During the fake news era, it is being written after almost 102 years that Mahatma Gandhi too got affected with the Spanish Flu (Influenza). It is being claimed that he too remained in isolation. And he maintained social distancing and stayed in Sabarmati Ashram for many days. BBC wrote, ‘Gandhi and his febrile associates at the ashram were lucky to recover.’
Gandhi indeed got ill in 1918. It can be said that he was lucky enough to survive despite suffering severely from disease but not influenza. And he was not maintaining social distancing as it is being claimed.
Gandhi wrote in his autobiography, ‘In those days my food principally consisted of groundnut butter and lemons. I knew that it was possible to eat too much butter and injure one’s health, and yet I allowed myself to do so. This gave me a slight attack of dysentery.’
‘There was some festival that day, and although I had told Kasturba that I should have nothing for my midday meal, she tempted me and I succumbed. As I was under a vow of taking no milk or milk products, she had specially prepared for me a sweet wheaten porridge with oil added to it instead of ghi. She had reserved too a bowl of mung for me. I was fond of these things, and I readily took them, hoping that without coming to grief I should eat just enough to please Kasturba and to satisfy my palate. But the devil had been only waiting for an opportunity. Instead of eating very little, I had my fill of the meal. This was a sufficient invitation to the angel of death. Within an hour the dysentery appeared in acute form.’
‘The same evening I had to go back to Nadiad. I walked with very great difficulty to the Sabarmati station, a distance of only ten furlongs. Vallabh Bhai, who joined me at Ahmedabad, saw that I was unwell, but I did not allow him to guess how unbearable the pain was.’
He writes in his autobiography, ‘We reached Nadiad at about ten o’clock. The Hindu Anathashram where we had our headquarters was only half a mile from the stations, but it was as good as ten for me. I somehow managed to reached the quarters, but the griping pain was steadily increasing. Instead of using the usual latrine which was a long way off, I asked for a commode to be placed in the adjoining room. I was ashamed to have to ask for this, but there was no escape. Phulchand immediately procured a commode. All the friends surrounded me deeply concerned, They were all love and attention, but they could not relieve my pain. And my obstinacy added to their helplessness. I refused all medical aid. I would take no medicine but preferred to suffer the penalty for my folly. So they looked on in helpless dismay. I must had thirty to forty motions in twenty-four hours…’
After analysing the letters written by Gandhi, it can be said that he remained ill for few days. During this time, his birthday was observed and people reached to him for their best wishes. But Gandhi kept meeting people and writing letters. He was also advising people on how to stay safe from influenza.
On 11 October 1918, Gandhi wrote a letter to Gangabehn Majmundar, in which he writes, ’The only way to escape from this, despite our fallen state, is self-control, moderation, call it what you will. It is the opinion of doctors, and they are right, that the body will run least risk if two things are attended to. Even after one feels that one has recovered from an illness, one should take only liquid and bland food easy to digest and should continue to rest in bed. Many patients, deceived when the fever comes down on the second or third day, resume their work and start eating as usual. This brings on the attack again, and generally, it proves fatal. I would, therefore, request you all to remain confined to bed.’
He also writes in the same letter, ’There are ten sick-beds in the Ashram.’
It needs to be noted that Gangabehn Majmundar was an enterprising widow who discovered for Gandhiji the old spinning wheel in Vijapur in the former Baroda State and started a khadi production centre there.