affect his health ; while it is obvious thatif the Brahmin were to go without his baths for even a day, he would feel very uncomfortable, and if he were to continue not taling them a little longer, he would soon become ill.

This is, I suppose, an instance of many things which otherwise inexplicable can be accounted for by habit. This while a scavenger, in pursuing his employment keeps good health, any ordinary person trying to do the same will be face to face with death. Death would soon be knocking on the door of a delicately nurtured Lord trying to imitate and East end labourer.

I cannot help here giving a fable or anecdote which is exactly to the point. A king fell in love with a female tooth-brush seller, who is a very Venus in beauty. As might naturally be expected she was ordered to be placed in the king's palace. She was in fact, placed in the la of luxury. She had the best food, the best clothes, in short, everything of the best. And lo ! in proportion to the luxury, so her health began to fail. Scores of physicians were in attendance, but all the drugs most regularly administered proved of no avail. Meanwhile a shrewd physician found out the real cause of the illness. He said that she was possessed by evil spirits. Therefore, in order to satisfy them, he ordered som pieces of old cakes to be set, together with fruit in each of her many rooms. They were to disappear in as many days as there were rooms, and with them, he said, the illness would disappear. And it was so. Of course the cakes were consumed by the poor queen.

Now this goes to show the mastery that habit has over men. So I think the paucity of baths does not greatly harm the shepherd.

The result of this mode of living was partially noticed in the last article, viz : the Vegetarian shepherd is physically strong. He is also long-lived. I know a shepherdess who was more than 100 years old in 1888. When I last saw her her eyesight was very good. Her memory was fresh. She could recollect thngs that she had seem in her childhood. She could walk with a stick to support her. I hope she is still living.

Besides, the shepherd's figure is symmetrical. It is very rare to see any deformity in him. Without being fierce like a tiger, he is yet strong and brave and as docile as a lamb. Without being awe-inspiring, his stature is commanding. Altogether the Indian shepherd is a very fine specimen of a Vegetarian, and will compare favourably with any meat-eater so far as bodily strength goes.

M. K. Gandhi.