Then there was the celebration of the birthday of Shivaji. I and my friends were discussing where it should be held. Shivaji was a lover of freedom, I said, so we should celebrate him in the open air, not under any roof; we should go off to the hills and the jungles. So that was settled, but then another obstacle arose: the day was not a holiday. 'Well,' I said, 'We are studying Shivaji in the history class. We might cut that class and go off into the jungle then.' This was agreed; off we all went and held our commemoration with all solemnity. On the way back we began to talk about what would happen the next day, when we would surely be punished for our absence. I suggested that we each take a quarter-rupee with us to pay the fine.
In the history class the next day the teacher asked where we had been, and we said that we had been to the jungle to celebrate Shivaji's birthday. 'Couldn't you have done that here?' he asked. I answered like a shot: 'Shivaji the freedom-lover can't be commemorated in the halls of slavery!' The teacher didn't like that.. 'You'll all be fined,' he said, and we all put our hands in our pockets and laid the coins before him.
In this way we had a lot of discussion and debate about special days and important topics, and a lot of vigorous argument went on in the course of our walks. There were about ten to fifteen of us friends, and we all wanted to undertake some public service. After a time we decided to give our group a more definite shape, and in 1914 we formed a 'Student Society' which held regular celebrations of the birthdays of Shivaji, Swami Ramdas and so on. We also had study-discussion groups with talks on such topics as the works of the Saints, love of country, the lives of great men, the development of character. At first we met in one anotherâ€™s homes, then later we hired a room for a few 'annas'. I began by asking Mother for the money for the rent, but afterwards everyone subscribed. We got together a good library, about sixteen hundred volumes of biography, travel, history, science and so on. I myself once gave a talk on Mazzini; in fact many of the talks were given by me, and I gave them with a serious sense of responsibility.
It was in this Student Society that my public life began, and took it as my model when I founded the Grama Seva Mandal (Village Service Society) in 1935. I certainly profited by all the study needed for the talks I delivered, but the greatest boon the Society gave me was friendship; the friends I made in it have remained my friends for life and have never left me. In 1917 I returned to Baroda for its annual meeting, and suggested that the Society should propagate the use of the Hindi language. I wrote and told Gandhiji that I felt sure it would take up the work and be ready to carry on in Baroda his campaign for Hindi.
Near our house in Baroda lived an old man who used to sit spinning yarn by hand for the 'sacred thread'. I and my friends looked upon him as a laughing-stock. 'What a relic of the primitive!' we would say. In later years many of us joined Gandhiji; we too were destined to spend our time spinning yarn by hand on the wheel!