AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY OR The story of my experiments with truth
M. K. Gandhi
TRANSLATED FROM THE GUJARATI BY MAHADEV DESAI
The Gandhis belong to the Bania caste and seem to have been originally grocers. But for three generations, from my grandfather, they have been Prime Ministers in several Kathiawad States. Uttamchand Gandhi, alias Ota Gandhi, my grandfather, must have been a man of principle. State intrigues compelled him to leave Porbandar, where he was Diwan, and to seek refuge in Junagadh. There he saluted the Nawab with the left hand. Someone, noticing the apparent discourtesy, asked for an explanation, which was given thus: 'The right hand is already pledged to Porbandar.'
Ota Gandhi married a second time, having lost his first
wife. He had four sons by his first wife and two by his second wife. I do not
think that in my childhood I ever felt or knew that these sons of Ota Gandhi
were not all of the same mother. The fifth of these six brothers was Karamchand
Gandhi, alias Kaba Gandhi, and the sixth was Tulsidas Gandhi. Both these
brothers were Prime Ministers in Porbandar, one after the other. Kaba Gandhi
was my father. He was a member of the
Kaba Gandhi married four times in succession, having lost his wife each time by death. He had two daughters by his first and second marriages. His last wife, Putlibai, bore him a daughter and three sons, I being the youngest.
My father was a lover of his clan, truthful, brave and generous, but short-tempered. To a certain extent he might have been given to carnal pleasures. For he married for the fourth time when he was over forty. But he was incorruptible and had earned a name for strict impartiality in his family as well as outside. His loyalty to the state was well known. An Assistant Political Agent spoke insultingly of the Rajkot Thakore Saheb, his chief, and he stood up to the insult. The Agent was angry and asked Kaba Gandhi to apologize. This he refused to do and was therefore kept under detention for a few hours. But when the Agent saw that Kaba Gandhi was adamant, he ordered him to be released.
My father never had any ambition to accumulate riches and left us very little property.
He had no education, save that of experience. At best, he might be said to have read up to the fifth Gujarati standard. Of history and geography he was innocent. But his rich experience of practical affairs stood him in good stead in the solution of the most intricate questions and in managing hundreds of men. Of religious training he had very little, but he had that kind of religious culture which frequent visits to temples and listening to religious discourses make available to many Hindus. In his last days he began reading the Gita at the instance of a learned Brahman friend of the family, and he used to repeat aloud some verses every day at the time of worship.
The outstanding impression my mother has left on my memory is that of saintliness. She was deeply religious. She would not think of taking her meals without her daily prayers. Going to Haveli -the Vaishnava temple-was one of her daily duties. As far as my memory can go back, I do not remember her having ever missed the Chaturmas . She would take the hardest vows and keep them without flinching. Illness was no excuse for relaxing them. I can recall her once falling ill when she was observing the Chandrayana vow, but the illness was not allowed to interrupt the observance. To keep two or three consecutive fasts was nothing to her. Living on one meal a day
during Chaturmas was a habit with her. Not content with that she fasted every alternate day during one Chaturmas . During another Chaturmas she vowed not to have food without seeing the sun. We children on those days would stand, staring at the sky, waiting to announce the appearance of the sun to our mother. Everyone knows that at the height of the rainy season the sun often does not condescend to show his face. And I remember days when, at his sudden appearance, we would rush and announce it to her, She would run out to se with her own eyes, but by that time the fugitive sun would be gone, thus depriving her of her meal. "That does not matter," she would say cheerfully, "God did not want me to eat today." And then she would return to her round of duties.
My mother had strong commonsense. She was well informed about all matters of state, and ladies of the court thought highly of her intelligence. Often I would accompany her, exercising the privilege of childhood, and I still remember many lively discussions she had with the widowed mother of the Thakore Saheb.
Of these parents I was born at Porbandar, otherwise known as Sudamapuri, on the 2nd October, 1869, I passed my childhood in Porbandar. I recollect having been put to school. It was with some difficulty that I got through the multiplication tables. The fact that I recollect nothing more of those days than having learnt, in company with other boys, to call our teacher all kinds of names, would strongly suggest that my intellect must have been sluggish, and my memory raw.
I must have been about seven when my father left Porbandar
There is an incident which occurred at the examination during my first year at the high school and which is worth recording. Mr Giles, the educational Inspector, had come on a visit of inspection. He had set us five words to write as a spelling exercise. One of the words was 'Kettle'. I had misspelt it. The teacher tried to prompt me with the point of his boot, but I would not be prompted. It was beyond me to see that he wanted me to copy the spelling from my neighbour's slate, for I had thought that the teacher was there to supervise us against copying. The result was that all the boys, except myself, were found to have spelt every word correctly. Only I had been stupid. The teacher tried later to bring this stupidity home to me. but without effect. I never could learn the art of 'copying'.
Yet the incident did not in the least diminish my respect for my teacher. I was by nature, blind to the faults of elders. Later I came to know of many other failings of this teacher, but my regard for him remained the same. For I had learnt to carry out the orders of elders, not to scan their actions.
Two other incidents belonging to the same period have always clung to my memory. As a rule I had a distaste for any reading beyond my school books. The daily lessons had to be done, because I disliked being taken to task by my teacher as much as I disliked deceiving him. Therefore I would do the lessons, but often without my mind in them. Thus when even the lessons could not be done properly, there was of course no question of any extra reading. But somehow my eyes fell on a book purchased by my father. It was Shravana Pitribhakti Nataka (a play about Sharavana's devotion to his parents). I read it with intense interest. There came to our place about the same time itinerant showmen. One of the pictures I was shown was of Shravana carrying, by means of slings fitted for his shoulders, his blind parents on a pilgrimage. The book and the picture left an indelible impression on my mind. 'Here is an example for you to copy,' I said to myself. The agonized lament of the parents over Shravana's death is still fresh in my memory. The melting tune moved me deeply, and I played it on a concertina which my father had purchased for me.
There was a similar incident connected with another play. Just about this time, I had secured my father's permission to see a play performed by a certain dramatic company. This playHarishchandra- captured my heart. I could never be tired of seeing it. But how often should I be permitted to go? It haunted me and I must have acted Harishchandra to myself times without number. 'Why should not all be truthful like Harishchandra?' was the question I asked myself day and night. To follow truth and to go through all the ordeals Harishchandra went through was the one ideal it inspired in me. I literally believed in the story of Harishchandra. The thought of it all often made me weep. My commonsense tells me today that Harishchandra could not have been a historical character. Still both Harishchandra and Shravana are living realities for me, and I am sure I should be moved as before if I were to read those plays again today.
Much as I wish that I had not to write this chapter, I know that I shall have to swallow many such bitter draughts in the course of this narrative. And I cannot do otherwise, if I claim to be a worshipper of Truth. It is my painful duty to have to record here my marriage at the age of thirteen. As I see the youngsters of the same age about me who are under my care, and think of my own marriage, I am inclined to pity myself and to congratulate them on having escaped my lot. I can see no moral argument in support of such a preposterously early marriage.
Let the reader make no mistake. I was married, not betrothed. For in Kathiawad there are two distinct rites, betrothal and marriage. Betrothal is a preliminary promise on the part of the parents of the boy and the girl to join them in marriage, and it is not inviolable. The death of the boy entails no widowhood on the girl. It is an agreement purely between the parents, and the children have no concern with it. Often they are not even informed of it. It appears that I was betrothed thrice, though without my knowledge. I was told that two girls chosen for me had died in turn, and therefore I infer that I was betrothed three times. I have a faint recollection, however, that the third betrothal took place in my seventh year. But I do not recollect having been informed about it. In the present chapter I am talking about my marriage, of which I have the clearest recollection.
It will be remembered that we were three brothers. The first was already married. The elders decided to marry my second brother, who was two or three years my senior,a cousin, possibly a year older, and me, all at the same time. In doing so there was no thought of our welfare, much less our wishes. It was purely a question of their own convenience and economy.
Marriage among Hindus is no simple matter. The parents of the bride and the bridegroom often bring themselves to ruin over it. They waste their substance, they waste their time. Months are taken up over the preparations in making clothes and ornaments and in preparing budgets for dinners. Each tries to outdo the other in the number and variety of courses to be prepared. Women, whether they have a voice or no, sing themselves hoarse, even get ill, and disturb the peace of their neighbours. these in their turn quietly put up with all the turmoil and bustle all the dirt and filth, representing the remains of the feasts, because they know that a time will come when they also will be behaving in the same manner.
It would be better, thought my elders, to have all this bother over at one and the same time. Less expense and greater eclat. For money could be freely spent if it had only to be spent once instead of thrice. My father and my uncle were both old, and we were the last children they had to marry. it is likely that they wanted to have the last best time of their lives. In view of all these considerations, a triple wedding was decided upon, and as I have said before, months were taken up in preparation for it.
It was only through these preparations that we got warning of the coming event. I do not think it meant to me anything more than the prospect of good clothes to wear, drum beating, marriage processions, rich dinners and a strange girl to play with. The carnal desire came later. I propose to draw the curtain over my shame, except for a few details worth recording. To these I shall come later. But even they have little to do with the central idea I have kept before me in writing this story.
So my brother and I were both taken to Porbandar from
My father was a Diwan, but nevertheless a servant, and all
the more so because he was in favour with the Thakore Saheb. The latter would
not let him go until the last moment. And when he did so, he ordered for my
father special stage coaches, reducing the journey by two days. But the fates
had willed otherwise. Porbandar is 120 miles from
I was devoted to my parents. but no less was I devoted to the passions that flesh is heir to. I had yet to learn that all happiness and pleasure should be sacrificed in devoted service to my parents. And yet, as though by way of punishment for my desire for pleasures, an incident happened, which has ever since rankled in my mind and which I will relate later. Nishkulanand sings: 'Renunciation of objects, without the renunciation of desires, is short-lived, however hard you may try.' Whenever I sing this song or hear it sung, this bitter untoward incident, rushes to my memory and fills me with shame.
My father put on a brave face in spite of his injuries, and took full part in the wedding. As I think of it, I can even today call before my mind's eye the places where he sat as he went through the different details of the ceremony. Little did I dream then that one day I should severely criticize my father for having married me as a child. Everything on that day seemed to me own right and proper and pleasing. There was also my own eagerness to get married. And as everything that my father did then struck me as beyond reproach, the recollection of those things is fresh in my memory. I can picture to myself, even today, how we sat on our wedding dais, how we performed the Saptapadi how we, the newly wedded husband and wife, put the sweet Kansar into each other's mouth, and how we began to live together. And oh! that first night.Two innocent children all unwittingly hurled themselves into the ocean of life. My brother's wife had thoroughly coached me about my behaviour on the first night. I do not know who had coached my wife. I have never asked her about it, nor am I inclined to do so now. The reader may be sure that we were too nervous to face each other. We were certainly too shy. How was I to talk to her, and what was I to say? The coaching could not carry me far. But no coaching is really necessary in such matters. The impressions of the former birth are potent enough to make all coaching superfluous. We gradually began to know each other, and to speak freely together. We were the same age. but I took no time in assuming the authority of a husband.
About the time of my marriage, little pamphlets costing a pice, or a pie (I now forget how much), used to be issued, in which conjugal love, thrift, child marriages, and other such subjects were discussed. Whenever I came across any of these, I used to go through them cover to cover, and it was a habit with me to forget what I did not like, and to carry out in practice whatever I liked. Lifelong faithfulness to the wife, inculcated in these booklets as the duty of the husband, remained permanently imprinted on my heart. Furthermore, the passion for truth was innate in me, and to be false to her was therefore out of the question. And then there was very little chance of my being faithless at that tender age.
But the lesson of faithfulness had also untoward effect. 'If I should be pledged to be faithful to my wife, she also should be pledged to be faithful to me,' I said to myself. The thought made me a jealous husband. Her duty was easily converted into my right to exact faithfulness from her, and if it had to be exacted, I should be watchfully tenacious of the right. I had absolutely no reason to suspect my wife's fidelity, but jealousy does not wait for reasons. I must needs be for ever on the look-out regarding her movements, and therefore she could not go anywhere without my permission. This sowed the seeds of a bitter quarrel between us. The restraint was virtually a sort of imprisonment. And Kasturbai was not the girl to brook any such thing. She made it a point to go out whenever and wherever she liked. More restraint on my part resulted in more liberty being taken by her, and in my getting more and more cross. Refusal to speak to one another thus became the order of the day with us, married children. I think it was quite innocent of Kasturbai to have taken those liberties with my restrictions. How could a guileless girl brook any restraint on going to the temple or on going on visits to friends? If I had the right to impose restrictions on her, had not she also a similar right? All this is clear to me today. But at that time I had to make good my authority as a husband!
Let not the reader think, however, that ours was a life of unrelieved bitterness. For my severities were all based on love. I wanted to make my wife an ideal wife. My ambition was to make her live a pure life, learn what I learnt,and identify her life and thought with mine.
I do not know whether Kasturbai had any such ambition. She was illiterate. By nature she was simple, independent, persevering and, with me at least, reticent. She was not impatient of her ignorance and I do not recollect my studies having ever spurred her to go in for a similar adventure. I fancy, therefore, that my ambition was all one- sided. My passion was entirely centred on one woman, and I wanted it to be reciprocated. But even if there were no reciprocity, it could not be all unrelieved misery because there was active love on one side at least.
I must say I was passionately fond of her. Even at school I used to think of her, and the thought of nightfall and our subsequent meeting was ever haunting me. Separation was unbearable. I used to keep her awake till late in the night with my idle talk. If with this devouring passion there had not been in me a burning attachment to duty, I should either have fallen a prey to disease and premature death, or have sunk into a burdensome existence. But the appointed tasks had to be gone through every morning, and lying to anyone was out of the question. It was this last thing that saved me from many a pitfall.
I have already said that Kasturbai was illiterate. I was very anxious to teach her, but lustful love left me no time. For one thing the teaching had to be done against her will, and that too at night. I dared not meet her in the presence of the elders, much less talk to her. Kathiawad had then, and to a certain extent has even today, its own peculiar, useless and barbarous Purdah. Circumstances were thus unfavourable. I must therefore confess that most of my efforts to instruct Kasturbai in our youth were unsuccessful. And when I awoke from the sleep of lust, I had already launched forth into public life, which did not leave me much spare time. I failed likewise to instruct her through private tutors. As a result Kasturbai can now with difficulty write simple letters and understand simple Gujarati. I am sure that, had my love for her been absolutely untainted with lust, she would be a learned lady today; for I could than have conquered her dislike for studies. I know that nothing is impossible for pure love.
I have mentioned one circumstance that more or less saved me
from the disasters of lustful love. There is another worth noting. Numerous
examples have convinced me that God ultimately saves him whose motive is pure.
Along with the cruel custom of child marriages, Hindu society has another
custom which to a certain extent diminishes the evils of the former. Parents do
not allow young couples to stay long. The child-wife spends more than half her
time at her father's place. Such was the case with us. That is to say, during
the first five years of our married life (from the age of 13 to 18), we could
not have lived together longer than an aggregate period of three years. We
would hardly have spent six months together, when there would be a call to my
wife from her parents. Such calls were very unwelcome in those days, But they
saved us both. At the age of eighteen I went to
I have already said that I was learning at the high school when I was married. We three brothers were learning at the same school. The eldest brother was in a much higher class, and the brother who was married at the same time as I was, only one class ahead of me. Marriage resulted in both of us wasting a year. Indeed the result was oven worse for my brother, for he gave up studies altogether. Heaven knows how many youths are in the same plight as he. Only in our present Hindu society do studies and marriage go thus hand in hand.
My studies were continued. I was not regarded as a dunce at the high school. I always enjoyed the affection of my teachers. Certificates of progress and character used to be sent to the parents
every year. I never had a bad certificate. In fact I even won prizes after I passed out of the second standard. In the fifth and sixth I obtained scholarships and rupees four and ten respectively, an achievement for which I have to thank good luck more than my merit. For the scholarships were not open to all, but reserved for the best boys amongst those coming from the Sorath Division of Kathiawad. And in those days there could not have been many boys from Sorath in a class of forty to fifty.
My own recollection is that I had not any high regard for my ability. I used to be astonished whenever I won prizes and scholarships. But I very jealously guarded my character. The least little blemish drew tears from my eyes. When I merited, or seemed to the teacher to merit, a rebuke, it was unbearable for me. I remember having once received corporal punishment. I did not so much mind the punishment, as the fact that it was considered my desert. I wept piteously. That was when I was in the first or second standard. There was another such incident during the time when I was in the seventh standard. Dorabji Edulji Gimi was the headmaster then. He was popular among boys, as he was a disciplinarian, a man of method and a good teacher. He had made gymnastics and cricket compulsory for boys of the upper standards. I disliked both. I never took part in any exercise, cricket or football, before they were made compulsory. My shyness was one of the reasons for this aloofness, which I now see was wrong. I then had the false notion that gymnastics had nothing to do with education. Today I know that physical training should have as much place in the curriculum as mental training.
I may mention, however, that I was none the worse for abstaining from exercise. That was because I had read in books about the benefits of long walks in the open air, and having liked the advice, I had formed a habit of taking walks, which has still remained with me. These walks gave me a fairly hardy constitution.
The reason of my dislike for gymnastics was my keen desire to serve as nurse to my father. As soon as the school closed, I would hurry home and begin serving him. Compulsory exercise came directly in the way of this service. I requested Mr. Gimi to exempt me from gymnastics so that I might be free to serve my father. But he would not listen to me. Now it so happened that one Saturday, when we had school in the morning, I had to go from home to the school for gymnastics at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. I had no watch, and the clouds deceived me. Before I reached the school the boys had all left. The next day Mr. Gimi, examining the roll, found me marked absent. Being asked the reason for absence, I told him what had happened. He refused to believe me and ordered me to pay a fine of one or two annas (I cannot now recall how much).
I was convicted of lying ! That deeply pained me. How was I to prove my innocence? There was no way. I cried in deep anguish. I saw that a man of truth must also be a man of care. This was the first and last instance of my carelessness in school. I have a faint recollection that I finally succeeded in getting the fine remitted. The exemption from exercise was of course obtained, as my father wrote himself to the headmaster saying that he wanted me at home after school.
But though I was none the worse for having neglected
exercise, I am still paying the penalty of another neglect, I do not know
whence I got the notion that good handwriting was not a necessary part of
education, but I retained it until I went to
Two more reminiscences of my school days are worth
recording. I had lost one year because of my marriage, and the teacher wanted
me to make good the loss by skipping a class a privilege usually allowed to
industrious boys. I therefore had only six months in the third standard and was
prompted to he forth after the examinations which are followed by the summer
vacation. English became the medium of instruction in most subjects from the
fourth standard. I found myself completely at sea. Geometry was a new subject
in which I was not particularly strong, and the English medium made it still
more difficult for me. The teacher taught the subject very well, but I could
not follow him. Often I would lose heart and think of going back to the third
standard, feeling that the packing of two years' studies into a single year was
too ambitious. But this would discredit not only me, but also the teacher;
because, counting on my industry, he had recommended my promotion. So the fear
of the double discredit kept me at my post. When however, with much effort I
reached the thirteenth proposition of
Samskrit, however, proved a harder task. In geometry there was nothing to memorize, whereas in Samskrit, I thought, everything had to be learnt by heart. This subject also was commenced from the fourth standard. As soon as I entered the sixth I became disheartened. The teacher was a hard taskmaster, anxious, as I thought, to force the boys. There was a sort of rivalry going on between the Samskrit and the Persian teachers. The Persian teacher was lenient. The boys used to talk among themselves that Persian was very easy and the Persian teacher very good and considerate to the students. The 'easiness' tempted me and one day I sat in the Persian class. The Samskrit teacher was grieved. He called me to his side and said: 'How can you forget that you are the son of a Vaishnava father? Won't you learn the language of your own religion? If you have any difficulty, why not come to me? I want to teach you students Samskrit to the best of my ability. As you proceed further, you will find in it things of absorbing interest. You should not lose heart. Come and sit again in the Samskrit class.'
This kindness put me to shame. I could not disregard my teacher's affection. Today I cannot but think with gratitude of Krishnashankar Pandya. For if I had not acquired the little Samskrit that I had learnt then, I should have found it difficult to take any interest in our sacred books. In fact I deeply regret that I was not able to acquire a more thorough knowledge of the language, because I have since realized that every Hindu boy and girl should possess sound Samskrit learning.
It is now my opinion that in all Indian curricula of higher education there should be a place for Hindi, Samskrit, Persian, Arabic and English, besides of course the vernacular. This big list need not frighten anyone. If our education were more systematic, and the boys free from the burden of having to learn their subjects through a foreign medium, I am sure learning all these languages would not be an irksome task. but a perfect pleasure. A scientific knowledge of one language makes a knowledge of other languages comparatively easy.
In reality, Hindi, Gujarati and Samskrit may be regarded as one language, and Persian and Arabic also as one. Though Persian belongs to the Aryan, and Arabic to the Semitic family of languages, there is a close relationship between Persian and Arabic, because both claim their full growth through the rise of Islam. Urdu I have not regarded as a distinct language, because it has adopted the Hindi grammar and its vocabulary is mainly Persian and Arabic, and he who would learn good Urdu must learn Persian and Arabic, as one who would learn good Gujarati, Hindi, Bengali, or Marathi must learn Samskrit.
Amongst my few friends at the high school I had, at different times, two who might be called intimate. One of these friendships did not last long, though I never forsook my friend. He forsook me, because I made friends with the other. This latter friendship I regard as a tragedy in my life. It lasted long. I formed it in spirit of a reformer.
This companion was originally my elder brother's friend. They were classmates. I knew his weaknesses, but I regarded him as a faithful friend. My mother, my eldest brother, and my wife warned me that I was in bad company. I was too proud to heed my wife's warning. But I dared not go against the opinion of my mother and my eldest brother. Nevertheless I pleaded with them saying, 'I know he has the weaknesses you attribute to him, but you do not know his virtues. He cannot lead me astray, as my association with him is meant to reform him. For I am sure that if he reforms his ways, he will be a splendid man. I beg you not to be anxious on my account.'
I do not think this satisfied them, but they accepted my explanation and let me go my way.
I have seen since that I had calculated wrongly. A reformer cannot afford to have close intimacy with him whom he seeks to reform. True friendship is an identity of souls rarely to be found in this world. Only between like natures can friendship be altogether worthy and enduring. Friends react on one another. Hence in friendship there is very little scope for reform. I am of opinion that all exclusive intimacies are to be avoided; for man takes in vice far more readily than virtue. And he who would be friends with God must remain alone, or make the whole world his friend. I may be wrong, but my effort to cultivate an intimate friendship proved a failure.
A wave of 'reform' was sweeping over
I was surprised and pained. I asked my friend the reason and he explained it thus: 'We are a weak people because we do not eat meat. The English are able to rule over us, because they are meat-eaters. You know how hardy I am, and how great a runner too. It is because I am a meateater. Meat-eaters do not have boils or tumours, and even if they sometimes happen to have any, these heal quickly. Our teachers and other distinguished people who eat meat are no fools. They know its virtues. You should do likewise. There is nothing like trying. Try, and see what strength it gives.'
All these pleas on behalf of meat-eating were not advanced at a single sitting. They represent the substance of a long and elaborate argument which my friend was trying to impress upon me from time to time. My elder brother had already fallen. He therefore supported my friend's argument. I certainly looked feeble-bodied by the side of my brother and this friend. They were both hardier, physically stronger, and more daring. This friend's exploits cast a spell over me. He could run long distances and extraordinarily fast. He was an adept in high and long jumping. He could put up with any amount of corporal punishment. He would often display his exploits to me and, as one is always dazzled when he sees in others the qualities that he lacks himself, I was dazzled by this friend's exploits. This was followed by a strong desire to be like him. I could hardly jump or run. Why should not I also be as strong as he?
Moreover, I was a coward. I used to be haunted by the fear of thieves, ghosts, and serpents. I did not dare to stir out of doors at night. Darkness was a terror to me. It was almost impossible for me to sleep in the dark, as I would imagine ghosts coming from one direction, thieves from another and serpents from a third. I could not therefore bear to sleep without a light in the room. How could I disclose my fears to my wife, no child, but already at the threshold of youth, sleeping by my side? I knew that she had more courage than I, and I felt ashamed of myself. She knew no fear of serpents and ghosts. She could go out anywhere in the dark. My friend knew all these weaknesses of mine. He would tell me that he could hold in his hand live serpents, could defy thieves and did not believe in ghosts. And all this was, of course, the result of eating meat.
A doggerel of the Gujarati poet Narmad was in vogue amongst us schoolboys, as follows: Behold the mighty Englishman He rules the Indian small, Because being a meat-eater He is five cubits tall.
All this had its due effect on me. I was beaten. It began to grow on me that meat-eating was good, that it would make me strong and daring, and that, if the whole county took to meat-eating, the English could be overcome.
A day was thereupon fixed for beginning the experiment. It
had to be conducted in secret. The Gandhis were Vaishnavas. My parents were particularly
staunch Vaishnavas. They would regularly visit the Haveli. The family had even
its own temples. Jainism was strong in
So the day came. It is difficult fully to describe my condition. There were, on the one hand, the zeal for 'reform', and the novelty of making a momentous departure in life. There was, on the other, the shame of hiding like a thief to do this very thing. I cannot say which of the two swayed me more. We went in search of a lonely spot by the river, and there I saw, for the first time in my life - meat. There was baker's bread also. I relished neither. The goat's meat was as tough as leather. I simply could not eat it. I was sick and had to leave off eating.
I had a very bad night afterwards. A horrible night-mare haunted me. Every time I dropped off to sleep it would seem as though a live goat were bleating inside me, and I would jump up full of remorse. But then I would remind myself that meat-eating was a duty and so become more cheerful.
My friend was not a man to give in easily. He now began to cook various delicacies with meat, and dress them neatly. And for dining, no longer was the secluded spot on the river chosen, but a State house, with its dining hall, and tables and chairs, about which my friend had made arrangements in collusion with the chief cook there.
This bait had its effect. I got over my dislike for bread, forswore my compassion for the goats, and became a relisher of meat-dishes, if not of meat itself. This went on for about a year. But not more than half a dozen meat-feasts were enjoyed in all; because the State house was not available every day, and there was the obvious difficulty about frequently preparing expensive savoury meat-dishes. I had no money to pay for this 'reform'. My friend had therefore always to find the wherewithal. I had no knowledge where he found it. But find it he did, because he was bent on turning me into a meat-eater. But even his means must have been limited, and hence these feasts had necessarily to be few and far between.
Whenever I had occasion to indulge in these surreptitious feasts, dinner at home was out of the question. My mother would naturally ask me to come and take my food and want to know the reason why I did not wish to eat. I would say to her, 'I have no appetite today; there is something wrong with my digestion.' It was not without compunction that I devised these pretexts. I knew I was lying, and lying to my mother. I also knew that, if my mother and father came to know of my having become a meat-eater, they would be deeply shocked. This knowledge was gnawing at my heart.
Therefore I said to myself: 'Though it is essential to eat meat, and also essential to take up food 'reform' in the country, yet deceiving and lying to one's father and mother is worse than not eating meat. In their lifetime, therefore, meat-eating must be out of the question. When they are no more and I have found my freedom, I will eat meat openly, but until that moment arrives I will abstain from it.'
This decision I communicated to my friend, and I have never since gone back to meat. My parents never knew that two of their sons had become meat-eaters.
I abjured meat out of the purity of my desire not to lie to my parents, but I did not abjure the company of my friend. My zeal for reforming him had proved disastrous for me, and all the time I was completely unconscious of the fact.
The same company would have led me into faithlessness to my
wife. But I was saved by the skin of my teeth. My friend once took me to a
brothel. He sent me in with the necessary instructions. It was all prearranged.
The bill had already been paid. I went into the jaws of sin, but God in His
infinite mercy protected me against myself. I was almost struck blind and dumb
in this den of vice. I sat near the woman on her bed, but I was tongue-tied.
She naturally lost patience with me, and showed me the door, with abuses and
insults. I then felt as though my manhood had been injured, and wished to sink
into the ground for shame. But I have ever since given thanks to God for having
saved me. I can recall four more similar incidents in my life, and in most of
them my good fortune, rather than any effort on my part, saved me. From a
strictly ethical point of view, all these occasions must be regarded as moral
lapses; for the carnal desire was there, and it was as good as the act. But
from the ordinary point of view, a man who is saved from physically committing
sin is regarded as saved. And I was saved only in that sense. There are some
actions from which an escape is a godsend both for the man who escapes and for
those about him. Man, as soon as he gets back his consciousness of right, is
thankful to the Divine mercy for the escape. As we know that a man often
succumbs to temptation, however much he say resist it, we also know that
But to go on with the story. Even this was far from opening my eyes to the viciousness of my friend's company. I therefore had many more bitter draughts in store for me, until my eyes were actually opened by an ocular demonstration of some of his lapses quite unexpected by me. But of them later, as we are proceeding chronologically.
One thing, however, I must mention now, as it pertains to the same period. One of the reasons of my differences with my wife was undoubtedly the company of this friend. I was both a devoted and a jealous husband, and this friend fanned the flame of my suspicions about my wife. I never could doubt his veracity. And I have never forgiven myself the violence of which I have been guilty in often having pained my wife by acting on his information. Perhaps only a Hindu wife would tolerate these hardships, and that is why I have regarded woman as an incarnation of tolerance. A servant wrongly suspected may throw up his job, a son in the same case may leave his father's roof, and a friend may put an end to the friendship. The wife, if she suspects her husband, will keep quiet, but if the husband suspects her, she is ruined. Where is she to go? A Hindu wife may not seek divorce in a law-court. Law has no remedy for her. And I can never forget or forgive myself for a having driven my wife to that desperation.
The canker of suspicion was rooted out only when I understood Ahimsa in all its bearings. I saw then the glory of Brahmacharya and realized that the wife is not the husband's bondslave, but his companion and his help-mate, and an equal partner in all his joy and sorrows - as free as the husband to choose her own path. Whenever I think of those dark days of doubts and suspicions. I am filled with loathing of my folly and my lustful cruelty, and I deplore my blind devotion to my friend.
I have still to relate some of my failings during this meat-eating period and also previous to it, which date from before my marriage or soon after.
A relative and I became fond of smoking. Not that we saw any good in smoking, or were enamoured of the smell of a cigarette. We simply imagined a sort of pleasure in emitting clouds of smoke from our mouths. My uncle had the habit, and when we saw him smoking, we thought we should copy his example. But we had no money. So we began pilfering stumps of cigarettes thrown away by my uncle.
The stumps, however, were not always available, and could not emit much smoke either. So we began to steal coppers from the servant's pocket money in order to purchase Indian cigarettes. But the question was where to keep them. We could not of course smoke in the presence of elders. We managed somehow for a few weeks on these stolen coppers. In the meantime we heard that the stalks of a certain plant were porous and could be smoked like cigarettes. We got them and began this kind of smoking.
But we were far from being satisfied with such things as these. Our want of independence began to smart, It was unbearable that we should be unable to do anything without the elders' permission. At last, in sheer disgust, we decided to commit suicide!
But how were we to do it? From where were we to get the poison? We heard that Dhatura seeds were an effective poison. Off we went to the jungle in search of these seeds, and got them.
Evening was thought to be the auspicious hour. We went to Kedarji Mandir , put ghee in the temple-lamp, had the Darshan and then looked for a lonely corner. But our courage failed us. Supposing we were not instantly killed? And what was the good of killing ourselves? Why not rather put up with the lack of independence? But we swallowed two or three seeds nevertheless. We dared not take more. Both of us fought shy of death, and decided to go to Ramji Mandir to compose ourselves, and to dismiss the thought of suicide.
I realized that it was not as easy to commit suicide as to contemplate it. And since then, whenever I have heard of someone threatening to commit suicide, it has had little or on effect on me.
The thought of suicide ultimately resulted in both of us bidding good- bye to the habit of smoking stumps of cigarettes and of stealing the servant's coppers for the purpose of smoking.
Ever since I have been grown up, I have never desired to smoke and have always regarded the habit of smoking as barbarous, dirty and harmful. I have never understood why there is such a rage for smoking throughout the world. I cannot bear to travel in a compartment full of people smoking. I become choked.
But much more serious than this theft was the one I was guilty of a little later. I pilfered the coppers when I was twelve or thirteen, possibly less. The other theft was committed when I was fifteen. In this case I stole a bit of gold out of my meat-eating brother's armlet. This brother had run into a debt of about twenty-five rupees. He had on his arm an armlet of solid gold. It was not difficult to clip a bit out of it.
Well, it was done, and the debt cleared. But this became more than I could bear. I resolved never to steal again. I also made up my mind to confess it to my father. But I did not dare to speak. Not that I was afraid of my father beating me. No I do not recall his ever having beaten any of us. I was afraid of the pain that I should cause him. But I felt that the risk should be taken; that there could not be a cleaning without a clean confession.
I decided at last to write out the confession, to submit it to my father, and ask his forgiveness. I wrote it on a slip of paper and handed it to him myself. In this note not only did I confess my guilt, but I asked adequate punishment for it, and closed with a request to him not to punish himself for my offence. I also pledged myself never to steal in future.
I was trembling as I handed the confession to my father. He was then suffering from a fistula and was confined to bed. His bed was a plain wooden plank. I handed him the note and sat opposite the plank.
He read it through, and pearl-drops trickled down his cheeks, wetting the paper. For a moment he closed his eyes in thought and then tore up the note. He had sat up to read it. He again lay down. I also cried. I could see my father's agony. If I were a painter I could draw a picture of the whole scene today. It is still so vivid in my mind.
Those pearl-drops of love cleansed my heart, and washed my sin away. Only he who has experienced such love can know what it is. As the hymn says: 'Only he Who is smitten with the arrows of love. Knows its power.'
This was, for me, an object-lesson in Ahimsa. Then I could read in it nothing more than a father's love, but today I know that it was pure Ahimsa. When such Ahimsa becomes all-embracing it transforms everything it touches. There is no limit to its power.
This sort of sublime forgiveness was not natural to my father. I had thought that he would be angry, say hard things, and strike his forehead. But he was so wonderfully peaceful, and I believe this was due to my clean confession. A clean confession, combined with a promise never to commit the sin again, when offered before one who has the right to receive it, is the purest type of repentance. I know that my confession made my father feel absolutely safe about me, and increased his affection for me beyond measure.
The time of which I am now speaking is my sixteenth year. My father, as we have seen, was bed-ridden, suffering from a fistula. My mother, an old servant of the house, and I were his principal attendants. I had the duties of a nurse, which mainly consisted in dressing the wound. giving my father his medicine, and compounding drugs whenever they had to be made up at home, Every night I massaged his legs and retired only when he asked me to do so or after he had fallen asleep. I loved to do this service. I do not remember ever having neglected it. All the time at my disposal, after the performance of the daily duties, was divided between school and attending on my father. I would only go out for an evening walk either when he permitted me or when he was feeling well.
This was also the time when my wife was expecting a baby,- a circumstance which, as I can see today, meant a double shame for me. For one thing I did not restrain myself, as I should have done, whilst I was yet a student. And secondly, this carnal lust got the better of what I regarded as my duty to my parents, Shravana having been my ideal since childhood. Every night whilst my hands were busy massaging my father's legs, my mind was hovering about the bed-room,- and that too at a time when religion, medical science and commonsense alike forbade sexual intercourse. I was always glad to be relieved from my duty, and went straight to the bed-room after doing obeisance to my father.
At the same time my father was getting worse every day.
Ayurvedic physicians had tied all their ointments, Hakims their plasters, and
local quacks their nostrums. An English surgeon had also used his skill. As the
last and only resort he had recommended a surgical operation. But the family
physician came in the way. He disapproved of an operation being performed at
such an advanced age. The physician was competent and well-known, and his
advice prevailed. The operation was abandoned, and various medicines purchased
for the purpose were of no account. I have an impression that, if the physician
had allowed the operation, the wound would have been easily healed. The
operation also was to have been performed by a surgeon who was then well known
Such cleanliness is quite essential no doubt, but Western medical science had taught us that all the functions, including a bath, can be done in bed with the strictest regard to cleanliness, and without the slightest discomfort to the patient, the bed always remaining spotlessly clean. I should regard such cleanliness as quite consistent with Vaishnavism. But my father's insistence on leaving the bed only struck me with wonder then, and I had nothing but admiration for it.
The dreadful night came. My uncle was then in
It was 10-30 or 11 p.m. I was giving the massage. My uncle offered to relieve me. I was glad and went straight to the bed-room. My wife, poor thing, was fast asleep. But how could she sleep when I was there? I woke her up. In five or six minutes. however, the servant knocked at the door. I started with alarm. 'Get up,' he said, 'Father is very ill.' I knew of course that he was very ill, and so I guessed what 'very ill' meant at that moment. I sprang out of bed. 'What is the matter? Do tell me!' 'Father is no more.' So all was over! I had but to wring my hands. I felt deeply ashamed and miserable. I ran to my father's room. I saw that, if animal passion had not blinded me. I should have been spared the torture of separation from my father during his last moments. I should have been massaging him, and he would have died in my arms. But now it was my uncle who had this privilege. He was so deeply devoted to his elder brother that he had earned the honour of doing him the last services! My father had forebodings of the coming event. He had made a sign for pen and paper, and written: 'Prepare for the last rites.' He had then snapped the amulet off his arm and also his gold necklace of tulasi beads and flung them aside. A moment after this he was no more.
The shame, to which I have refered in a foregoing chapter, was this of my carnal desire even at the critical hour of my father's death, which demanded wakeful service. It is a blot I have never been able to efface or forget, and I have always thought that, although my devotion to my parents knew no bounds and I would have given up anything for it, yet I was weighed and found unpardonably wanting because my mind was at the same moment in the grip of lust. I have therefore always regarded myself as a lustful. though a faithful, husband. It took me long to get free from the shackles of lust, and I had to pass through many ordeals before I could overcome it.
Before I close this chapter of my double shame. I may mention that the poor mite that was born to my wife scarcely breathed for more than three or four days. Nothing else could be expected. Let all those who are married be warned by my example.
From my sixth or seventh year up to my sixteenth I was at school, being taught all sorts of things except religion. I may say that I failed to get from the teachers what they could have given me without any effort on their part. And yet I kept on picking up things here and there from my surroundings. The term 'religion' I am using in its broadest sense, meaning thereby selfrealization or knowledge of self.
Being born in the Vaishnava faith, I has often to go to the Haveli. But it never appealed to me. I did not like its glitter and pomp. Also I heard rumours of immorality being practised there, and lost all interest in it. Hence I could gain nothing from the Haveli.
But what I failed to get there I obtained from my nurse, an old servant of the family, whose affection for me I still recall. I have said before that there was in me a fear of ghosts and spirits. Rambha, for that was her name, suggested, as a remedy for this fear, the repetition of
Ramanama. I had more faith in her than in her remedy, and so at a tender age I began repeating Ramanama to cure my fear of ghosts and spirits. This was of course short-lived, but the good seed sown in childhood was not sown in vain. I think it is due to the seed by that good woman Rambha that today Ramanama is an infallible remedy for me.
Just about this time, a cousin of mine who was a devotee of
the Ramayana arranged for my second brother and me to learn Ram Raksha. We got
it by heart, and made it a rule to recite it every morning after the bath. The
practice was kept up as long as we were in Porbandar. As soon as we reached
What, however, left a deep impression on me was the reading of the Ramayana before my father. During part of his illness my father was in Porbandar. There every evening he used to listen to the Ramayana. The reader was a great devotee of Rama,- Ladha Maharaj of Bileshvar. It was said of him that he cured himself of his leprosy not by any medicine, but by applying to the affected parts bilva leaves which had been cast away after being offered to the image of Mahadeva in Bileshvar temple, and by the regular repetition of Ramanama. His faith it, it was said, had made him whole. This may or may not be true. We at any rate believed the story. And it is a fact that when Ladha Maharaj began his reading of the Ramayana his body was entirely free from leprosy. He had a melodious voice. He would sing the Dohas (couplets) and Chopais (quatrains), and explain them, losing himself in the discourse and carrying his listeners along with him. I must have been thirteen at that time, but I quite remember being enraptured by his reading. That laid the foundation of my deep devotion to the Ramayana. Today I regard the Ramayana of Tulasidas as the greatest book in all devotional literature.
A few months after this we came to
He had, besides, Musalman and Parsi friends, who would talk to him about their own faiths, and he would listen to them always with respect, and often with interest. Being his nurse, I often had a chance to be present at these talks. These many things combined to inculcate in me a toleration for all faiths.
Only Christianity was at the time an exception. I developed a sort of dislike for it. And for a reason. In those days Christian missionaries used to stand in a corner near the high school and hold forth, pouring abuse on Hindus and their gods. I could not endure this. I must have stood there to hear them once only, but that was enough to dissuade me from repeating the experiment. About the same time, I heard of a well known Hindu having been converted to Christianity. It was the talk of the town that, when he was baptized, he had to eat beef and drink liquor, that he also had to change his clothes, and that thenceforth he began to go about in European costume including a hat. These things got on my nerves. Surely, thought I, a religion that compelled one to eat beef, drink liquor, and change one's own clothes did not deserve the
name. I also heard that the new convert had already begun abusing the religion of his ancestors, their customs and their country. All these things created in me a dislike for Christianity.
But the fact that I had learnt to be tolerant to other religions did not mean that I had any living faith in God. I happened, about this time, to come across Manusmriti which was amongst my father's collection. The story of the creation and similar things in it did not impress me very much, but on the contrary made me incline somewhat towards atheism.
There was a cousin of mine, still alive, for whose intellect I had great regard. To him I turned with my doubts. But he could not resolve them. He sent me away with this answer: 'When you grow up, you will be able to solve these doubts yourself. These questions ought not to be raised at your age.' I was silenced, but was not comforted. Chapters about diet and the like in Manusmriti seemed to me to run contrary to daily practice. To my doubts as to this also, I got the same answer.'With intellect more developed and with more reading I shall understand it better,' I said to myself.
Manusmriti at any rate did not then teach me ahimsa. I have told the story of my meat-eating. Manusmriti seemed to support it. I also felt that it was quite moral to kill serpents, bugs and the like. I remember to have killed at that age bugs and such other insects, regarding it as a duty.
But one thing took deep root in me the conviction that morality is the basis of things, and that truth is the substance of all morality. Truth became my sole objective. It began to grow in magnitude every day, and my definition of it also has been ever widening. A Gujarati didactic stanza likewise gripped my mind and heart. Its Precept-return good for evil-became my guiding principle. It became such a passion with me that I began numerous experiments in it. Here are those (for me) wonderful lines: For a bowl of water give a goodly meal: For a kindly greeting bow thou down with zeal: For a simple penny pay thou back with gold: If thy life be rescued, life do not withhold. Thus the words and actions of the wise regard; Every little service tenfold they reward. But the truly noble know all men as one, And return with gladness good for evil done.
I passed the matriculation examination in 1887. It then used
to be held at two centres, Ahmedabad and
My elders wanted me to pursue my studies at college after
the matriculation. There was a college in
We had in Mavji Dave, who was a shrewd and learned Brahman
an old friend and adviser of the family. He had kept up his connection with the
family even after my father's death. He happened to visit us during my
vacation. In conversation with my mother and elder brother, he inquired about
my studies. Learning that I was at
Joshiji that is how we used to call old Mavji Dave turned to
me with complete assurance, and asked: 'Would you not rather go to
My brother interrupted me: 'Father never liked it. He had you in mind when he said that we Vaishnavas should have nothing to do with dissection of dead bodies. Father intended you for the bar.'
Joshiji chimed in : 'I am not opposed to the medical
profession as was Gandhiji. Our Shastras are not against it. But a medical
degree will not make a Diwan of you, and I want you to be Diwan, or if possible
something better. Only in that way could you take under your protecting care
your large family. The times are fast changing and getting harder every day. It
is the wisest thing therefore to become a barrister.' Turning to my mother he
said : 'Now, I must leave. Pray ponder over what I have said. When I come here
next I shall expect to hear of preparations for
Joshiji went away, and I began building castles in the air.
My elder brother was greatly exercised in his mind. How was he to find the wherewithal to send me? And was it proper to trust a young man like me to go abroad alone?
My mother was sorely perplexed. She did not like the idea of parting with me. This is how she tried to put me off: 'Uncle,' she said, 'is now the eldest member of the family. He should first be consulted. If he consents we will consider the matter.'
My brother had another idea. He said to me: 'We have a
certain claim on the
I liked all this and got ready to start off for Porbandar.
There was no railway in those days. It was a five days' bullock-cart journey. I
have already said that I was a coward. But at that moment my cowardice vanished
before the desire to go to
I arrived at last, did obeisance to my uncle, and told him
everything. He thought it over and said : 'I am not sure whether it is possible
for one to stay in
'I could expect nothing more from you,' said
'How can I do that?' said he. 'But he is a good man. You ask for an appointment telling him how you are connected. He will certainly give you one and may even help you.'
I cannot say why my uncle did not give me a note of
recommendation. I have a faint idea that he hesitated to co-operate directly in
my going to
I wrote to Mr Lely, who asked me to see him at his residence. He saw me as he was ascending the staircase;and saying curtly, 'Pass your B.A. fist and then see me. No help can be given you now', he hurried upstairs. I had made elaborate preparations to meet him. I had carefully learnt up a few sentences and had bowed low and saluted him with both hands. But all to no purpose!
I thought of my wife's ornaments. I thought of my elder brother, in whom I had the utmost faith. He was generous to a fault, and he loved me as his son.
I returned to
My mother, however, was still unwilling. She had begun
making minute inquiries. Someone had told her that young men got lost in
'I can trust you,' she said.'But how can I trust you in a distant land? I am dazed and know not what to do. I will ask Becharji Swami.'
Becharji Swami was originally a Modh Bania, but had now become a Jain monk. He too was a family adviser like Joshiji. He came to my help, and said: 'I shall get the boy solemnly to take the three vows, and then he can be allowed to go.' He administered the oath and I vowed not to touch wine, woman and meat. This done, my mother gave her permission.
The high school had a send-off in my honour. It was an
uncommon thing for a young man of
With the blessing of my elders, I started for
With my mother's permission and blessings, I set off
Time hung heavily on my hands in
Meanwhile my caste-people were agitated over my going abroad.
No Modh Bania had been to
'In the opinion of the caste, your proposal to go to
To which I replied: 'I do not think it is at all against our
religion to go to
'But we tell you,' rejoined the Sheth, 'that it is not possible to keep our religion there. You know my relations with your father and you ought to listen to my advice.'
'I know those relations.' said
'But will you disregard the orders of the caste?'
'I am really helpless. I think the caste should not interfere in the matter.'
This incensed the Sheth. He swore at me. I sat unmoved. So the Sheth pronounced his order: 'This boy shall be treated as an outcaste from today. Whoever helps him or goes to see him off at the dock shall be punishable with a fine of one rupee four annas.'
The order had no effect on me, and I took my leave of the Sheth. But I wondered how my brother would take it. Fortunately he remained firm and wrote to assure me that I had his permission to go, the Sheth's order notwithstanding.
The incident, however, made me more anxious than ever to
sail. What would happen if they succeeded in bringing pressure to bear on my
brother? Supposing something unforeseen happened? As I was thus worrying over
my predicament, I heard that a Junagadh vakil was going to
I sailed at last from
I did not feel at all sea-sick. But as the days passed, I became fidgety. I felt shy even in
speaking to the steward. I was quite unaccustomed to talking English, and except for Sjt. Mazmudar all the other passengers in the second saloon were English. I could not speak to them. For I could rarely follow their remarks when they came up to speak to me, and even when I understood I could not reply. I had to frame every sentence in my mind, before I could bring it out. I was innocent of the use of knives and forks and had not the boldness to inquire what dishes on the menu were free of meat, I therefore never took meals at table but always had them in my cabin, and they consisted principally of sweets and fruits which I had brought with me. Sjt. Mazmudar had no difficulty, and he mixed with everybody. He would move about freely on deck, while I hid myself in the cabin the whole day, only venturing up on deck when there were but few people. Sjt. Mazmudar kept pleading with me to associate with the passengers and to talk with them freely. He told me that lawyers should have a long tongue, and related to me his legal experiences. He advised me to take every possible opportunity of talking English, and not to mind making mistakes which were obviously unavoidable with a foreign tongue. But nothing could make me conquer my shyness.
An English passenger, taking kindly to me, drew me into
conversation. He was older than I. He asked me what I ate, what I was, where I
was going, why I was shy, and so on. He also advised me to come to table. He
laughed at my insistence on abjuring meat, and said in a friendly way when we
were in the Red Sea: 'It is all very well so far but you will have to revise
your decision in the
'But I have heard that people can live there without eating meat,' I said.
'Rest assured it is a fib,' said he. 'No one, to my knowledge, lives there without being a meateater. Don't you see that I am not asking you to take liquor, though I do so? But I do think you should eat meat, for you cannot live without it.'
'I thank you for your kind advice, but I have solemnly
promised to my mother not to touch meat, and therefore I cannot think of taking
it. If it be found impossible to get on without it, I will far rather go back
We entered the
However, we reached
I had four notes of introduction : to Dr. P. J. Mehta, to
Sjt. Dalpatram Shukla, to Prince Ranjitsinhji and to Dadabhai Naoroji. Someone
on board had advised us to put up at the
Dr. Mehta, to whom I had wired from
Sjt.Mazmudar and I found the hotel to be a trying affair. It
was also very expensive. There was, however, a Sindhi fellow-passenger from
I was very uneasy even in the new rooms. I would continually
think of my home and country. My mother's love always hunted me. At night the
tears would stream down my cheeks, and home memories of all sorts made sleep
out of the question. It was impossible to share my misery with anyone. And even
if I could have done so, where was the use? I knew of nothing that would soothe
me. Everything was strange-the people, their ways, and even their dwellings. I
was a complete novice in the matter of English etiquette and continually had to
be on my guard. There was the additional inconvenience of the vegetarian vow.
Even the dishes that I could eat were tasteless and insipid. I thus found
myself between Scylla and Charybdis.
Dr. Mehta went on Monday to the
I gratefully accepted the suggestion and removed to the friend's rooms. He was all kindness and attention. He treated me as his own brother, initiated me into English ways and manners, and accustomed me to talking the language. My food, however, became a serious question. I could not relish boiled vegetables cooked without salt or condiments. The landlady was at a loss to know what to prepare for me. We had oatmeal porridge for breakfast, which was fairly filling, but I always starved at lunch and dinner. The friend continually reasoned with me to eat meat, but I always pleaded my vow and then remained silent. Both for luncheon and dinner we had spinach and bread and jam too. I was a good eater and had a capacious stomach; but I was ashamed to ask for more than two or three slices of bread, as it did not seem correct to do so. Added to this, there was no milk either for lunch or dinner. The friend once got disgusted with this state of things, and said: 'Had you been my own brother, I would have sent you packing. What is the value of a vow made before an illiterate mother, and in ignorance of conditions here? It is no vow at all. It would not be regarded as a vow in law. It is pure superstition to stick to such a promise. And I tell you this persistence will not help you to gain anything here. You confess to having eaten and relished met. You took it where it was absolutely unnecessary, and will not where it is quite essential. What a pity!'
But I was adamant.
Day in and day out the friend would argue, but I had an eternal negative to face him with. The more he argued, the more uncompromising I became. Daily I would pray for God's protection and get it. Not that i had any idea of God. It was faith that was at work-faith of which the seed had been sown by the good nurse Rambha.
One day the friend began to read to me Bentham's Theory of Utility. I was at my wits' end. The language was too difficult for me to understand. He began to expound it. I said: 'Pray excuse me. These abstruse things are beyond me. I admit it is necessary to eat meat. But I cannot break my vow. I cannot argue about it. I am sure I cannot meet you in argument. But please give me up as foolish or obstinate. I appreciate your love for me and I know you to be my well-wisher. I also know that you are telling me again and again about this because you feel for me. But I am helpless. A vow is a vow. It cannot be broken.'
The friend looked at me in surpirse. He closed the book and
said: 'All right. I will not argue any more.' I was glad. He never discussed
the subject again. But he did not cease to worry about me. He smoked and drank,
but he never asked me to do so. In fact he asked me to remain away from both.
His one anxiety was lest I should become very weak without meat, and thus be
unable to feel at home in
That is how I served my apprenticeship for a month. The
friend's house was in
But I had found my feet now. I had not yet started upon my
regular studies. I had just begun reading newspapers, thanks to Sjt. Shukla. In
I read Salt's book from cover to cover and was very much impressed by it. From the date of reading this book, I may claim to have become a vegetarian by choice. I blessed the day on which I had taken the vow before my mother. I had all along abstained from meat in the interests of truth and of the vow I had taken, but had wished at the same time that every Indian should be a meat-eater, and had looked forward to being one myself freely and openly some day, and to enlisting others in the cause. The choice was now made in favour of vegetarianism, the spread of which henceforward became my mission.
My faith in vegetarianism grew on me from day to day. Salt's book whetted my appetite for dietetic studies. I went in for all books available on on vegetaranism and read them. One of these, Howard Williams' The Ethics of Diet, was 'biographical history of the literature of humane dietetics from the earliest period to the present day.'It tried to make out, that all philosophers and prophets from Pythagoras and Jesus down to those of the present age were vegetarians. Dr. Anna Kingsford's The Perfect Way in Diet was also an attractive book. Dr. Allinson's writings on health and hygiene were likewise very helpful. He advocated a curative system based on regulation of the dietary of patients. Himself a vegetarian, he prescribed for his patients also a strictly vegetarian diet. The result of reading all this literature was that dietetic experiments came to take an important place in my life. Health was the principal consideration of these experiments to begin with. But later on religion became the supreme motive.
Meanwhile my friend had not ceased to worry about me. His
love for me led him to think that, if I persisted in my objections to
meat-eating, I should not only develop a weak constitution, but should remain a
duffer, because I should never feel at home in English society. When he came to
know that I had begun to interest myself in books on vegetarianism, he was
afraid lest these studies should muddle my head; that I should fritter my life
away in experiments, forgetting my own work, and become a crank. He therefore
made one last effort to reform me. He one day invited me to go to the theatre.
Before the play we were to dine together at the Holborn Restaurant, to me a
palatial place and the first big restaurant I had been to since leaving the
That was the last friendly tussle we had. It did not affect our relations in the least. I could see and appreciate the love by which all my friend's efforts were actuated, and my respect for him was all the greater on account of our differences in thought and action.
But I decided that I should put him at ease, that I should assure him that I would be clumsy no more, but try to become polished and make up for my vegetarianism by cultivating other accomplishments which fitted one for polite soceity. And for this purpose I undertook the all too impossible task of becoming an English gentleman.
The clothes after the
As if all this were not enough to make me look the thing, I
directed my attention to other details that were supposed to go towards the
making of an English gentleman. I was told it was necessary for me to take
lessons in dancing, French and elocution. French was not only the language of
But Mr. Bell rang the bell of alarm in my ear and I awoke.
I had not to spend a lifetime in
These and similar thoughts possessed me, and I expressed them in a letter which I addressed to the elocution teacher, requesting him to excuse me from further lessons. I had taken only two or three. I wrote a similar letter to the dancing teacher, and went personally to the violin teacher with a request to dispose of the violin for any price it might fetch. She was rather friendly to me, so I told her how I had discovered that I was pursuing a false idea. She encouraged me in the determination to make a complete change.
This infatuation must have lasted about three months. The punctiliousness in dress persisted for years. But henceforward I became a student.
Let no one imagine that my experiments in dancing and the like marked a stage of indulgence in my life. The reader will have noticed that even then I had my wits about me. That period of infatuation was not unrelieved by a certain amount of self-introspection on my part. I kept account of every farthing I spent, and my expenses were carefully calculated. Every little item such as omnibus fares or postage or a couple of coppers spent on newspapers, would be entered, and the balance struck every evening before going to bed. That habit has stayed with me ever since, and I know that as a result, though I have had to handle public funds amounting to lakhs, I have succeeded in exercising strict economy in their disbursement, and instead of outstanding debts have had invariably a surplus balance in respect of all the movements I have led. Let every youth take a leaf out of my book and make it a point to account for everything that comes into and goes out of his pocket, and like me he is sure to be a gainer in the end.
As I kept strict watch over my way of living, I could see that it was necessary to economize. I therefore decided to reduce my expenses by half. My accounts showed numerous items spent on fares. Again my living with a family meant the payment of a regular weekly bill. It also included the courtesy of occasionally taking members of the family out to dinner, and likewise attending parties with them. All this involved heavy items for conveyances, especially as, if the friend was a lady, custom required that the man should pay all the expenses. Also dining out meant extra cost, as no deduction could be made from the regular weekly bill for meals not taken. It seemed to me that all these items could be saved, as likewise the drain on my purse through a false sense of propriety.
So I decided to take rooms on my own account, instead of
living any longer in a family, and also to remove from place to place according
to the work I had to do, thus gaining experience at the same time. The rooms
were so selected as to enable me to reach the place of business on foot in half
an hour, and so save fares. Before this I had always taken some kind of
conveyance whenever I went anywhere, and had to find extra time for walks. The
new arrangement combined walks and economy, as it meant a saving of fares and
gave me walks of eight or ten miles a day. It was mainly this habit of long
walks that kept me practically free from illness throughout my stay in
Thus I rented a suite of rooms; one for a sitting room and another for a bedroom. This was the second stage. The third was yet to come.
These changes saved me half the expense. But how was I to
utilize the time? I knew that Bar examinations did not require much study, and
I therefore did not feel pressed for time. My weak English was a perpetual
worry to me. Mr (afterwards Sir Frederic) Lely's words, 'Graduate first and
then come to me,' still rang in my ears. I should, I thought, not only be
called to the Bar, but have some literary degree as well. I inquired about the
Oxford and Cambridge University courses, consulted a few friends, and found
that, if I elected to go to either of these places, that would mean greater
expense and a much longer stay in England than I was prepared for. A friend
suggested that, if I really wanted to have the satisfaction of taking a
difficult examination, I should pass the London Matriculation. It meant a good
deal of labour and much addition to my stock of general knowledge, without any
extra expense worth the name. I welcomed the suggestion. But the syllabus frightened
me. Latin and a modern language were compulsory! How was I to manage Latin? But
the friend entered a strong plea for it: 'Latin is very valuable to lawyers.
Knowledge of Latin is very useful in understanding law-books. And one paper in
Roman Law is entirely in Latin. Besides a knowledge of Latin means greater
command over the English language.' It went home and I decided to learn Latin,
no matter how difficult it might be. French I had already begun, so I thought
that should be the modern language. I joined a private Matriculation class.
Examinations were held every six months and I had only five months at my
disposal. It was an almost impossible task for me. But the aspirant after being
an English gentleman chose to convert himself into a serious student. I framed
my own time-table to the minute; but neither my intelligence nor memory
promised to enable me to tackle Latin and French besides other subjects within
the given period. The result was that I was ploughed in Latin. I was sorry but
did not lose heart. I had acquired a taste for Latin, also I thought my French
would be all the better for another trial and I would select a new subject in
the science group. Chemistry which was my subject in science had no attraction
for want of experiments, Whereas it ought to have been a deeply interesting
study. It was one of the compulsory subjects in
With my preparation for another trial, I made an effort to simplify my life still further. I felt that my way of living did not yet befit the modest means of my family. The thought of my struggling brother, who nobly responded to my regular calls for monetary help, deeply pained me. I saw that most of those who were spending from eight to fifteen pounds monthly had the advantage of scholarships. I had before me examples of much simpler living. I came across a fair number of poor students living more humbly than I. One of them was staying in the slums in a room at two shillings a week and living on two pence worth of cocoa and bread per meal from Lockhart's cheap Cocoa Rooms. It was far from me to think of emulating him, but I felt I could surely have one room instead of two and cook some of my meals at home. That would be a saving of four to five pounds each month. I also came across books on simple living. I gave up the suite of rooms and rented one instead, invested in a stove, and began cooking my breakfast at home. The process scarcely took me more than twenty minutes for there was only oatmeal porridge to cook and water to boil for cocoa. I had lunch out and for dinner bread and cocoa at home. Thus I managed to live on a shilling and three pence a day. This was also a period of intensive study. Plain living saved me plenty of time and I passed my examination.
Let not the reader think that this living made my life by any means a dreary affair. On the contrary the change harmonized my inward and outward life. It was also more in keeping with the means of my family. My life was certainly more truthful and my soul knew no bounds of joy.
As I searched myself deeper, the necessity for changes both
internal and external began to grow on me. As soon as, or even before, I made
alterations in my expenses and my way of living, I began to make changes in my
diet. I saw that the writers on vegetarianism had examined the question very
minutely, attacking it in its religious, scientific, practical and medical
aspects. Ethically they had arrived at the conclusion that man's supremacy over
the lower animals meant not that the former should prey upon the latter, but
that the higher should protect the lower, and that there should be mutual aid
between the two as between man and man. They had also brought out the truth
that man eats not for enjoyment but to live. And some of them accordingly
suggested and effected in their lives abstention not only from flesh-meat but
from eggs and milk. Scientifically some had concluded that man's physical
structure showed that he was not meant to be a cooking but a frugivorous
animal, that he could take only his mother's milk and, as soon as he teeth,
should begin to take solid foods. Medically they had suggested the rejection of
all spices and condiments. According to the practical and economic argument
they had demonstrated that a vegetarian diet was the least expensive. All these
considerations had their effect on me, and I came across vegetarians of all
these types in vegetarian restaurants. There was a vegetarian Society in
I stopped taking the sweets and condiments I had got from
home. The mind having taken a different turn, the fondness for condiments wore
away, and I now relished the boiled spinach which in
The economic consideration was of course constantly before me. There was in those days a body of opinion which regarded tea and coffee as harmful and favoured cocoa. And as I was convinced that one should eat only articles that sustained the body, I gave up tea and coffee as a rule, and substituted cocoa.
There were two divisions in the restaurants I used to visit. One division, which was patronized by fairly well-to-do people, provided any number of courses from which one chose and paid for a la carte , each dinner thus costing from one to two shillings. The other division provided six-penny dinners of three courses with a slice of bread. In my days of strict frugality I usually dined in the second division.
There were many minor experiments going on along with the main one; as for example, giving up starchy foods at one time, living on bread and fruit alone at another, and once living on cheese, milk and eggs. This last experiments is worth noting. It lasted not even a fortnight. The reformer who advocated starchless food had spoken highly of eggs and held that eggs were not meat. It was apparent that there was no injury done to living creatures in taking eggs. I was taken in by this plea and took eggs in spite of my vow. But the lapse was momentary. I had no business to put a new interpretation on the vow. The interpretation of my mother who administered the vow was there for me. I knew that her definition of meat included eggs. And as soon as I saw the true import of the vow I gave up eggs and the experiment alike.
There is a nice point underlying the argument, and worth noting.
I came across three definitions of meat in
The real ordeal, however, was still to come, and that was in respect of the other vow. But who dare harm whom God protects?
A few observations about the interpretation of vows or pledges may not be out of place here. Interpretation of pledges has been a fruitful source of strife all the world over. No matter how explicit the pledge, people will turn and twist the text to suit their own purposes. They are to be met with among all classes of society, from the rich down to the poor, from the prince down to the peasant. Selfishness turns them blind, and by a use of the ambiguous middle they deceive themselves and seek to deceive the world and God. One golden rule is to accept the interpretation honestly put on the pledge by the party administering it. Another is to accept the interpretation of the weaker party, where there are two interpretations possible. Rejection of these two rules gives rise to strife and iniquity, which are rooted in untruthfulness. He who seeks truth alone easily follows the golden rule. He need not seek learned advice for interpretation. My mother's interpretation of meat was, according to the golden rule, the only true one for me, and not the one my wider experience or my pride of better knowledge might have taught me.
My experiments in
strenuous experiments which will be narrated later. The
seed, however, for all of them was sown in
A convert's enthusiasm for his new religion is greater than
that of a person who is born in it. Vegetarianism was then a new cult in
I was elected to the Executive Committee of the Vegetarian Society, and made it a point to attend every one of its meetings, but I always felt tongue-tied. Dr. Oldfield once said to me, 'You talk to me quite all right, but why is it that you never open your lips at a committee meeting? You are a drone.' I appreciated the banter. The bees are ever busy, the drone is a thorough idler. And it was not a little curious that whilst others expressed their opinions at these meetings, I sat quite silent. Not that I never felt tempted to speak. But I was at a loss to know how to express myself. All the rest of the members appeared to me to be better informed than I. Then I often happened that just when I had mustered up courage to speak, a fresh subject would be started. This went on for a long time.
Meantime a serious question came up for discussion. I thought it wrong to be absent, and felt it cowardice to register a silent vote. The discussion arose somewhat in this wise. The President of the Society was Mr. Hills, proprietor of the Thames Iron Works. He was a puritan. It may be said that the existence of the Society depended practically on his financial assistance. Many members of the Committee were more or less his proteges. Dr. Allinson of vegetarian fame was also a member of the Committee. He was an advocate of the then new birth control movement, and preached its methods among the working classes. Mr. Hills regarded these methods as cutting at the root of morals. He thought that the Vegetarian Society had for its object not only dietetic but also moral reform, and that a man of Dr. Allinson's anti- puritanic views should not be allowed to remain in the Society. A motion was therefore brought for his removal. The question deeply interested me. I considered Dr. Allinson's views regarding artificial methods of birth control as dangerous, and I believed that Mr. Hills was entitled, as a puritan, to oppose him. I had also a high regard for Mr. Hills and his generosity. But I thought it was quite improper to exclude a man from a vegetarian society simply because he refused to regard puritan morals as one of the objects of the society. Mr. Hills' view regarding the exclusion of anti-puritans from the society was personal to himself, and it had nothing to do with the declared object of the society, which was simply the promotion of vegetarianism and not of any system of morality. I therefore held that any vegetarian could be a member of the society irrespective of his views on other morals.
There were in the Committee others also who shared my view, but I felt myself personally called upon to express my own. How to do it was the question. I had not the courage to speak and I therefore decided to set down my thoughts in writing. I went to the meeting with the document in my pocket. So far as I recollect, I did not find myself equal even to reading it, and the President had it read by someone else. Dr. Allinson lost the day. Thus in the very first battle of the kind I found myself siding with the losing party. But I had comfort in the thought that the cause was right. I have a faint recollection that, after this incident, I resigned from the Committee.
This shyness I retained throughout my stay in
I once went to Ventnor with Sjt. Mazmudar. We stayed there with a vegetarian family. Mr. Howard, the author of The Ethics of Diet, was also staying at the same wateringplace. We met him, and he invited us to speak at a meeting for the promotion of vegetarianism. I had ascertained that it was not considered incorrect to read one's speech. I knew that many did so to express themselves coherently and briefly. To speak ex tempore would have been out of the question for me. I had therefore written down my speech. I stood up to read it, but could not. My vision became blurred and I trembled, though the speech hardly covered a sheet of foolscap. Sjt. Mazmudar had to read it for me. His own speech was of course excellent and was received with applause. I was ashamed of myself and sad at heart for my incapacity.
My last effort to make a public speech in
It was only in
I must say that, beyond occasionally exposing me to laughter, my constitutional shyness has been no disadvantage whatever. In fact I can see that, on the contrary, it has been all to my advantage. My hesitancy in speech, which was once an annoyance, is now a pleasure. Its greatest benefit has been that it has taught me the economy of words. I have naturally formed the habit of restraining my thoughts. And I can now give myself the certificate that a thoughtless word hardly ever escapes my tongue or pen. I do not recollect ever having had to regret anything in my speech or writing. I have thus been spared many a mishap and waste of time. Experience has taught me that silence is part of the spiritual discipline of a votary of truth. Proneness to exaggerate, to suppress or modify the truth, wittingly or unwittingly, is a natural weakness of man and silence is necessary in order to surmount it. A man of few words will rarely be thoughtless in his speech; he will measure every word. We find so many people impatient to talk. There is no chairman of a meeting who is not pestered with notes for permission to speak. And whenever the permission is given the speaker generally exceeds the time-limit, asks for more time, and keeps on talking without permission. All this talking can hardly be said to be of my benefit to the world. It
is so much waste of time. My shyness has been in reality my shield and buckler. It has allowed me to grow. It has helped me in my discernment of truth.
There were comparatively few Indian students in
My cowardice was on a par with my reserve. It was customary in families like the one in which I was staying at Ventnor for the daughter of the landlady to take out guests for a walk. My landlady's daughter took me one day to the lovely hills round Ventnor. I was no slow walker, but my companion walked even faster, dragging me after her and chattering away all the while. I responded to her chatter sometimes with a whispered 'yes' or 'no', or at the most 'yes, how beautiful!' She was flying like a bird whilst I was wondering when I should get back home. We thus reached the top of a hill. How to get down again was the question. In spite of her high-heeled boots this sprightly young lady of twenty-five darted down the hill like an arrow. I was shamefacedly struggling to get down. She stood at the foot smiling and cheering me and offering to come and drag me. How could I be so chicken hearted? With the greatest difficulty, and crawling at intervals, I somehow managed to scramble to the bottom. She loudly laughed 'bravo' and shamed me all the more, as well she might.
But I could not escape scatheless everywhere. For God wanted
to rid me of the canker of untruth. I once went to
'Let me help you,' she said. 'I shall explain the card to
you and show you what you may eat.' I gratefully availed myself of her help.
This was the beginning of an acquaintance that ripened into friendship and was
kept up all through my stay in
I found all this very trying at first. I could not start a conversation nor could I indulge in any jokes. But she put me in the way. I began to learn; and in course of time looked forward to every Sunday and came to like the conversations with the young friend.
The old lady went on spreading her net wider every day. She felt interested in our meetings. Possibly she had her own plans about us.
I was in a quandary. 'How I wished I had told the good lady that I was married!' I said to myself. 'She would then have not thought of an engagement between us. It is, however, never too late to mend. If I declare the truth, I might yet be saved more misery.' With these thoughts in my mind, I wrote a letter to her somewhat to this effect:
'Ever since we met at
'If on receipt of this, you feel that I have been unworthy of your hospitality, I assure you I shall not take it amiss. You have laid me under an everlasting debt of gratitude by your kindness and solicitude. If, after this, you do not reject me but continue to regard me as worthy of your hospitality , which I will spare no pains to deserve, I shall naturally be happy and count it a further token of your kindness.'
Let the reader know that I could not have written such a letter in a moment. I must have drafted and redrafted it many times over. But it lifted a burden that was weighing me down. Almost by return post came her reply somewhat as follows:
'I have your frank letter. We were both very glad and had a hearty laugh over it. The untruth you say you have been guilty of is pardonable. But it is well that you have acquainted us with the real state of things. My invitation still stands and we shall certainly expect you next Sunday and look forward to hearing all about your child-marriage and to the pleasure of laughing at your expense. Need I assure you that our friendship is not in the least affected by this incident?'
I thus purged myself of the canker of untruth, and I never thenceforward hesitated to talk of my married state wherever necessary.
Towards the end of my second year in
The brothers also recommended The Light of Asia by Sir Edwin Arnold, whom I knew till then as the author only of The Song Celestial, and I read it with even greater interest than I did the Bhagavadgita. Once I had begun it I could not leave off. They also took me on one occasion to the Blavatsky Lodge and introduced me to Madame Blavatsky and Mrs. Besant. The latter had just then joined the Theosophical Society, and I was following with great interest the controversy about her conversion. The friends advised me to join the Society, but I politely declined saying, 'With my meagre knowledge of my own religion I do not want to belong to any religious body.' I recall having read, at the brothers' instance, Madame Blavatsky's Key to Theosophy. This book stimulated in me the desire to read books on Hinduism, and disabused me of the notion fostered by the missionaries that Hinduism was rife with superstition.
About the same time I met a good Christian from
But the New Testament produced a different impression, especially the Sermon on the Mount which went straight to my heart. I compared it with the Gita. The verses, 'But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man take away thy coat let him have thy cloke too,' delighted me beyond measure and put me in mind of Shamal Bhatt's 'For a bowl of water, give a goodly meal' etc. My young mind tried to unify the teaching of the Gita, The Light of Asia and the Sermon on the Mount. That renunciation was the highest form of religion appealed to me greatly.
This reading whetted my appetite for studying the lives of other religious teachers. A friend recommended Carlyle's Heroes and Hero- Worship. I read the chapter on the Hero as a prophet and learnt of the Prophet's greatness and bravery and austere living.
Beyond this acquaintance with religion I could not go at the moment, as reading for the examination left me scarcely any time for outside subjects. But I took mental note of the fact that I should read more religious books and acquaint myself with all the principal religions.
And how could I help knowing something of atheism too? Every
Indian knew Bradlaugh's name and his so-called atheism. I read some book about
it, the name of which I forget. It had no effect on me, for I had already
It was about this time that Bradlaugh died. He was buried in
'I do,' said the good man in a low tone.
'You also agree that the circumference of the Earth is 28,000 miles, don't you?' said the atheist with a smile of self-assurance. 'Indeed.' 'Pray tell me then the size of your God and where he may be?'
'Well, if we but knew, He resides in the hearts of us both.'
'Now, now, don't take me to be a child,' said the champion with a triumphant look at us.
The clergyman assumed a humble silence. This talk still further increased my prejudice against atheism.
Though I had acquired a nodding acquaintance with Hinduism and other religions of the world, I should have known that it would not be enough to save me in my trails. Of the thing that sustains him through trials man has no inkling, much less knowledge, at the time. If an unbeliever, he will attribute his safety to chance. If a believer, he will say God saved him. He will conclude, as well he may, that his religious study or spiritual discipline was at the back of the state of grace within him. But in the hour of his deliverance he does not know whether his spiritual discipline or something else saves him. Who that has prided himself on his spiritual strength has not seen it humbled to the dust? A knowledge of religion, as distinguished from experience, seems but chaff in such moments of trial.
It was in
During the last year, as far as I can remember, of my stay
We returned from the Conference in the evening. After dinner
we sat down to play a rubber of bridge, in which our landlady joined, as is
I was ashamed. I took the warning and expressed within myself gratefulness to my friend. Remembering the vow I had taken before my mother, I fled from the scene. To my room I went quaking, trembling, and with beating heart, like a quarry escaped from its pursuer.
I recall this as the first occasion on which a woman, other
than my wife, moved me to lust. I passed that night sleeplessly, all kinds of
thoughts assailing me. Should I leave this house? Should I run away from the
place? Where was I? What would happen to me if I had not my wits about me? I
decided to act thenceforth with great caution; not to leave the house, but
I did not then know the essence of religion or of God, and how He works in us. Only vaguely I understood that God had saved me on that occasion. On all occasions of trial He has saved me. I know that the phrase 'God saved me' has a deeper meaning for me today, and still I feel that I have not yet grasped its entire meaning. Only richer experience can help me to a fuller understanding. But in all my trials of a spiritual nature, as a lawyer, in conducting institutions, and in politics I can say that God saved me. When every hope is gone. 'When helpers fall and comforts flee,' I find that help arrives somehow, from I know not where. Supplication, worship, prayer are no superstition; they are acts more real than the acts of eating, drinking, sitting or walking. It is no exaggeration to say that they alone are real, all else is unreal.
Such worship or prayer is no flight of eloquence; it is no lip-homage. It springs from the heart. If, therefore, we achieve that purity of the heart when it is 'emptied of all but love', if we keep all the chords in proper tune, they 'trembling pass in music out of sight'. Prayer needs no speech. It is itself independent of any sensuous effort. I have not the slightest doubt that prayer is an unfailing means of cleaning the heart of passions. But it must be combined with the utmost humility.
Just about this time Narayan Hemchandra came to
He was lightly built and short of stature. His round face was scarred with small-pox, and had a nose which was neither pointed nor blunt. With his hand he was constantly turning over his beard.
Such a queer-looking and queerly dressed person was bound to be singled out in fashionable society.
'I have heard a good deal about you,' I said to him. 'I have also read some of your writings. I should be very pleased if you were kind enough to come to my place.'
Narayan Hemchandra had a rather hoarse voice. With a smile
on his face he replied?' 'Yes, where do you stay?' 'In
'Oh, no. I shall come to you. I shall also bring with me a Translation Exercise Book.' So we made an appointment. Soon we were close friends.
Narayan Hemchandra was innocent of grammar. 'Horse' was a verb with him and 'run' a noun I remember many such funny instances. But he was not to be baffled by his ignorance. My little knowledge of grammar could make no impression on him. Certainly he never regarded his ignorance of grammar as a matter for shame.
With perfect nonchalance he said: 'I have never felt the
need of grammar in expressing my thoughts. Well, do you know Bengali? I know
it. I have travelled in
'Then you will go to
'Certainly. How can I return to
'What do I need money for? I am not a fashionable fellow
like you. The minimum amount of food and the minimum amount of clothing suffice
for me. And for this what little I get out of my books and from my friends is
enough. I always travel third class. While going to
Narayan Hemchandra's simplicity was all his own, and his frankness was on a par with it. Of pride he had not the slightest trace, excepting, of course, a rather undue regard for his own capacity as a writer.
We met daily. There was a considerable amount of similarity between our thoughts and actions. Both of us were vegetarians. We would often have our lunch together. This was the time when I lived on 17s. a week and cooked for myself. Sometimes when I would go to his room, and sometimes he would come to mine. I cooked in the English style. Nothing but Indian style would satisfy him. He would not do without dal. I would make soup of carrots etc., and he would pity me for my taste. Once he somehow hunted out mung cooked it and brought it to my place. I ate it with delight. This led on to a regular system of exchange between us. I would take my delicacies to him and he would bring his to me.
Cardinal Manning's name was then on every lip. The dock labourers' strike had come to an early termination owing to the efforts of John Burns and Cardinal Manning. I told Narayan Hemchandra of Disraeli's tribute to the Cardinal's simplicity. 'Then I must see the sage,' said he.
'He is a big man. How do you expect to meet him?'
'Why? I know how. I must get you to write to him in my name. Tell him I am an author and that I want to congratulate him personally on his humanitarian work, and also say that I shall have to take you as interpreter as I do not know English.'
I wrote a letter to that effect. In two or three days came Cardinal Manning's card in reply giving us an appointment. So we both called on the Cardinal. I put on the usual visiting suit. Narayan Hemchandra was the same as ever, in the same coat and the same trousers. I tried to make fun of this, but he laughed me out and said:
'You civilized fellows are all cowards. Great men never look at a person's exterior. They think of his heart.'
We entered the Cardinal's mansion. As soon as we were seated, a thin, tall, old gentleman made his appearance, and shook hands with us. Narayan Hemchandra thus gave his greetings:
'I do not want to take up your time. I had heard a lot about you and I felt I should come and thank you for the good work you done for the strikers. It has been my custom to visit the sages of the world and that is why I have put you to this trouble.'
This was of course my translation of that he spoke in Gujarati.
'I am glad you have come. I hope your stay in
With these words the Cardinal stood up and said good-bye.
Once Narayan Hemchandra came to my place in a shirt and dhoti. The good landlady opened the door, came running to me in a fright this was a new landlady who did not know Narayan Hemchandra and said: 'A sort of a madcap wants to see you.' I went to the door and to my surprise found Narayan Hemchandra. I was shocked. His face, however, showed nothing but his usual smile.
'But did not the children in the street rag you?'
'Well, they ran after me, but I did not mind them and they were quiet.'
Narayan Hemchandra went to
Finally he carried out his determination to visit
There was a great Exhibition at
I had heard of a vegetarian restaurant in
I remember nothing of the Exhibition excepting its magnitude
and variety. I have fair recollection of the
The ancient churches of
I had read a lot about the fashions and frivolity of
I must say a word about the
I have deferred saying anything up to now about the purpose
for which I went to
There were two conditions which had to be fulfilled before a
student was formally called to the bar: 'keeping terms,' twelve terms equivalent
to about three years; and passing examinations. 'Keeping terms' meant eating
one's terms, i.e. attending at least six out of about twenty four dinners in a
term. Eating did not mean actually partaking of the dinner, it meant reporting
oneself at the fixed hours and remaining present throughout the dinner. Usually
of course every one ate and drank the good commons and choice wines provided. A
dinner cost from two and six to three and six, that is from two to three
rupees. This was considered moderate, inasmuch as one had to pay that same
amount for wines alone if one dined at a hotel. To us in
The dinner provided for the benchers used to be better than that for the students. A Parsi student, who was also a vegetarian, and I applied, in the interests of vegetarianism, for the vegetarian courses which were served to the benchers. The application was granted, and we began to get fruits and other vegetables from the benchers' table.
Two bottles of wine allowed to each group of four, and as I did not touch them, I was ever in demand to form a quarter, so that three might empty two bottles. And there was a 'grand night' in each term when extra wines. I was therefore specially requested to attend and was in great demand on that 'grand night'.
I could see then, nor have I seen since, how these dinners
qualified the students better for the bar. There was once a time when only a
few students used to attend these dinners and thus there were opportunities for
talks between them and the benchers, and speeches were also made. These
occasions helped to give them knowledge of the world with a sort of polish and
refinement, and also improved their power of speaking. No such thing was
possible in my time, as the benchers had a table all to themselves. The
institution had gradually lost all its meaning but conservative
The curriculum of study was easy, barristers being humorously known as 'dinner barristers'. Everyone knew that the examinations had practically no value. In my time there were two, one in Roman Law and the other in Common Law. There were regular text-books prescribed for these examinations which could be taken in compartments, but scarcely any one read them. I have known many to pass the Roman Law examination by scrambling through notes on Roman Law in a couple of weeks, and the Common Law examination by reading notes on the subject in two or three months. Question papers were easy and examiners were generous. The percentage of passes in the Roman Law examination used to be 95 to 99 and of those in the final examination 75 or even more. There was thus little fear of being plucked, and examinations were held not once but four times in the year. They could not be felt as a difficulty.
But I succeeded in turning them into one. I felt that I
should read all the text-books. It was a fraud, I thought, not to read these
books. I invested much money in them. I decided to read Roman Law in Latin. The
Latin which I had acquired in the London Matriculation stood me in good stead.
And all this reading was not without its value later on in
It took me nine months of fairly hard labour to read through
the Common Law of England. For Broom's Common Law, a big but interesting
volume, took up a good deal of time. Snell's Equity was full of interest, but a
bit hard to understand. White and Tudor's LeadingCases, from which certain
cases were prescribed, was full of interest and instruction. I read also with
interest Williams' and Edwards' Real Property, and Goodeve's Personal Property.
Williams' book read like a novel. The one book I remember to have read on my
I passed my examinations, was called to the bar on the 10th of June 1891, and enrolled in the High Court on the 11th. On the 12th sailed for home.
But notwithstanding my study there was no end to my helplessness and fear. I did not feel myself qualified to practise law.
But a separate chapter is needed to describe this helplessness of mine.
It was easy to be called, but it was difficult to practise at the bar. I had read the laws, but not learnt how to practise law. I had read with interest 'Legal Maxims', but did not know how to apply them in my profession. 'Sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas' (Use your property in such a way as not to damage that of others) was one of them, but I was at a loss to know how one could employ this maxim for the benefit of one's client. I had read all the leading cases on this maxim, but they gave me no confidence in the application of it in the practice of law.
Besides, I had learnt nothing at all of Indian law. I had
not the slightest idea of Hindu and Mahomedan Law. I had not even learnt how to
draft a plaint, and felt completely at sea. I had heard of Sir Pherozeshah Mehta
as one who roared like a lion in law courts. How, I wondered, could he have
learnt the art in
I was torn with these doubts and anxieties to some of my
friends. One of them suggested that I should seek Dadabhai Naoroji's advice. I
have already said that, when I went to
When I acquainted him with my little stock of reading, he
was, as I could see, rather disappointed. But it was only for a moment. Soon
his face beamed with a pleasing smile and he said, 'I understand your trouble.
Your general reading is meagre. You have no knowledge of the world, a sine qua
non for a vakil. You have not even read the history of
I was extremely grateful to this venerable friend. In his
presence I found all my fear gone, but as soon as I left him I began to worry
again. 'To know a man from his face' was the question that haunted me, as I
thought of the two books on my way home. The next day I purchased Lavator's
book. Shemmelpennick's was not available at the shop. I read Lavator's book and
found it more difficult than Snell's Equity, and scarcely interesting. I
studied Shakespeare's physiognomy, but did not acquire the knack of finding out
the Shakespeares walking up and down the streets of
Lavator's book did not add to my knowledge. Mr. Pincutt's advice did me very little direct service, but his kindliness stood me in good stead. His smiling open face stayed in my memory, and I trusted his advice that Pherozeshah Mehta's acumen, memory and ability were not essential to the making of a successful lawyer; honesty and industry were enough. And as I had a fair share of these last I felt somewhat reassured.
I could not read Kaye and Malleson's volumes in
Thus with just a little leaven of hope mixed with my
despair, I landed at
I said in the last chapter that the sea was rough in
The outer storm was to me a symbol of the inner. But even as the former left me unperturbed, I think I can say the same thing about the latter. There was the trouble with the caste that was to confront me. I have already adverted to my helplessness in starting on my profession. And then, as I was a reformer. I was taxing myself as to how best to begin certain reforms. But there was even more in store for me than I knew.
My elder brother had come to meet me at the dock. He had
already made the acquaintance of Dr. Mehta and his elder brother and as Dr.
Mehta insisted on putting me up at his house, we went there. Thus the
acquaintance begun in
I was pining to see my mother. I did not know that she was
no more in the flesh to receive me back into her bosom. The sad news was now
given me, and I underwent the usual ablution. My brother had kept me ignorant
of her death, which took place whilst I was still in
Dr. Mehta introduced me to several friends, one of them being his brother Shri Revashankar Jagjivan, with whom there grew up a lifelong friendship. But the introduction that I need particularly take note of was the one to the poet Raychand or Rajchandra, the son-in-law of an elder brother of Dr. Mehta, and partner of the firm of jewellers conducted in the name of Revashankar Jagjivan. He was not above twenty-five then, but my first meeting with him convinced me that he was a man of great character and learning. He was also known as Shatavadhani (one having the faculty of remembering or attending to a hundred things simultaneously), and Dr. Mehta recommended me to see some of his memory feats. I exhausted my vocabulary of all the European tongues I knew, and asked the poet to repeat the words, He did so in the precise order in which I had given them. I envied his gift without, however, coming under its spell. The thing that did cast its spell over me I came to know afterwards. This was his wide knowledge of the scriptures, his spotless character, and his burning passion for self-
realization. I saw later that this last was the only thing for which he lived. The following lines of Muktanand were always on his lips and engraved on the tablets of his heart:
'I shall think myself blessed only when I see Him in every one of my daily acts; Verily He is the thread, Which supports Muktanand's life.'
Raychandbhai's commercial transactions covered hundreds of thousands. He was a connoisseur of pearls and diamonds. No knotty business problem was too difficult for him. But all these things were not the centre round which his life revolved. That centre was the passion to see God face to face. Amongst the things on his business table there were invariably to be found some religious book and his diary. The moment he finished his business he opened the religious book or the diary. Much of his published writings is a reproduction from this diary. The man who, immediately on finishing his talk about weighty business transaction, began to write about the hidden things of the spirit could evidently not be a businessman at all, but a real seeker after Truth. And I saw him thus absorbed in godly pursuits in the midst of business, not once or twice, but very often. I never saw him lose his state of equipoise. There was no business or other selfish tie that bound him to me, and yet I enjoyed the closest association with him. I was but a briefless barrister then, and yet whenever I saw him he would engage me in conversation of a seriously religious nature. Though I was then groping and could not be said to have any serious interest in religious discussion, Still I found his talk of absorbing interest. I have since met many a religious leader or teacher. I have tried to meet the heads of various faiths, and I must say that no one else has ever made on me the impression that Raychandbhai did. His words went straight home to me. His intellect compelled as great a regard from me as his moral earnestness, and deep down in me was the conviction that he would never willingly lead me astray and would always confide to me his innermost thoughts. In my moments of spiritual crisis, therefore, he was my refuge.
And yet in spite of this regard for him I could not enthrone him in my heart as my Guru. The throne has remained vacant and my search still continues.
I believe in the Hindu theory of Guru and his importance in spiritual realization. I think there is a great deal of truth in the doctrine that true knowledge is impossible without a Guru. An imperfect teacher may be tolerable in mundane matters, but not in spiritual matters. Only a perfect gnani deserves to be enthroned as Guru. There must, therefore, be ceaseless striving after perfection. For one gets the Guru that one deserves. Infinite striving after perfection is one's right. It is its own reward. The rest is in the hands of God.
Thus, though I could not place Raychandbhai on the throne of my heart as Guru, we shall see how he was, on many occasions, my guide and helper. Three moderns have left a deep impress on my life, and captivated me: Raychandbhai by his living contact; Tolstoy by his book, The Kingdom of God is Within You; and Ruskin by his Unto this Last. But of these more in their proper place.
My elder brother had built high hopes on me. The desire for wealth and name and fame was great in him. He had a big heart, generous to a fault. This, combined with his simple nature, had attracted to him many friends, and through them he expected to get me briefs. He had also assumed that I should have a swinging practice and had, in that expectation, allowed the household expenses to become top-heavy. He had also left no stone unturned in preparing the field for my practice.
The storm in my caste over my foreign voyage was still
brewing. It had divided the caste into two camps, one of which immediately
readmitted me, while the other was bent on keeping me out. To please the former
my brother took me to
I never tried to seek admission to the section that had refused it. Nor did I feel even mental resentment against any of the headmen of that section. Some of these regarded me with dislike, but I scrupulously avoided hurting their feelings. I fully respected the caste regulations about excommunication. According to these, none of my relations, including my father-in-law and mother-in-law, and even my sister and brother-in-law, could entertain me; and I would not so much as drink water at their houses. They were prepared secretly to evade the prohibition, but it went against the grain with me to do a thing in secret that I would not do in public.
The result of my scrupulous conduct was that I never had
occasion to be troubled by the caste; nay, I have experienced nothing but
affection and generosity from the general body of the section that still
regards me as excommunicated. They have even helped me in my work, without ever
expecting me to do anything for the caste. It is my conviction that all these
good things are due to my non-resistance. Had I agitated for being admitted to
the caste, had I attempted to divide it into more camps, had I provoked the
castemen, they would surely have retaliated, and instead of steering clear of
the storm, I should on arrival from
My relations with my wife were still not as I desired. Even
my stay in
I had planned reform in the education of children, My
brother had children, and my own child which I had left at home when I went to
The necessity for food 'reform' was obvious. Tea and coffee had already found their place in the house. My brother had thought it fit to keep some sort of English atmosphere ready for me on my return, and to that end, crockery and such other things, which used to be kept in the house only for special occasions, were now in general use. My 'reforms' put the finishing touch. I introduced oatmeal porridge, and cocoa was to replace tea and coffee. But in truth it became an addition to tea and coffee. Boots and shoes were already there. I completed the Europeanization by adding the European dress.
Expenses thus went up. New things were added every day. We
had succeeded in tying a white elephant at our door. But how was the
wherewithal to be found? To start practice in
Friends advised me to go to
'Well, Ravishankar,' (for that was his name), I would ask him, 'you may not know cooking, but surely you must know your sandhya (daily worship), etc.
'#Sandhya#, sir! the plough is our sandhya and the spade our daily ritual. That is the type of Brahman I am. I must live on your mercy. Otherwise agriculture is of course there for me.'
So I had to be Ravishankar's teacher. Time I had enough. I began to do half the cooking myself and introduced the English experiments in vegetarian cookery. I invested in a stove, and with Ravishankar began to run the kitchen. I had no scruples about interdining, Ravishankar too came to have none, and so we went on merrily together. There was only one obstacle. Ravishankar had sworn to remain dirty and to keep the food unclean!
But it was impossible for me to get along in
This was how I began life. I found the barrister's profession a bad job - much show and little knowledge. I felt a crushing sense of my responsibility.
experiments in dietetics in which Virchand Gandhi, a friend, joined me. My brother, for his part, was trying his best to get me briefs.
The study of Indian law was a tedious business. The Civil Procedure Code I could in no way get on with. Not so however, with the Evidence Act. Virchand Gandhi was reading for the Solicitor's Examination and would tell me all sorts of stories about barristers and vakils. 'Sir Pherozeshah's ability,' he would say, 'lies in his profound knowledge of law. He has the Evidence Act by heart and knows all the cases on the thirty-second section. Badruddin Tyabji's wonderful power of argument inspires the judges with awe.'
The stories of stalwarts such as these would unnerve me.
'It is not unusual,' he would add, 'for a barrister to vegetate for five or seven years. That's why I have signed the articles for solicitorship. You should count yourself luckly if you can paddle your own canoe in three years' time.'
Expenses were mounting up every month. To have a barister's board outside the house, whilst still preparing for the barrister's profession inside, was a thing to which I could not reconcile myself. Hence I could not give undivided attention to my studies. I developed some liking for the Evidence Act and read Mayne's Hindu Law with deep interest, but I had not the courage to conduct a case. I was helpless beyond words, even as the bride come fresh to her father-in- law's house!
About this time, I took up the case of one Mamibai. It was a 'small cause.' 'You will have to pay some commission to the tout,' I was told. I emphatically declined.
'But even that great criminal lawyer Mr. So-and-So, who makes three to four thousand a month, pays commission!'
'I do not need to emulate him,' I rejoined. 'I should be content with Rs. 300 a month. Father did not get more.'
'But those days are gone. Expenses in
I was adamant. I gave no commission, but got Mamibai's case all the same. It was an easy case. I charged Rs. 30 for my fees. The case was no likely to last longer than a day.
This was my debut in the Small Causes Court. I appeared for the defendant and had thus to cross-examine the plaintiff's witnesses. I stood up, but my heart sank into my boots. My head was reeling and I felt as though the whole court was doing likewise. I could think of no question to ask. The judge must have laughed, and the vakils no doubt enjoyed the spectacle. But I was past seeing anything. I sat down and told the agent that I could not conduct the case, that he had better engage Patel and have the fee back from me. Mr. Patel was duly engaged for Rs. 51. To him, of course, the case was child's play.
I hastened from the Court, not knowing whether my client won
or lost her case, but I was ashamed of myself, and decided not to take up any
more cases until I had courage enough to conduct them. Indeed I did not go to
Court again until I went to
But there was another case in store for me at
My business could flourish if I drafted memorials without any fees. But that would being no grist to the mill. So I thought I might take up a teacher's job. My knowledge of English was good enough, and I should have loved to teach English to Matriculation boys in some school. In this way I could have met part at least of the expenses. I came across an advertisement in the papers: 'Wanted, an English teacher to teach one hour daily. Salary Rs 75.' The advertisment was from a famous high school. I applied for the post and was called for an interview. I went there in high spirits, but when the principal found that I was not a graduate, he regretfully refused me.
'But I have passed the London Matriculation with Latin as my second language.' 'True but we want a graduate.'
There was no help for it. I wrung my hands in despair. My
brother also felt much worried. We both came to the conclusion that it was no
use spending more time in
I used to attend High Court daily whilst in
If the present generation has also its briefless barristers
like me in
Disappointed, I left
I must confess that here I had to compromise the principle
of giving no commission, which in
put it bluntly, how I deceived myself. Let me add, however, that I do not remember ever to have given a commission in respect of any other case.
Though I thus began to make both ends meet, I got the first shock of my life about this time. I had heard what a British officer was like, but up to now had never been face to face with one.
My brother had been secretary and adviser to the late
Ranasaheb of Porbandar before he was installed on his gadi and hanging over his
head at this time was the charge of having given wrong advice when in that
office. The matter had gone to the Political Agent who was prejudiced against
my brother. Now I had known this officer when in
I could not refuse him, so I went to the officer much
against my will. I knew I had no right to approach him and was fully conscious
that I was compromising my self-respect. But I sought an appointment and got
it. I reminded him of the old acquaintance, but I immediately saw that
Kathiawad was different from
'But please hear me out,' said I. That made him more angry. He called his peon and ordered him to show me the door. I was still hesitating when the peon came in, placed his hands on my shoulders and put me out of the room.
The sahib went away as also the peon, and I departed, fretting and fuming. I at once wrote out and sent over a note to this effect: 'You have insulted me. You have assaulted me through your peon. If you make no amends, I shall have to proceed against you.'
Quick came the answer through his sowar:
'You were rude to me. I asked you to go and you would not. I had no option but to order my peon to show you the door. Even after he asked you to leave the office, you did not do so. He therefore had to use just enough force to send you out. You are at liberty to proceed as you wish.'
With this answer in my pocket, I came home crest fallen, and
told my brother all that had happened. He was grieved, but was at a loss as to
how to console me. He spoke to his vakil friends. For I did not know how to
proceed against the sahib. Sir Pherozeshah Mehta happened to be in
here, let him tear up the note and pocket the insult. He will gain nothing by proceeding against the sahib, and on the contrary will very likely ruin himself. Tell him he has yet to know life.'
The advice was as bitter as poison to me, but I had to swallow it. I pocketed the insult, but also profited by it, 'Never again shall I place myself in such a false position, never again shall I try to exploit friendship in this way,' said I to myself, and since then I have been guilty of a breach of that determination. This shock changed the course of my life.
I was no doubt at fault in having gone to that officer. But his impatience and overbearing anger were out of all proportion to my mistake. It did not warrant expulsion. I can scarcely have taken up more than five minutes of his time. But he simply could not endure my talking. He could have politely asked me to go, but power had intoxicated him to an inordinate extent. Later I came to know that patience was not one of the virtues of this officer. It was usual for him to insult his visitors. The slightest unpleasantness was sure to put the sahib out.
Now most of my work would naturally be in his court. It was beyond me to conciliate him. I had no desire to curry favour with him, Indeed, having once threatened to proceed against him, I did not like to remain silent.
Meanwhile I began to learn something of the petty politics of the country. Kathiawad, being a conglomeration of small states, naturally had its rich crop of politicals. Petty intrigues between states, and intrigues of officers for power were the order of the day. Princes were always at the mercy of others and ready to lend their ears to sycophants. Even the sahib's peon had to be cajoled, and the sahib's shirastedar was more than his master, as he was his eyes, his ears and his interpreter. The shirastedar's will was law, and his income was always reputed to be more than the sahib's. This may have been an exaggeration, but he certainly lived beyond his salary.
This atmosphere appeared to me to be poisonous, and how to remain unscathed was a perpetual problem for me.
I was thoroughly depressed and my brother clearly saw it. We both felt that, if I could secure some job, I should be free from this atmosphere of intrigue. But without intrigue a ministership or judgeship was out of the question. And the quarrel with the sahib stood in the way of my practice.
Probandar was then under administration, and I had some work there in the shape of securing more powers for the prince. Also I had to see the Administrator in respect of the heavy vighoti (land rent) exacted from the Mers. This officer, though an Indian, was, I found, one better than the sahib in arrogance. He was able, but the ryots appeared to me to be none the better off for his ability. I succeeded in securing a few more powers for the Rana, but hardly any relief for the Mers. It struck me that their cause was not even carefully gone into.
So even in this mission I was comparatively disappointed. I thought justice was not done to my clients, but I had not the means to secure it. At the most I could have appealed to the Political Agent or to the Governor who would have dismissed the appeal saying, 'We decline to interfere.'
If there had been any rule or regulation governing such decisions, it would have been something, but here the sahib's will was law.
I was exasperated.
In the meantime a Meman firm from Porbandar wrote to my
brother making the following offer: 'We have business in
My brother discussed the proposition with me. I could not clearly make out whether I had simply to instruct the counsel or to appear in court. But I was tempted.
My brother introduced me to the late Sheth Abdul Karim Jhaveri a partner of Dada Abdulla & Co; the firm in question. 'It won't be a difficult job' the Sheth assured me. 'We have big Europeans as our friends, whose acquaintance you will make. You can be useful to us our shop. Much of our correspondence is in English and you can help us with that too. You will, of course, be our guest and hence will have no expense whatever.'
'How long do you require my services?' I asked. 'And what will be the payment?'
'Not more than a year. We will pay you a first class return fare and a sum of £ 105, all found.'
This was hardly going there as a barrister. It was going as
a servant of the firm. But I wanted somehow to leave
When starting for
This time I only felt the pang of parting with my wife.
Another baby had been born to us since my return from
Here I was to get my passage through the agent of Dada
Abdulla and Company. But no berth was available on the boat, and if I did not
sail then, I should be stranded in
'Could you not possibly squeeze me in?' I asked. He surveyed
me from top to toe and smiled. There is just one way,' he said. 'There is an
extra berth in my cabin, which is usually not available for passengers. But I
am prepared to give it to you.' I thanked him and got the agent to purchase the
passage. In April 1893 I set forth full of zest to try my luck in
The first port of call was Lamu which we reached in about thirteen days. The Captain and I had become great friends by this time. He was fond of playing chess, but as he was quite a novice, he wanted one still more of a beginner for his partner, and so he invited me. I had heard a lot about the game but had never tried my hand at it. Players used to say that this was a game in which there was plenty of scope for the exercise of one's intelligence. The Captain offered to give me lessons, and he found me a good pupil as I had unlimited patience. Every time I was the loser, and that made him all the more eager to teach me. I liked the game, but never carried my liking beyond the boat or my knowledge beyond the moves of the pieces.
At Lamu the ship remained at anchor for some three to four hours, and I landed to see the port. The Captain had also gone ashore, but he had warned me that the harbour was treacherous and that I should return in good time.
It was a very small place. I went to the Post Office and was delighted to see the Indian clerks there, and had a talk with them. I also saw the Africans and tried to acquaint myself with their ways of life which interested me very much. This took up some time.
There were some deck passengers with whom I had made acquaintance, and who had landed with a view to cooking their food on shore and having a quiet meal. I now found them preparing to return to the steamer, so we all got into the same boat. The tide was high in the harbour and our boat had more than its proper load. The current was so strong that it was impossible to hold the boat to the ladder of the steamer. It would just touch the ladder and be drawn away again by the current. The first whistle to start had already gone. I was worried. The Captain was witnessing our plight from the bridge. He ordered the steamer to wait an extra five minutes. There was another boat near the ship which a friend hired for me for ten rupees. This boat picked me up from the overloaded one. The ladder had already been raised. I had therefore to be drawn up by means of a rope and the steamer started immediately. The other passengers were left behind. I now appreciated the Captain's warning.
After Lamu the next port was
The Captain liked me much but the liking took an undesirable turn. He invited an English friend and me to accompany him on an outing, and we all what the outing meant. And little did the Captain know what an ignoramus I was in such matters. We were taken to some Negro women's quarters by a tout. We were each shown into a room. I simply stood there dumb with shame. Heaven only knows what the poor woman must have thought of me. He saw my innocence. At first I felt very much ashamed, but as I could not think of the thing except with horror, the sense of shame wore away, and I thanked God that the sight of the woman had no moved me in the least. I was disgusted at my weakness and pitied myself for not having had the courage to refuse to go into the room.
This in my life was the third trial of its kind. Many a youth, innocent at first, must have been drawn into sin by a false sense of shame. I could have credit if I had refused to enter that room. I must entirely thank the All-merciful for having saved me. The incident increased my faith in God and taught me, to a certain extent, to cast off false shame.
As we had to remain in this port for a week. I took rooms in
the town and saw good deal by wandering about the neighbourhood. Only Malabar
can give any idea of the luxuriant vegetation of
The next call was at
I was taken to the firm's quarters and shown into the room
set apart for me, next to Abdulla Sheth's. He did not understand me. I could
not understand him. He read the papers his brother had sent through me, and
felt more puzzled. He thought his brother had sent him a white elephant. My
style of dress and living struck him as being expensive like that of the
Europeans. There was no particular work then which could be given me. Their
case was going on in the
Abdulla Sheth was practically unlettered, but he had a rich fund of experience. He had an acute intellect and was conscious of it. By practice he had picked up just sufficient English for conversational purposes, but that served him for carrying on all his business, whether it was dealing with Bank Managers and European merchants or explaining his case to his counsel. The Indians held him in very high esteem. His firm was then the biggest, or at any rate one of the biggest, of the Indian firms. With all these advantages he had one disadvantage he was by nature suspicious.
He was proud of Islam and loved to discourse on Islamic philosophy. Though he did not know Arabic, his acquaintance with the Holy Koran and Islamic literature in general was fairly good. Illustrations he had in plenty, always ready at hand. Contact with him gave me a fair amount of practical knowledge of Islam. When we came closer to each other, we had long discussions on religious topics.
On the second or third day of my arrival, he took me to see
So here too there was fighting in store for me.
Abdulla Sheth explained to me why some Indians were required to take off their turbans. Those wearing the Musalman costume might, he said, keep their turbans on, but the other Indians on entering a court had to take theirs off as a rule.
I must enter into some details to make this nice distinction intelligible. In the course of these two or three days I could see that the Indians were divided into different groups. One was that of Musalman merchants, who would call themselves 'Arabs.' Another was that of Hindu, and yet another of Parsi, clerks. The Hindu clerks were neither here nor there, unless they cast in their lot with the 'Arab.' The Parsi clerks would call themselves Persians. These three classes had some social relations with one another. But by far the largest class was that composed of Tamil, Telugu and North Indian indentured and freed labourers. The indentured labourers were those who went to natal on an agreement to serve for five years, and came to be known there as girmitiyas from girmit, which was the corrupt form of the English word 'agreement'. The other three classes had none but business relations with this class. Englishmen called them' coolies' and as the majority of Indians belonged to the labouring class, all Indians were called 'coolies,' or 'samis'. 'sami' is a Tamil suffix occurring after many Tamil names, and it is nothing else than the Samskrit Swami, meaning a master. Whenever, therefore, an Indian resented being addressed as a 'sami' and had enough wit in him, he would try to return the compliment in this wise: 'You may call me sami, but you forget that sami means a master. I am not your master!' Some Englishmen would wince at this, while others would get angry, swear at the Indian and, if there was a chance, would even belabour him; for sami to him was nothing better than a term of contempt. To interpret it to mean a master amounted to an insult!
I was hence known as a 'coolie barrister.' The merchants were known as 'coolie merchants.' The original meaning of the word 'coolie' was thus forgotten, and it became a common appellation for all Indians. The Musalman merchant would resent this and say: 'I am not a coolie, I am an Arab,' or 'I am a merchant,' and the Englishman, if courteous, would apologize to him.
The question of wearing the turban had a great importance in this state of things, Being obliged to take off one's Indian turban would be pocketing an insult. So I thought I had better bid good-bye to the Indian turban and begin wearing an English hat, which would save me from the insult and the unpleasant controversy.
But Abdulla Sheth disapproved of the idea. He said, 'If you do anything of the kind, it will have a very bad effect. You will compromise those insisting on wearing Indian turbans. And an Indian turban sits well on your head. If you wear an English hat, you will pass for a waiter.'
There was practical wisdom, patriotism and a little bit of narrowness in this advice. The wisdom was apparent, and he would not have insisted on the Indian turban except out of patriotism; the slighting reference to the waiter betrayed a kind of narrowness. Amongst the indentured Indians there were three classes Hindus, Musalmans and Christians. The last were the children of indentured Indians who became converts to Christanity. Even in 1893 their number was large. They wore the English costume., and the majority of them earned their living by service as waiters in hotels. Abdulla Sheth's criticism of the English hat was with reference to this class. It was considered degrading to serve as a waiter in a hotel. The belief persists even today among many.
On the whole I liked Abdulla Sheth's advice. I wrote to the
press about the incident and defended the wearing of my turban in the court.
The question was very much discussed in the papers, which described me as an
'unwelcome visitor.' Thus the incident gave me an unexpected advertisement in
My turban stayed with me practically until the end of my
I soon came in contact with the Christian Indians living in
Whilst I was thus widening the circle of my acquaintance,
the firm received a letter from their lawyer saying that preparations should be
made for the case, and that Abdulla Sheth should go to
Abdulla Sheth gave me this letter to read, and asked me if I
would go to
As I began to study the case, I felt as though I ought to
begin from the A B C of the subject. During the few days I had had at
'Where will you put up?' asked the Sheth. 'Wherever you want
me to,' said
'I shall stay where your lawyer puts me up, or I shall find out independent lodgings. Pray don't worry. Not a soul shall know anything that is confidential between us. But I do intend cultivating the acquaintance of the other party. I should like to be friends with them. I would try, if possible, to settle the case out of court. After all Tyeb Sheth is a relative of yours.'
Sheth Tyeb Haji Khan Muhammad was a near relative of Abdulla Sheth.
The mention of a probable settlement somewhat startled the
Sheth, I could see. But I had already been six or seven days in
'Y...es, I see. There would be nothing better than a settlement out of court. But we are all relatives and know one another very well indeed. Tyeb Sheth is not a man to consent to a settlement easily. With the slightest unwariness on our part, he would screw all sorts of things out of us, and do us down in the end. So please think twice before you do nothing.'
'Don't be anxious about that,' said
On the seventh or eighth day after my arrival, I left
I thanked him and asked him not to be anxious.
The train reached Maritzburg, the capital of
'But I have a first class ticket,' said I.
'That doesn't matter,' rejoined the other. 'I tell you, you must go to the van compartment.'
'I tell you, I was permitted to travel in this compartment
'No, you won't,' said the official. 'You must leave this compartment, or else I shall have to call a police constable to push you out.'
'Yes, you may. I refuse to get out voluntarily.'
The constable came. He took me by the hand and pushed me out. My luggage was also taken out. I refused to go to the other compartment and the train steamed away. I went and sat in the waiting room, keeping my hand-bag with me, and leaving the other luggage where it was. The railway authorities had taken charge of it.
It was winter, and winter in the higher regions of
I began to think of my duty. Should I fight for my rights or
go back to
So I decided to take the next available train to
The following morning I sent a long telegram to the General
manager of the Railway and also informed Abdulla Sheth, who immediately met the
General Manager. The Manager justified the conduct of the railway authorities,
but informed him that he had already instructed the Station Master to see that
I reached my destination safely. Abdulla Sheth wired to the Indian merchants in
Maritzburg and to friends in other places to meet me and look after me. The
merchants came to see me at the station and tried to comfort me by narrating
their own hardships and explaining that what had happened to me was nothing
unusual. They also said that Indians travelling first or second class had to expect
trouble from railway officials and white passengers. The day was thus spent in
listening to these tales of woe. The evening train arrived. There was a
reserved berth for me. I now purchased at Maritzburg the bedding ticket I had
refused to book at
The train took me to
The train reached
But the agent only needed a pretext for putting me off, and so, when he discovered me to be a stranger, he said, 'Your ticket is cancelled.' I gave him the proper reply. The reason at the back of his mind was not want of accommodation, but quite another. Passengers had to be accommodated inside the coach, but as I was regarded as a 'coolie' and looked a stranger, it would be proper, thought the 'leader', as the white man in charge of the coach was called, not to seat me with the white passengers. There were seats on either side of the coachbox. The leader sat on one of these as a rule. Today he sat inside and gave me his seat. I knew it was sheer injustice and an insult, but I thought it better to pocket it, I could not have forced myself inside, and if I had raised a protest, the coach would have gone off without me. This would have meant the loss of another day, and Heaven only knows what would have happened the next day. So, much as I fretted within myself, I prudently sat next the coachman.
At about three o'clock the coach reached Pardekoph. Now the leader desired to sit where I was seated, as he wanted to smoke and possibly to have some fresh air. So he took a piece of dirty sack-cloth from the driver, spread it on the footboard and, addressing me said, 'Sami, you sit on this, I want to sit near the driver,.' The insult was more than I could bear. In fear and trembling I said to him, 'It was you who seated me here, though I should have been accommodated inside. I put up with the insult. Now that you want to sit outside and smoke, you would have me sit at your feet. I will not do so, but I am prepared to sit inside.'
As I was struggling through these sentences, the man came down upon me and began heavily to box my ears. He seized me by the arm and tried to drag me down. I clung to the brass rails of the coachbox and was determined to keep my hold even at the risk of breaking my wristbones. The passengers were witnessing the scene - the man swearing at me, dragging and belabouring me, and I remaining still. He was strong and I was weak. Some of the passengers were moved to pity and exclaimed: 'Man, let him alone. Don't beat him. He is not to blame. He is right. If he can't stay there, let him come and sit with us.' 'No fear,' cried the man, but he seemed somewhat crestfallen and stopped beating me. He let go my arm, swore at me a little more, and asking the Hottentot servant who was sitting on the other side of the coachbox to sit on the footboard, took the seat so vacated.
The passengers took their seats and, the whistle given, the coach rattled away. My heart was beatingfast within my breast, and I was wondering whether I should ever reach my destination alive. The man cast an angry look at me now and then and, pointing his finger at me, growled: 'Take care, let me once get to Standerton and I shall show you what I do.' I sat speechless and prayed to God to help me.
After dark we reached Standerton and I heaved a sigh of relief on seeing some Indian faces. As soon as I got down, these friends said: 'We are hereto receive you and take you to Isa Sheth's shop. We have had a telegram from Dada Abdulla.' I was very glad, and we went to Sheth Isa Haji Sumar's shop. The Sheth and his clerks gathered round me. I told them all that I had gone through. They were very sorry to hear it and comforted me by relating to me their own bitter experiences.
I wanted to inform the agent of the Coach Company of the whole affair. So I wrote him a letter, narrating everything that had happened, and drawing his attention to the threat his man had held out. I also asked for an assurance that he would accommodate me with the other passengers inside the coach when we started the next morning. To which the agent replied to this effect: 'From Standerton we have a bigger coach with different men in charge. The man complained of will not be there tomorrow, and you will have a seat with the other passengers.' This somewhat relieved me. I had, of course, no intention of proceeding against the man who had assaulted me, and so the chapter of the assault closed there.
In the morning Isa Sheth's man took me to the coach, I got a
good seat and reached
Standerton is a small village and
'Why not?' I asked.
'You will come to know after you have stayed here a few
days,' said he. 'Only we can live in a land like this, because, for making
money, we do not mind pocketing insults, and here we are.' With this he
narrated to me the story of the hardships of Indians in
Of Sheth Abdul Gani we shall know more as we proceed.
He said: 'This country is not for men like you. Look now,
you have to go to
'You cannot have made persistent efforts in this direction.'
'We have sent representations, but I confess our own men too do not want as a rule to travel first or second.
I sent for the railway regulations and read them. There was
a loophole. The language of the old
I said to the Sheth: 'I wish to go first class, and if I
cannot, I shall prefer to take a cab to
Sheth Abdul Gani drew my attention to the extra time and money this would mean, but agreed to my proposal to travel first, and accordingly we sent a note to the Station Master. I mentioned in my note that I was a barrister and that I always travelled first. I also stated in the letter that I needed to reach Pretoria as early as possible, that as there was no time to await his reply I would receive it in person at the station, and that I should expect to get a first class ticket. There was of course a purpose behind asking for the reply in person. I thought that if the Station master gave a written reply, he would certainly say 'No', especially because he would have his own notion of a 'collie' barrister. I would therefore appear before him in faultless English dress, talk to him and possibly persuade him to issue a first class ticket. So I went to the station in a frock-coat and necktie, placed a sovereign for my fare on the counter and asked for a first class ticket.
'You sent me that note?' he asked.
'That is so. I shall be much obliged if you will give me a
ticket. I must reach
He smiled and, moved to pity, said: 'I am not a Transvaaler. I am a Hollander. I appreciate your feelings, and you have my sympathy. I do want to give you a ticket on one condition, however, that, if the guard should ask you to shift to the third class, you will not involve me in the affair, by which I mean that you should not proceed against the Railway Company. I wish you a safe journey. I can see you are a gentleman.'
With these words he booked the ticket. I thanked him and gave him the necessary assurance.
Sheth Abdul Gani had come to see me off at the station. The
incident gave him an agreeable surprise, but he warned me saying: 'I shall be
thankful if you reach
I took my seat in a first class compartment and the train started. At Germiston the guard came to examine the tickets. He was angry to find me there, and signalled to me with his finger to go to the third class. I showed him my first class ticket. 'That doesn't matter,' said he, 'remove to the third class.'
There was only one English passenger in the compartment. He took the guard to ask. 'Don't you see he has a first class ticket? I do not mind in the least his travelling with me.' Addressing me, he said, 'You should make yourself comfortable where you are.'
The guard muttered; If you want to travel with a coolie,
what do I care?' and went away. At about eight o'clock in the evening the train
I had expected someone on behalf of Dada Abdulla's attorney
to meet me at
The station became clear of all passengers. I gave my ticket to the ticket collector and began my inquiries. He replied to me courteously, but I saw that he could not be of any considerable help. But an American Negro who was standing near by broke into the conversation.
'I see,' said he, 'that you are an utter stranger here, without any friends. If you will come with me, I will take you to a small hotel, of which the proprietor is an American who is very well known to me. I think he will accept you.'
I had my own doubts about the offer, but I thanked him and accepted his suggestion. He took me to Johnson's Family Hotel. He drew Mr. Johnson aside to speak to him, and the latter agreed to accommodate me for the night, on condition that I should have my dinner served in my room.
'I assure you,' said he, 'that I have no colour prejudice. But I have only European custom, and, if I allowed you to eat in the dining-room, my guests might be offended and even go away.'
'Thank you,' said I, 'even for accommodating me for the night. I am now more or less acquainted with the conditions here, and I understand your difficulty. I do not mind your serving the dinner in my room. I hope to be able to make some other arrangement tomorrow.'
I was shown into a room, where I now sat waiting for the dinner and musing, as I was quite alone. There were not many guests in the hotel, and I had expected the waiter to come very shortly with the dinner. Instead Mr. Johnston appeared. He said: I was ashamed of having asked you to have your dinner here. So I spoke to the other guests about you, and asked them if they would mind your having your dinner in the dining-room. They said they had no objection, and that they did not mind your staying here as long as you liked. Please, therefore, come to the dining-room, if you will, and stay here as long as you wish.'
I thanked him again, went to the dining-room and had a hearty dinner.
Next morning I called on the attorney, Mr. A. W. Baker. Abdulla Sheth had given me some description of him, so his cordial reception did not surprise me. He received me very warmly and made kind inquiries. I explained all about myself. Thereupon he said: 'We have no work for you here as barrister, for we have engaged the best counsel. The case is a prolonged and complicated one, so I shall take your assistance only to the extent of getting necessary information. And of course you will make communication with my client easy for me, as I shall now ask for all the information I want from him through you. That is certainly an advantage, I have not yet found rooms for you. I thought I had better do so after having seen you. There is a fearful amount of colour prejudice here, and therefore it is not easy to find lodgings for such as you. But I know a poor woman. She is the wife of a baker. I think she will take you and thus add to her income at the same time. Come, let us go to her place.'
So he took me to her house. He spoke with her privately about me, and she agreed to accept me as a boarder at 35 shilling a week.
Mr. Baker, besides being an attorney, was a staunch lay preacher, He is still alive and now engaged purely in missionary work, having given up the legal profession. He is quite well-to-do. He still corresponds with me. In his letters he always dwells on the same theme. He upholds the excellence of Christianity from various points of view, and contends that it is impossible to find eternal peace, unless one accepts Jesus as the only son of God and the Saviour of mankind.
During the very first interview Mr. Baker ascertained my religious views. I said to him: 'I am a Hindu by birth. And yet I do not know much of Hinduism, and I know less of other religions. In fact I do not know where I am, and what is and what should be my belief. I intend to make a careful study of my own religion and, as far as I can, of other religions as well.'
Mr. Baker was glad to hear all this, and said: 'I am one of
the Directors of the
I thanked Mr. Baker and agreed to attend the one o'clock prayers as regularly as possible.
'So I shall expect you here tomorrow at one o'clock, and we shall go together to pray,' added Mr. Baker, and we said good-bye.
I had little time for reflection just yet.
I went to Mr. Johnston, paid the bill and removed to the new lodgings, where I had my lunch. The landlady was good woman. She had cooked a vegetarian meal for me. It was not long before I made myself quite at home with the family.
I next went to see the friend to whom Dada Abdulla had given
me a note. From him I learnt more about the hardships of Indians in
It was now dark. I returned home, had my dinner, went to my room and lay there absorbed in deep thought. There was not any immediate work for me. I informed Abdulla Sheth of it. What, I thought, can be meaning of Mr. Baker's interest in me? What shall I gain from his religious coworkers? How far should I undertake the study of Christianity? How was I to obtain literature about Hinduism? And how was I to understand Christianity in its proper perspective without thoroughly knowing my own religion? I could come to only one conclusion: I should make a dispassionate study of all that came to me, and deal with Mr. Baker's group as God might guide me; I should not think of embracing another religion before I had fully understood my own.
Thus musing I fell asleep.
The next day at one o'clock I went to Mr. Baker's prayer-meeting. There I was introduced to Miss Harris, Miss Gabb, Mr. Coates and others. Everyone kneeled down to pray, and I followed suit. The prayers were supplications to God for various things, according to each person's desire. Thus the usual forms were for the day to be passed peacefully, or for God to open the doors of the heart.
A prayer was now added for my welfare: 'Lord, show the path to the new brother who has come amongst us, Give him, Lord, the peace that Thou hast given us. May the Lord Jesus who has saved us save him too. We ask all this in the name of Jesus.' There was no singing of hymns or other music at these meetings. After the supplication for something special every day, we dispersed, each going to his lunch, that being the hour for it. The prayers did not take more than five minutes.
The Misses Harris and Gabb were both elderly maiden ladies. Mr. Coates was a Quaker. The two ladies lived together, and they gave me a standing invitation to four o'clock tea at their house every Sunday.
When we met on Sundays, I used to give Mr. Coates my religious diary for the week, and discuss with him the books I had read and the impression they had left on me. The ladies used to narrate their sweet experiences and talk about the peace they had found.
Mr. Coates was a frank-hearted staunch young man. We went out for walks together, and he also took me to other Christian friends.
As we came closer to each other, he began to give me books of his own choice, until my shelf was filled with them. He loaded me with books, as it were. In pure faith I consented to read all those books, and as I went on reading them we discussed them.
I read a number of such books in 1893. I do not remember the
names of them all, but they included the Commentary of Dr. Parker of the
But Mr. Coates was not the man easily to accept defeat. He had great affection for me. He saw, round my neck, the Vaishnava necklace of Tulasi-beads. He thought it to be superstition and was pained by it. 'This superstition does not become you. Come, let me break the necklace.'
'No, you will not. It is a sacred gift from my mother.' 'But do you believe in it?'
'I do not know its mysterious significance. I do not think I should come to harm if I did not wear it. But I cannot, without sufficient reason, give up a necklace that she put round my neck out of love and in the conviction that it would be conducive to my welfare. When, with the passage of time, it wears away and breaks of its own accord. I shall have no desire to get a new one. But this necklace cannot be broken.'
Mr. Coates could not appreciate my argument, as he had no regard for my religion. He was looking forward to delivering me from the abyss of ignorance. He wanted to convince me that, no matter whether there was some truth in other religions, salvation was impossible for me unless I accepted Christianity which represented the truth, and that my sins would not be washed away except by the intercession of Jesus, and that all good works were useless.
Just as he introduced me to several books, he introduced me to several friends whom he regarded as staunch Christians. One of these introductions was to a family which belonged to the Plymouth Brethren, a Christian sect.
Many of the contacts for which Mr. Coates was responsible were good. Most struck me as being God fearing. But during my contact with this family, one of the Plymouth Brethren confronted me with an argument for which I was not prepared:
'You cannot understand the beauty of our religion. From what you say it appears that you must be brooding over your transgressions every moment of your life, always mending them and atoning for them. How can this ceaseless cycle of action bring you redemption? You can never have peace. You admit that we are all sinners. Now look at the perfection of our belief. Our attempts at improvement and atonement are futile. And yet redemption we must have. How can we bear the burden of sin? We can out throw it on Jesus. He is the only sinless Son of God. It is His word that those who believe in Him shall have everlasting life. Therein lies God's infinite mercy. And as we believe in the atonement of Jesus, our own sins do not bind us. Sin we must, It is impossible to live in this world sinless. And therefore Jesus suffered and atoned for all the sins of mankind.
Only he who accepts His great redemption can have eternal peace. Think what a life of restlessness is yours, and what a promise of peace we have.'
The argument utterly failed to convince me. I humbly replied:
'If this be the Christianity acknowledged by all Christians, I cannot accept it. I do not seek redemption from the consequences of my sin. I seek to be redeemed from sin itself, or rather from the very thought of sin. Until I have attained that end, I shall be content to be restless.'
To which the Plymouth Brother rejoined: I assure you, your attempt is fruitless. Think again over what I have said.'
And the brother proved as good as his word. he knowingly committed transgressions, and showed me that he was undisturbed by the thought of them.
But I already knew before meeting with these friends that all Christians did not believe in such a theory of atonement. Mr. Coates himself walked in the fear of God, His heart was pure, and he believed in the possibility of self-purification. The two ladies also shared this belief. Some of the books that came into my hands were full of devotion, So, although Mr. Coates was very much disturbed by this latest experience of mine. I was able to reassure him and tell him that the distorted belief of a Plymouth Brother could not prejudice me against Christianity.
My difficulties lay elsewhere. They were with regard to the Bible and its accepted interpretation.
Before writing further about Christian contacts, I must record other experiences of the same period.
Sheth Tyeb Haji Khan Muhammad had in
My first step was to call a meeting of all the Indians in
My speech at this meeting may be said to have been the first public speech in my life. I went fairly prepared with my subject, which was about observing truthfulness in business. I had always heard the merchants say that truth was not possible in business. I did not think so then, nor do I now. Even today there are merchant friends who contend that truth is inconsistent with business. Business,they say, is a very practical affair, and truth a matter of religion; and they argue that
practical affairs are one thing, while religion is quite another. Pure truth, they hold, is out of the question in business, one can speak it only so far as is suitable. I strongly contested the position in my speech and awakened the merchants to a sense of their duty, which was two-fold. Their responsibility to be truthful was all the greater in a foreign land, because of the millions of their fellow-countrymen.
I had found our people's habits to be insanitary, as compared with those of the Englishmen around them, and drew their attention to it. I laid stress on the necessity of forgetting all distinctions such as Hindus, Musalmans, Parsis, Christians, Gujaratis, Madrasis, Punjabis, Sindhis, Kachchhis, Surtis and so on.
I suggested, in conclusion, the formation of an association to make representations to the authorities concerned in respect of the hardships of the Indian settlers, and offered to place at its disposal as much of my time and service as was possible.
I saw that I made a considerable impression on the meeting.
My speech was followed by discussion. Some offered to supply me with facts. I felt encouraged. I saw that very few amongst my audience knew English. As I felt that knowledge of English would be useful in that country, advised those who had leisure to learn English. I told them that it was possible to learn a language even at an advanced age, and cited cases of people who had done so. I undertook, besides, to teach a class, if one was started or personally to instruct individuals desiring to learn the language.
The class was not started, but three young men expressed their readiness to learn at their convenience, and on condition that I went to their places to teach them. Of these, two were Musalmans one of them a barbar and the other a clerk and the third was a Hindu, a petty shopkeeper. I agreed to suit them all. I had no misgivings regarding my capacity to teach. My pupils might become tried, but not I. Sometimes it happened that I would go to their places only to find them engaged in their business. But I did not lose patience. None of the three desired a deep study of English, but two may be said to have made fairly good progress in about eight months. Two learnt enough to keep accounts and write ordinary business letters. The barber's ambition was confined to acquiring just enough English for dealing with his customers. As a result of their studies, two of the pupils were equipped for making a fair income.
I was satisfied with the result of the meeting. It was
decided to hold such meetings, as far as I remember, once a week or, may be,
once a month. These were held more or less regularly, and on these occasions
there was a free exchange of ideas. The result was that there was now in
I now communicated with the railway authorities and told them that, even under their own regulations, the disabilities about travelling under which the Indians laboured could not be justified. I got a letter in reply to the effect that first and second class tickets would be issued to Indians who were properly dressed. This was far from giving adequate relief, as it rested with the Station Master to decide who was 'properly dressed.'
The British Agent showed me some papers dealing with Indian
affairs. Tyeb Sheth had also given me similar papers. I learnt from them how
cruelly the Indians were hounded out from the
In short, my stay in
But God disposed otherwise.
It would be out of place here to describe fully the
condition of Indians in the Transvaal and the
A very stringent enactment was passed in the
I had to experience the effect of both these regulations. I often went out at night for a walk with Mr. Coates, and we rarely got back home much before ten o'clock. What if the police arrested me? Mr. Coates was more concerned about this than I. He had to issue passes to his Negro servants. But how could he give one to me? Only a master might issue a permit to a servant. If I had wanted one, and even if Mr. Coates had been ready to give it, he could not have done so, for it would have been fraud.
So Mr. Coates or some friend of his took me to the State
Attorney, Dr. Krause. We turned out to be barristers of the same
Dr. Krause invited me to his place, and we may be said to
have become friends. I occasionally called on him, and it was through him that I
was introduced to his more famous brother, who was public Prosecutor in
These connections were useful to me later on in my public life, and simplified much of my work.
The consequences of the regulation regarding the use of
footpaths were rather serious for me. I always went out for a walk through
Now the man on duty used to be changed from time to time. Once one of these men, without giving me the slightest warning, without even asking me to leave the footpath, pushed and kicked me into the street. I was dismayed. Before I could question him as to his behaviour, Mr. Coates, who happened to be passing the spot on horseback, hailed me and said:
'Gandhi, I have seen everything. I shall gladly be your witness in court if you proceed against the man. I am very sorry you have been so rudely assaulted.'
'You need not be sorry,' I said. 'What does the poor man know? All coloured people are the same to him. He no doubt treats Negroes just as he has treated me. I have made it a rule not go to court in respect of any personal grievance. So I do not intend to proceed against him.'
'That is just like you,' said Mr. Coates, but do think it over again. We must teach such men a lesson.' He then spoke to the policeman and reprimanded him. I could not follow their talk, as it was in Dutch, the policeman being a Boer. But he apologized to me, for which there was no need. I had already forgiven him.
But I never again went through this street. There would be other men coming in this man's place and, ignorant of the incident, they would behave likewise. Why should I unnecessarily court another kick? I therefore selected a different walk.
The incident deepened my feeling for the Indian settlers. I discussed with them the advisability of making a test case, if it were found necessary to do so, after having seen the British Agent in the matter of these regulations.
I thus made an intimate study of the hard condition of the
Indian settlers, not only by reading and hearing about it, but by personal
experience. I saw that
But my principal duty for the moment was to attend to the case of Dada Abdulla.
The year's stay in
Dada Abdulla's was no small case. The suit was for £ 40,000. Arising out of business transactions, it was full of intricacies of accounts. Part of the claim was based on promissory notes, and part on the specific performance of promise to delivery promissory notes. The defence was that the promissory notes were fraudulently taken and lacked sufficient consideration. There were numerous points of fact and law in this intricate case.
Both parties had engaged the best arrorneys and counsel. I thus had a fine opportunity of studying their work. The preparation of the plaintiff's case for the attorney and the sifting of facts in support of his case had been entrusted to me. It was an education to see how much the attorney accepted, and how much he rejected from my preparation, as also to see how much use the counsel made of the brief prepared by the attorney. I saw that this preparation for the case would give me a fair measure of my powers of comprehension and my capacity for marshalling evidence.
I took the keenest interest in the case. Indeed I threw myself into it. I read all the papers pertaining to the transactions. My client was a man of great ability and reposed absolute confidence in me, and this rendered my work easy. I made a fair study of book-keeping. My capacity for translation was improved by having to translate the correspondence, which was for the most part in Gujarati.
Although, as I have said before, I took a keen interest in
religious communion and in public work and always gave some of my time to them,
they were not then my primary interest. The preparation of the case was my
I recalled the late Mr. Pincutt's advice - facts are
three-fourths of the law. At a later date it was amply borne out by that famous
When I was making preparation for Dada Abdulla's case, I had not fully realized this paramount importance of facts. Facts mean truth, and once we adhere to truth, the law comes to our aid naturally. I saw that the facts of Dada Abdulla's case made it very strong indeed, and that the law was bound to be persisted in, would ruin the plaintiff and the defendant, who were relatives and both belonged to the same city. No one knew how long the case might go on. Should it be allowed to continue to be fought out in court, it might go on indefinitely and to no advantage of either party. Both, therefore, desired an immediate termination of the case, if possible.
I approached Tyeb Sheth and requested and advised him to go to arbitration. I recommended him to see his counsel. I suggested to him that if an arbitrator commanding the confidence of both parties could appointed, the case would be quickly finished. The lawyers' fees were so rapidly mounting up that they were enough to devour all the resources of the clients, big merchants as they were. The case occupied so much of their attention that they had no time left for any other work. In the meantime mutual ill-will was steadily increasing. I became disgusted with the profession. As lawyers the counsel on both sides were bound to rake up points of law in support of their own clients. I also saw for the first time that the winning party never recovers all the costs incurred. Under the Court Fees Regulation there was a fixed scale of costs to be allowed as between party and party, the actual costs as between attorney and client being very much higher. This was more than I could bear. I felt that my duty was to befriend both parties and bring them together. I strained every nerve to bring about a compromise. At last Tyeb Sheth agreed. An arbitrator was appointed, the case was argued before him, and Dada Abdulla won.
But that did not satisfy me. If my client were to seek
immediate execution of the award, it would be impossible for Tyeb Sheth to meet
the whole of the awarded amount, and there was an unwritten law among the
Porbandar Memans living in
It is now time to turn again to my experiences with Christian friends.
Mr. Baker was getting anxious about my future. He took me to the Wellington Convention. The Protestant Christians organize such gatherings every few years for religious enlightenment or, in other words, self-purification. One may call this religious restoration or revival. The Wellington Convention was of this type. The chairman was the famous divine of the place, the Rev. Andrew Murray. Mr. Baker had hoped that the atmosphere of religious exaltation at the Convention, and the enthusiasm and earnestness of the people attending it, would inevitably lead me to embrace Christianity.
But his final hope was the efficacy of prayer. He had an
abiding faith in prayer. It was his firm conviction that God could not but listen
to prayer fervently offered. He would cite the instances of men like George
So we went to
This Convention was an assemblage of devout Christians. I was delighted at their faith. I met the Rev. Murray. I saw that many were praying for me. I liked some of their hymns, they were very sweet.
The Convention lasted for three days. I could understand and appreciate the devoutness of those who attended it. But I saw no reason for changing my belief my religion. It was impossible for me to believe that I could go to heaven or attain salvation only by becoming a Christian. When I frankly said so to some of the good Christian friends, they were shocked. But there was no help for it.
My difficulties lay deeper. It was more than I could believe that Jesus was the only incarnate son of God, and that only he who believed in him would have everlasting life. If God could have sons, all of us were His sons. If Jesus was like God, or God Himself, then all men were like God and could be God Himself. My reason was not ready to believe literally that Jesus by his death and by his blood redeemed the sins of the world. Metaphorically there might be some truth in it. Again, according to Christianity only human beings had souls, and not other living beings, for whom death meant complete extinction; while I held a contrary belief. I could accept Jesus as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice, and a divine teacher, but not as the most perfect man ever born. His death on the Cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it my heart could not accept. The pious lives of Christians did not give me anything that the lives of men of other faiths had failed to give. I had seen in other lives just the same reformation that I had heard of among Christian principles. From the point of view of sacrifice, it seemed to me that the Hindus greatly surpassed the Christians. It was impossible for me to regard Christianity as a perfect religion or the greatest of all religions.
I shared this mental churning with my Christian friends whenever there was an opportunity, but their answers could not satisfy me.
Thus if I could not accept Christianity either as a perfect, or the greatest religion, neither was I then convinced of Hinduism being such. Hindu defects were pressingly visible to me. If untouchability could be a part of Hinduism, it could but be a rotten part or an excrescence. I could not understand the raison d'etre of a multitude of sects and castes. What was the meaning of saying that the Vedas were the inspired Word of God? If they were inspired, why not also the Bible and the Koran?
As Christian friends were endeavouring to convert me, even so were Musalman friends. Abdulla Sheth had kept on inducing me to study Islam, and of course he had always something to say regarding its beauty.
I expressed my difficulties in a letter to Raychandbhai. I
also corresponded with other religious authorities in
My studies thus carried me in a direction unthought of by the Christian friends. My correspondence with Edward Maitland was fairly prolonged, and that with Raychandbhai continued until his death. I read some of the books he sent me. These included Panchikaran,
Maniratnamala, Mumukshu Prakaran of Yogavasishtha, Haribhadra Suri's Shaddarshana Samuchchaya and others.
Though I took a path my Christian friends had not intended for me, I have remained for indebted to them for the religious quest that they awakened in me. I shall always cherish the memory of their contact. The years that followed had more, not less, of such sweet and sacred contacts in store for me.
The case having been concluded, I had no reason for staying
It was proposed to spend the whole day there. Whilst I was turning over the sheets of some of the newspapers I found there, I chanced to see a paragraph in a corner of one of them under the caption 'Indian franchise'. It was with reference to the Bill then before the House of Legislature, which sought to deprive the Indians of their right to elect members of the Natal Legislative Assembly. I was ignorant of the Bill, and so were the rest of the guests who had assembled there.
I inquired of Abdulla Sheth about it. He said: 'What can we
understand in these matters? We can only understand things that affect our
trade. As you know all our trade in the
'But,'said I, 'there are so many young Indians born and educated here, Do not they help you?'
'They!' exclaimed Abdulla Sheth in despair. 'They never care to come to us, and to tell you the truth, we care less to recognize them. Being Christians, they are under the thumb of the white clergymen, who in their turn are subject to the Government.'
This opened my eyes. I felt that this class should be claimed as our own. Was this the meaning of Christianity? Did they cease to be Indians because they had become Christians?
But I was on the point of returning home and hesitated to express what was passing through my mind in this matter. I simply said to Abdulla Sheth: 'This Bill, if it passes into law, will make our lot extremely difficult. It is the first nail into our coffin. It strikes at the root of our self-respect.'
'It may,' echoed Sheth Abdulla. 'I will tell you the genesis of the franchise question. We knew nothing about it. But Mr. Escombe, one of our best attorneys, whom you know, put the idea into our heads. It happened thus. He is a great fighter, and there being no love lost between, him and the Wharf Engineer, he feared that the Engineer might deprive him of his votes and defeat him at the election. So he acquainted us with our position, and at his instance we all registered ourselves as voters, and voted for him. You will now see how the franchise has not for us the value that you attach to it. But we understand what you say. Well, then, what is your advice?'
The other guests were listening to this conversation with attention. One of them said: 'Shall I tell you what should be done? You cancel your passage by this boat, stay here a month longer, and we will fight as you direct us.'
All the others chimed in : 'Indeed, indeed. Abdulla Sheth, you must detain Gandhibhai.'
The Sheth was a shrewd man. He said: 'I may not detain him now. Or rather, you have as much right as I to do so. But you are quite right. Let us all persuade him to stay on. But you should remember that he is a barrister. What about his fees?'
The mention of fees pained me, and I broke in : 'Abdulla Sheth, fees are out of the question. There can be no fees for public work. I can stay, if at all, as a servant. And as you know, I am not acquainted with all these friends. But if you believe that they will co-operate, I am prepared to stay a month longer. There is one thing, however. Though you need not pay me anything, work of the nature we contemplate cannot be done without some funds to start with. Thus we may have to send telegrams, we may have to print some literature, some touring may have to be done, the local attorneys may have to be consulted, and as I am ignorant of your laws, I may need some law-books for reference. All this cannot be done without money. And it is clear that one man is not enough for this work. Many must come forward to help him.'
And a chorus of voices was heard: 'Allah is great and merciful. Money will come in. Men there are, as many as you may need. You please consent to stay, and all will be well.'
The farewell party was thus turned into a working committee. I suggested finishing dinner etc. quickly and getting back home. I worked out in my own mind an outline of the campaign. I ascertained the names of those who were on the list of voters, and made up my mind to stay on for a month.
Thus God laid the foundations of my life in
Sheth Haji Muhammad Haji Dada was regarded as the foremost
leader of the Indian community in
Volunteers were enrolled. Natal-born Indians, that is, mostly Christian Indian youths, had been invited to attend this meeting Mr. Paul, the Durban Court Interpreter, and Mr. Subhan Godfrey, Headmaster of a mission school, were present, and it was they who were responsible for bringing together at the meeting a good number of Christian youths. All these enrolled themselves as volunteers.
Many of the local merchants were of course enrolled, noteworthy among them Sheths Dawud Muhammad, Muhammad Kasam Kamruddin, Adamji Miyakhan, A. Kolandavellu Pillai, C. Lachhiram, Rangasami Padiachi, and Amad Jiva. Parsi Rustomji was of course there. From among the clerks were Messrs Manekji, Joshi, Narsinhram and others, employees of Dada Abdulla and Co. and other big firms. They were all agreeably surprised to find themselves taking a share in public work. To be invited thus to take part was a new experience the community, all distinctions such as high and low, small and great, master and servant, Hindus, Musalmans, Parsis, Christians, Gujaratis, Madrasis, Sindhis, etc., were forgotten. All were alike the children and servants of the motherland.
The Bill had already passed, or was about to pass, its second reading. In the speeches on the occasion the fact that Indians had expressed no opposition the stringent Bill was urged as proof of their unfitness for the franchise.
I explained the situation to the meeting. The first thing we did was to despatch a telegram to the Speaker of the Assembly requesting him to postpone further discussion of the Bill. A similar telegram was sent to the Premier, Sir John Robinson, and another to Mr. Escombe, as a friend of Dada Abdulla's. The Speaker promptly replied that discussion of the Bill would be postponed for two days. This gladdened our hearts.
The petition to be presented to the Legislative Assembly was drawn up. Three copies had to be prepared and one extra was needed for the press. It was also proposed to obtain as many signatures to it as possible, and all this work had to be done in the course of a night. The volunteers with a knowledge of English and several others sat up the whole night. Mr. Arthur, an old man, who was known for his calligraphy, wrote principal copy. The rest were written by others to someone's dictation. Five copies were thus got ready simultaneously. Merchant volunteers went out in their own carriages, or carriages whose hire they had paid, to obtain signatures to the petition was despatched. The newspapers published it with favourable comments. It likewise created an impression on the Assembly. It was discussed in the House. Partisans of the Bill offered a defence, an admittedly lame one, in reply to the arguments advanced in the petition. The Bill, however, was passed.
We all knew that this was a foregone conclusion, but the agitation had infused new life into the community and had brought home to them the conviction that the community was one and indivisible, and that it was as much their duty to fight for its political rights as for its trading rights.
Lord Ripon was at this time Secretary of State for the Colonies. It was decided to submit to him a monster petition. This was no small task and could not be done in a day. Volunteers were enlisted, and all did their due share of the work.
I took considerable pains over drawing up this petition. I
read all the literature available on the subject. My argument centred round a
principle and an expedience. I argued that we had a right to the franchise in
Ten thousand signatures were obtained in the course of a fortnight. To secure this number of signatures from the whole of the province was no light task, especially when we consider that the men were perfect strangers to the work. Specially competent volunteers had to be selected for the work, as it had been decided not to take a single signature without the signatory fully understanding the petition. The villages were scattered at long distances. The work could be done promptly only if a number of workers put their whole heart into it. And this they did. All carried out their allotted task figures of Sheth Dawud Muhammad, Rustomji, Adamji Miyakhan, and Amad Jiva rise clearly before my mind. They brought in the largest number of signatures. Dawud Sheth kept going about in his carriage the whole day. And it was all a labour of love, not one of them asking for even his out-of-pocket expenses. Dada Abdulla's house became at once a caravanserai and a public office. A number of educated fiends who helped me and many others had their food there. Thus every helper was put to considerable expense.
The petition was at last submitted. A thousand copies had
been printed for circulation and distribution. It acquainted the Indian public
for the first time with conditions in
The Times of Inida, in a leading article on the petition,
strongly supported the Indian demands. Copies were sent to journals and
It was now impossible for me to leave
'But,' said they, 'we should like you to draw that amount for public work, and we can easily collect it. Of course this is apart from the fees you must charge for private legal work.'
'No, I could not thus charge you for public work,' said
'But we have now known you for some time, and are sure you would not draw anything you do not need. And if we wanted you to stay here, should we not find your expenses?'
'It is your love and present enthusiasm that make you talk like this. How can we be sure that this love and enthusiasm will endure for ever? And as your friend and servant, I should occasionally have to say hard things to you. Heaven only knows whether I should then retain your affection. But the fact is that I must not accept any salary for public work. It is enough for me that you should all agree to entrust me with your legal work. Even that may be hard for you. For one thing I am not a white barrister. How can I be sure that the court will respond to me? Nor can I be sure how I shall fare as a lawyer. So even in giving me retainers you may be running some risk. I should regard even the fact of your giving them to me as the reward of my public work.'
The upshot of this discussion was that about twenty merchants gave me retainers for one year for their legal work. Besides this, Dada Abdulla purchased me the necessary furniture in lieu of a purse he had intended to give me on my departure,
Thus I settled in
Practice as a lawyer was and remained for me a subordinate
occupation. It was necessary that I should concentrate on public work to
justify my stay in
To find out a name to be given to the new organization
perplexed me sorely. It was not to identify itself with any particular party.
The name 'Congress', I knew, was in bad odour with the Conservatives in
Dada Abdulla's spacious room was packed to the full on that day. The Congress received the enthusiastic approval of all present. Its constitution was simple, the subscription was heavy. Only he who paid five shillings monthly could be a member. The well-to-do classes were persuaded to subscribe as much as they could. Abdulla Sheth also put the list with £ 2 per month. Two other friends also put down the same. I thought I should not stint my subscription, and put down a pound per month. This was for me beyond my means, if at all I was to pay my way. And God helped me. We thus got a considerable number of members who subscribed £ 1 per month. The number of those who put down 10s. was even larger. Besides this, there were donations which were gratefully accepted.
Experience showed that no one paid his subscription for the
mere asking. It was impossible to call frequently on members outside
away the next. Even the members in
The task of collecting subscriptions lay with me. I being the secretary. And we came to a stage when I had to keep my clerk engaged all day long in the work of collection. The man got tired of the job, and I felt that, if the situation was to be improved, the subscriptions should be made payable annually and not monthly, and that too strictly in advance. So I called a meeting of the Congress. Everyone welcomed the proposal for making the subscription annual instead of monthly and for fixing the minimum at £ 3. Thus the work of collection was considerably facilitated.
I had learnt at the outset not to carry on public work with borrowed money. One could rely on people's promises in most matters except in respect of money. I had never found people quick to pay the amounts they had undertaken to subscribe, and the Natal Indians were no exception to the rule. As, therefore, no work was done unless there were funds on hand, the Natal Indian Congress has never been in debt.
My co-workers evinced extraordinary enthusiasm in canvassing members. It was work which interested them and was at the same time an invaluable experience. Large numbers of people gladly came forward with cash subscriptions. Work in the distant villages of the interior was rather difficult. People did not know the nature of public work. And yet we had invitations to visit far away places, leading merchants of every place extending their hospitality.
On one occasion during this tour the situation was rather
difficult. We expected our host to contribute £ 6, but he refused to give
anything more than £ 3. If we had accepted that amount from him, others would
have followed suit, and our collections would have been spoiled. It was a late
hour of the night, and we were all hungry. But how could we dine without having
first obtained the amount we were bent on getting? All persuasion was useless.
The host seemed to be adamant. Other merchants in the town reasoned with him,
and we all sat up throughout the night, he as well as we determined not to
budge one inch. Most of my co-workers were burning with rage, but they
contained themselves. At last, when day was already breaking, the host yielded,
paid down £ 6 and feasted us. This happened at Tongaat, but the repercussion of
the incident was felt as far as Stanger on the
But collecting funds was not the only thing to do. In fact I had long learnt the principle of never having more money at one's disposal than necessary.
Meetings used to be held once a month or even once a week if required. Minutes of the proceedings of the preceding meeting would be read, and all sorts of questions would be discussed. People had no experience of taking part in public discussion or of speaking briefly and to the point. Everyone hesitated to stand up to speak. I explained to them. They realized that it was an education for them, and many who had never been accustomed to speaking before an audience soon acquired the habit of thinking and speaking publicly about matters of public interest.
Knowing that in public work minor expenses at times absorbed large amounts, I had decided not to have even the receipt books printed in the beginning. I had a cyclostyle machine in my office, on which I took copies of receipt and reports. Such things I began to get printed only when the Congress coffers were full, and when the number of members and work had increased. Such economy is essential for every organization, and yet I know that it is not always exercised. That is why I have thought it proper to enter into these little details of the beginnings of a small but growing organization.
People never cared to have receipts for the amounts they paid, but we always insisted on the receipts being given. Every pie was thus clearly accounted for, and I dare say the account books for the year 1894 can be found intact even today in the records of Natal Indian Congress. Carefully kept accounts are a sine qua non for any organization. Without them it falls into disrepute. Without properly kept accounts it is impossible to maintain truth in its pristine purity.
Another feature of the Congress was service of Colonial-born educated Indians. The Colonialborn Indian Educational Association was founded under the auspices of the Congress. The members consisted mostly of these educated youths. They had to pay a nominal subscription. The Association served to ventilate their needs and grievances, to stimulate thought amongst them, to bring them into touch with Indian merchants and also to afford them scope for service of the community. It was a sort of debating society. The members met regularly and spoke or read papers on different subjects. A small library was also opened in connection with the Association.
The third feature of the Congress was propaganda. This
consisted in acquainting the English in
All this activity resulted in winning the Indians numerous
The symbol of a Court of justice is pair of scales held evenly by an impartial and blind but sagacious woman. Fate has purposely made her blind, in order that she may not judge a person from his exterior but from his intrinsic worth. But the Law Society of natal set out to persuade the Supreme Court to act in contravention of this principle and to belie its symbol.
I applied for admission as an advocate of the Supreme Court. I held a certificate of admission from the Bombay High Court. The English certificate I had to deposit with the Bombay High Court when I was enrolled there. It was necessary to attach two certificates of character to the application for admission, and thinking that these would carry more weight if given by Europeans, I secured them from two well-known European merchants whom I knew through Sheth Abdulla. The application had to be presented through a member of the bar, and as a rule the Attorney General presented such applications without fees. Mr. Escombe, who, as we have seen, was legal adviser to Messrs. Dada Abdulla & Co, was the Attorney General. I called on him, and he willingly consented to present my application.
The Law Society now sprang a surprise on me by serving me
with a notice opposing my application for admission. One of their objections
was that the original English certificate was not attached to my application.
But the main objection was that, when the regulations regarding admission of
advocates were made, the possibility of a coloured man applying could not have
necessary that the European element should predominate in the bar. If coloured people were admitted, they might gradually outnumber the Europeans, and the bulwark of their protection would break down.
The Law Society had engaged a distinguished lawyer to support their opposition. As he too was connected with Dada Abdulla & Co, he sent me word through Sheth Abdulla to go and see him. He talked with me quite frankly, and inquired about my antecedents, which I gave. Then he said:
'I have nothing to say against you. I was only afraid lest you should be some Colonial-born adventurer. And the fact that your application was unaccompanied by the original certificate supported my suspicion. There have been men who have made use of diplomas which did not belong to them. The certificates of character from European traders you have submitted have no value for me. What do they know about you? What can be the extent of their acquaintance with you?
'But,' said I, 'everyone here is a stranger to me. Even Sheth Abdulla first came to know me here.'
'But then you say he belongs to the same place as you? It your father was Prime Minister there, Sheth Abdulla is bound to know your family. if you were to produce his affidavit, I should have absolutely no objection. I would then gladly communicate to the Law Society my inability to oppose your application.'
This talk enraged me, but I restrained my feelings. 'If I had attached Dada Abdulla's certificate.' said I to myself, 'it would have been rejected, and they would have asked for Europeans' certificates. And what has my admission as advocate to do with my birth and my antecedents? How could my birth, whether humble or objectionable, be used against me?' But I contained myself and quietly replied: continue from here
'Though I do not admit that the Law Society has any authority to require all these details, I am quite prepared to present the affidavit you desire.'
Sheth Abdulla's affidavit was prepared and duly submitted to the counsel for the Law Society. He said he was satisfied. But not so the Law Society. it opposed my application before the Supreme Court, which ruled out the opposition without even calling upon Mr. Escombe to reply. The Chief justice said in effiect :
'The objection that the applicant has not attached the original certificate has no substance. If he has made a false affifavit, he can be prosecuted, and his name can then be struck off the roll, if he is proved guilty. The law makes no distinction between white and coloured people. The Court has therefore no authority to prevent Mr. Gandhi from being enrolled as an advocate. We admit his application. Mr. Gandhi, you can now take the oath.'
I stood up and took the oath before the Registar. As soon as I was sworn in, the Chief Justice, addressing me, said:
'You must now take off your turban, Mr. Gandhi. you must submit to the rules of the Court with regard to the dress to be worn by practising barristers.'
I saw my limitations. The turban that I had insisted on wearing in the District Magistrate's Court I took off in obedience to the order of the Supreme Court. Not that, if I had resisted the order, the resistance could not have been justified. But I wanted to reserve my strength for fighting bigger battles. I should not exhaust my skill as a fighter in insisting on retaining my turban. It was worthy of a better cause.
Sheth Abdulla and other friends did not like my submission
(or was it weakness?). They felt that I should have stood by my right to wear
the turban while practising in the Court. I tried to reason with them. I tried
to press home to them the truth of the maxim, 'When at
I pacified the friends somewhat with these and similar arguments, but I do not think I convinced them completely, in this instance, of the applicability of the principle of looking at a thing from a different standpoint in different circumstances. But all my life though, the very insistence on truth has taught me to appreciate the beauty of compromise. I saw in later life that this spirit was an essential part of Satyagraha. It has often meant endangering my life and incurring the displeasure of friends. But truth is hard as adamant and tender as a blossom.
The opposition of the Law Society gave me another
The heart's earnest and pure desire is always fulfilled. In my own experience I have often seen this rule verified. Service of the poor has been my heart's desire, and it has always thrown me amongst the poor and enabled me to identify myself with them.
Although the members of the Natal Indian Congress included
the Colonial-born Indians and the Clerical class, the unskilled wage- earners,
the indentured labourers were still outside its pale. The Congress was not yet
theirs. They could not afford to belong to it by paying the subscription and
becoming its members. The Congress could win their attachment only by serving
them. An opportunity offered itself when neither the Congress nor I was really
ready for it. I had put in scarcely three or four months' practice, and the
Congress also was still in its infancy, when a Tamil man in tattered clothes,
head-gear in hand, two front teeth broken and his mouth bleeding, stood before
me trembling and weeping. He had been heavily belaboured by his master. I
learnt all about him from my clerk, who was a Tamilian. Balasundaram - as that
was the visitor's name - was serving his indenture under a well-known European
I sent him to a doctor. In those days only white doctors were available. I wanted a certificate from the doctor about the nature of the injury Balasundaram had sustained. I secured the certificate, and straightway took the injured man to the magistrate, to whom I submitted his affidavit. The magistrate was indignant when he read it, and issued a summons against the employer.
It was far from my desire to get the employer punished. I simply wanted Balasundaram to be released from him. I read the law about indentured labour. If an ordinary servant left service without giving notice, he was liable to be sued by his master in a civil court. With the indentured labourer the case was entirely different. He was liable, in similar circumstances, to be proceeded against in a criminal court and to be imprisoned on conviction. That is why Sir William Hunter called the indenture system almost as bad as slavery. Like the slave the indentured labourer was the property of his master.
There were only two ways of releasing Balasundaram: either by getting the Protector of Indentured Labourers to cancel his indenture or transfer him to someone else, or by getting Balasundaram's employer to release him. I called on the latter and said to him: 'I do not want to proceed against you and get you punished. I think you realize that you have severely beaten the man. I shall be satisfied if you will transfer the indenture to someone else.' To this he readily agreed. I next saw the Protector. He also agreed, on condition that I found a new employer.
So I went off in search of an employer. He had to be a European, as no Indians could employ indentured labour. At that time I knew very few Europeans. I met one of them. He very kindly agreed to take on Balasundaram. I gratefully acknowledged his kindness. The magistrate convicted Balasundaram's employer, and recorded that he had undertaken to transfer the indenture to someone else.
Balasundaram's case reached the ears of every indentured labourer, and I came to be regarded as their friend. I hailed this connection with delight. A regular stream of indentured labourers began to pour into my office, and I got the best opportunity of learning their joys and sorrows.
The echoes of Balasundaram's case were heard in far off
There was nothing extraordinary in the case itself, but the
fact that there was someone in
I have said that Balasundaram entered my office, head-gear in hand. There was a peculiar pathos about the circumstance which also showed our humiliation. I have already narrated the incident when I was asked to take off my turban. A practice had been forced upon every indentured labourer and every Indian stranger to take off his head- gear when visiting a European, whether the head-gear were a cap, a turban or a scarf wrapped round the head. A salute even with both hands was not sufficient. Balasundaram thought that he should follow the practice even with me. This was the first case in my experience. I felt humiliated and asked him to tie up his scarf. He did so, not without a certain hesitation, but I could perceive the pleasure on his face.
It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings.
Balasundaram's case brought me into touch with the indentured Indians. What impelled me, however, to make a deep study of their condition was the campaign for bringing them under special heavy taxation.
In the same year, 1894, the Natal Government sought to impose an annual tax of £ 25 on the indentured Indians. The proposal astonished me. I put the matter before the Congress for discussion, and it was immediately resolved to organize the necessary opposition.
At the outset I must explain briefly the genesis of the tax.
About the year 1860 the Europeans in
But the Indians gave more than had been expected of them.
They grew large quantities of vegetables. They introduced a number of Indian
varieties and made it possible to grow the local varieties cheaper. They also
introduced the mango. Nor did their enterprise stop at agriculture. They
entered trade. They purchased land for building, and many raised themselves
from the status of labourers to that of owners of land and houses. Merchants
The white traders were alarmed. When they first welcomed the Indian labourers, they had not reckoned with their business skill. They might be tolerated as independent agriculturists, but their competition in trade could not be brooked.
This sowed the seed of the antagonism to Indians. Many other factors contributed to its growth. Our different ways of living, our simplicity, our contentment with small gains, our indifference to the laws of hygiene and sanitation, our slowness in keeping our surroundings clean and tidy, and our stinginess in keeping our houses in good repair all these, combined with the difference in religion, contributed to fan the flame of antagonism. Through legislation this antagonism found its expression in the disfranchising bill and the bill to impose a tax on the indentured Indians. Independent of legislation a number of pinpricks had already been started.
The first suggestion was that the Indian labourers should be
forcibly repatriated, so that the term of their indentures might expire in
1. The indentured labourer should return to
2. he should sign a fresh indenture every two years, an increment being given at each renewal; and that
3. in the case of his refusal to return to
A deputation composed of Sir Henry Binns and Mr. Mason was
We organized a fierce campaign against this tax. If the
Natal Indian Congress had remained silent on the subject, the Viceroy might
have approved of even the £ 25 tax. The reduction from £ 25 to £ 3 was probably
due solely to the Congress agitation. But I may be mistaken in thinking so. It
may be possible that the Indian Government had disapproved of the £ 25 tax from
the beginning and reduced it to £3, irrespective of the opposition from the
Congress. In any case it was a breach of trust on the part of the Indian
Government. As trustee of the welfare of
The Congress could not regard it as any great achievement to
have succeeded in getting the tax reduced from £ 25 to £3. The regret was still
there that it had not completely safeguarded the interests of the indentured
Indians. It ever remained its determination to get the tax remitted, but it was
twenty years determination to get the tax remitted, but it was twenty years
before the determination was realized. And when it was realized, it came as a
result of the labours of not only the Natal Indians but of all the Indians in
But truth triumphed in the end. The sufferings of the
Indians were the expression of that truth. Yet it would not have triumphed
except for unflinching faith, great patience and incessant effort. Had the
community given up the struggle, had the Congress abandoned the campaign and
submitted to the tax as inevitable, the hated impost would have continued to be
levied from the indentured Indians until this day, to the eternal shame of the
If I found myself entirely absorbed in the service of the
community, the reason behind it was my desire for self-realization. I had made
the religion of service my own, as I felt that God could be realized only
through service. And service for me was the service of
Christian friends had whetted my appetite for knowledge,
which had become almost insatiable, and they would not leave me in peace, even
if I desired to be indifferent. In Durban Mr. Spencer Walton, the head of the
This friendship kept alive my interest in religion. It was
impossible now to get the leisure that I used to have in
Thus I gained more knowledge of the different religions. The
study stimulated my selfintrospection and fostered in me the habit of putting
into practice whatever appealed to me in my studies. Thus I began some of the
Yogic practices, as well as I could understand them from a reading of the Hindu
books. But I could not get on very far, and decided to follow them with the
help of some expert when I returned to
I made too an intensive study of Tolstoy's books. The Gospels in Brief, What to Do? and other books made a deep impression on me. I began to realize more and more the infinite possibilities of universal love.
About the same time I came in contact with another Christian family. At their suggestion I attended the Wesleyan church every Sunday. For these days I also had their standing invitation to dinner. The church did not make a favourable impression on me. The sermons seemed to be uninspiring. The congregation did not strike me as being particularly religious. They were not an assembly of devout souls; they appeared rather to be worldly-minded people, going to church for recreation and in conformity to custom. Here, at times, I would involuntarily doze. I was ashamed, but some of my neighbours, who were in no better case, lightened the shame. I could not go on long like this, and soon gave up attending the service.
My connection with the family I used to visit every Sunday
was abruptly broken. In fact it may be said that I was warned to visit it no
more. It happened thus. My hostess was a good and simple woman, but somewhat
narrow-minded. We always discussed religious subjects. I was then rereading
But the mother? she was dismayed.
I was warned. I checked myself and changed the subject. The following week I visited the family as usual, but not without trepidation. I did not see that I should stop going there, I did not think it proper either. But the good lady made my way easy.
'Mr. Gandhi,' she said, 'please don't take it ill if I feel obliged to tell you that my boy is none the better for your company. Every day he hesitates to eat meat and asks for fruit, reminding me of your argument. This is too much. If he gives up meat, he is bound to get weak, if not ill. How could I bear it? Your discussion should henceforth be only with us elders. They are sure to react badly on children.'
'Mrs---,' I replied, 'I am sorry. I can understand your feelings as a parent, for I too have children. We can very easily end this unpleasant state of things. What I eat and omit to eat is bound to have a greater effect on the child than what I say. The best way, therefore, is for me to stop these visits. That certainly need not affect our friendship.'
'I thank you,' she said with evident relief.
To set up a household was no new experience for me. But the
different from the ones that I had had in
A good servant is essential in every household. But I have a never known how to keep anyone as a servant.
I had a friend as companion and help, and a cook who had become a member of the family. I also had office clerks boarding and lodging with me.
I think I had a fair amount of success in this experiment, but it was not without its modicum of the bitter experiences of life.
The companion was very clever and, I thought, faithful to me. But in this I was deceived. He became jealous of an office clerk who was staying with me, and wove such a tangled web that I suspected the clerk. This clerical friend had a temper of his own. Immediately he saw that he had been the object of my suspicion, he left both the house and the office. I was pained. I felt that perhaps I had been unjust to him, and my conscience always stung me.
In the meanwhile, the cook needed a few days leave, or for some other cause was away. It was necessary to procure another during his absence. Of this new man I learnt later that he was a perfect scamp. But for me he proved a godsend. Within two or three days of his arrival, he discovered certain irregularities that were going on under my roof without my knowledge, and he made up his mind to warn me. I had the reputation of being a credulous but straight man. The discovery was to him, therefore, all the more shocking. Every day at one o'clock I used to go home from office for lunch. At about twelve o'clock one day the cook came panting to the office, and said, 'Please come home at once. There is a surprise for you.'
'Now, what is this?' I asked. 'You must tell me what it is. How can I leave the office at this hour to go and see it?'
'You will regret it, if you don't come. That is all I can say.'
I felt an appeal in his persistence. I went home accompanied by a clerk and the cook who walked ahead of us. He took me straight to the upper floor, pointed at my companion's room, and said, 'Open this door and see for yourself.'
I saw it all. I knocked at the door. No reply! I knocked heavily so as to make the very walls shake. The door was opened. I saw a prostitute inside. I asked her to leave the house, never to return.
To the companion I said, 'From this moment I cease to have anything to do with you. I have been thoroughly deceived and have made a fool of myself. That is how you have requited my trust in you?'
Instead of coming to his senses, he threatened to expose me.
'I have nothing to conceal,' said I, 'Expose whatever I may have done. But you must leave me this moment.'
This made him worse. There was no help for it. So I said to the clerk standing downstairs: 'Please go and inform the Police Superintendent, with my compliments, that a person living with me has misbehaved himself. I do not want to keep him in my house, but he refuses to leave. I shall be much obliged if police help can be sent me.'
This showed him that I was in earnest. His guilt unnerved him. He apologized to me, entreated me not to inform the police, and agreed to leave the house immediately, which he did.
The incident came as a timely warning in my life. Only now could I see clearly how thoroughly I had been beguiled by this evil genius. In harbouring him I had chosen a bad means for a good end. I had expected to 'gather figs of thistles' I had known that the companion was a bad character, and yet I believed in his faithfulness to me. In the attempt to reform him I was near ruining myself. I had disregarded the warning of kind friends. Infatuation had completely blinded me.
But for the new cook I should never have discovered the truth and being under the influence of the companion, I should probably have been unable to lead the life of detachment that I then began. I should always have been wasting time on him. He had the power to keep me in the dark and to mislead me.
But God came to the rescue as before. My intentions were pure, and so I was saved in spite of my mistakes, and this early experience thoroughly forewarned me for the future.
The cook had been almost a messenger sent from Heaven. He did not know cooking, and as a cook he could not have remained at my place. But no one else could have opened my eyes. This was not the first time, as I subsequently learnt, that the woman had been brought into my house. She had come often before, but no one had the courage of this cook. For everyone knew how blindly I trusted the companion. The cook had, as it were, been sent to me just to do this service, for he begged leave of me that very moment.
'I cannot stay in your house,' he said. 'You are so easily misled. This is no place for me.'
I let him go.
I now discovered that the man who had poisoned my ears against the clerk was no other than this companion, I tried very hard to make amends to the clerk for the injustice I had done him. It has, however, been my eternal regret that I could never satisfy him fully. Howsoever you may repair it, a rift is a rift.
By now I had been three years in
But who was to take charge of the Congress work and Education Society in my absence? I could think of two men Adamji Miyakhan and Parsi Rustomji. There were many workers now available from the commercial class. But the foremost among those who could fulfil the duties of the secretary by regular work, and who also commanded the regard of the Indian community, were these two. The secretary certainly needed a working knowledge of English. I recommended the late Adamji Miyakhan's name to the Congress, and it approved of his appointment as secretary. Experience showed that the choice was a very happy one. Adamji Miyakhan satisfied all with his perseverance, liberality, amiability and courtesy, and proved to every one that the secretary's work did not require a man with a barrister's degree or high English education.
About the middle of 1896 I sailed for home in the s. s.
Pongola which was bound for
There were very few passengers on board. Among them were two
English oficers, with whom I came in close contact. With one of them I used to
play chess for an hour daily. The ship's doctor gave me a Tamil Self- Teacher
which I began to study. My experience in
At the request of the English friend, who read Urdu with me, I found out a good Urdu Munshi from amongst he deck passengers, and we made excellent progress in our studies. The officer had a better memory than I. He would never forget a word after once he had seen it; I often found it difficult to decipher Urdu letters. I brought more perseverance to bea, but could never overtake the officer.
With Tamil I made fair progress. There was no help available, but the Tamil Self-Teacher was well-written book, and I did not feel in need of much outside help.
I had hoped to continue these studies even after reaching
Tamil in South African jails, and Urdu in Yeravda jail. But I never learnt to speak Tamil, and the little I could do by way of reading is now rusting away for want of practice.
I still feel what a handicap this ignorance of Tamil or
Telugu has been. The affection that the Dravidians in
But I have digressed. Let me finish the narrative of my
voyage. I have to introduce to my readers the Captain of the s.s. Poongola. We
had become friends. The good Captain was a Plymouth Brother. Our talks were
more about spiritual subjects than nautical. He drew a line between morality
and faith. The teaching of the Bible was to him child's play. Its beauty lay in
its simplicity. Let all, men, women and children, he would say, have faith in
Jesus and his sacrifice, and their sins were sure to be redeemed. This friend
revived my memory of the Plymouth Brother of
We could not convince each other. I was confirmed in my opinion that religion and morality were synonymous. The Captain had no doubt about the correctness of his opposite conviction.
At the end of twenty-four days the pleasant voyage came to a
close, and admiring the beauty of the Hooghly, I landed at
On my way to
the interval for a drive through the town. I also had to purchase some medicine at a chemist's shop. The chemist was half asleep, and took an unconscionable time in dispensing the medicine, with the result that when I reached the station, the train had just started. The Station Master had kindly detained the train one minute for my sake, but not seeing me coming, had carefully ordered my luggage to be taken out of the train.
I took a room at Kellner's, and decided to start work there
and then. I had heard a good deal about The Pioneer published from
aspirations. I have an impression that Mr. Chesney Jr. was the editor at that time. I wanted to secure the help of every party, so I wrote a note to Mr. Chesney, telling him how I had missed the train, and asking for an appointment so as to enable me to leave the next day. He immediately gave me one, at which I was very happy especially when I found that he gave me a patient hearing. He promised to notice in his paper anything that I might write, but added that he could not promise to endorse all the Indian demands, inasmuch as he was bound to understand and give due weight to the viewpoint of the Colonials as well.
'It is enough,' I said, 'that you should study the question and discuss it in your paper. I ask and desire nothing but the barest justice that is due to us.'
The rest of the day was spent in having a look round admiring the magnificent confluence of the three rivers, the Triveni, and planning the work before me.
This unexpected interview with the editor of The Pioneer
laid the foundation of the series of incidents which ultimately led to my being
I went straight to
Ten thousand copies were printed and sent to all the papers
and leaders of every party in
To get these pamphlets ready for posting was no small matter. It would have been expensive too, if I had employed paid help for preparing wrappers etc. But I hit upon a much simpler plan. I gathered together all the children in my locality and asked them to volunteer two or three hours' labour of a morning, when they had no school. This they willingly agreed to do. I promised to bless them and give them, as a reward, used postage stamps which I had collected. They got through the work in no time. That was my first experiment of having little children as volunteers. Two of those little friends are my co-workers today.
Plague broke out in
The committee had to inspect untouchables' quarters also. Only one member of the committee was ready to accompany me there. To the rest it was something preposterous to visit those quarters, still more so to inspect their latrines. But for me those quarters were an agreeable surprise. That was the first visit in my life to such a locality. The men and women there were surprised to see us. I asked them to let us inspect their latrines.
'Latrines for us!' they exclaimed in astonishment. 'We go and perform our functions out in the open. Latrines are for you big people.'
'Well, then, you won't mind if we inspect your houses?' I asked.
'You are perfectly welcome, sir. You may see every nook and corner of our houses. Ours are no houses, they are holes.'
I went in and was delighted to see that the insides were as clean as the outsides. The entrances were well swept, the floors were beautifully smeared with cow-dung, and the few pots and pans were clean and shining. There was no fear of an outbreak in those quarters.
In the upper class quarters we came across a latrine which I cannot help describing in some detail. Every room had its gutter, which was used both for water and urine, which meant that the whole house would stink. But one of the houses had a storeyed bedroom with a gutter which was being used both as a urinal and a latrine. The gutter had a pipe discending to the ground floor. It was not possible to stand the foul smell in this room. How the occupants could sleep there I leave the readers to imagine.
The committee also visited the Vaishnava Haveli. The priest
in charge of the Haveli was very friendly with my family. So he agreed to let
us inspect everything and suggest whatever improvements we liked. There was a
part of the Haveli premises that he himself had never seen. It was the place
where refuse and leaves used as dinner- plates used to be thrown over the wall.
It was the haunt of crows and kites. The latrines were of course dirty. I was
not long enough in
It pained me to see so much uncleanliness about a place of worship. One would expect a careful observance of the rules of sanitation and hygiene in a place which is regarded as holy. The authors of the Smritis, as I knew even then, have laid the greatest emphasis on cleanliness both inward and outward.
Hardly ever have I known anybody to cherish such loyalty as
I did to the British Constitution. I can see now that my love of truth was at
the root of this loyalty. It has never been possible for me to simulate loyalty
or, for that matter, any other virtue. The national Anthem used to be sung at
every meeting that I attended in
The colour prejudice that I saw in
Never in my life did I exploit this loyalty, never did I seek to gain a selfish end by its means. It was for me more in the nature of an obligation, and I rendered it without expecting a reward.
Preparations were going on for the celebration of Queen
One of the proposals was to plant trees. I saw that many did it merely for show and for pleasing the officials. I tried to plead with them that tree-planting was not compulsory, but merely a suggestion. It should be done seriously or not at all. I have an impression that they laughed at my ideas. I remember that I was in earnest when I planted the tree allotted to me and that I carefully watered and tended it.
I likewise taught the National Anthem to the children of my
family. I recollect having taught it to students of the local
Like loyalty an aptitude for nursing was also deeply rooted in my nature. I was fond of nursing people, whether friends or strangers.
Whilst busy in
I certainly wanted to see Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, but the fact that these senior men advised me to act according to his advice gave me a better idea of the immense influence that Sir Pherozeshah had on the public. In due course I met him. I was prepared to be awed by his presence. I had heard of the popular titles that he had earned, and knew that I was to see the 'Lion of Bombay', the 'Uncrowned King of the Presidency.' But the king did not overpower me. He met me, as a loving father would meet his grown up son. Our meeting took place at his chamber. He was surrounded by a circle of friends and followers. Amongst them were Mr. D. E. Wacha and Mr. Cama, to whom I was introduced. I had already heard of Mr. Wacha. He was regarded as the
right-hand man of Sir Pherozeshah, and Sjt. Virchand Gandhi had described him to me as a great statistician. Mr. Wacha said, 'Gandhi, we must meet again.'
These introductions could scarcely have taken two minutes. Sir Pherozeshah carefully listened to me. I told him that I had seen Justices Ranade and Tyabji. 'Gandhi,' said he, 'I see that I must help you. I must call a public meeting here.' With this he turned to Mr. Munshi, the secretary, and told him to fix up the date of the meeting. The date was settled, and he bade me good-bye, asking me to see him again on the way previous to the meeting. The interview removed my fears, and I went home delighted.
During this stay in
My aptitude for nursing gradually developed into a passion, so much so that it often led me to neglect my work, and on occasions I engaged not only my wife but the whole household in such service.
Such service can have no meaning unless one takes pleasure in it. When it is done for show or for fear of public opinion, it stunts the man and crushes his spirit. Service which is rendered without joy helps neither the servant nor the served. But all other pleasures and possessions pale into nothingness before service which is rendered in a spirit of joy.
On the very day after my brother-in-law's death I had to go
There had hardly been time for me to think out my speech. I
was feeling exhausted after days and nights of anxious vigil, and my voice had
become husky. However, I went to
In accordance with Sir Pherozeshah's instructions I reported myself at his office at 5 P. M. on the eve of the meeting.
'Is your speech ready, Gandhi?' he asked.
'No sir,' said I, trembling with fear, 'I think of speaking ex tempore.'
'That will not do in
I felt rather nervous, but I said I would try.
'Then, tell me, what time Mr. Munshi should come to you for the manuscript?' 'Eleven o'clock tonight,' said I.
On going to the meeting the next day, I saw the wisdom of Sir Pherozeshah's advice. The meeting was held in the hall of the Sir Cowasji Jehangir Institute. I had heard that when Sir Pherozeshah Mehta addressed meetings the hall was always packed. Chiefly by the students intent on hearing him, leaving not an inch of room. This was the first meeting of the kind in my experience. I saw that my voice could reach only a few. I was trembling as I began to read my speech. Sir Pherozeshah cheered me up continually by asking me to speak louder and still louder. I have a feeling that, far from encouraging me, it made my voice sink lower and lower.
My old friend Sjt. Keshavrao Deshpande came to my rescue. I handed my speech to him. His was just the proper voice. But the audience refused to listen. The hall rang with the cries of 'Wacha,' 'Wacha.' So Mr. Wacha stood up and read the speech, with wonderful results. The audience became perfectly quiet, and listened to the speech to the end, punctuating it with applause and cries of 'shame' where necessary. This gladdened my heart.
Sir Pherozeshah liked the speech. I was supremely happy.
The meeting won me the active sympathy of Sjt. Deshpande and
a Parsi friend, whose name I hesitate to mention, as he is a high-placed
Government official today. Both expressed their resolve to accompany me to
In this connection I remember Mr. Pestonji Padshah. I had
been on friendly terms with him ever since my stay in
I found him out again in
'It is impossible to help you,' he said. 'But I tell you I
do not like even your going to
countrymen there. I know I cannot prevail upon you, but I will not encourage anyone of your type to throw in his lot with you.'
I did not like this advice, but it increased my regard for
Mr. Pestonji Padshah. I was struck with his love for the country and for the
mother tongue. The incident brought us closer to each other. I could understand
his point of view. But far from giving up my work in
Sir Pherozeshah had made my way easy. So from
'You are quite right in seeking the help of all parties. There can be no difference of opinion on the South African question. But you must have a non-party man for your president. Meet Professor Bhandarkar. He has been taking no part of late in any public movement. But this question might possibly drew him out. See him and let me know what he says. I want to help you to the fullest extent. Of course you will meet me whenever you like. I am at your disposal.'
This was my first meeting with the Lokamanya. It revealed to me the secret of his unique popularity.
Next I met Gokhale. I found him on the
Dr. Bhandarkar received me with the warmth of a father. It was noon when I called on him. The very fact that I was busy seeing people at that hour appealed greatly to this indefatigable savant, and my insistence on a non-party man for the president of the meeting had his ready approval, which was expressed in the spontaneous exclamation, 'That's it,' 'That's it.'
After he had heard me out he said: 'Anyone will tell you that I do not take part in politics. But I cannot refuse you. Your case is so strong and your industry is so admirable that I cannot decline to take part in your meeting. You did well in consulting Tilak and Gokhale. Please tell them that I
shall be glad to preside over the meeting to be held under the joint auspices of the two Sabhas. You need not have the time of the meeting from me, Any time that suits them will suit me.' With this he bade me good-bye with congratulations and blessings.
Without any ado this erudite and selfless band of workers in Poona held a meeting in an unostentatious little place, and sent me away rejoicing and more confident of my mission.
I next proceeded to
The greatest help here came to me from the late Sjt. G. Parameshvaran Pillay, the editor of The Madras Standard. He had made a careful study of the question, and he often invited me to his office and gave me guidance. Sjt. G. Subrahmaniam of The Hindu and Dr. Subrahmaniam also were very sympathetic. But Sjt. G. Parameshvaran Pillay placed the columns of The Madras Standard entirely at my disposal, and I freely availed myself of the offer. The meeting in Pachaiappa's Hall, so far as I can recollect, was with Dr. Subrahmaniam in the chair.
The affection showered on me by most of the friends I met and their enthusiasm for the cause were so great that, in spite of my having to communicate with them in English, I felt myself entirely at home. What barrier is there that love cannot break?
I had of course to see Surendranath Banerji, the 'Idol of Bengal'. When I met him, he was surrounded by a number of friends. He said: 'I am afraid people will not take interest in your work. As you know, our difficulties here are by no means few. But you must try as best you can. You will have to enlist the sympathy of Maharajas. Mind, you meet the representatives of the British Indian Association. You should meet Raja Sir Pyarimohan Mukarji and Maharaja Tagore. Both are liberal- minded and take a fair share in public work.'
I met these gentlemen, but without success. Both gave me a
cold reception in
I saw that my task was becoming more and more difficult. I
called at the office of the Amrita Bazar Patrika. The gentleman whom I met
there took me to be a wandering jew. The Bangabasi went even one better. The
editor kept me waiting for an hour. He had evidently many interviewers, but he
would not so much as look at me, even when he had disposed of the rest. On my
venturing to broach my subject after the long wait, he said: 'Don't you see our
hands are full? There is no end to the number of visitors like you. You had
better go. I am not disposed to listen to you.' For a moment I felt offended,
but I quickly understood the editor's position. I had heard of the fame of The
Bangabasi. I could see that there was a regular stream of visitors there. And they
were all people acquainted with him. His paper had no lack of copies to
However serious a grievance may be in the eyes of the man who suffers from it, he will be but one of the numerous people invading the editor's office, each with a grievance of his own. How is the editor to meet them all? Moreover, the aggrieved party imagines that the editor is a power in the land. Only he knows that his power can hardly travel beyond the threshold of his office. But I was not discouraged. I kept on seeing editors of other papers. As usual I met the Anglo-Indian editors also. The Stateman and The Englishman realized the importance of the question. I gave them long interviews, and they published them in full.
Mr. Saunders, editor of The Englishman, claimed me as his own. He placed his office and paper at my disposal. He even allowed me the liberty of making whatever changes I liked in the leading article he had written on the situation, the proof of which he sent me in advance. It is no exaggeration to say that a friendship grew up between us. He promised to render me all the help he could, carried out the promise to the letter, and kept on his correspondence with me until the time when he was seriously ill.
Throughout my life I have had the privilege of many such
friendships, which have sprung up quite unexpectedly. What Mr. Saunders liked
in me was my freedom from exaggeration and my devotion to truth. He subjected
me to a searching cross-examination before he began to sympathize with my
cause, and he saw that I had spared neither will nor pains to place before him
an impartial statement of the case even of the white man in
My experience has shown me that we win justice quickest by rendering justice to the other party.
The unexpected help of Mr. Saunders had begun to encourage me to think that I might succeed after all in holding a public meeting in Calcutta, when I received the following cable from Durban: 'Parliament opens January. Return soon.'
So I addressed a letter to the press, in which I explained
why I had to leave
This was my first voyage with my wife and children. I have often observed in the course of this narrative that, on account of child marriages amongst middle class Hindus, the husband will be literate whilst the wife remains practically unlettered. A wide gulf thus separates them, and the husband has to become his wife's teacher. So I had to think out the details of the dress to be adopted by my wife and children, the food they were to eat, and the manners which would be suited to their new surroundings. Some of the recollections of those days are amusing to look back upon.
A Hindu wife regards implicit obedience to her husband as the highest religion. A Hindu husband regards himself as lord and master of his wife who must ever dance attendance upon him.
I believed, at the time of which I am writing, that in order to look civilized, our dress and manners had as far as possible to approximate to the European standard. Because I thought only thus could we have some influence, and without influence it would not be possible to serve the community.
I therefore determined the style of dress for my wife and children. How could I like them to be known as Kathiawad Banias? The Parsis used then to be regarded as the most civilized people amongst Indians, and so, when the complete European style seemed to be unsuited, we adopted the Parsi style. Accordingly my wife wore the Parsi sari, and the boys the Parsi coat and trousers. Of course no one could be without shoes and stockings. It was long before my wife and children could get used to them. The shoes cramped their feet and the stockings stank with perspiration. The toes often got sore, I always had my answers ready to all these objections. But I have an impression that it was not so much the answers as the force of authority that carried conviction. They agreed to the changes in dress as there was no alternative. In the same spirit and with even more reluctance they adopted the use of knives and forks. When my infatuation for these signs of civilization wore away, they gave up the knives and forks. After having become long accustomed to the new style, it was perhaps no less irksome for them to return to the original mode. But I can see today that we feel all the freer and lighter for having cast off the tinsel of 'civilization.'
On board the same steamer with us were some relatives and acquaintances. These and other deck passengers I frequently met, because, the boat belonging to my client friends, I was free to move about anywhere and every where I liked.
Since the steamer was making straight for
in this plight for about twenty-four hours. At last the sky cleared, the sun made his appearance, and the captain said that the storm had blown over. People's faces beamed with gladness, and with the disappearance of danger disappeared also the name of God from their lips, Eating and drinking, singing and merry- making again became the order of the day. The fear of death was gone, and the momentary mood of earnest prayer gave place to maya. There were of course the usual namaz and he prayers, yet they had none of the solemnity of that dread hour.
But the storm had made me one with the passengers. I had little fear of the storm, for I had had experience of similar ones. I am a good sailor and do not get sea-sick. So I could fearlessly move amongst the passengers, bringing them comfort and good cheer, and conveying to them hourly reports of the captain. The friendship I thus formed stood me, as we shall see, in very good stead.
The ship cast anchor in the
We have seen that the two ships cast anchor in the
December. No passengers are allowed to land at any of the
South African ports before being subjected to a thorough medical examination.
If the ship has any passenger suffering from a contagious disease, she has to
undergo a period of quarantine. As there had been plague in
Accordingly our ship was flying the yellow flag,when the
doctor came and examined us. He ordered a five days quarantine because, in his
opinion, plague germs took twenty-three days at the most to develop. Our ship
was therefore ordered to be put in quarantine until the twenty-third day of our
The white residents of
Natal Government openly helped them. Mr.Harry Escombe, who was the most influential of the members of the Cabinet, openly took part in their meetings.
The real object of the quarantine was thus to coerce the
passengers into returning to
We arranged all sorts of games on the ship for the
entertainment of the passengers. On Christmas Day the captain invited the
saloon passengers to dinner. The principal among these were my family and I. In
the speeches after dinner I spoke on Western civilization. I knew that this was
not an occasion for a serious speech. But mine could not be otherwise. I took
part in the merriment, but my heart was in the combat that was going on in
1. that whilst in
2. that with a view to swamping
I was conscious of my responsibility. I knew that Dada Abdulla and Co. had incurred grave risks on my account, the lives of the passengers were in danger, and by bringing my family with me I had put them likewise in jeopardy.
But I was absolutely innocent. I had induced no one to go to
I therefore deplored the civilization of which the
'Supposing the whites carry out their threats, how will you stand by your principle of nonviolence?' To which I replied: 'I hope God will give me the courage and the sense to forgive them and to refrain from bringing them to law. I have no anger against them. I am only sorry for their ignorance and their narrowness. I know that they sincerely believe that what they are doing today is right and proper. I have no reason therefore to be angry with them.'
The questioner smiled, possibly distrustfully.
Thus the days dragged on their weary length. When the quarantine would terminate was still uncertain. The Quarantine Officer said that the matter had passed out of his hands and that, as soon as he had orders from the Government, he would permit us to land.
At last ultimatums were served on the passengers and me. We
were asked to submit, if we would escape with our lives. In our reply the
passengers and I both maintained our right to land at Port Natal, and intimated
our determination to enter
At the end of twenty-three days the ships were permitted to enter the harbour, and orders permitting the passengers to land were passed.
So the ships were brought into the dock and the passengers began to go ashore. But Mr.
Escombe had sent word to the captain that, as the whites were highly enraged against me and my life was in danger, my family and I should be advised to land at dusk, when the Port Superintendent Mr. Tatum would escort us home. The captain communicated the message to me. and I agreed to act accordingly. But scarcely half an hour after this, Mr. Laughton came to the captain. He said: 'I would like to take Mr. Gandhi with me, should he have no objection. As the legal adviser of the Agent Company I tell you that you are not bound to carry out the message you have received from Mr. Escombe.' After this he came to me and said somewhat to this effect: 'If you are not afraid, I suggest that Mrs. Gandhi and the children should drive to Mr. Rustomji's house, whilst you and I follow them on foot. I do not at all like the idea of your entering the city like a thief in the night. I do not think there is any fear of anyone hurting you. Everything is quiet now. The whites have all dispersed. But in any case I am convinced that you ought not to enter the city stealthily.' I readily agreed. My wife and children drove safely to Mr. Rustomji's place. With the captain's permission I went ashore with Mr. Laughton. Mr Rustomji's house was about two miles from the dock.
As soon as we landed, some youngsters recognized me and shouted 'Gandhi, Gandhi.' About half a dozen men rushed to the spot and joined in the shouting. Mr. Laughton feared that the crowd might swell and hailed a rickshaw. I had never liked the idea of being in a rickshaw. This was to be my first experience. But the youngsters would not let me get into it. They frightened the rickshaw boy out of his life, and he took to his heels. As we went ahead, the crowd continued to swell, until it became impossible to proceed further. They first caught hold of Mr. Laughton and separated us. Then they pelted me with stones, brickbats and rotten eggs. Someone snatched away my turban, whilst others began to batter and kick me. I fainted and caught hold of the front railings of a house and stood there to get my breath. But it was impossible. They came upon me boxing and battering. The wife of the Police Superintendent, who knew me, happened to be passing by. The brave lady came up, opened her parasol though there was no sun then, and stood between the crowd and me. This checked the fury of the mob, as it was difficult for them to deliver blows on me without harming Mrs. Alexander.
Meanwhile an Indian youth who witnessed the incident had run to the police station. The Police Superintendent Mr. Alexander sent a posse of men to ring me round and escort me safely to my destination. They arrived in time. The police station lay on our way. As we reached there, the Superintendent asked me to take refuge in the station, but I gratefully declined the offer, 'They are sure to quiet down when they realize their mistake,' I said. 'I have trust in their sense of fairness.' Escorted by the police, I arrived without further harm at Mr. Rustomji's place. I had bruises all over, but no abrasions except in one place. Dr. Dadibarjor, the ship's doctor, who was on the spot, rendered the best possible help.
There was quiet inside, but outside the whites surrounded the house. Night was coming on, and the yelling crowd was shouting, 'We must have Gandhi.' The quick-sighted Police Superintendent was already there trying to keep the crowds under control, not by threats, but by humouring them. But he was not entirely free from anxiety. He sent me a message to this effect: 'If you would save your friend's house and property and also your family, you should escape from the house in disguise, as I suggest.'
Thus on one and the same day I was faced with two contradictory positions. When danger to life had been no more than imaginary, Mr. Laughton advised me to launch forth openly. I accepted the advice. When the danger was quite real, another friend gave me the contrary advice, and I accepted that too. Who can say whether I did so because I saw that my life was in jeopardy, or because I did not want to put my friend's life and property or the lives of my wife and children in danger? Who can say for certain that I was right both when I faced the crowd in the first instance bravely, as it was said, and when I escaped from it in disguise?
It is idle to adjudicate upon the right and wrong of incidents that have already happened. It is useful to understand them and, if possible, to learn a lesson from them for the future. It is difficult to say for certain how a particular man would act in a particular set of circumstances. We can also see that judging a man from his outward act is no more than a doubtful inference, inasmuch as it is not based on sufficient data.
Be that as it may, the preparations for escape made me forget my injuries. As suggested by the Superintendent, I put on an Indian constable's uniform and wore on my head a Madrasi scarf, wrapped round a plate to serve as a helmet. Two detectives accompanied me, one of them disguised as an Indian merchant and with his face painted to resemble that of an Indian. I forget the disguise of the other. We reached a neighbouring shop by a by-lane and, making our way through the gunny bags piled in the godown, escaped by the gate of the shop and threaded our way through the crowd to a carriage that had been kept for me at the end of the street. In this we drove off to the same police station where Mr. Alexander had offered me refuge a short time before, and I thanked him and the detective officers.
Whilst I had been thus effecting my escape Mr. Alexander had kept the crowd amused by singing the tune: 'Hang old Gandhi On the sour apple tree.' When he was informed of my safe arrival at the police station, he thus broke the news to the crowd: 'Well, your victim had made good his escape through a neighbouring shop. You had better go home now.' Some of them were angry, others laughed, some refused to believe the story.
'Well then,' said the Superintendent, 'If you do not believe me, you may appoint one or two representatives, whom I am ready to take inside the house, If they succeed in finding out Gandhi, I will gladly deliver him to you. But if they fail, you must disperse. I am sure that you have no intention of destroying Mr. Rustomji's house or of harming Mr. Gandhi's wife and children.'
The crowed sent their representatives to search the house. They soon returned with disappointing news, and the crowd broke up at last, most of them admiring the Superintendent's tactful handling of the situation, and a few fretting and fuming.
The late Mr. Chamberlain, who was then Secretary of State for the Colonies, cabled asking the Natal Government to prosecute my assailants. Mr. Escombe sent for me, expressed his regret for the injuries I had sustained, and said: 'Believe me, I cannot feel happy over the least little injury done to your person. You had a right to accept Mr. Laughton's advice and to face the worst, but I am sure that, if you had considered my suggestion favourably, these sad occurrences would not have happened. If you can identify the assailants, I am prepared to arrest and prosecute them. Mr. Chamberlain also desires me to do so.'
To which I gave the following reply:
'I do not want to prosecute anyone. It is possible that I
may be able to identify one or two of them, but what is the use of getting them
punished? Besides, I do not hold the assailants to blame. They were given to
understand that I had made exaggerated statements in
'Would you mind giving me this in writing?' said Mr. Escombe. 'Because I shall have to cable to Mr. Chamberlain to that effect. I do not want you to make any statement in haste. You may, if you like, consult Mr. Laughton and your other friends, before you come to a final decision. I may confess, however, that, if you waive the right of bringing your assailants to book, you will considerable help me in restoring quiet, besides enhancing your own reputation.'
'Thank you,' said
With this I gave him the necessary statement.
I had not yet left the police station, when, after two days, I was taken to see Mr.Escombe. Two constables were sent to protect me, though no such precaution was then needed.
On the day of landing, as soon as the yellow flag was
lowered, a representative of The Natal Advertiser had come to interview me. He
had asked me a number of questions, and in reply I had been able to refute
everyone of the charges that had been levelled against me. Thanks to Sir
Pherozeshah Mehta, I had delivered only written speeches in
and the other to impose a stringent restriction on Indian
immigration. Fortunately the fight for the franchise had resulted in a decision
to the effect that no enactment might be passed against the Indians as such,
that is say, that the law should make no distinctions of colour or race. The
language of the bills above mentioned made them applicable to all, but their
object undoubtedly was to impose further restrictions on the Indian residents
When I landed at
I could have sent them to the schools for European children, but only as a matter of favour and exception. No other Indian children were allowed to attend them. For these there were schools established by Christian missions, but I was not prepared to send my children there, as I did not like the education imparted in those schools. For one thing, the medium of instruction would be only English, or perhaps incorrect Tamil or Hindi; this too could only have been arranged with difficulty. I could not possibly put up with this and other disadvantages. In the meantime I was making my own attempt to teach them. But that was at best irregular, and I could not get hold of a suitable Gujarati teacher.
I was at my wits' end. I advertised for an English teacher
who should teach the children under my direction. Some regular instruction was
to be given them by this teacher, and for the rest they should be satisfied
with what little I could give them irregularly. So I engaged an English
governess on 7 pounds a month. This went on for some time, but not to my
satisfaction. The boys acquired some knowledge of Gujarati through my
conversation and intercourse with them, which was strictly in the
mother-tounge. I was loath to send them back to
These experiments were all inadequate. I could not devote to the children all the time I had wanted to give them. My inability to give them enough attention and other unavoidable causes prevented me from providing them with the literary education I had desired, and all my sons have had complaints to make against me in this matter. Whenever they come across an M.A. or a B.A., or even a matriculate, they seem to feel the handicap of a want of school education.
Nevertheless I am of opinion that, if I had insisted on their being educated somehow at public schools, they would have been deprived of the training that can be had only at the school of experience, or from constant contact with the parents. I should never have been free, as I am today, from anxiety on their score, and the artificial education that they could have had in England or South Africa, torn from me, would never have taught them the simplicity and the spirit of service that they show in their lives today, while their artificial ways of living might have been a serious handicap in my public work. Therefore, though I have not been able to give them a literary education either to their or to my satisfaction, I am not quite sure, as I look back on my past years, that I have not done my duty by them to the best of my capacity. Nor do I regret not having sent them to public schools. I have always felt that the undesirable traits I see today in my eldest son are an echo of my own undisciplined and unformulated early life. I regard that time as a period of half-baked knowledge and indulgence. It coincided with the most impressionable years of my eldest son, and naturally he has refused to regard it as my time of indulgence and inexperience. He has on the contrary believed that that was the brightest period of my life, and the changes, effected later, have been due to delusion miscalled enlightenment. And well he might. Why should he not think that my earlier years represented a period of awakening, and the later years of radical change, years of delusion and egotism ? Often have I been confronted with various posers from friends : What harm had there been, if I had given my boys an academical education ? What right had I thus to clip their wings ? Why should I have come in the way of their taking degrees and choosing their own careers ?
I do not think that there is much point in these questions. I have come in contact with numerous students. I have tried myself or through others to impose my educational 'fads' on other children too and have seen the results thereof. There are within my knowledge a number of young men
today contemporaneous with my sons. I do not think that man to man they are any better that my sons, or that my sons have much to learn from them.
But the ultimate result of my experiments is in the womb of the future. My object in discussing this subject here is that a student of the history of civilization may have some measure of the difference between disciplined home education and school education, and also the effect produced on children through changes introduced by parents in their lives. The purpose of this chapter is also to show the lengths to which a votary of truth is driven by his experiments with truth, as also to show the votary of liberty how many are the sacrifices demanded by that stern goddess. Had I been without a sense of self-respect and satisfied of myself with having for my children the education that other children could not get, I should have deprived them of the object-lesson in liberty and self-respect that I gave them at the cost of the literary training. And where a choice has to be made between liberty and learning, who will not say that the former has to be preferred a thousand times to the latter ?
The youths whom I called out in 1920 from those citadels of slavery -- their schools and colleges - - and whom I advised that it was far better to remain unlettered and break stones for the sake of liberty than to go in for a literary education in the chains of slaves will probably be able now to trace my advice to its source.
My profession progressed satisfactorily, but that was far
from satisfying me. The Question of further simplifying my life and of doing
some concrete act of service to my fellowmen had been constantly agitating me,
when a leper came to my door. I had not the heart to dismiss him with a meal.
So I offered him shelter, dressed his wounds, and began to look after him. But
I could not go on like that indefinately. I could not afford, I lacked the will
to keep him always with me. So I sent him to the
But I was still ill at ease. I longed for some humanitarian
work of a permanent nature. Dr. Booth was the head of the St. Aidan's
The experience stood me in good stead, when during the Boer War I offered my services for nursing the sick and wounded soldiers.
The question of the rearing of children had been ever before
me. I had two sons born in
medical aid at the time of her delivery, but if the doctor
and the nurse were to leave us in the lurch at the right moment, what was I to
do? Then the nurse had to be an Indian. And the difficulty of getting a trained
Indian nurse in
The birth of the last child put me to the severest test. The travail came on suddenly. The doctor was not immediately available, and some time was lost in fetching the midwife. Even if she had been on the spot, she could not have helped delivery. I had to see through the safe delivery of the baby. My careful study of the subject in Dr. Tribhuvandas' work was of inestimable help. I was not nervous.
I am convinced that for the proper upbringing of children the parents ought to have a general knowledge of the care and nursing of babies. At every step I have seen the advantages of my careful study of the subject. My children would not have enjoyed the general health that they do today, had I not studied the subject and turned my knowledge to account. We labour under a sort of superstition that a child has nothing to learn during the first five years of its life. On the contrary the fact is that the child never learns in after life what it does in its first five years. The education of the child begins with conception. The physical and mental states of the parents at the moment of conception are reproduced in the baby. Then during the period of pregnancy it continues to be affected by the mother's moods, desires and temperament, as also by her ways of life. After birth the child imitates the parents, and for a considerable number of years entirely depends on them for its growth.
The couple who realize these things will never have sexual union for the fulfilment of their lust, but only when they desire issue. I think it is the height of ignorance to believe that the sexual act is an independent function necessary like sleeping or eating. The world depends for its existence on the act of generation, and as the world is the play-ground of God and a reflection of His glory, the act of generation should be controlled for the ordered growth of the world. He who realizes this will control his lust at any cost, equip himself with the knowledge necessary for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of his progeny, and give the benefit of that knowledge to posterity.
We now reach the stage in this story when I began seriously
to think of taking the brahmacharya vow. I had been wedded to a monogamous
ideal ever since my marriage, faithfulness to my wife being part of the love of
truth. But it was in
Raychandbhai was himself married. I have an impression that
at the moment his words sounded harsh, but they gripped me irresistibly. The devotion
of a servant was, I felt, a thousand times more praiseworthy than that of a
wife to her husband. There was nothing surprising in the wife's devotion to her
husband, as there was an indissoluble bond between them. The devotion was
perfectly natural. But it required. a special effort to cultivate equal
devotion between master and servant. The poet's point of view began gradually
to grow upon me. What then, I asked myself, should be my relation with my wife
? Did my faithfulness consist in making my wife the instrument of my lust ? So
long as I was the slave of lust, my faithfulness was worth nothing. To be fair
to my wife, I must say that she was never the temptress. It was therefore the
easiest thing for me to take the vow of brahmacharya , if only I willed it. It
was my weak will or lustful attachment that was the obstacle. Even after my
conscience had been roused in the matter, I failed twice. I failed because the
motive that actuated the effort was none the highest. My main object was to
escape having more children. Whilst in
The final resolution could only be made as late as 1906.
Satyagraha had not then been started. I had not the least notion of its coming.
I was practising in
an effort only, means that I have not yet clearly realized the necessity of definite action.'But supposing my views are changed in the future, how can I bind myself by a vow ? ' Such a doubt often deters us. But that doubt also betrays a lack of clear perception that a particular thing must be renounced. That is why Nishkulanand has sung :
'Renunciatfon without aversion is not lasting.'
Where therefore the desire is gone, a vow of renunciation is the natural and inevitable fruit.
After full discussion and mature deliberation I took the vow
in 1906. I had not shared my thoughts with my wife until then, but only
consulted her at the time of taking the vow. She had no objection. But I had
great difficulty in making the final resolve. I had not the necessary strength.
How was I to control my passions ? The elimination of carnal relationship with
one's wife seemed then a strange thing. But I launched forth with faith in the
sustaining power of God. As I look back upon the twenty years of the vow, I am
filled with pleasure and wonderment. The more or less successful practice of
self-control had been going on since 1901. But the freedom and joy that came to
me after taking the vow had never been experienced before 1906. Before the vow
I had been open to being overcome by temptation at any moment. Now the vow was
a sure shield against temptation. The great potentiality of brahmacharya daily
became more an more patent to me. The vow was taken when I was in
The knowledge that a perfect observance of brahmacharya means realization of brahman, I did not owe to a study of the Shastras. It slowly grew upon me with experience. The shastric texts on the subject I read only later in life. Every day of the vow has taken me nearer the knowledge that in brahmacharya lies the protection of the body, the mind and the soul. For #brahmacharya# was now no process of hard penance, it was a matter of consolation and joy. Every day revealed a fresh beauty in it.
But if it was a matter of ever-increasing joy, let no one believe that it was an easy thing for me. Even when I am past fifty-six years, I realize how hard a thing it is. Every day I realize more and more that it is like walking on the sword's edge, and I see every moment the necessity for eternal vigilance.
Control of the palate is the first essential in the observance of the vow. I found that complete control of the palate made the observance very easy, and so I now persued my dietetic experiments not merely from the vegetarian's but also from the #brahmachari's# point of view. As the result of these experiments I saw that the #brahmachari's# food should be limited, simple, spiceless, and, if possible, uncooked.
Six years of experiment have showed me that the
brahmachari's ideal food is fresh fruit and nuts. The immunity from passion
that I enjoyed when I lived on this food was unknown to me after I changed that
diet. Brahmacharya needed no effort on my part in
As an external aid to brahmacharya, fasting is as necessary
as selection and restriction in diet. So overpowering are the senses that they
can be kept under control only when they are completely hedged in on all sides,
from above and from beneath. It is common knowledge that they are powerless
without food, and so fasting undertaken with a view to control of the senses
is, I have no doubt, very helpful. With some, fasting is of no avail, because
assuming that mechanical fasting alone will make them immune, they keep their
bodies without food, but feast their minds upon all sorts of delicacies,
thinking all the while what they will eat and what they will drink after the
fast terminates. Such fasting helps them in controlling neither palate nor
lust. Fasting is useful, when mind co-operates with starving body, that is to
say, when it cultivates a distaste for the objects that are denied to the body.
Mind is at the root of all sensuality. Fasting therefore, has a limited use,
for a fasting man may continue to be swayed by passion. But it may be said that
extinction of the sexual passion is as a rule impossible without fasting, which
may be said to be indispensable for the observance of #brahmacharya#. Many
aspirants after #brahmacharya# fail, because in the use of their other senses
they want to carry on like those who are not #brahmacharis#. Their effort is,
therefore, identical with the effort to experience the bracing cold of winter
in the scorching summer months. There should be a clear line between the life
of a #brahmachari# and of one who is not. The resemblance that there is between
the two is only apparent. The distinction ought to be clear as daylight. Both
use their eyesight, but whereas the #brahmachari# uses it to see the glories of
God, the other uses it to see the frivolity around him. Both use their ears,
but whereas the one hears nothing but praises of God, the other feasts his ears
upon ribaldry. Both often keep late hours, but whereas the one devotes them to
prayer, the other fritters them away in wild and wasteful mirth. Both feed the
inner man, but the one only to keep the
Brahmacharya means control of the senses in thought, word and deed. Every day I have been realizing more and more the necessity for restraints of the kind I have detailed above. There is no limit to the possibilities of renunciation even as there is none to those of #brahmacharya#. Such #brahmacharya# is impossible of attainment by limited effort. F'or many it must remain only as an ideal. An aspirant after #brahmacharya# will always be conscious of his shortcomings, will seek out the passions lingering in the innermost recesses of his heart and will incessantly strive to get rid of them. So long as thought is not under complete control of the will, #brahmacharya# in its fulness is absent. Involuntary thought is an affection of the mind, and curbing of thought, therefore, means curbing of the mind which is even more difficult to curb than the wind. Nevertheless the existence of God within makes even control of the mind possible. Let no one think that it is impossible because it is difficult. It is the highest goal, and it is no wonder that the highest effort should be necessary to attain it.
But it was after coming to
But I must not anticipate the chapter of my struggle. Meanwhile let me make it clear that those who desire to observe brahmacharya with a view to realizing God need not despair, provided their faith in God is equal to their confidence in their own effort.
'The sense-objects turn away from an abstemious soul,
leaving the relish behind. The relish also disappears with the realization of the
Highest.' Therefore His name and His grace are the last resources of the
aspirant after moksha. This truth came to me only after my return to
I had started on a life of ease and comfort, but the experiment was short-lived. Although I had furnished the house with care, yet it failed to have any hold on me. So no sooner had I launched forth on that life, than I began to cut down expenses. The washerman's bill was heavy, and as he was besides by no means noted for his punctuality, even two or three dozen shirts and collars proved insufficient for me. Collars had to be changed daily and shirts, if not daily, at least every alternate day. This meant a double expense, which appeared to me unnecessary. So I equipped myself with a washing outfit to save it. I bought a book on washing, studied the art and taught it also to my wife. This no doubt added to my work, but its novelty made it a pleasure.
I shall never forget the first collar that I washed myself. I had used more starch than necessary, the iron had not been made hot enough, and for fear of burning the collar I had not pressed it sufficiently. The result was that, though the collar was fairly stiff, the superfluous starch continually dropped off it. I went to court with the collar on, thus inviting the ridicule of brother barristers, but even in those days I could be impervious to ridicule.
'Well,' said I, 'this is my first experiment at washing my own collars and hence the loose starch. But it does not trouble me, and then there is the advantage of providing you with so much fun.'
'But surely there is no lack of laundries here?' asked a friend.
'The laundry bill is very heavy,' said
But I could not make my friends appreciate the beauty of self-help. In course of time I became an expert washerman so far as my own work went, and my washing was by no means inferior to laundry washing. My collars were no less stiff or shiny than others.
When Gokhale came to
The scarf was creased and needed ironing. It was not possible to send it to the laundry and get it back in time. I offered to try my art.
'I can trust to your capacity as a lawyer, but not as a washerman,' said Gokhale; 'What if you should soil it? Do you know what it means to me ? '
With this he narrated, with much joy, the story of the gift. I still insisted, guaranteed good work, got his permission to iron it, and won his certificate. After that I did not mind if the rest of the world refused me its certificate.
In the same way, as I freed myself from slavery to the
washerman, I threw off dependence on the barber. All people who go to
'What's wrong with your hair, Gandhi? Rats have been at it ? ' 'No. The white barber would not condescend to touch my black hair,' said I, 'so I preferred to cut it myself, no matter how badly.'
The reply did not surprise the friends.
The barber was not at fault in having refused to cut my
hair. There was every chance of his losing his custom, if he should serve black
men. We do not allow our barbers to serve our untouchable brethren. I got the
reward of this in South
The extreme forms in which my passion for self-help and simplicity ultimately expressed itself will be described in their proper place. The seed had been long sown. It only needed watering to take root, to flower and to fructify, and the watering came in due course.
I must skip many other experiences of the period between 1897 and 1899 and come straight to the Boer War.
When the war was declared, my personal sympathies were all
with the Boers, but I believed then that I had yet no right, in such cases, to
enforce my individual convictions. I have minutely dealt with the inner
struggle regarding this in my history of the Satyagraha in
The average Englishman believed that the Indian was a coward, incapable of taking risks or looking beyond his immediate self-interest. Many English friends, therefore, threw cold water on my plan. But Dr. Booth supported it whole-heartedly. He trained us in ambulance work. We secured medical certificates of fitness for service. Mr. Laughton and the late Mr. Escombe enthusiastically supported the plan, and we applied at last for service at the front. The Government thankfully acknowledged our application, but said that our services were not then needed.
I would not rest satisfied, however with this refusal. Through the introduction of Dr. Booth, I called on the Bishop of Natal. There were many Christian Indians in our corps. The Bishop was delighted with my proposal and promised to help us in getting our services accepted. Time too was working with us. The Beer had shown more pluck, determination and bravery than had been expected ; and our services were ultimately needed. Our corps was 1,100 strong, with nearly 40 leaders, About three hundred were free Indians, and the rest indentured. Dr. Booth was also with us, The corps acquitted itself well. Though our work was to be outside the firing line, and though we had the protection of the Red Cross, we were asked at a critical moment to serve within the firing line. The reservation had not been of our seeking. The authorities did not want us to be within the range of fire. The situation, however, was changed after the repulse at Spion Kop, and General Buller sent the message that, though we were not bound to take the risk, Government would be thankful if we would do so and fetch the wounded from the field. We had no hesitation, and so the action at Spion Kop found us working within the firing line. During these days we had to march from twenty to twenty-five miles a day, bearing the wounded on stretchers. Amongst the wounded we had the honour of carrying soldiers like General Woodgate.
The corps was disbanded after six weeks' service. After the
reverses at Spion Kop and Vaalkranz, the British Commander-in-Chief abandoned
the attempt to relieve Ladysmith and other places by summary procedure, and
decided to proceed slowly, awaiting reinforcements from
Our humble work was at the moment much applauded, and the Indians' prestige was enhanced. The newspapers published laudatory rhymes with the refrain, 'We are sons of Empire after all.'
General Buller mentioned with appreciation the work of the corps in his despatch, and the leaders were awarded the War Medal.
The Indian community became better organized. I got into closer touch with the indentured Indians. There came a greater awakening amongst them, and the feeling that Hindus, Musalmans, Christians, Tamilians, Gujaratis and Sindhis were all Indians and children of the same motherland took deep root amongst them. Everyone believed that the Indians' grievances were now sure to be redressed. At the moment the white man's attitude seemed to be distinctly changed. The relations formed with the whites during the war were of the sweetest. We had come in contact with thousands of tommies. They were friendly with us and thankful for being there to serve them. I cannot forbear from recording a sweet reminiscence of how human nature shows itself at its best in moments of trial. We were marching towards Chievely Camp where Lieutenant Roberts, the son of Lord Roberts, had received a mortal wound. Our corps had the honour of carrying the body from the field. It was a sultry day -- the day of our march. Everyone was thirsting for water. There was a tiny brook on the way where we could slake our thirst. But who was to drink first ? We had proposed to come in after the tommies had finished. But they would not begin first and urged us to do so, and for a while a pleasant competition went on for giving precedence to one another.
It has always been impossible for me to reconcile myself to
any one member of the bady politic remaining out of use. I have always been loath
to hide or connive at the. weak points of the community or to press for its
rights without having purged it of its blemishes. Therefore, ever since my
But I had some bitter experiences. I saw that I could not so easily count on the help of the community in getting it to do its own duty, as I could in claiming for it rights. At some places I met with insults, at others with polite indifference. It was too much for people to bestir themselves to keep their surroundings clean. To expect them to find money for the work was out of the question. These experiences taught me, better than ever before, that without infinite patience it was impossible to get the people to do any work. It is the reformer who is anxious for the reform, and not society, from which he should expect nothing better than opposition, abhorrence and even mortal persecution. Why may not society regard as retrogression what the reformer holds dear as life itself ?
Nevertheless the result of this agitation was that the Indian community learnt to recognize more or less the necessity for keeping their houses and environments clean. I gained the esteem of the authorities. They saw that, though I had made it my business to ventilate grievances and press for rights, I was no less keen and insistent upon self-purification.
There was one thing, however, which still remained to be
done, namely, the awakening in the Indian settler of a sense of duty to the
Thus service of the Indians in
On my relief from war-duty I felt that my work was no longer
At this time I was intimately connected only with
Gifts had been bestowed on me before when I returned to
What right had I to accept all these gifts ? Accepting them, how could I persuade myself that I was serving the community without remuneration ? A11 the gifts, excepting a few from my clients, were purely for my service to the community, and I could make no difference between my clients and co-workers; for the clients also helped me in my public work.
One of the gifts was a gold necklace/worth fifty guineas, meant for my wife. But even that gift was given because of my public work, and so it could not be separated from the rest.
The evening I was presented with the bulk of these things I had a sleepless night. I walked up and down my room deeply agitated, but could find no solution. It was difficult for me to forego gifts worth hundreds, it was more difficult to keep them.
And even if I could keep them , what about my children ? What about my wife? They were being trained to a life of service and to an understanding that service was its own reward.
I had no costly ornaments in the house. We had been fast simplifying our life How then could we afford to have gold watches? How could we afford to wear gold chains and diamond rings? Even then I was exhorting people to conquer the infatuation for jewellery. What was I now to do with the jewellery that had come upon me ?
I decided that I could not keep these things. I drafted a letter, creating a trust of them in favour of the community and appointing Parsi Rustomji and others trustees. In the morning I held a consultation with my wife and children and finally go rid of the heavy incubus.
I knew that I should have some difficulty in persuading my wife, and I was sure that I should have none so far as the children were concerned. So I decided to constitute them my attorneys.
The children readily agreed to my proposal. 'We do not need these costly presents, we must return them to the community, and should we ever need them, we could easily purchase them,' they said.
I was delighted.' Then you will plead with mother won't you ? ' I asked them.
'Certainly,' said they. 'That is our business. She did not need to wear the ornaments. She would want to keep them for us, and if we don't want them, why should she not agree to part with them ?'
But it was easier said than done.
'You may not need them,' said my wife. ' Your children may not need them. Cajoled they will dance to your tune. I can understand your not permitting me to wear them. But what about my daughters-in-law? They will be sure to need them. And who knows what will happen tomorrow ? I would be the last person to part with gifts so lovingly given.'
And thus the torrent of argument went on, reinforced, in the end, by tears. But the children were adamant. And I was unmoved.
I mildly put in: 'The children have yet to get married. We do not want to see them married young. When they are grown up, they can take care of themselves. And surely we shall not have, for our sons, brides who are fond of ornaments. And if after all, we need to provide them with ornaments, I am there. You will ask me then.' 'Ask you ? I know you by this time. You deprived me of my ornaments, you would not leave me in peace with them. Fancy you offering to get ornaments for the daughters-in-law ! You who are trying to make sadhus of my boys from today ! No, the ornaments will not be returned. And pray what right have you to my necklace ? '
'But,' I rejoined,' is the necklace given you for your service or for my service ?'
'I agree. But service rendered by you is as good as rendered by me. I have toiled and moiled for you day and night. Is that no service ? You forced all and sundry on me, making me weep bitter tears, and I slaved for them !'
These were pointed thrusts, and some of them went home. But I was determined to return the ornaments. I somehow succeeded in extorting a consent from her. The gifts received in 1896 and 1901 were all returned. A trust-deed was prepared, and they were deposited with a bank, to be used for the service of the community, according to my wishes or to those of the trustees.
Often, when I was in need of funds for public purposes, and felt that I must draw upon the trust, I have been able to raise the requisite amount, leaving the trust money intact. The fund is still there, being operated upon in times of need, and it has regularly accumulated.
I have never since regretted the step, and as the years have gone by, my wife has also seen its wisdom. It has saved us from many temptations.
I am definitely of opinion that a public worker should accept no costly gifts.
So I sailed for home.
cleaned the latrine. But that was for myself. The rush was so great, and the latrines were so few, that they needed frequent cleaning; but that was more than I could do. So I had to content myself with simply ministering to myself. And the others did not seem to mind the stench and the dirt. But that was not all. Some of the delegates did not scruple to use the verandahs outside their rooms for calls of nature at night. In the morning I pointed out the spots to the volunteers. No one was ready to undertake the cleaning, and I found no one to share the honour with me of doing it. Conditions have since considerably improved, but even today thoughtless delegates are not wanting who disfigure the Congress camp by committing nuisance wherever they choose, and all the volunteers are not always ready to clean up after them. I saw that, if the Congress session were to be prolonged, conditions would be quite favourable for the outbreak of an epidemic.
There were yet two days for the Congress session to begin. I
had made up my mind to offer my services to the Congress office in order to
gain some experience. So as soon as I had finished the daily ablutions on
Babu Bhupendranath Basu and Sjt. Ghosal were the secretaries. I went to Bhupenbabu and offered my services. He looked at me, and said: 'I have no work, but possibly Ghosalbabu might have something to give you. Please go to him.'
So I went to him. He scanned me and said with a smile: 'I can give you only clerical work. Will you do it?'
'That is the right spirit, young man,' he said. Addressing the volunteers who surrounded him, he added, 'Do you hear what this young man says?'
Then turning to me he proceeded: 'Well then, here is a heap of letters for disposal. Take that chair and begin. As you see, hundreds of people come to see me. What am I to do? Am I to meet them, or am I to answer these busybodies inundating me with letters? I have no clerks to whom I can entrust this work. Most of these letters have nothing in them, but you will please look them through. Acknowledge those that are worth it, and refer to me those that need a considered reply.'
I was delighted at the confidence reposed in me.
Sjt. Ghosal did not know me when he gave me the work. Only later did he enquire about my credentials.
I found my work very easy - the disposal of that heap of correspondence. I had done with it in no time, and Sjt. Ghosal was very glad. He was talkative. He would talk away for hours together. When he learnt something from me about my history, he felt rather sorry to have given me clerical work. But I reassured him: 'Please don't worry. What am I before you? You have grown gray in the service of the Congress, and are as an elder to me. I am but an inexperienced youth. You
have put me under a debt of obligation by entrusting me with this work. For I want to do Congress work, and you have given me the rare opportunity of understanding the details.'
'To tell you the truth,' said Sjt. Ghosal, 'that is the proper spirit. But young men of today do not realize it. Of course I have known the Congress since its birth. In fact I may claim a certain share with Mr. Hume in bringing the Congress into being.'
And thus we became good friends. He insisted on my having lunch with him.
Sjt. Ghosal used to get his shirt buttoned by his bearer. I volunteered to do the bearer's duty, and I loved to do it, as my regard for elders was always great. When he came to know this, he did not mind my doing little acts of personal service for him. In fact he was delighted. Asking me to button his shirt, he would say, 'You see, now, the Congress secretary has no time even to button his shirt. He has always some work to do.' Sjt. Ghosal's naivete amused me, but did not create any dislike in me for service of that nature. The benefit I received from this service in incalculable.
In a few days I came to know the working of the Congress. I met most of the leaders. I observed the movements of stalwarts like Gokhale and Surendranath. I also noticed the huge waste of time there. I observed too, with sorrow even then, the prominent place that the English language occupied in our affairs. There was little regard for economy of energy. More than one did the work of one, and many an important thing was no one's business at all.
Critical as my mind was in observing these things, there was enough charity in me, and so I always thought that it might, after all, be impossible to do better in the circumstances, and that saved me from undervaluing any work.
In the Congress at last. The immense pavilion and the volunteers in stately array, as also the elders seated on the dais, overwhelmed me. I wondered where I should be in that vast assemblage.
The presidential address was a book by itself. To read it from cover to cover was out of the question. Only a few passages were therefore read.
After this came the election of the Subjects Committee. Gokhale took me to the Committee meetings.
Sir Pherozeshah had of course agreed to admit my resolution, but I was wondering who would put it before the Subjects Committee, and when. For there were lengthy speeches to every resolution, all in English to boot, and every resolution had some well-known leader to back it. Mine was but a feeble pipe amongst those veteran drums, and as the night was closing in, my heart beat fast. The resolutions coming at the fag- end were, so far as I can recollect, rushed through at lighting speed. Everyone was hurrying to go. It was 11 o'clock. I had not the courage to speak. I had already met Gokhale, who had looked at my resolution. So I drew near his chair and whispered to him: 'Please do something for me.' He said: 'Your resolution is not out of my mind.
You see the way they are rushing through the resolutions. But I will not allow yours to be passed over.'
'So we have done?' said Sir Pherozeshah Mehta.
'No, no, there is still the resolution on
'Have you seen the resolution?' asked Sir Pherozeshah. 'Of course.'
'Do you like it?'
'It is quite good.'
'Well then, let us have it, Gandhi.'
I read it trembling.
Gokhale supported it.
'Unanimously passed,' cried out everyone.
'You will have five minutes to speak to it Gandhi,' said Mr. Wacha.
The procedure was far from pleasing to me. No one had troubled to understand the resolution, everyone was in a hurry to go and, because Gokhale had seen the resolution, it was not thought necessary for the rest to see it or understand it!
The morning found me worrying about my speech. What was I to
say in five minutes? I had prepared myself fairly well but the words would not
come to me. I had decided not to read my speech but to speak ex tempore. But
the facility for speaking that I had acquired in
As soon as it was time for my resolution, Mr. Wacha called
out my name. I stood up. My head was reeling. I read the resolution somehow.
Someone had printed and distributed amongst the delegates copies of a poem he
had written in praise of foreign emigration. I read the poem and referred to
the grievances of the settlers in
The Congress was over, but as I had to meet the Chamber of
Commerce and various people in connection with work in
I shall record here an incident in the India Club, before I proceed to talk of my stay with Gokhale.
Lord Curzon held his darbar about this time. Some Rajas and Maharajas who had been invited to the darbar were members of the Club. In the Club I always found them wearing fine Bengalee dhotis and shirts and scarves. On the darbar day they put on trousers befitting khansamas and shining boots. I was pained and inquired of one of them the reason for the change.
'We alone know our unfortunate condition. We alone know the insults we have to put up with, in order that we may possess our wealth and titles,' he replied.
'But what about these khansama turbans and these shining boots?' I asked.
'Do you see any difference between khansamas and us?' he replied, and added, 'they are our khansamas, we are Lord Cruzon's khansamas. If I were to absent myself from the levee, I should have to suffer the consequences. If I were to attend it in my usual dress, it would be an offence. And do you think I am going to get any opportunity there of talking to Lord Curzon? Not a bit of it!'
I was moved to pity for this plainspoken friend. This reminds me of another darbar.
At the time when Lord Hardinge laid the foundation stone of
I was distressed to see the Maharajas bedecked like women - silk pyjamas and silk achkans, pearl necklaces round their necks, bracelets on their wrists, pearl and diamond tassels on their turbans and besides all this swords with golden hilts hanging from their waist-bands.
I discovered that these were insignia not of their royalty, but of their slavery. I had thought that they must be wearing these badges of impotence of their own free will, but I was told that it was obligatory for these Rajas to wear all their costly jewels at such functions. I also gathered that some of them had a positive dislike for wearing these jewels, and that they never wore them except on occasions like the darbar.
I do not know how far my information was correct. But whether they wear them on other occasions or not, it is distressing enough to have to attend viceregal darbars in jewels that only some women wear.
How heavy is the toll of sins and wrongs that wealth, power and prestige exact from man!
From the very first day of my stay with him Gokhale made me feel completely at home. He treated me as though I were his younger brother, he acquainted himself with all my requirements and arranged to see that I got all I needed. Fortunately my wants were few, and I had cultivated the habit of self-help, I needed very little personal attendance. He was deeply impressed with my habit of fending for myself, my personal cleanliness, perseverance and regularity, and would often overwhelm me with praise.
He seemed to keep nothing private from me. He would introduce me to all the important people that called on him. Of these the one who stands foremost in my memory is Dr. (now Sir) P. C. Ray. He lived practically next door and was a very frequent visitor.
This is how he introduced Dr. Ray: 'This is Prof. Ray who having a monthly salary of Rs. 800, keeps just Rs. 40 for himself and devotes the balance to public purposes. He is not, and does not want to get, married.
I see little difference between Dr. Ray as he is today and as he used to be then. His dress used to be nearly as simple as it is, with this difference of course that whereas it is Khadi now, it used to be Indian mill-cloth in those days. I felt I could never hear too much of the talks between Gokhale and Dr. Ray, as they all pertained to public good or were of educative value. At times they were painful too, containing as they did, strictures on public men. As a result, some of those whom I had regarded as stalwart fighters began to look quite puny.
To see Gokhale at work was as much a joy as an education. He
never wasted a minute. His private relations and friendships were all for
public good. All his talks had reference only to the good of the country and
were absolutely free from any trace of untruth or insincerity.
His reverence for Ranade could be seen every moment. Ranade's authority was final in every matter, and he would cite it at every step. The anniversary of Ranade's death (or birth, I forget which) occurred during my stay with Gokhale, who observed it regularly. There were with him then, besides myself, his friends Prof. Kathavate and a Sub-Judge. He invited us to take part in the celebration, and in his speech he gave us his reminiscences of Ranade. He compared incidentally Ranade, Telang and Mandlik. He eulogized Telang's charming style and Mandlik's greatness as a reformer. Citing an instance of Mandlik's solicitude for his clients, he told us an anecdote as to how once, having missed his usual train, he engaged a special train so as to be
able to attend the court in the interest of his client. But Ranade, he said, towered above them all, as a versatile genius. He was not only a great judge, he was an equally great historian, an economist and reformer. Although he was a judge, he fearlessly attended the Congress, and everyone had such confidence in his sagacity that they unquestioningly accepted his decisions. Gokhale's joy knew no bounds, as he described these qualities of head and heart which were all combined in his master.
Gokhale used to have a horse-carriage in those days. I did not know the circumstances that had made a horse-carriage a necessity for him, and so I remonstrated with him: 'Can't you make use of the tramcar in going about from place to place? is it derogatory to a leader's dignity?'
Slightly pained he said, 'So you also have failed to understand me! I do not use my Council allowances for my own personal comforts. I envy your liberty to go about in tramcars, but I am sorry I cannot do likewise. When you are the victim of as wide a publicity as I am, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for you to go about in a tramcar. There is no reason to suppose that everything that the leaders do is with a view to personal comfort. I love your simple habits. I live as simply as I can, but some expense is almost inevitable for a man like myself.'
He thus satisfactorily disposed of one of my complaints, but there was another which he could not dispose of to my satisfaction.
'But you do not even go out for walks,' said
'When do you ever find me free to go out for a walk?' he replied
I had such a great regard for Gokhale that I never strove with him. Though this reply was far from satisfying me, I remained silent. I believed then and I believe even now, that, no matter what amount of work one has, one should always find some time exercise, just as one does for one's meals. It is my humble opinion that, far from taking away from one's capacity for work, it adds to it.
Whilst living under Gokhlae's roof I was far from being a stay-at- home.
I had told my Christian friends in
I sought an appointment, which he readly gave me. When I
went, I found that his wife was on her death-bed. His house was simple. In the
Congress I had seen him in a coat and trusers, but I was glad to find him now
'I do,' said I.
'Well then, Hinduism offers no absolution therefrom, Christianity does, and added: The wages of sin is death, and the Bible says that the only way of deliverance is surrender unto Jesus.'
I put forward #Bhakti-marga# (the path of devotion) of the #Bhagavadgita#, but to no avail. I thanked him for his goodness. He failed to satisfy me, but I benefited by the interview.
During these days I walked up and down the streets of
Kalicharan Banerji had spoken to me about the Kali temple, which I was eager to see, especially as I had read about it in books. So I went there one day, Justice Mitter's house was in the same locality, and I therefore went to the temple on the same day that I visited him. On the way I saw a stream of sheep going to be sacrificed to kali. Rows of beggars lined the lane leading to the temple. There were religious mendicants too, and even in those days I was sternly opposed to giving alms to sturdy beggars. A crowd of them pursued me. One of such men was found seated on a verandah. He stopped me, and accosted me: 'Whither are you going, my boy?' I replied to him.
He asked my companion and me to sit down, which we did.
I asked him: 'Do you regard this sacrifice as religion?' 'Who would regard killing of animals as religion?' 'Then, why don't you preach against it?'
'That's not my business. Our business is to worship God.'
'But could you not find any other place in which to worship God?'
'All places are equally good for us. The people are like a flock of sheep, following where leaders lead them. It is no business of us #sadhus#.'
We did not prolong the discussion but passed on to the temple. We were greeted by rivers of blood. I could not bear to stand there. I was exasperated and restless. i have never forgotten that sight.
That very evening I had an invitation to dinner at a party of Bengali friends. There I spoke to a friend about this cruel form of worship. He said: 'The sheep don't feel anything. The noise and the drum- beating there deaden all sensation of pain.'
I could not swallow this. I told him that, if the sheep had speech, they would tell a different tale. I felt that the cruel custom ought to be stopped. I thought of the story of Buddha, but I also saw that the task was beyond my capacity.
I hold today the opinion as I held then. To my mind the life
of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being. I should be unwilling
to take the life of a lamb for the sake of the human body. I hold that, the
more helpless a creature, the more entitled it s to protection by man from the
cruelty of man. But he who has not qualified himself for such service is unable
to afford to it any protection. I must go through more self-purification and
sacrifice. before I can hope to save these lambs from this unholy sacrifice.
Today I think I must die pining for this self-purifiacation and sacrifice. It
is my constant prayer that there may be born on earth some great that there may
be born on earth some great spirit, man or woman, fired with divine pity, who
will deliver us from this heinous sin, save the lives of the innocent
creatures, and purify the temple. How is it that
The terrible sacrifice offered to Kali in the name of religion enhanced my desire to know Bengali life. I had read and heard a good deal about the Brahmo Samaj. I knew something about the life of Pratap Chandra Mazumdar. I had attended some of the meetings addressed by him. I secured his life of Keshav Chandra Sen, read it with great interest, and understood the distinction between Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, and Adi Brahmo Samaj. I met Pandit Shivanath Shastri and in company with Prof. Kathavate went to see Maharshi Devendranath Tagore, but as no interviews with him were allowed then, we could not see him. We were, however, invited to a celebration of the Brahmo Samaj held at his place, and there we had the privilege of listening to fine Bengali music. Ever since I have been a lover of Bengali music.
Having seen enough of the Brahmo Samaj, it was impossible to
be satisfied without seeing Swami Vivekanand. So with great enthusiasm I went
to Belur Math, mostly, or maybe all the way, on foot. I loved the sequestered
site of the Math. I was disappointed and sorry to be told that the Swami was at
I then ascertained the place of residence of Sister Nivedita, and met her in a Chowringhee mansion. I was taken aback by the splendour that surrounded her, and even in our conversation there was not much meeting ground. I spoke to Gokhale about this, and he said he did not wonder that there could be no point of contact between me and a volatile person like her.
I met her again at Mr. Pestonji Padshah's place. I happened to come in just as she was talking to his old mother, and so I became an interpreter between the two. In spite of my failure to find any agreement with her, I could not but notice and admire her overflowing love for Hinduism. I came to know of her books later.
I used to divide my day between seeing the leading people in Calcutta regarding the work in South Africa, and visiting and studying the religious and public institutions of the city. I once addressed a meeting, presided over by Dr. Mullick, on the work of the Indian Ambulance Corps in the Boer War. My acquaintance with #The Englishman# stood me in good stead on this occasion too. Mr. Saunders was ill then, but rendered me as much help as in 1896. Gokhale liked this speech of mine, and he was very glad to hear Dr. Ray praising it.
Thus my stay under the roof of Gokhale made my work in
I must needs skip over many a reminiscence of this memorable
month. Let me simply mention my flying visit to
On my return from
Before settling down I had thought of making a tour through
It was necessary to equip myself anew for the third class tour. Gokhale himself gave me a metal tiffin-box and got it filled with sweetballs and #puris#. I purchased a canvas bag worth twelve annas and a long coat made of Chhaya wool. The bag was to contain this coat, a #dhoti#, a towel and a shirt. I had a blanket as well to cover myself with and a water jug. Thus equipped I set forth on my travels, Gokhlae and Dr. Ray came to the station to see me off. I had asked them both not to trouble to come, but they insisted. "I should not have come if you had gone first class, but now I had to,' said Gokhale.
No one stopped Gokhale from going on to the platform. He was in his silk turban, jacket and #dhoti#. Dr. Ray was in his Bengali dress. He was stopped by the ticket collector, but on Gokhale telling him that he was his friend, he was admitted.
Thus with their good wishes I started on my journey.
The journey was from
In travelling third class I mostly preferred the ordinary to the mail trains, as I knew that the latter were more crowded and the fares in them higher.
The third class compartments are practically as dirty, and
the closet arrangements as bad, today as they were then, There may be a little
improvement now, but the difference between the facilities provided for the
first and the third classes is out of all proportion to the difference between
the fares for the two classes. Third class passengers are treated like sheep
and their comforts are sheep's comforts. In
The indifference of the railway authorities to the comforts of the third class passengers, combined with the dirty and inconsiderate habits of the passengers themselves, makes third class travelling a trial for a passenger of cleanly ways. These unpleasant habits commonly include throwing of rubbish on the floor of the compartment, smoking at all hours and in all places, betel and tobacco chewing, converting of the whole carriage into a spittoon, shouting and yelling, and using foul language, regardless of the convenience or comfort of fellow passengers. I have noticed little difference between my experience of the third class travelling in 1902 and that of my unbroken third class tours from 1915 to 1919.
I can think of only one remedy for this awful state of things that educated men should make a point of travelling third class and reforming the habits of the people, as also of never letting the railway authorities rest in peace, sending in complaints wherever necessary, never resorting to bribes or any unlawful means for obtaining their own comforts, and never putting up with infringements of rules on the part of anyone concerned. This, I am sure, would bring about considerable improvement.
My serious illness in 1918-19 has unfortunately compelled me practically to give up third class travelling, and it has been a matter of constant pain and shame to me, especially because the disability came at a time when the agitation for the removal of the hardships of third class passengers was making fair headway. The hardship of poor railway and steamship passengers, accentuated by their bad habits, the undue facilities allowed by Government to foreign trade, and such other things, make an important group of subjects, worthy to be taken up by one or two enterprising and persevering workers who could devote their full time to it.
But I shall leave the third class passengers at that, and
come to my experience in
The panda readily assented. 'Be the pilgrim rich or poor,'
said he, 'the service is the same in every case. But the amount of dakshina we
receive depends upon the will and the ability of the pilgrim.' I did not find
that the panda at all abridged the usual formalities in my case. The puja was
over at twelve o'clock, and I went to the Kashi Vishvanath temple for darshan.
I was deeply pained by what I saw there. When practising as a barrister in
The approach was through a narrow and slippery lane. Quiet there was none. The swarming flies and the noise made by the shopkeepers and pilgrims were perfectly in-sufferable.
Where one expected an atmosphere of meditation and communion it was conspicuous by its absence. One had to seek that atmosphere in oneself. I did observe devout sisters, who were absorbed in meditation, entirely unconscious of the environment. But for this the authorities of the temple could scarcely claim any credit. The authorities should be responsible for creating and maintaining about the temple a pure sweet and serene atmosphere, physical as well as moral. Instead of this I found a bazar where cunning shopkeepers were selling sweets and toys of the latest fashion.
When I reached the temple. I was greeted at the entrance by a stinking mass of rotten flowers. The floor was paved with fine marble, which was however broken by some devotee innocent of aesthetic taste who had set it with rupees serving as an excellent receptacle for dirt.
I went near the Janana-vapi (well of knowledge). I searched here for God but failed to find Him. I was not therefore in a particularly good mood. The surroundings of the Jnana-vapi too I found to be dirty. I had no mind to give any dakshina. So I offered a pie. The panda in charge got angry and threw away the pie. He swore at me and said, 'This insult will take you straight to hell.'
This did not perturb me. 'Maharaj,' said I, 'whatever fate has in store for me, it does not behove one of your class to indulge in such language. You may take this pie if you like, or you will lose that too.'
'Go away,' he replied, 'I don't care for your pie.' And then followed a further volley of abuse.
I took up the pie and went my way, flattering myself that the Brahman had lost a pie and I had saved one. But the Maharaj was hardly the man to let the pie go. He called me back and said, 'All right, leave the pie here, I would rather not be as you are. If I refuse your pie, it will be bad for you.'
I silently gave him the pie and, with a sigh, went away.
Since then I have twice been to Kashi Vishvanath, but that has been after I had already been afflicted with the title of Mahatma and experiences such as I have detailed above had become impossible. People eager to have my darshan would not permit me to have a darshan of the temple. The woes of Mahatmas are known to Mahatmas alone. Otherwise the dirt and the noise were the same as before.
If anyone doubts the infinite mercy of God, let him have a look at these sacred places. How much hypocrisy and irreligion does the Prince of Yogis suffer to be perpetrated in His holy name? He proclaimed long ago:
'Whatever a man sows, that shall he reap.' The law of Karma is inexorable and impossible of evasion. There is thus hardly any need for God to interfere. He laid down the law and, as it were, retired.
After this visit to the temple, I waited upon Mrs. Besant. I knew that she had just recovered from an illness. I sent in my name. She came at once. As I wished only to pay my respects to her, I said, 'I am aware that you are in delicate health. I only wanted to pay my respects. I am thankful
that you have been good enough to receive me in spite of your indifferent health. I will not detain you any longer.'
So saying, I took leave of her.
Gokhale was very anxious that I should settle down in
I liked Gokhale's advice, but I was not overconfident of success as a barrister. The unpleasant memories of past failure were yet with me, and I still hated as poison the use of flattery for getting briefs.
I therefore decided to start work first at
The counsel on the other side was the late Sjt. Samarth. I
was fairly well prepared. Not that I knew much of Indian law, but Kevalram Dave
had instructed me very thoroughly. I had heard friends say, before I went out
I won the case and gained some confidence. I had no fear
about the appeals, which were successful. All this inspired a hope in me that
after all I might not fail even in
But before I set forth the circumstances in which I decided
to go to
The appeal of which I am talking was to be heard at Veraval where plague was raging. I have a recollection that there were as many as fifty cases daily in the place with a population of 5,500. It was practically deserted, and I put up in a deserted #dharmashala# at some distance from the town. But where the clients to stay? If they were poor, they had simply to trust themselves to God's mercy.
A friend who also had cases before the court had wired that I should put in an application for the camp to be moved to some other station because of the plague at Veraval. On my submitting the application, the sahib asked me. 'Are you afraid?'
I answered: It is not a question of my being afraid. I think I can shift for myself, but what about the clients?'
'The plague has come to stay in
It was no use arguing against this philosophy. The sahib told his shirastedar: 'Make a note of what Mr. Gandhi says, and let me know if it is very inconvenient for the vakils or the clients.'
The sahib of course had honestly done what he thought was
the right thing. But how could the man have an idea of the hardships of poor
But to resume the thread of story. In spite of my successes,
I had been thinking of staying on in
'But who will find work for me there?' I asked. 'Will you find the expenses?'
'Yes, yes, I will,' said he. 'We shall bring you down here
sometimes as a big barrister from
'I am expecting a remittance from
The money came in about two weeks, and I went to
Though I had hired chambers in the fort and a house in Girgaum, God would not let me settle down. Scarcely had I moved into my new house when my second son Manilal, who had already been through an acute attack of smallpox some years back, had a severe attack of typhoid, combined with pneumonia and signs of delirium at night.
The doctor was called in. He said medicine would have little effect, but eggs and chicken broth might be given with profit.
Manilal was only ten years old. To consult his wishes was out of the question. Being his guardian I had to decide. The doctor was a very good Parsi. I told him that we were all vegetarians and that I could not possibly give either of the two things to my son. Would he therefore recommend something else?
'Your son's life is in danger,' said the good doctor. 'We could give him milk diluted with water, but that will not give him enough nourishment. As you know, I am called in by many Hindu families, and they do not object to anything I prescribe. I think you will be well advised not to be so hard on your son.'
'What you say is quite right,' said
The good doctor appreciated my difficulty and agreed to my request. Though Manilal could not have made his choice, I told him what had passed between the doctor and myself and asked him his opinion.
'Do try your hydropathic treatment,' he said. 'I will not have eggs or chicken broth.'
This made me glad, though I realized that, if I had given him either of these, he would have taken it.
I knew Kuhne's treatment and had tried it too. I knew as well that fasting also could be tried with profit. So I began to give Manilal hip baths according to Kuhne, never keeping him in the tub for more than three minutes, and kept him on orange juice mixed with water for three days.
But the temperature persisted, going up to 104. At night he would be delirious. I began to get anxious. What would people say of me? What would my elder brother think of me? Could we not call in another doctor? Why not have an Ayurvedic physician? What right had the parents to inflict their fads on their children?
I was haunted by thoughts like these. Then a contrary current would start. God would surely be pleased to see that I was giving the same treatment to my son as I would give myself. I had faith in hydropathy, and little faith in allopathy. The doctors could not guarantee recovery. At best they could experiment. The tread of life was in the hands of God. Why not trust it to Him and in His name go on with what I thought was the right treatment?
My mind was torn between these conflicting thoughts. It was night. I was in Manilal's bed lying by his side. I decided to give him a wet sheet pack. I got up, wetted a sheet, wrung the water out of it and wrapped it about Manilal, keeping only his head out and then covered him with two blankets. To the head I applied a wet towel. The whole body was burning like hot iron, and quite parched. There was absolutely no perspiration.
I was sorely tired. I left Manilal in the charge of his mother, and went out for a walk on Chaupati to refresh myself. It was about ten o'clock. Very few pedestrians were out. Plunged in deep thought, I scarcely looked at them, 'My honour is in Thy keeping oh Lord, in this hour of trial,' I repeated to myself. #Ramanama# was on my lips. After a short time I returned, my heart beating within my breast.
No sooner had I entered the room than Manilal said, 'You have returned, Bapu?' 'Yes, darling.'
'Do please pull me out. I am burning.'
'Are you perspiring, my boy?'
'I am simply soaked. Do please take me out.'
I felt his forehead. It was covered with beads of perspiration. The temperature was going down. I thanked God.
'Manilal, your fever is sure to go now. A little more perspiration and then I will take you out.' 'Pray, no. Do deliver me from this furnace. Wrap me some other time if you like.'
I just managed to keep him under the pack for a few minutes more by diverting him. The perspiration streamed down his forehead. I undid the pack and dried his body. Father and son fell asleep in the same bed.
And each slept like a log. Next morning Manilal had much less fever. He went on thus for forty days on diluted milk and fruit juices. I had no fear now. It was an obstinate type of fever, but it had been got under control.
Today Manilal is the healthiest of my boys. Who can say whether his recovery was due to God's grace, or to hydropathy, or to careful dietary and nursing? Let everyone decide according to his own faith. For my part I was sure that God had saved my honour, and that belief remains unaltered to this day.
Manilal was restored to health, but I saw that the Girgaum
house was not habitable. It was damp and ill-lighted. So in consultation with
Shri Revashankar Jagjivan I decided to hire some well-ventilated bungalow in a
I took a first class season ticket from
I prospered in my profession better than I had expected. My South African clients often entrusted me with some work, and it was enough to enable me to pay my way.
I had not yet succeeded in securing any work in the High Court, but I attended the 'moot' that used to be held in those days, though I never ventured to take part in it. I recall Jamiatram Nanabhai taking a prominent part. Like other fresh barristers I made a point of attending the hearing of cases in the High Court, more, I am afraid, for enjoying the soporific breeze coming straight from the sea than for adding to my knowledge. I observed that I was not the only one to enjoy this pleasure. It seemed to be the fashion and therefore nothing to be ashamed of.
However I began to make use of the High Court library and make fresh acquaintances and felt that before long I should secure work in the High Court.
Thus whilst on the one hand I began to feel somewhat at ease about my profession, on the other hand Gokhale, whose eyes were always on me, had been busy making his own plans on my behalf. He peeped in at my chambers twice or thrice every week, often in company with friends whom he wanted me to know, and he kept me acquainted with his mode of work.
But it may be said that God has never allowed any of my own plans to stand. He has disposed them in His own way.
Just when I seemed to be settling down as I had intended I
received an unexpected cable from
I had an idea that the work there would keep me engaged for at least a year, so I kept the bungalow and left my wife and children there.
I believed then that enterprising youths who could not find an opening in the country should emigrate to other lands. I therefore took with me four or five such youths, one of whom was Maganlal Gandhi.
The Gandhis were and are a big family. I wanted to find out all those who wished to leave the trodden path and venture abroad. My father used to accommodate a number of them in some state service. I wanted them to be free from this spell. I neither could nor would secure other service for them; I wanted them to be self-reliant.
But as my ideals advanced, I tried to persuade these youths also to conform their ideals to mine, and I had the greatest success in guiding Maganlal Gandhi. But about this later.
The separation from wife and children, the breaking up of a settled establishment, and the going from the certain to the uncertain- all this was for a moment painful, but I had inured myself to an uncertain life. I think it is wrong to expect certainties in this world, where all else but God that is Truth is an uncertainty. All that appears and happens about and around us is uncertain transient. But there is a Supreme Being hidden therein as a Certainty, and one would be blessed if one could catch a glimpse of that Certainty and hitch one's waggon to it. The quest for that Truth is
the summum bonum of life.
Mr. Chamberlain had come to get a gift of 35 million pounds
'You know,' he said 'that the Imperial Government has little control over self-governing Colonies. Your grievances seem to be genuine. I shall do what I can, if you wish to live in their midst.'
The reply cast a chill over the members of the deputation. I was also disappointed. It was an eyeopener for us all, and I saw that we should start with our work de novo. I explained the situation to my colleagues.
As a matter of fact there was nothing wrong about Mr. Chamberlain's reply. It was well that he did not mince matters. He had brought home to us in a rather gentle way the rule of might being right or the law of the sword.
But sword we had none. We scarcely had the nerve and the muscle even to receive sword-cuts.
Mr. Chamberlain had given only a short time to the
sub-continent. If Shrinagar to Cape Comorin is 1,900 miles,
During the War many officers and soldiers had come to
money. If there had been no work , the department would have been unnecessary and would have been discontinued. So they found this work for themselves.
The Indians had to apply to this department. A reply would
be vouchsafed many days after. And as there were large numbers wishing to
return to the
I now had a fair idea of the difficulties ahead. On reaching
But another chapter is necessary for this painful though amusing incident.
The officers at the head of the new department were at a
loss to know how I had entered the
It is a general practice, on the termination of a big war,
to invest the Government of the day with special powers. This was the case in
The officers had of course sent telegrams to
So the community was asked to submit the names of the
representives who were to form the Deputation. Colour prejudice was of course
in evidence everywhere in
imbibed there. In
I had a fair taste of this autocracy. I was first summoned
to see the chief of the department, an officer from
'He is our adviser,' said Tyeb Sheth, 'and he has come here at our request.'
'Then what are we here for? Have we not been appointed to protect you? What can Gandhi know of the conditions here?' asked the autocrat.
Tyeb Sheth answered the charge as best he could: 'Of course you are there. But Gandhi is our man. He knows our language and understands us. You are after all officials.'
The Sahib ordered Tyeb Sheth to fetch me before him. I went to the Sahib in company with Tyeb Sheth and others. No seats were offered, we were all kept standing.
'What brings you here?' said the Sahib addressing me.
'I have come here at the request of my fellow countrymen to help them with my advice,' I replied.
'But don't you know that you have no right to come here? The permit you hold was given you by mistake. You must go back. You shall not wait on Mr. Chamberlain. It is for the protection of the Indians here that the Asiatic Department had been especially created. Well, you may go.' With this he bade me good-bye, giving me no opportunity for a reply.
But he detained my companions. He gave them a sound scolding and advised them to send me away.
They returned chagrined. We were now confronted with an unexpected situation.
I smarted under the insult, but as I had pocketed many such in the past I had become inured to them. I therefore decided to forget this latest one and take what course a dispassionate view of the case might suggest.
We had a letter from the Chief of the Asiatic Department to the effect that, as I had been found necessary to omit my name from the deputation which was to wait on him.
The letter was more than my co-workers could bear. They proposed to drop the idea of the deputation altogether. I pointed out to them the awkward situation of the community.
If you do not represent your case before Mr. Chamberlain,' said I, 'it will be presumed that you have no case at all. After all, the representation has to be made in writing, and we have got it ready. It does not matter in the least whether I read it or someone else reads it. Mr. Chamberlain is not going to argue the matter with us. I am afraid we must swallow the insult.'
I had scarcely finished speaking when Tyeb Sheth cried out, 'Does not an insult to you amount to an insult to the community? How can we forget that you are our representative?'
'Too true.' said
'Come what may, why should we swallow a fresh insult? Nothing worse can possibly happen to us. Have we many rights to lose?' asked Tyeb Sheth.
It was a spirited reply, but of what avail was it? I was fully conscious of the limitations of the community. I pacified my friends and advised them to have, in my place, Mr. George Godfrey, an Indian barrister.
So Mr. Godfrey led the deputation. Mr. Chamberlain referred in his reply to my exclusion. 'Rather than hear the same representative over and over again, is it not better to have someone new?' he said, and tried to heal the wound.
But all this, far from ending the matter, only added to the work of the community and also to mine. We had to start afresh.
'It is at your instance that the community helped in the
war, and you see the result now,' were the words with which some people taunted
me. But the taunt had no effect. 'I do not regret my advice,' said
I added: 'To tell you the truth the work for which you had
called me is practically finished. But I believe I ought not to leave the
So I set the ball rolling, discussed things with Indians in
It was indeed doubtful whether I would be enrolled in the Transvaal Supreme Court. But the Law Society did not oppose my application, and the Court allowed it. It was difficult for an Indian to secure rooms for office in a suitable locality. But I had come in fairly close contact with Mr. Ritch, who was then one of the merchants there. Through the good offices of a house agent known to him, I succeeded in securing suitable rooms for my office in the legal quarters of the city, and I started on my professional work.
Before I narrate the struggle for the Indian settlers rights
Up to now there had been in me a mixed desire. The spirit of self- sacrifice was tempered by the desire to lay by something for the future.
About the time I took up chambers in
Up to this time I had given the cold shoulder to all the
agents I had met in
But when my mode of life changed in
A multitude of such thoughts passed though my mind, but I
did not immediately act upon them. I recollect having paid at least one
insurance premium in
Outward circumstances too supported this train of thought.
During my first sojourn in
When, in 1893, I came in close contact with Christian friends. I was a mere novice. They tried hard to bring home to me, and make me accept, the message of Jesus, and I was a humble and respectful listener with an open mind. At that time I naturally studied Hinduism to the best of my ability and endeavoured to understand other religions.
In 1903 the position was somewhat changed. Theosophist friends certainly intended to draw me into their society, but that was with a view to getting something from me as a Hindu. Theosophical literature is replete with Hindu influence, and so these friends expected that I should be helpful to them. I explained that my Samskrit study was not much to speak of, that I had not read the Hindu scriptures in the original, and that even my acquaintance with the translations was of the slightest. But being believers in #samskara# (tendencies caused by previous births) and #punarjanma# (rebirth), they assumed that I should be able to render at least some help. And so I felt like a Triton among the minnows. I started reading Swami Vivekananda's #Rajayoga# with some of these friends and M. N. Dvivedi's #Rajayoga# with others. I had to read Patanjali's #Yoga Sutras# with one friend and the #Bhagavadgita# with quite a number. We formed a sort of Seekers' Club where we had regular readings. I already had faith in the Gita, which had a fascination for me. Now I realized the necessity of diving deeper into it. I had one or two translations, by means of which I tried to understand the original Samskrit. I decided also to get by heart one or two verses every day. For this purpose I employed the time of my morning ablutions. The operation took me thirty-five minutes, fifteen minutes for the tooth brush and twenty for the bath. The first I used to do standing in western fashion. So on the wall opposite I struck slips of paper on which were written the Gita verses and referred to them now and then to help my memory. This time was found sufficient for memorising the daily portion and recalling the verses already learnt. I remember having thus committed to memory thirteen chapters. But the memorising of the Gita had to give way to other work and the creation and nurture of Satyagraha, which absorbed all my thinking time, as the latter may be said to be doing even now.
What effect this reading of the Gita had on my friends only they can say, but to me the Gita became an infallible guide of conduct. It became my dictionary of daily reference. Just as I turned to the English dictionary for the meanings of English words that I did not understand, I turned to this dictionary of conduct for a ready solution of all my troubles and trials. Words like #aparigraha# (non- possession) and #samabhava# (equability) gripped me. How to cultivate and preserve that equability was the question. How was one to treat alike insulting, insolent and corrupt officials, co-workers of yesterday raising meaningless opposition, and men who had always been good to one? How was one to divest oneself of all possessions? Was not the body itself possession enough? Were not wife and children possessions? Was I to destroy all the cupboards of books I had? Was I to give up all I had and follow Him? Straight came the answer: I
could not follow Him unless I gave up all I had. My study of English law came to my help. Snell's discussion of the maxims of Equity came to my memory. I understood more clearly in the light of the Gita teaching the implication of the word 'trustee'. My regard for jurisprudence increased, I discovered in it religion. I understood the Gita teaching of non-possession to mean that those who desired salvation should act like the trustee who, though having control over great possessions, regards not an iota of them as his own. It became clear to me as daylight that non-possession and equability presupposed a change of heart, a change of attitude. I then wrote to Revashankarbhai to allow the insurance policy to lapse and get whatever could be recovered, or else to regard the premiums already paid as lost, for I had become convinced that God, who created my wife and children as well as myself, would take care of them. To my brother, who had been as father to me, I wrote explaining that I had given him all that I had saved up to that moment, but that henceforth he should expect nothing from me, for future savings, if any, would be utilized for the benefit of the community.
I could not easily make my brother understand this. In stern language he explained to me my duty towards him. I should not, he said, aspire to be wiser than our father. I must support the family as he did. I pointed out to him that I was doing exactly what our father had done. The meaning of 'family' had but to be slightly widened and the wisdom of my step would become clear.
My brother gave me up and practically stopped all
communication. I was deeply distressed, but it would have been a greater
distress to give up what I considered to be my duty, and I preferred the
lesser. But that did not affect my devotion to him, which remained as pure and
great as ever. His great love for me was at the root of his misery. He did not
so much want my money as that I should be well- behaved towards the family.
Near the end of his life, however, he appreciated my view-point. When almost on
his death-bed, he realized that my step had been right and wrote me a most
pathetic letter. He apologized to me, if indeed a father may apologize to his
son. He commended his sons to my care, to be brought up as I thought fit, and
expressed his impatience to meet me. He cabled that he would like to come to
This instance to some extent serves to show what a terrible responsibility it is to be a parent.
As the ideals of sacrifice and simplicity were becoming more and more realized, consciousness was becoming more and more quickened in my daily life, the passion for vegetarianism as a mission went on increasing. I have known only one way of carrying on missionary work, #viz#., by personal example and discussion with searchers for knowledge.
There was in
much as I thought it deserved, and spent some money on it, but it had ultimately to be closed down.
Most theosophists are vegetarians more or less, and an
enterprising lady belonging to that society now came upon the scene with a
vegetarian restaurant on a grand scale. She was fond of art, extravagant and
ignorant of accounts. Her circle of friends was fairly large. She had started
in a small way, but later decided to extend the venture by taking large rooms,
and asked me for help. I knew nothing of her finances when she thus approached
me, but I took it that her estimate must be fairly accurate. And I was in a
position to accommodate her. My clients used to keep large sums as deposits
with me. Having received the consent of one of these clients, I lent about a
thousand pounds from the amount to his credit. This client was most
large-hearted and trusting. He had originally come to
In two or three months' time I came to know that the amount would not be recovered. I could ill afford to sustain such a loss. There were many other purposes to which I could have applied this amount. The loan was never repaid. But how could trusting Badri be allowed to suffer? He had known me only. I made good the loss.
A client friend to whom I spoke about this transaction sweetly chid me for my folly.
'Bhai,' - I had fortunately not yet become 'Mahatma', nor even 'Bapu' (father) friends used to call me by the loving name of 'Bhai' (brother)- said he, 'this was not for you to do. We depend upon you in so many things. You are not going to get back this amount. I know you will never allow Badri to come to grief, for you will pay him out of your pocket, but if you go on helping your reform schemes by operating on your clients' money, the poor fellows will be ruined, and you will soon become a beggar. But you are our trustee and must know that, if you become a beggar, all our public work will come to a stop.'
The friend I am thankful to say, is still alive. I have not
yet come across a purer man than he, in
I saw that he had rightly warned me. For though I made good Badri's loss, I should not have been able to meet any similar loss and should have been driven to incur debt- a thing I have never done in my life and always abhorred. I realized that even a man's reforming zeal ought not to make him exceed his limits. I also saw that in thus lending trust-money I had disobeyed the cardinal teaching of the Gita, #viz#, the duty of a man of equipoise to act without desire for the fruit. The error became for me a beaconlight of warning.
The sacrifice offered on the altar of vegetarianism was neither intentional nor expected. It was a virtue of necessity.
With the growing simplicity of my life, my dislike for
medicines steadily increased. While practising in
But I used to be troubled with constipation and frequent
headaches, while at
About this time I read of the formation of a 'No Breakfast
But the change was far from relieving me of constipation. I
tried Kuhne's hipbaths, which gave some relief but did not completely cure me.
In the meantime the German who had a vegetarian restaurant, or some other
friend, I forget who, placed in my hands Just's Return of Nature. In this book
I read about earth treatment. The author also advocated fresh fruit and nuts as
the natural diet of man. I did not at once take to the exclusive fruit diet,
but immediately began experiments in earth treatment, and with wonderful
results. The treatment consisted in applying to the abdomen a bandage of clean
earth moistened with cold water and spread like a poultice on fine linen. This
I applied at bed time, removing it during the night or in the morning,
whenever, I happened to wake up. It proved a radical cure. Since then I have
tried the treatment on myself and my friends and never had reason to regret it.
Though I have had two serious illnesses in my life, I believe that man has little need to drug himself. 999 cases out of a thousand can be brought round by means of a well-regulated diet, water and earth treatment and similar household remedies. He who runs to the doctor, vaidya or hakim for every little aliment, and swallows all kinds of vegetable and mineral drugs, not only curtails his life, but, by becoming the slave of his body instead of remaining its master, loses selfcontrol, and ceases to be a man.
Let no one discount these observations because they are being written in a sickbed. I know the reasons for my illnesses. I am fully conscious that I alone am responsible for them, and it is because of that consciousnes that I have not lost patience. In fact I have thanked God for them as lessons and successfully resisted the temptation of taking numerous drugs. I know my obstinacy often tries my doctors, but they kindly bear with me and do not give me up.
However, I must not digress. Before proceeding further, I should give the reader a word of warning. Those who purchase Just's book on the strength of this chapter should not take everything in it to be gospel truth. A writer almost always presents one aspect of a case, whereas every case can be seen from no less than seven points of view, all of which are probably correct by themselves, but not correct at the same time and in the same circumstances. And then many books are written with a view to gaining customers and earning name and fame. Let those, therefore, who read such books as these do so with discernment, and take experiments set forth, or let them read the books with patience and digest them thoroughly before acting upon them.
I am afraid I must continue the digression until the next chapter. Along with my experiments in earth treatment, those in dietetics were also being carried on, and it may not be out of place here to make a few observations as regards the latter, though I shall have occasion to refer to them again later.
I may not, now or hereafter, enter into a detailed account of the experiments in dietetics, for I did so in a series of Gujarati articles which appeared years ago in Indian Opinion, and which were afterwards published in the form of a book popularly known in English as A Guide to Health. Among my little books this has been the most widely read alike in the East and in the West, a thing that I have not yet been able to understand. It was written for the benefit of the readers of Indian Opinion. But I know that the booklet has profoundly influenced the lives of many, both in the East and in the West, who have never seen Indian Opinion. For they have been corresponding with me on the subject. It has therefore appeared necessary to say something here about the booklet, for though I see no reason to alter the views set forth in it, yet I have made certain radical changes in my actual practice, of which all readers of the book do not know, and of which, I think, they should be informed.
The booklet was written, like all my other writings, with a spiritual end, which has always inspired every one of my actions, and therefore it is a matter for deep distress to me that I am unable today to practise some of the theories propounded in the book.
It is my firm conviction that man need take no milk at all, beyond the mother's milk that he takes as a baby. His diet should consist of nothing but sunbaked fruits and nuts. He can secure enough nourishment both for the tissues and the nerves from fruits like grapes and nuts like almonds. Restraint of the sexual and other passions becomes easy for a man who lives on such food. My co-workers and I have seen by experience that there is much truth in the Indian proverb that as a man eats, so shall he become. These views have been set out elaborately in the book.
But unfortunately in
they could not be expected to help me to continue to live without milk. And how could those who recommended beef-tea and brandy without hesitation help me to persevere with a milkless diet?
I might not take cow's or buffalo's milk, as I was bound by a vow. The vow of course meant the giving up of all milks, but as I had mother cow's and mother buffalo's only in mind when I took the vow, and as I wanted to live, I somehow beguiled myself into emphasizing the letter of the vow and decided to take goat's milk. I was fully conscious, when I started taking mother goat's milk, that the spirit of my vow was destroyed.
But the idea of leading a campaign against the Rowlatt Act had possessed me. And with it grew the desire to live. Consequently one of the greatest experiments in my life came to a stop.
I know it is argued that the soul has nothing to do with what one eats or drinks, as the soul neither eats nor drinks; that it is not what you put inside from without, but what you express outwardly from within, that matters. There is no doubt some force in this. But rather than examine this reasoning. I shall content myself with merely declaring my firm conviction that, for the seeker who would live in fear of God and who would see Him face to face, restraint in diet both as to quantity and quality is as essential as restraint in thought and speech.
In a matter, however, where my theory has failed me, I should not only give the information, but issue a grave warning against adopting it. I would therefore urge those who, on the strength of the theory propounded by me, may have given up milk, not to persist in the experiment, unless they find it beneficial in every way, or unless they are advised by experienced physicians. Up to now my experience here has shown me that for those with a weak digestion and for those who are confined to bed there is no light and nourishing diet equal to that of milk.
I should be greatly obliged if anyone with experience in this line, who happens to read this chapter, would tell me, if he has known from experience, and not from reading, of a vegetable substitute for milk, which is equally nourishing and digestible.
To turn now to the Asiatic Department.
So I began to collect evidence, and as soon as I had
gathered a fair Amount, I approached the Police Commissioner. He appeared to be
a just man. Far from giving me the cold shoulder, he listened to me patiently
and asked me to show him all the evidence in my possession. He examined the
witnesses himself and was satisfied, but he knew as well as I that it was
'let us try at any rate. It is not proper either, to let such criminals go scot-free for fear of the jury acquitting them, I must get them arrested. I assure you I shall leave no stone unturned.'
I did not need the assurance. I suspected quite a number of officers, but as I had no unchallengeable evidence against them all, warrants of arrest were issued against the two about whose guilt I had not the slightest doubt.
My movements could never be kept secret. Many knew that I was going to the Police Commissioner practically daily. The two officers against whom warrants had been issued had spies more or less efficient. They used to patrol my office and report my movements to the officers. I must admit, however, that these officers were so bad that they could not have had many spies. Had the Indians and the Chinese not helped me, they would never have been arrested.
One of these absconded. The Police Commissioner obtained an extradition
warrant against him and got him arrested and brought to the
I was sorely disappointed. The Police Commissioner also was very sorry. I got disgusted with the legal profession. The very intellect became an abomination to me inasmuch as it could be prostituted for screening crime.
However, the guilt of both these officers was so patent that in spite of their acquittal the Government could not harbour them. Both were cashiered, and the Asiatic department became comparatively clean, and the Indian community was somewhat reassured.
The event enhanced my prestige and brought me more business. The bulk, though not all, of the hundreds of pounds that the community was monthly squandering in peculation, was saved. All could not be saved, for the dishonest still plied their trade. But it was now possible for the honest man to preserve his honesty.
I must say that, though these officers were so bad, I had
nothing against them personally. They were aware of this themselves, and when
in their straits they approached me, I helped them too. They had a chance of
getting employed by the
This attitude of mine put the officials with whom I came in contact perfectly at ease, and though I had often to fight with their department and use strong language, they remained quite friendly with me. I was not then quite conscious that such behaviour was part of my nature. I learnt later that it was an essential part of Satyagraha, and an attribute of ahimsa.
Man and his deed are two distinct things. Whereas a good deed should call forth approbation and a wicked deed disapprobation, the doer of the deed, whether good or wicked always deserves respect or pity as the case may be. 'Hate the sin and not the sinner' is a precept which, though easy enough to understand, is rarely practised, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world.
This ahimsa is the basis of the search for truth. I am realizing every day that the search is vain unless it is founded on ahimsa as the basis. It is quite proper to resist and attack a system, but to resist and attack its author is tantamount to resisting and attacking oneself. For we are all tarred with the same brush, and are children of one and the same Creator, and as such the divine
powers within us are infinite. To slight a single human being is to slight those divine powers, and thus to harm not only that being but with him the whole world.
A variety of incidents in my life have conspired to bring me in close contact with people of many creeds and many communities, and my experience with all of them warrants the statement that I have known no distinction between relatives and strangers, countrymen and foreigners, white and coloured, Hindus and Indians of other faiths, whether Musalmans, Parsis, Christians or Jews. I may say that my heart has been incapable of making any such distinctions. I cannot claim this as a special virtue, as it is in my very nature. rather than a result of any effort on my part, whereas in the case of ahimsa (non- violence), brahmacharya (celibacy), aparigraha (nonpossession) and other cardinal virtues, I am fully conscious of a continuous striving for their cultivation.
When I was practising in
The house was built after the Western model and the rooms rightly had no outlets for dirty water. Each room had therefore chamber-pots. Rather than have these cleaned by a servant or a sweeper, my wife or I attended to them. The clerks who made themselves completely at home would naturally clean their own pots, but the Christian clerk was a newcomer, and it was our duty to attend to his bedroom. My wife managed the pots of the others, but to clean those used by one who had been a Panchama seemed to her to be the limit, and we fell out. She could not bear the pots being cleaned by me, neither did she like doing it herself. Even today I can recall the picture of her chiding me, her eyes red with anger, and pearl drops streaming down her cheeks, as she descended the ladder, pot in hand. But I was a cruelly kind husband. I regarded myself as her teacher, and so harassed her out of my blind love for her.
I was far from being satisfied by her merely carrying the pot. I would have her do it cheerfully. So I said, raising my voice: 'I will not stand this nonsense in my house.'
The words pierced her like an arrow.
She shouted back: 'Keep your house to yourself and let me go.' I forgot myself, and the spring of compassion dried up in me. I caught her by the hand, dragged the helpless woman to the gate, which was just opposite the ladder, and proceeded to open it with the intention of pushing her out. The tears were running down her cheeks in torrents, and she cried: 'Have you no sense of shame? Must you so far forget yourself? Where am I to go? I have no parents or relatives here to harbour me. Being your wife, you think I must put up with your cuffs and kicks? For Heaven's sake behave yourself, and shut the gate. Let us not be found making scenes like this!'
I put on a brave face, but was really ashamed and shut the gate. If my wife could not leave me, neither could I leave her. We have had numerous bickerings, but the end has always been peace between us. The wife, with her matchless powers of endurance, has always been the victor.
Today I am in a position to narrate the incident with some detachment, as it belongs to a period out of which I have fortunately emerged. I am no longer a blind, infatuated husband, I am no more my wife's teacher. Kasturba can, if she will, be as unpleasant to me today, as I used to be to her before. We are tried friends, the one no longer regarding the other as the object of just. She has been a faithful nurse throughout my illnesses, serving without any thought of reward.
The incident in question occurred in 1898, when I had no conception of brahmacharya. It was a time when I thought that the wife was the object of her husband's lust, born to do her husband's behest, rather than a helpmate, a comrade and a partner in the husband's joys and sorrows.
It was in the year 1900 that these ideas underwent a radical transformation, and in 1906 they took concrete shape. But of this I propose to speak in its proper place. Suffice it to say that with the gradual disappearance in me of the carnal appetite, my domestic life became and is becoming more and more peaceful, sweet and happy.
Let no one conclude from this narrative of a sacred recollection that we are by any means an ideal couple, or that there is a complete identity of ideals between us. Kasturba herself does not perhaps know whether she has any ideals independently of me. It is likely that many of my doings have not her approval even today. We never discuss them, I see no good in discussing them. For she was educated neither by her parents nor by me at the time when I ought to have done it. But she is blessed with one great quality to a very considerable degree, a quality which most Hindu wives possess in some measure. And it is this; willingly or unwillingly, consciously or unconsciously, she has considered herself blessed in following in my footsteps, and has never stood in the way of my endeavour to lead a life of restraint. Though, therefore, there is a wide difference between us intellectually, I have always had the feeling that ours is a life of contentment, happiness and progress.
This chapter has brought me to a stage where it becomes necessary for me to explain to the reader how this story is written from week to week.
When I began writing it, I had no definite plan before me. I have no diary or documents on which to base the story of my experiments. I write just as the Spirit moves me at the time of writing. I do not claim to know definitely that all conscious thought and action on my part is directted by the Spirit. But on an examination of the greatest steps that I have taken in my life, as also of those that may be regarded as the least, I think it will not be improper to say that all of them were directed by the Spirit.
I have not seen Him, neither have I known Him. I have made the world's faith in God my own, and as my faith is ineffaceable , I regard that faith as amounting to experience. However, as it may be said that to describe faith as experience is to tamper with truth, it may perhaps be more correct to say that I have no word for characterizing my belief in God.
It is perhaps now somewhat easy to understand why I believe that I am writing story as the Spirit prompts me. When I began the last chapter I gave it the heading I have given to this, but as I was writing it, I realized that before I narrated my experiences with Europeans, I must write something by way of a preface. This I did not and altered the heading.
Now again, as I start on this chapter, I find myself confronted with a fresh problem. What things to mention and what to omit regarding the English friends of whom I am about to write is a serious problem. If things that are relevant are omitted, truth will be dimmed. And it is difficult to decide straightway what is relevant, when I am not even sure about the relevancy of writing this story.
I understand more clearly today what I read long ago about the inadequacy of all autobiography as history. I know that I do not set down in this story all that I remember. Who can say how much I must give and how much omit in the interests of truth? And what would be the value in a court of law of the inadequate ex parte evidence being tendered by me of certain events in my life? If some busybody were to cross-examine me on the chapters already written, he could probably shed much more light on them, and if it were a hostile critic's cross-examination, he might even flatter himself for having shown up 'the hollowness of many of my pretensions.'
I, therefore, wonder for a moment whether it might not be proper to stop writing these chapters. But so long as there is no prohibition from the voice within, I must continue the writing. I must follow the sage maxim that nothing once begun should be abandoned unless it is proved to be morally wrong.
I am not writing the autobiography to please critics. Writing it is itself one of the experiments with truth. One of its objects is certainly to provide some comfort and food for reflection for my coworkers. Indeed I started writing it in compliance with their wishes. It might not have been written, if Jeramdas and Swami Anand had not persisted in their suggestion. If, therefore, I am wrong in writing the autobiography, they must share the blame.
But to take up the subject indicated in the heading. Just as
I had Indians living with me as members of my family, so had I English friends
living with me in
Though, therefore, my house was full when the Boer War broke
out, I received two Englishmen who had come from
I was at my wits' end. Arrears were fast mounting up, so
much so that it seemed impossible for me, however much I might try, to cope
with professional and public work. I was quite willing to engage a European
clerk, but I was not sure to get a white man or woman to serve a coloured man
like myself. However I decided to try. I approached a typewriter's agent whom I
knew, and asked him to get me a stenographer. There were girls available, and
he promised to try to secure the services of one. He came across a Scotch girl
called Miss Dick, who had just come fresh from
'Don't you mind serving under an Indian?' I asked her. 'Not at all,' was her firm reply.
'What salary do you expect?'
'Would £ 17/10 be too much?'
'Not too much if you will give me the work I want from you. When can you join?' 'This moment if you wish.'
I was very pleased and straightaway started dictating letters to her.
Before very long she became more a daughter or a sister to me than a mere stenotypist. I had scarcely any reason to find fault with her work. She was often entrusted with the management of funds amounting to thousands of pounds, and she was in charge of account books. She won my complete confidence, but what was perhaps more, she confided to me her innermost thoughts and feelings. She sought my advice in the final choice of her husband, and I had the privilege to give her away in marriage. As soon as Miss Dick became Mrs. Macdonald, she had to leave me, but even after her marriage she did not fail to respond, whenever under pressure I made a call upon her.
But a permanent stenotypist was now needed in her place, and
I was fortunate in getting another girl. She was Miss Schlesin, introduced to
me by Mr. Kallenbach, whom the reader will know in due course. She is at
present a teacher in one of the High School in the
what she thought of him. Her impetuosity often landed me in difficulties, but her open and guileless temperament removed them as soon as they were created. I have often signed without revision letters typed by her, as I considered her English to be better than mine, and had the fullest confidence in her loyalty.
Her sacrifice was great. For a considerable period she did not draw more than £ 6, and refused ever to receive more than £ 10 a month. When I urged her to take more, she would give me a scolding and say, 'I am not here to draw a salary you. I am here because I like to work with you and I like your ideals.'
She had once an occasion to take £ 40 from me, but she insisted on having it as a loan, and repaid the full amount last year. Her courage was equal to her sacrifice. She is one of the few women I have been privileged to come across, with a character as clear as crystal and courage that would shame a warrior. She is a grown up woman now. I do not know her mind quite as well as when she was with me, but my contact with this young lady will ever be for me a sacred recollection. I would therefore be false to truth if I kept back what I know about her.
She knew neither night nor day in toiling for the cause. She ventured out on errands in the darknes of the night all by herself, and angrily scouted any suggestion of an escort. Thousands of stalwart Indians looked up to her for guidance. When during the Satyagraha days almost every one of the leaders was in jail, she led the movement single- handed. She had the management of thousands, a tremendous amount of correspondence, and Indian Opinion in her hands, but she never wearied.
I could go on without end writing thus about Miss Schlesin, but I shall conclude this chapter with citing Gokhale's estimate of her. Gokhale knew every one of my co-workers. He was pleased with many of them, and would often give his opinion of them. He gave the first place to Miss Schlesin amongst all the Indian and European co-workers. 'I have rarely met with the sacrifice, the purity and the fearlessness I have seen in Miss Schlesin,' said he. 'Amongst your co-workers, she takes the first place in my estimation.'
Before I proceed with the other intimate European contacts, I must note two or three items of importance. One of the contacts, however, should be mentioned at once. The appointment of Miss Dick was not enough for my purpose. I needed more assistance. I have in the earlier chapters referred to Mr. Ritch. I knew him well. He was manager in a commercial firm. He approved my suggestion of leaving the firm and getting articled under me, and he considerably lightened my burden.
About this time Sjt. Madanjit approached me with a proposal
to start Indian Opinion and sought my advice. He had already been conducting a press,
and I approved of his proposal. The journal was launched in 1904, and Sjt.
Mansukhlal Naazar became the first editor. But I had to bear the brunt of the
work, having for most of the time to be practically in charge of the journal.
Not that Sjt. Mansukhlal could not carry it on. He had been doing a fair amount
of journalism whilst in
responsibility of attending to the editorial columns. The journal has been until this day a weekly, In the beginning it used to be issued in Gujarati, Hindi, Tamil and English. I saw, however, that the Tamil and Hindi sections were a make-believe. They did not serve the purpose for which they were intended, so I discontinued them as I even felt that there would be a certain amount of deception involved in their continuance.
I had no notion that I should have to invest any money in this journal, but I soon discovered that it could not go on without my financial help. The Indians and the Europeans both knew that, though I was not avowedly the editor of Indian Opinion, I was virtually responsible for its conduct. It would not have mattered if the journal had never been started, but to stop it after it had once been launched would have been both a loss and a disgrace. So I kept on pouring out my money, until ultimately I was practically sinking all my savings in it. I remember a time when I had to remit £ 75 each month.
But after all these years I feel that the journal has served
the community well. It was never intended to be a commercial concern. So long
as it was under my control, the changes in the journal were indicative of
changes in my life. Indian Opinion in those days, like Young India and
Navajivan today, was a mirror of part of my life. Week after week I poured out
my soul in its columns, and expounded the principles and practice of Satyagraha
as I understood it. During ten years, that is, until 1914, excepting the
intervals of my enforced rest in prison, there was hardly an issue of Indian
Opinion without an article from me. I cannot recall a word in those articles
set down without thought or deliberation, or a word of conscious exaggeration,
or anything merely to please. Indeed the journal became for me a training in
self-restraint, and for friends a medium through which to keep in touch with my
thoughts. The critic found very little to which he could object. In fact the
tone of Indian Opinion compelled the critic to put a curb on his own pen.
Satyagraha would probably have been impossible without Indian Opinion. The
readers looked forward to it for a trustworthy account of the Satyagraha
campaign as also of the real condition of Indians in
In the very first month of Indian Opinion, I realized that the sole aim of journalism should be service. The newspaper press is a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges whole countrysides and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy. If the control is from without, it proves more poisonous than want of control. It can be profitable only when exercised from within. If this line of reasoning is correct, how many of the journals in the world would stand the test? But who would stop those that are useless? And who should be the judge? The useful and the useless must, like good and evil generally, go on together, and man must make his choice.
Some of the classes which render us the greatest social
service, but which we Hindus have chosen to regard as 'untouchables,' are
relegated to remote quarters of a town or a village, called in Gujarati
dhedvado, and the name has acquired a bad odour. Even so in Christian Europe
the Jews were once 'untouchables' and the quarters that were assigned to them
had the offensive name of 'ghettoes.' In a similar way today we have become the
The ancient Jews regarded themselves as the chosen people of God, to the exclusion of all others, with the result that their descendants were visited with a strange and even unjust retribution. Almost in a similar way the Hindus have considered themselves Aryas or civilized, and a section of their own kith and kin as Anaryas or untouchables, with the result that a strange, if unjust, nemesis is being visited not only upon the Hindus in South Africa, but the Musalmans and Parsis as well, inasmuch as they belong to the same country and have the same colour as their Hindu brethren.
The reader will have now realized to some extent the meaning
of the word 'locations' with which I have headed this chapter. In
The criminal negligence of the Municipality and the ignorance
of the Indian settlers thus conspired to render the location thoroughly
insanitary. The Municipality, far from doing anything to improve the condition
of the location, used the insanitation, caused by their own neglect, as a
pretext for destroying the location, and for that purpose obtained from the
local legislature authority to dispossess the settlers. This was the condition
of things when I settled in
The settlers, having proprietory rights in their land, were naturally entitled to compensation. A special tribunal was appointed to try the land acquisition cases. If the tenant was not prepared to accept the offer of the Municipality, he had a right to appeal to the tribunal, and if the latter's award exceeded the Municipality's offer, the Municipality had to bear the costs.
Most of the tenants engaged me as their legal adviser. I had no desire to make money out of these cases, so I told the tenants that I should be satisfied with whatever costs the tribunal
awarded, in case they won, and a fee of £ 10 on every lease, irrespective of the result of the case. I also told them that I proposed to set apart half of the money paid by them for the building of a hospital or similar institution for the poor. This naturally pleased them all.
Out of about 70 cases only was lost. So the fees amounted to
a fairly big figure. But Indian Opinion was there with its persistent claim and
devoured, so far as I can recollect, a sum of £ 1,600. I had worked hard for
these cases. The clients always surrounded me. Most of them were originally
indentured labourers from Bihar and its neighbourhood and from
It may be of some interest to know how the Indians used to name me. Abdulla Sheth refused to address me as Gandhi. None, fortunately, ever insulted me by calling or regarding me as 'saheb'. Abdulla Sheth hit upon a fine appellation-'bhai', i.e., brother. Others followed him and continued to address me as 'bhai' until the moment I left when it was used by the ex-indentured Indians.
The Indians were not removed from the location as soon as the Municipality secured its ownership. It was necessary to find the residents suitable new quarters before dislodging them, but as the Municipality could not easily do this, the Indians were suffered to stay in the same 'dirty' location, with this difference that their condition became worse than before. Having ceased to be proprietors they became tenants of the Municipality, with the result that their surroundings became more insanitary than ever. When they were proprietors, they had to maintain some sort of cleanliness, if only for fear of the law. The Municipality had no such fear! The number of tenants increased, and with them the squalor and the disorder.
While the Indians were fretting over this state of things, there was a sudden outbreak of the black plague, also called the pneumonic plague, more terrible and fatal than the bubonic.
Fortunately it was not the location but one of the gold
mines in the vicinity of
Sjt. Madanjit bravely broke open the lock of a vacant house, and put all the patients there. I cycled to the location, and wrote to the Town Clerk to inform him of the circumstances in which we had taken possession of the house.
Dr. William Godfrey, who was practising in
It is my faith, based on experience, that if one's heart is
pure, calamity brings in its train men and measures to fight it. I had at that
time four Indians in my office Sjts. Kalyandas, Maneklal, Gunvantrai Desai and
another whose name I cannot recollect. Kalyandas had been entrusted to me by
his father. In
Mr. Ritch had a large family. He was ready to take the plunge, but I prevented him. I had not the heart to expose him to the risk. So he attended to the work outside the danger zone.
It was a terrible night - that night of vigil and nursing. I had nursed a number of patients before, but never any attacked by the black plague. Dr. Godfrey's pluck proved infectious. There was not much nursing required. To give them their doses of medicine, to attend to their wants, to keep them and their beds clean and tidy, and to cheer them up was all that we had to do.
The indefatigable zeal and fearlessness with which the youths worked rejoiced me beyond measure. One could understand the bravery of Dr. Godfrey and of an experienced man like Sjt. Madanjit. But the spirit of these callow youths!
So far as I can recollect, we pulled all the patients through that night.
But the whole incident, apart from its pathos, is of such absorbing interest and, for me, of such religious value, that I must devote to it at least two more chapters.
The Town Clerk expressed his gratitude to me for having taken charge of the vacant house and the patients. He frankly confessed that the Town Council had no immediate means to cope with such an emergency, but promised that they would render all the help in their power. Once awakened to a sense of their duty, the Municipality made no delay in taking prompt measures.
The next day they placed a vacant godown at my disposal, and suggested that the patients be removed there, but the Municipality did not undertake to clean the premises. The building was unkempt and unclean. We cleaned it up ourselves, raised a few beds and other necessaries through the offices of charitable Indians, and improvised a temporary hospital. The Municipality
lent the services of a nurse, who came with brandy and other hospital equipment. Dr. Godfrey still remained in charge.
The nurse was a kindly lady and would fain have attended to the patients, but we rarely allowed her to touch them, lest she should catch the contagion.
We had instructions to give the patients frequent doses of brandy. The nurse even asked us to take it for precaution, just as she was doing herself. But none of us would touch it. I had no faith in its beneficial effect even for the patients. With the permission of Dr. Godfrey, I put three patients, who were prepared to do without brandy, under the earth treatment, applying wet earth bandages to their heads and chests. Two of these were saved. The other twenty died in the godown.
Meanwhile the Municipality was busy taking other measures.
There was a lazaretto for contagious diseases about seven miles from
In the course of a few days we learnt that the good nurse had an attack and immediately succumbed. It is impossible to say how the two patients were saved and how we remained immune, but the experience enhanced my faith in earth treatment, as also my scepticism of the efficacy of brandy, even as a medicine. I know that neither this faith nor this scepticism is based upon any solid grounds, but I still retain the impression which I then received, and have therefore thought it necessary to mention it here.
On the outbreak of the plague, I had addressed a strong letter to the press, holding the Municipality guilty of negligence after the location came into its possession and responsible for the outbreak of the plague itself. This letter secured me Mr. Henry Polak, and was partly responsible for the friendship of the late Rev. Joseph Doke.
I have said in an earlier chapter that I used to have my meals at a vegetarian restaurant. Here I met Mr. Albert West. We used to meet in this restaurant every evening and go out walking after dinner. Mr. West was a partner in a small printing concern. He read my letter in the press about the outbreak of the plague and, not finding me in the restaurant, felt uneasy.
My co-workers and I had reduced our diet since the outbreak, as I had long made it a rule to go on a light diet during epidemics. In these days I had therefore given up my evening dinner. Lunch also I would finish before the other guests arrived. I knew the proprietor of the restaurant very well, and I had informed him that, as I was engaged in nursing the plague patients, I wanted to avoid the contact of friends as much as possible.
Not finding me in the restaurant for a day or two, Mr. West knocked at my door early one morning just as I was getting ready to go out for a walk. As I opened the door Mr. West said: 'I did not find you in the restaurant and was really afraid lest something should have happened to you. So I decided to come and see you in the morning in order to make sure of finding you at home. Well, here I am at your disposal. I am ready to help in nursing the patients. You know that I have no one depending on me.'
I expressed my gratitude, and without taking even a second to think, replied: 'I will not have you as a nurse. If there are no more cases, we shall be free in a day or two. There is one thing however.'
'Yes, what is it?'
'Could you take charge of the Indian Opinion press at
'You know that I have a press. Most probably I shall be able to go, but may I give my final reply in the evening? We shall talk it over during our evening walk.
I was delighted. We had the talk. He agreed to go. Salary
was no consideration to him, as money was not his motive, But a salary £10 per
month and a part of the profits, if any, was fixed up. The very next day Mr.
West left for
Mr. West belonged to a peasant family in Louth (
We shall know more of him and his family in the chapters to follow.
Though my co-workers and I were relieved of the charge of the patients, there remained many things arising out of the black plague still to be dealt with.
I have referred to the negligence of the Municipality regarding the location. But it was wide awake so far as the health of its white citizens was concerned. It had spent large amounts for the preservation of their health and now it poured forth money like water in order to stamp out the plague. In spite of the many sins of omission and commission against the Indians that I had laid at the door of the Municipality, I could not help commending its solicitude for the white citizens, and I rendered it as much help as I could in its laudable efforts. I have an impression that, if I had withheld my co-operation, the task would have been more difficult for the Municipality, and that it would not have hesitated to use armed force and do its worst.
But all that was averted. The Municipal authorities were pleased at the Indians' behaviour, and much of the future work regarding plague measures was simplified. I used all the influence I could command with the Indians to make them submit to the requirements of the Municipality. It was far from easy for the Indians to go all that length, but I do not remember anyone having resisted my advice.
The location was put under a strong guard, passage in and out being made impossible without permission. My co-workers and I had free permits of entry and exit. The decision was to make the whole location population vacate, and live under canvas for three weeks in an open plain about thirteen miles from Johannesburg, and then to set fire to the location. To settle down under canvas with provisions and other necessaries was bound to take some time, and a guard became necessary during the interval.
The people were in a terrible fright, but my constant presence was a consolation to them. Many of the poor people used to hoard their scanty savings underground. This had to be unearthed. They had no bank, they knew none. I became their banker. Streams of money poured into my office. I could not possibly charge any fees for my labours in such a crisis. I coped with the work somehow. I knew my bank manager very well. I told him that I should have to deposit these moneys with him. The banks were by no means anxious to accept large amounts of copper and silver. There was also the fear of bank clerks refusing to touch money coming from a plagueaffected area. But the manager accommodated me in every way. It was decided to disinfect all the money before sending it to the bank. So far as I can remember, nearly sixty thousand pounds were thus deposited. I advised such of the people as had enough money to place it as fixed deposit, and they accepted the advice. The result was some of them became accustomed to invest their money in banks.
The location residents were removed by special train to
Klipspruit Farm near
So far as I recollect, the location was put to the flames on the very next day after its evacuation. The Municipality showed not the slightest inclination to save anything from the conflagration. About this very time, and for the same reason, the Municipality burnt down all its timber in the market, and sustained a loss of some ten thousand pounds. The reason for this drastic step was the discovery of some dead rats in the market.
The Municipality had to incur heavy expenditure, but it successfully arrested the further progress of the plague, and the city once more breathed freely.
The black plague enhanced my influence with the poor Indians, and increased my business and my responsibility. Some of the new contacts with Europeans became so close that they added considerably to my moral obligations.
I made the acquaintance of Mr.Polak in the vegetarian resturant, just as I had made that of Mr.West. One evening a young man dining at a table a little way off sent me his card expressing a desire to see me. i invited him to come to my table, which he did.
'I am sub-editor of the The Critic,' he said 'When I read your letter to the press about the plague. I felt a strong desire to see you. I am glad to have this opportunity.'
Mr. Polak's candour drew me to him. The same evening we got to know each other. We seemed to hold closely similar views on the essential things of life. He liked simple life. He had a
wonderful faculty of translating into practice anything that appealed to his intellect. Some of the changes that he had made in his life were as prompt as they were radical.
Indian Opinion was getting more and more expensive every day. The very first report from Mr. West was alarming. He wrote: 'I do not expect the concern to yield the profit that you had thought probable. I am afraid there may be even a loss. The books are not in order. There are heavy arrears to be recovered, but one cannot make head or tail of them. Considerable overhauling will have to be done. But all this need not alarm you. I shall try to put things right as best I can. I remain on, whether there is profit or not.'
Mr. West might have left when he discovered that there was no profit, and I could not have blamed him. In fact, he had a right to arraign me for having described the concern as profitable without proper proof. But he never so much as uttered one word of complaint. I have, however, an impression that this discovery led Mr. West to regard me as credulous. I had simply accepted Sjt. Madanjit's estimate without caring to examine it, and told Mr. West to expect a profit.
I now realize that a public worker should not make statements of which he has not made sure. Above all, a votary of truth must exercise the greatest caution. To allow a man to believe a thing which one has fully verified is to compromise truth. I am pained to have to confess that, in spite of this knowledge, I have not quite conquered my credulous habit, for which my ambition to do more work than I can manage is responsible. This ambition has often been a source of worry more to my co-workers than to myself.
On receipt of Mr. West's letter I left for
The book was impossible to lay aside, once I had begun it.
It gripped me.
This was the first book of Ruskin I had ever read. During the days of my education I had read practically nothing outside text-books, and after I launched into active life I had very little time for reading. I cannot therefore claim much book knowledge. However, I believe I have not lost much because of this enforced restraint. On the contrary, the limited reading may be said to have enabled me thoroughly to digest what I did read. Of these books, the one that brought about an instantaneous and practical transformation in my life was Unto This Last. I translated it later into Gujarati, entitling it Sarvodaya (the welfare of all).
I believe that I discovered some of my deepest convictions reflected in this great book of Ruskin, and that is why it so captured me and made me transform my life. A poet is one who can call forth the good latent in the human breast. Poets do not influence all alike, for everyone is not evolved in a equal measure.
The teaching of Unto This Last I understood to be:
1. That the good of the individual is contained in the good of all.
2. That a lawyer's work has the same value as the barber's inasmuch as all have the same right of earning their livehood from their work.
3. That a life of labour, i.e., the life of the tiller of the soil and the handicraftsman is the life worth living.
The first of these I knew. The second I had dimly realized. The third had never occured to me. Unto This Last made it as clear as daylight for me that the second and the third were contained in the first. I arose with the dawn, ready to reduce these principles to practice.
I talked over the whole thing with Mr. West, described to him the effect Unto This Last had produced on my mind, and proposed that Indian Opinion should be removed to a farm, on which everyone should labour, drawing the same living wage, and attending to the press work in spare time. Mr. West approved of the proposal, and £3 was laid down as the monthly allowance per head, irrespective of colour or nationality.
But it was a question whether all the ten or more workers in the press would agree to go and settle on an out-of-the-way farm, and be satisfied with bare maintenance. We therefore proposed that those who could not fit in with the scheme should continue to draw their salaries and gradually try to reach the ideal of becoming members of the settlement.
I talked to the workers in the terms of this proposal. It did not appeal to Sjt. Madanjit, who considered my proposal to be foolish and held that it would ruin a venture on which he had staked his all; that the workers would bolt, Indian Opinion would come to a stop, and the press would have to be closed down.
Among the men working in the press was Chhaganlal Gandhi, one of my cousins. I had put the proposal to him at the same time as to West. He had a wife and children, but he had from childhood chosen to be trained and to work under me. He had full faith in me. So without any argument he agreed to the scheme and has been with me ever since. The machinist Govindaswami also fell in with the proposal. The rest did not join the scheme, but agreed to go wherever I removed the press.
I do not think I took more than two days to fix up these
matters with the men. Thereafter I at once advertised for a piece of land
situated near a railway station in the vicinity of
The late Mr. Rustomji always supported me in such
enterprises. He liked the project. He placed at my disposal second-hand
corrugated iron sheets of a big godown and other building material, with which
we started work. Some Indian carpenters and masons, who had worked with me in the
Boer War, helped me in erecting a shed for the press. This structure, which was
75 feet long and 50 feet broad, was ready in less than a month. Mr. West and
others, at great personal risk, stayed with the carpenters and masons. The
place, uninhabited and thickly overgrown with grass, was infested with snakes
and obviously dangerous to live in. At first all lived under canvas. We carted
most of our things to
Only one issue of Indian Opinion had to be printed outside, in the Mercury press.
I now endeavoured to draw to
Thus the Phoenix Settlement was started in 1904, and there in spite of numerous odds Indian Opinion continues to be published.
But the initial difficulties, the changes made, the hopes and the disappointments demand a separate chapter.
It was no easy thing to issue the first number of Indian
In the initial stages, we all had to keep late hours before
the day of publication. Everyone, young and old, had to help in folding the
sheets. We usually finished our work between ten o'clock and midnight. But the
first night was unforgettable. We had got out an engineer from
'If that is the case, we cannot help it. No use shedding tears. Let us do whatever else is humanly possible. What about the handwheel?' I said, comforting him.
'Where have we the men to work?' he replied. 'We are not enough to cope with the job. It requires relays of four men each, and our own men are all tired.'
Building work had not yet been finished so the carpenters were still with us. They were sleeping on the press floor. I said pointed to them, 'But can't we make use of these carpenters? And we may have a whole night of work. I think this device is still open to us.'
'I dare not wake up the carpenters. And our men are really too tired,' said West.
'Well, that's for me to negotiate,' said I.
'Then it is possible that we may get through the work,' West replied
I woke up the carpenters and requested their co-operation. They needed no pressure. They said, 'If we cannot be called upon in an emergency, what use are we? You rest yourselves and we will work the wheel. For us it is easy work.' Our own men were of course ready.
West was greatly delighted and started singing a hymn as we set to work. I partnered the carpenters, all the rest joined turn by turn, and thus we went on until 7 a.m. There was still a good deal to do. I therefore suggested to West that the engineer might now be asked to get up and try again to start the engine, so that if we succeeded we might finish in time.
West woke him up, and he immediately went into the engine room. And lo and behold! the engine worked almost as soon as he touched it. The whole press rang with peals of joy. 'How can this be? How is it that all our labours last night were of no avail, and this morning it has been set going as though there were nothing wrong with it?' I enquired.
'It is difficult to say,' said West or the engineer, I forget which. 'Machines also sometimes seem to behave as though they required rest like us.'
For me the failure of the engine had come as a test for us all, and its working in the nick of time as the fruit of our honest and earnest labours.
The copies were despatched in time, and everyone was happy.
This initial insistence ensured the regularity of the paper,
and created an atmosphere of selfreliance in
It has always been my regret that, although I started the
In order to enable every one of us to make a living by manual labour, we parcelled out the land round the press in pieces of three acres each. One of these fell to my lot. On all these plots we, much against our wish, built houses with corrugated iron. Our desire had been to have mud huts thatched with straw or small brick houses such as would become ordinary peasants, but it could not be. They would have been more expensive and would have meant more time, and everyone was eager to settle down as soon as possible.
The editor was still Mansukhlal Naazar. He had not accepted the new scheme and was directing the paper from Durban where there was a branch office for #Indian Opinion# though we had paid compositors, the idea was for every members of the Settlement to learn type-setting, the easiest, if the most tedious, of the processes in a printing press. Those, therefore, who did not already know the work learnt it. I remained a dunce to the last. Maganlal Gandhi surpassed us all. Though he had never before worked in a press, he became an expert compositor and not only achieved great speed but, to my agreeable surprise, quickly mastered all the other branches of press work. I have always thought that he was not conscious of his own capacity.
We had hardly settled down, the buildings were hardly ready,
when I had to leave the newly constructed nest and go to
On return to
His determination captured me. He gave a month's notice to
his chief to be relieved from #The Critic#, and reached
About the same time a Scotch theosophist, whom I had been coaching for a local legal examination, also joined as an articled clerk, on my inviting him to follow Polak's example. His name was Mr. MacIntyre.
Thus, with the laudable object of quickly realizing the
It will be after a few more chapters that I shall describe how I and my ideals were saved in a way no one had imagined or expected.
I had now given up all hope of returning to
On the boat bringing them to
What then was I to do for Ramdas? He was just eight years old. I asked him if he would mind my dressing his wound. With a smile he said he did not mind at all. It was not possible for him at that age to decide what was the best thing for him, but he knew very well the distinction between quackery and proper medical treatment. And he knew my habit of home treatment and had faith enough to trust himself to me. In fear and trembling I undid the bandage, washed the wound, applied a clean earth poultice and tied the arm up again. This sort of dressing went on daily for about a month until the wound was completely healed. There was no hitch, and the wound took no more time to heal than the ship's doctor had said it would under the usual treatment.
This and other experiments enhanced my faith in such household
remedies, and I now proceeded with them with more self-confidence. I widened
the sphere of their application, trying the earth and water and fasting
treatment in cases of wounds, fevers, dyspepsia, jaundice and other complaints,
with success on most occasions. But nowadays I have not the confidence I had in
The reference here, therefore, to these experiments is not meant to demonstrate their success. I cannot claim complete success for any experiment. Even medical men can make no such claim for their experiments. My object is only to show that he who would go in for novel experiments must begin with himself. That leads to a quicker discovery of truth, and God always protects the honest experimenter.
The risks involved in experiments in cultivating intimate contacts with Europeans were as grave as those in the nature cure experiments. Only those risks were of a different kind. But in cultivating those contacts I never so much as thought of the risks.
I invited Polak to come and stay with me, and we began to
live like blood brothers. The lady who was soon to be Mrs. Polak and he had
been engaged for some years, but the marriage had been postponed for a
propitious time. I have an impression that Polak wanted to put some money by
before he settled down to a married life. He knew Ruskin much better than I,
but his Western surroundings were a bar against his translating Ruskin's
teaching immediately into practice. But I pleaded with him: 'When there is a
heart union, as in your case, it is hardly right to postpone marriage merely
for financial consideratons. If poverty is a bar, poor men can never marry. And
then you are now staying with me. There is no question of household expenses. I
think you should get married as soon as possible. As I have said in a previous
chapter, I had never to argue a thing twice with Polak. He appreciated the
force of my argument, and immediately opened correspondence on the subject with
Mrs. Polak, who was then in
wedding was out of the question, not even a special dress was thought necessary. They needed no religious rites to seal the bond. Mrs. Polak was a Christian by birth and Polak a Jew. Their common religion was the religion of ethics.
I may mention in passing an amusing incident in connection
with this wedding. The Registrar of European marriages in the
Up to now the Europeans living with us had been more or less known to me before. But now an English lady who was an utter stranger to us entered the family. I do not remember our ever having had a difference with the newly married couple, but even if Mrs. Polak and my wife had some unpleasant experience, they would have been no more than what happen in the bestregulated homogeneous familes. And let it be remembered that mine would be considered an essentially heterogeneous family, where people of all kinds and temperaments were freely admitted. When we come to think of it, the distinction between heterogeneous and homogeneous is discovered to be merely imaginary. We are all one family.
I had better celebrate West's wedding also in this chapter.
At this stage of my life, my ideas about #brahmacharya# had not fully matured,
and so I was interesting myself in getting all my bachelor friends married.
When, in due course, West made a pilgrimage to Louth to see his parents, I advised
him to return married if possible.
In the same way as I persuaded these European friends to
marry, I encouraged the Indian friends to send for their families from home.
It has already been seen that, though household expenses
were heavy, the tendency towards simplicity began in
I introduced as much simplicity as was possible in a barrister's house. It was impossible to do without a certain amount of furniture. The change was more internal than external. The liking for
doing personally all the physical labour increased. I therefore began to bring my children also under that discipline.
Instead of buying baker's bread, we began to prepare unleavened wholemeal bread at home according to Kuhne's recipe. Common mill flour was no good for this, and the use of handground flour, it was thought, would ensure more simplicity, health and economy. So I purchased a handmill for £ 7. The iron wheel was too heavy to be tacked by one man, but easy for two. Polak and I and the children usually worked it. My wife also occasionally lent a hand, though the grinding hour was her usual time for commencing kitchen work. Mrs. Polak now joined us on her arrival. The grinding proved a very beneficial exercise for the children. Neither this nor any other work was ever imposed on them, but it was a pastime to them to come and lend a hand, and they were at liberty to break off whenever tired. But the children, including those whom I shall have occasion to introduce later, as a rule never failed me. Not that I had no laggarded at all, but most did their work cheerfully enough. I can recall few youngsters in those days fighting shy of work or pleading fatigue.
We had engaged a servant to look after the house. He lived
with us as a member of the family, and the children used to help him in his
work. The municipal sweeper removed the night-soil, but we personally attended
to the cleaning of the closet instead of asking or expecting the servant to do
it. This proved a good training for the children. The result was that none of
my sons developed any aversion for scavenger's work, and they naturally got a
good grounding in general sanitation. There was hardly any illness in the home
Children inherit the qualities of the parents, no less than their physical features. Environment does play an important part, but the original capital on which a child starts in life is inherited from its ancestors. I have also seen children successfully surmounting the effects of an evil inheritance. That is due to purity being an inherent attribute of the soul.
Polak and I had often very heated discussions about the desirability or otherwise of giving the children an English education. It has always been my conviction that Indian parents who train their children to think and talk in English from their infancy betray their children and their country. They deprive them of the spiritual and social heritage of the nation, and render them to that extent unfit for the service of the country. Having these convictions, I made a point of always talking to my children in Gujarati. Polak never liked this. He thought I was spoiling their future. He
contended, with all the vigour and love at his conmand, that, if children were to learn a universal language like English from thier infancy, they would easily gain considerable advantage over others in the race of life. He failed to convince me. I do not now remember whether I convinced him of the correctness of my attitude, or whether he gave me up as too obstinate. This happened about twenty years ago, and my convictions have only deepened with experience. Though my sons have suffered for want of full literary education, the knowledge of the mother-tounge that they naturally acquired has been all to their and the country's good, inasmuch as they do not appear the foreigners they would otherwise have appeared. They naturally become bilingual, speaking and writing English with fair ease, because of daily contact with a large cicle of English friends, and because of their stay in a country where English was the chief language spoken.
Even after I thought I had settled down in
I considered myself a citizen of
I had not expected such prompt acceptance. Fortunately I had
made all the necessary arrangements even before writing the letter. If my offer
was accepted, I had decided to break up the
I went to
In order to give me a status and to facilitate work, as also in accordance with the existing convention, the Chief Medical Officer appointed me to the temporary rank of Sergeant Major and three men selected by me to the rank of sergeants and one to that of corporal. We also received our uniforms from the Government. Our Corps was on active service for nearly six weeks. On reaching the scene of the 'rebellion', I saw that there was nothing there to justify the name of 'rebellion'. There was no resistance that one could see. The reason why the disturbance had been magnified into a rebellion was that a Zulu chief had advised non-payment of a new tax
imposed on his people, and had assagaied a sergeant who had gone to collect the tax. At any rate my heart was with the Zulus, and I was delighted, on reaching headquarters, to hear that our main work was to be the nursing of the wounded Zulus. The Medical Officer in charge welcomed us. He said the white people were not willing nurses for the wounded Zulus, that their wounds were festering, and that he was at his wits' end. He hailed our arrival as a godsend for those innocent people, and he equipped us with bandages, disinfectants, etc., and took us to the improvised hospital. The Zulus were delighted to see us. The white soldiers used to peep through the railing that separated us from them and tried to dissuade us from attending to the wounds. And as we would not heed them, they became enraged and poured unspeakable abuse on the Zulus.
Gradually I came into closer touch with these soldiers, and
they ceased to interfere. Among the commanding officers were Col. Sparks and Col.
Wylie, who had bitterly opposed me in 1896. They were surprised at my attitude
and specially called and thanked me. They introduced me to General Mackenzie.
Let not the reader think that these were professional soldiers. Col. Wylie was
The wounded in our charge were not wounded in battle. A section of them had been taken prisoners as suspects. The General had sentenced them to be flogged. The flogging had caused severe sores. These, being unattended to, were festering. The others were Zulu friendlies. Although these had badges given them to distinguish them from the 'enemy', they had been shot at by the soldiers by mistake.
Besides this work I had to compound and dispense prescriptions for the white soldiers. This was easy enough for me as I had received a year's training in Dr. Booth's little hospital. This work brought me in close contact with many Europeans.
We were attached to a swift-moving column. It had orders to march wherever danger was reported. It was for the most part mounted infantry. As soon as our camp was moved, we had to follow on foot with our stretchers on our shoulders. Twice or thrice we had to march forty miles a day. But wherever we went, I am thankful that we had God's good work to do, having to carry to the camp on our stretchers those Zulu friendlies who had been inadvertently wounded, and to attend upon them as nurses.
The Zulu 'rebellion' was full of new experiences and gave me much food for thought. The Boer War had not brought home to me the horrors of war with anything like the vividness that the 'rebellion' did. This was no war but a man-hunt, not only in my opinion, but also in that of many Englishmen with whom I had occasion to talk. To hear every morning reports of the soldiers' rifles exploding like crackers in innocent hamlets, and to live in the midst of them was a trial. But I swallowed the bitter draught, especially as the work of my Corps consisted only in nursing the wounded Zulus. I could see that but for us the Zulus would have been uncared for. This work, therefore, eased my conscience.
But there was much else to set one thinking. It was a sparsely populated part of the country. Few and far between in hills and dales were the scattered Kraals of the simple and so-called 'uncivilized' Zulus. Marching, with or without the wounded, through these solemn solitudes, I often fell into deep thought.
I pondered over brahmacharya and its implications, and my convictions took deep root. I discussed it with my co-workers. I had not realized then how indispensable it was for selfrealization. But I clearly saw that one aspiring to serve humanity with his whole soul could not do without it. It was borne in upon me that I should have more and more occasions for service of the kind I was rendering, and that I should find myself unequal to my task if I were engaged in the pleasures of family life and in the propagation and rearing of children.
In a word, I could not live both after the flesh and the spirit. On the present occasion, for instance, I should not have been able to throw myself into the fray, had my wife been expecting a baby. Without the observance of brahmacharya service of the family would be inconsistent with service of the community. With brahmacharya they would be perfectly consistent.
So thinking, I became somewhat impatient to take a final vow. The prospect of the vow brought a certain kind of exultation. Imagination also found free play and opened out limitless vistas of service.
Whilst I was thus in the midst of strenuous physical and mental work, a report came to the effect that the work of suppressing the 'rebellion' was nearly over, and that we should soon be discharged. A day or two after this our discharge came and in a few days we got back to our homes.
After a short while I got a letter from the Governor specially thanking the Ambulance Corps for its services.
On my arrival at
I too took the plunge the vow to observe brahmacharya for life. I must confess that I had not then fully realized the magnitude and immensity of the task I undertook. The difficulties are even today staring me in the face. The importance of the vow is being more and more borne in upon me. Life without brahmacharya appears to me to be insipid and animal-like. The brute by nature knows no self-restraint. Man is man because he is capable of, and only in so far as he exercises, selfrestraint. What formerly appeared to me to be extravagant praise of brahmacharya in our religious books seems now, with increasing clearness every day, to be absolutely proper and founded on experience.
I saw that brahmacharya, which is so full of wounderful potency, is by no means an easy affair, and certainly not a mere matter of the body. It begins with bodily restraint, but does not end there. The perfection of it precludes even an impure thought. A true brahmachari will not even dream of satisfying the fleshly appetite, and until he is in that condition, he has a great deal of ground to cover.
For me the observance of even bodily brahmacharya has been full of difficulties. Today I may say that I feel myself fairly safe, but I had yet to achieve complete mastery over thought, which is so essential. Not that the will or effort is lacking, but it is yet a problem to me wherefrom undersirable thoughts spring their insidious invasions. I have no doubt that there is a key to lock out undersirable thoughts, but every one has to find it out for himself. Saints and seers have left their
experiences for us, but they have given us no infallible and universal prescription. For perfection or freedom from error comes only from grace, and so seekers after God have left us mantras, such as Ramanama, hallowed by their own austerities and charged with their purity. Without an unreserved surrender to His grace, complete mastery over thought is impossible. This is the teaching of every great book of religion, and I am realizing the truth of it every moment of my striving after that perfect brahmacharya .
But part of the history of that striving and struggle will be told in chapters to follow. I shall conclude this chapter with an indication of how I set about the task. In the first flush of inthusiasm, I found the observance quite easy. The very first change I made in my mode of life was to stop sparing the same bed with my wife or seeking privacy with her.
Thus brahmacharya which I had been observing willynilly since 1900, was sealed with a vow in the middle of 1906.
Events were so shaping themselves in
But I could not for the life of me find out a new name, and therefore offered a nominal prize through Indian Opinion to the reader who made the best suggestion on the subject. As a result Maganlal Gandhi coined the word 'Sadagraha' (Sat=truth, Agraha=firmness) and won the prize. But in order to make it clearer I changed the word to 'Satyagraha' which has since become current in Gujarati as a designation for the struggle.
The history of this strugle is for all practical purposes a
histroy of the remainder of my life in
I was anxious to observe brahmacharya in thought, word and deed, and equally anxious to devote the maximum of time to the Satyagraha struggle and fit myself for it by cultivating purity. I was therefore led to make further changes and to impose greater restraints upon myself in the matter of food. The motive for the previous changes had been largely hygienic, but the new experiments were made from a religious standpoint.
Fasting and restriction in diet now played a more important part in my life. Passion in man is generally co-existent with a hankering after the pleasures of the palate. And so it was with me. I have encountered many difficulties in trying to control passion as well as taste, and I cannot claim even now to have brought them under complete subjection. I have considered myself to be a heavy eater. What friends have thought to be my restraint has never appeared to me in that light. If I had failed to develop restraint to the extent that I have, I should have descended lower than the beasts and met my doom long ago. However, as I had adequately realized my shortcomings, I made great efforts to get rid of them, and thanks to this endeavour I have all these years pulled on with my body and put in with it my share of work.
Being conscious of my weakness and unexpectedly coming in contact with congenial company, I began to take an exclusive fruit diet or to fast on the Ekadashi day, and also to observe Janmashtami and similar holidays.
I began with a fruit diet, but from the standpoint of restraint I did not find much to choose between a fruit diet and a diet of food grains. I observed that the same indulgence of taste was possible with the former as with the latter, and even more, when one got accustomed to it. I therefore came to attach greater importance to fasting or having only one meal a day on holidays. And if there was some occasion for penance or the like, I gladly utilized it too for the purpose of fasting.
But I also saw that, the body now being drained more effectively, the food yielded greater relish and the appetite grew keener. It dawned upon me that fasting could be made as powerful a weapon of indulgence as of restraint. Many similar later experiences of mine as well as of others can be adduced as evidence of this starting fact. I wanted to improve and train my body, but as my chief object now was to achieve restraint and a conquest of the palate, I selected first one food and then another, and at the same time restricted the amount. But the relish was after me, as it were. As I gave up one thing and took up another, this latter afforded me a fresher and greater relish than its predecessor.
In making these experiments I had several companions, the chief
of whom was Hermann Kallenbach. I have already written about this friend in the
history of Satyagraha in