THE STORY OF MY EXPERIMENTS WITH TRUTH
by Mohandas K. Gandhi
The first edition of Danghiji’s Autobiography was published in two volumes, Vol. I in 1927 and
Vol. II in 1929. The original in Gujarati which was priced at Re. 1/- has run through five editions,
nearly 50,000 copies having been sold. The price of the English translation (only issued in library
edition) was prohibitive for the Indian reader, and a cheap edition has long been needed. It is now
being issued in one volume. The translation, as it appeared serially in Young India, had, it may be
noted, the benefit of Gandhiji’s revision. It has now undergone careful revision, and from the point
of view of language, it has had the benefit of careful revision by a revered friend, who, among
many other things, has the reputation of being an eminent English scholar. Before undertaking
the task, he made it a condition that his name should on no account be given out. I accept the
condition. It is needless to say it heightens my sense of gratitude to him. Chapters XXIX-XLIII of
Part V were translated by my friend and colleague Pyarelal during my absence in Bardoli at the
time of the Bardoli Agrarian Inquiry by the Broomfield Committee in 1928-29.
Four or five years ago, at the instance of some of my nearest co-workers, I agreed to write my
autobiography. I made the start, but scarcely had I turned over the first sheet when riots broke out
in Bombay and the work remained at a standstill. Then followed a series of events which
culminated in my imprisonment at Yeravda. Sjt. Jeramdas, who was one of my fellow-prisoners
there, asked me to put everything else on one side and finish writing the autobiography. I replied
that I had already framed a programme of study for myself, and that I could not think of doing
anything else until this course was complete. I should indeed have finished the autobiography
had I gone through my full term of imprisonment at Yeravda, for there was still a year left to
complete the task, when I was discharged. Swami Anand has now repeated the proposal, and as
I have finished the history of Satyagraha in South Africa, I am tempted to undertake the
autobiography forNavajivan. The Swami wanted me to write it separately for publication as a
book. But I have no spare time. I could only write a chapter week by week. Something has to be
written for Navajivan every week. Why should it not be the autobiography? The Swami agreed to
the proposal, and here am I hard at work.
But a God-fearing friend had his doubts, which he shared with me on my day of silence. ‘What
has set you on this adventure? he asked. ‘Writing an autobiography is a practice peculiar to the
west. I know of nobody in the East having written one, except amongst those who have come
under Western influence. And what will you write? Supposing you reject tomorrow the things you
hold as principles today, or supposing you revise in the future your plans of today, is it not likely
that the men who shape their conduct on the authority of your word, spoken or written, may be
misled. Don’t you think it would be better not to write anything like an autobiography, at any rate
This argument had some effect on me. But it is not my purpose to attempt a real
autobiography. I simply want to tell the story of my numerous experiments with truth, and as my
life consists of nothing but those experiments, it is true that the story will take the shape of an
autobiography. But I shall not mind, if every page of it speaks only of my experiments. I believe,
or at any rate flatter myself with the belief, that a connected account of all these experiments will
not be without benefit to the reader. My experiments in the political field are now known, not only
in India, but to a certain extent to the ‘civilized’ world. For me, they have not much value; and the
title of Mahatma that they have won for me has, therefore, even less. Often the title has deeply
pained me; and there is not a moment I can recall when it may be said to have tickled me. But I
should certainly like to narrate my experiments in the spiritual field which are known only to
myself, and from which I have derived such power as I posses for working in the political field. If
the experiments are really spiritual, then there can be no room for self-praise. They can only add
to my humility. The more I reflect and look back on the past, the more vividly do I feel my
What I want to achieve,—what I have been striving and pining to achieve these thirty years—is
self-realization, to see God face to face, to attain Moksha./1/ I live and move and have my being
in pursuit of this goal. All that I do by way of speaking and writing, and all my ventures in the
political field, are directed to this same end. But as I have all along believed that what is possible
for one is possible for all, my experiments have not been conducted in the closet, but in the open;
and I do not think that this fact detracts from their spiritual value. There are some things which are
known only to oneself and one’s Maker. These are clearly incommunicable. The experiments I
am about to relate are not such. But they are spiritual or rather moral; for the essence of religion
Only those matters of religion that can be comprehended as much by children as by older
people, will be included in this story. If I can narrate them in a dispassionate and humble spirit,
many other experimenters will find in them provision for their onward march. Far be it from me to
claim any degree of perfection for these experiments. I claim for them nothing more than does a
scientist who, though he conducts his experiments with the utmost accuracy, forethought and
minuteness, never claims any finality about his conclusions, but keeps an open mind regarding
them. I have gone through deep self-introspection, searched myself through and through, and
examined and analysed every psychological situation. Yet I am far from claiming any finality or
infallibility about my conclusions. One claim I do indeed make and it is this. For me they appear to
be absolutely correct, and seem for the time being to be final. For if they were not, I should base
no action on them. But at every step I have carried out the process of acceptance or rejection and
acted accordingly. And so long as my acts satisfy my reason and my heart, I must firmly adhere
to my original conclusions.
If I had only to discuss academic principles. I should clearly not attempt an autobiography. But
my purpose being to give an account of various practical applications of these principles, I have
given the chapters I propose to write the title of The Story of My Experiments with Truth. These
will of course include experiments with non-violence, celibacy and other principles of conduct
believed to be distinct from truth. But for me, truth is the sovereign principle, which includes
numerous other principles. This truth is not only truthfulness in word, but truthfulness in thought
also, and not only the relative truth of our conception, but the Absolute Truth, the Eternal
Principle, that is God. There are innumerable definitions of God, because His manifestations are
innumerable. They overwhelm me with wonder and awe and for a moment stun me. But I worship
God as Truth only. I have not yet found Him, but I am seeking after Him. I am prepared to
sacrifice the things dearest to me in pursuit of this quest. Even if the sacrifice demanded be my
very life, I hope I may be prepared to give it. But as long as I have not realized this Absolute
Truth, so long must I hold by the relative truth as I have conceived it. That relative truth must,
meanwhile, be my beacon, my shield and buckler. Though this path is strait and narrow and
sharp as the razor’s edge, for me it has been the quickest and easiest. Even my Himalayan
blunders have seemed trifling to me because I have kept strictly to this path. For the path has
saved me from coming to grief, and I have gone forward according to my light. Often in my
progress I have had faint glimpses of the Absolute Truth, God, and daily the conviction is growing
upon me that He alone is real and all else is unreal. Let those who wish, realize how the
conviction has grown upon me; let them share my experiments and share also my conviction if
they can. The further conviction has been growing upon me that whatever is possible for me is
possible even for a child, and I have sound reasons for saying so. The instruments for the quest
of truth are as simple as they are difficult. They may appear quite impossible to an arrogant
person, and quite possible to an innocent child. The seeker after truth should be humbler than the
dust. The world crushes the dust under its feet, but the seeker after truth should so humble
himself that even the dust could crush him. Only then, and not till then, will he have a glimpse of
truth. The dialogue between Vasishtha and Vishvamitra makes this abundantly clear. Christianity
and Islam also amply bear it out.
If anything that I write in these pages should strike the reader as being touched with pride, then
he must take it that there is something wrong with my quest, and that my glimpses are no more
than a mirage. Let hundreds like me perish, but let truth prevail. Let us not reduce the standards
of truth even by a hair’s breadth for judging erring mortals like myself.
I hope and pray that no one will regard the advice interspersed in the following chapters as
authoritative. The experiments narrated should be regarded as illustrations, in the light of which
everyone may carry on his own experiments according to his own inclination and capacity. I trust
that to this limited extent the illustrations will be really helpful; because I am not going either to
conceal or understate any ugly things that must be told. I hope to acquaint the reader fully with all
my faults and errors. My purpose is to describe experiments in the science of Satyagraha, not to
say how good I am. In judging myself I shall try to be as harsh as truth, as I want others also to
be. Measuring myself by that standard I must exclaim with Surdas:
Where is there a wretch
So wicked and loathsome as I?
I have forsaken my Maker,
So faithless have I been.
For it is an unbroken torture to me that I am still so far from Him, who, as I fully know, governs
every breath of my life, and whose offspring I am. I know that it is the evil passions within that
keep me so far from Him, and yet I cannot get away from them.
But I must close. I can only take up the actual story in the next chapter.
M. K. GANDHI
The Ashram, Sabarmati.
26th November, 192
1. BIRTH AND PARENTAGE
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 thus given: ‘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
Rajasthanik Court. It is now extinct, but in those days it was a very influential body for settling
disputes between the chiefs and their fellow clansmen. He was for some time Prime Minister in
Rajkot and then in Vankaner. He was a pensioner of the Rajkot State when he died.
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 even 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
[=objected] 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
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./1/ 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/2/ 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 see 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 Thakor Saheb.
Of these parents I was born at Porbandar, otherwise known as Sundampuri, 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 strougly suggest that my intellect must have been sluggish, and my memory raw.
/1/ Literally a period of four months. A vow of fasting and semi-fasting during the four months of the rains.
The period is a sort of long Lent.
/2/ A sort of fast in which the daily quantity of food is increased or diminished according as the moon
waxes or wanes.
I must have been about seven when my father left Porbandar for Rajkot, to become a member
of the Rajasthanik Court. There I was put into a primary school, and I can well recollect those
days, including the names and other particulars of the teachers who taught me. As at Porbandar,
so here, there is hardly anything to note about my studies. I could have been only a mediocre
student. From this school I went to the suburban school and thence to the high school, having
already reached my twelfth year. I do not remember having ever told a lie, during this short
period, either to my teachers or to my schoolmates. I used to be very shy and avoided all
company. My books and my lessons were my sole companions. To be at school at that stroke of
the hour and to run back home as soon as school closed–that was my daily habit. I literally ran
back, because I could not bear to talk to anybody. I was even afraid lest anyone should poke fun
There is an incident which occured 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 mis-spelt 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 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 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
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 Shravana’s devotion to this parents). I read it with intense interest. There came to our
place about the same time [some] 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 play–
Harishchandra–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.
III. CHILD MARRIAGE
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 Kathiwad 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 of our wishes. It was purely a question of their 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
considcrations, 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
So my brother and I were both taken to Porbandar from Rajkot. There are some amusing
details of the preliminaries to the final drama–e.g. smearing our bodies all over with turmeric
paste–but I must omit them.
My father was a Diwan, but nevertheless a servant, and all the more so because he was in
favor 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 Rajkot–a cart journey of five days. My
father did the distance in three, but the coach toppled over in the third stage, and he sustained
severe injuries. He arrived bandaged all over. Both his and our interest in the coming event was
half destroyed, but the ceremonies had to be gone through. For how could the marriage dates be
changed? However, I forgot my grief over my father’s injuries in the childish amusement of the
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 pleasure, 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 injures, and took full part in the wedding. As I think
of it, I can even today call before my mind’s eye the place 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 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
/1/ how we, the newly wedded husband and wife, put the sweet Kansar
/2/ 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.
/1/ ‘Saptapdi’ are seven steps a Hindu bridge and bridegroom walk together, making at the same time
promises of mutual fidelity and devotion, after which the marriage becomes irrevocable.
/2/ ‘Kansar’ is a preparation of wheat which the pair partake of together after the completion of the
IV. PLAYING THE 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 from 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 an 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
forever 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. Kathiwad had then, and
to a certain extent has even today, its own peculiar, useless, and barbarous Purdah.
Circumstances were thus unfavorable. 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 then have conquered her dislike for studies. I
know that nothing is impossable 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 example 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 together 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 England, and this meant a long and healthy spell of separation.
Even after my return from England we hardly stayed together longer than six months. For I had to
run up and down between Rajkot and Bombay. Then came the call from South Africa, and that
found me already fairly free from the carnal appetite.
V. AT THE HIGH SCHOOL
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 even 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 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 of 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
Kathiwad. And in those days there could not have been many boys from Sorath in a class of forty
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 the 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 talking walks, which has still remained with me. These walks gave
me a fairly hardy constitution.
The reason for 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 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 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 England. When later, especially in
South Africa, I saw the beautiful handwriting of lawyers and young men born and educated in
South Africa, I was ashamed of myself and repented of my neglect. I saw that bad handwriting
should be regarded as a sign of an imperfect education. I tried later to improve mine, but it was
too late. I could never repair the neglect of my youth. Let every young man and woman be
warned by my example, and understand that good handwriting is a necessary part of education. I
am now of opinion that children should first be taught the art of drawing before learning how to
write. Let the child learn his letters by observation as he does different objects, such as flowers,
birds, etc., and let him learn handwriting only after he has learnt to draw objects. He will then
write a beautifully formed hand.
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 promoted to the fourth 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 Euclid, the utter simplicity of the
subject was suddenly revealed to me. A subject which only required a pure and simple use of
one’s reasoning powers could not be difficult. Ever since that time geometry has been both easy
and interesting for me.
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 use
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 learnt them, 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 through knowledge of the language, because I
have since realized that every Hindu boy and girl should posses 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, Hindu, 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 relaitionship between Persian and Arabic, because both claim their
full growth through the rise of Islam. Urdu I have not regarded as a distnict 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.
VI. A TRAGEDY
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 the 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 satisfed them, but they accepted my explanation and let me go my way.
I have seen since I had claculated 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
word. 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 readly 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 Rajkot at the time when I first came across this friend.
He informed me that many of our teachers were secretly taking [=consuming] meat and wine. He
also named many well-known people of Rajkot as belonging to the same company. There were
also, I was told, some high-school boys among them.
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
All these pleas or behalf of meat-eating were not advanced at a single sitting. They represent
the substance of a long and claborate 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 see in other 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 might. 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 country 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 Gujarat, and
its influence was felt everywhere and on all occasions. The opposition to and abhorrence of meateating
that existed in Gujarat among the Jains and Vaishnavas were to be seen nowhere else in
India or outside in such strength. These were the traditions in which I was born and bred. And I
was extermely devoted to my parents. I knew that the moment they came to know of my having
eaten meat, they would be shocked to death. Moreover, my love of truth made me extra cautious.
I cannot say that I did not know then that I should have to deceive my parents if I began eating
meat. But my mind was bent on the ‘reform’. It was not a question of pleasing the palate. I did not
know that it had a particularly good relish. I wished to be strong and daring and wanted my
countrymen also to be such, so that we might defeat the English and make India free. The word
‘Swaraj’ I had not yet heard. But I knew that freedom meant. The frenzy of the ‘reform’ blinded
me. And having ensured secrecy, I persuaded myself that mere hiding [of] the deed from parents
was no departure from truth.
7. A TRAGEDY (CONTINUED)
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 nightmare 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
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 expansive
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 my father came to know of
my having become a meat-eater, they would be deeply shocked. This knowledge was gnawing at
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 neccessary
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 a 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
may resist it, we also know that Providence often intercedes and saves him in spite of himself.
How all this happens–how far a man is free and how far a creature of circumstances–how far
free-will comes into play and where fate enters on the scene–all this is a mystery and will remain
But to go on with the story. Even this was far from opening my eyes to the viciousness 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 having driven my wife to that desperation.
The canker of suspicion was rooted out only when I understood Ahimsa/1/ in all its bearings. I
saw then the glory of Brahmacharya,/2/ and realized that the wife is not the husband’s bondslave,
but his companion and his helpmate, and an equal partner in all his joys 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.
/1/ ‘Ahimsa’ means literally not-hurting, non-violence.
/2/ ‘Brahmacharaya’ means literally conduct that leads to God. Its technical meaning is self-restraint,
particularly mastery over the sexual organ.
8. STEALING AND ATONEMENT
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 those 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 no effect on
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 cleansing without a confession.
I decided at last to write out of 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. A s the hymn says:
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 allembracing,
it transforms everything it touches. There is no limit to tits 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.
9. MY FATHER’S DEATH AND MY DOUBLE
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 so 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 study, and of what was even a greater duty, my devotion 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 tried 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 in Bombay. But God had willed otherwise. When death is imminent, who can think of the
right remedy? My father returned from Bombay with all the paraphernalia of the operation, which
were now useless. He despaired of living any longer. He was getting weaker and weaker, until at
last he had to be asked to perform the neccessary functions in bed. But up to the last he refused
to do anything of the kind, always insisting on going through the strain of leaving his bed. The
Vaishnavite rules about external cleaniness are so inexorable.
Such cleanliness is quite essential no doubt, but Western medical science has 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 Rajkot. I have a faint recollection that he came
to Rajkot having had news that my father was getting worse. The brothers were deeply attached
to each other. My uncle would sit near my father’s bed the whole day, and would insist on
sleeping by his bed-side, after sending us all to sleep. No one had dreamt that this was to be the
fateful night. The danger of course was there.
It was 10:30 or 11:00 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 [=could only] 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
The shame, to which I have referred in a foregoing chapter, was this shame 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 it 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.
10. GLIMPSES OF RELIGION
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 had 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 sown 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 Rajkot, it was forgotten. For I had not much belief in it. I recited it partly because of
my pride in being able to recite Ram Raksha with correct pronunciation.
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 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 Tulsidas
as the greatest book in all devotional literature.
A few months after this we came to Rajkot. There was no Ramayana reading there.
The Bhagavat, however, used to be read on every Ekadashi/1/ day. Sometimes I attended the
reading, but the reciter was uninspiring. Today I see that the Bhagavat is a book which can evoke
religious fervour. I have read it in Gujarati with intense interest. But when I heard portions of the
original read by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya during my twenty-one days’ fast, I wished I had
heard it in my childhood from such a devotee as he is, so that I could have formed a liking for it at
an early age. Impressions formed at that age strike roots deep down into one’s nature, and it is
my perpetual regret that I was not fortunate enough to hear more good books of this kind read
during that period.
In Rajkot, however, I got an early grounding in toleration for all branches of Hinduism and sister
religions. For my father and mother would visit the Haveli as also Shiva’s and Rama’s temples,
and would take or send us youngsters there. Jain monks also would pay frequent visits to my
father, and would even go out of their way to accept food from us–non-Jains. They would have
talks with my father on subjects religious and mundane.
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 that 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,
/2/ 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 meateating.
Manusmritiseemed 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
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
/1/ Eleventh day of the bright and the dark half of a lunar month.
/2/ Laws of Manu, a Hindu law-giver. They have the sanction of religion.
11. PREPARATION FOR ENGLAND
I passed the matriculation examination in 1887. It then used to be held at two centres,
Ahmedabad and Bombay. The general poverty of the country naturally led Kathiawad students to
prefer the nearer and the cheaper centre. The poverty of my family likewise dictated to me the
same choice. This was my first journey from Rajkot to Ahmedabad, and that too without a
My elders wanted me to pursue my studies at college after the matriculation. There was a
college in Bhavnagar as well as in Bombay, and as the former was cheaper, I decided to go there
and join the Samaldas College. I went, but found myself entirely at sea. Everything was difficult. I
could not follow, let alone taking interest in, the professors’ lectures. It was no fault of theirs. The
professors in that College were regarded as first-rate. But I was so raw. At the end of the first
term, I returned home.
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 Samaldas College, he said: ‘The times are
changed. And none of you can expect to succeed to your father’s gadi [=position, lit. ‘throne’]
without having had a proper education. Now as this boy is still pursuing his studies, you should all
look to him to keep the gadi. It will take him four or five years to get his B.A. degree, which will at
best qualify him for a sixty rupees’ post, not for a Diwanship. If like my son he went in for law, it
would take him longer still, by which time there would be a host of lawyers aspiring for a Diwan’s
post. I would far rather that you sent him to England. My son Kevalram says it is very easy to
become a barrister. In three years’ time he will return. Also, expenses will not exceed four to five
thousand rupees. Think of that barrister who has just come back from England. How stylishly he
lives! He could get the Diwanship for the asking. I would strongly advise you to send Mohandas to
England this very year. Kevalram has numerous friends in England. He will give notes of
introduction to them, and Mohandas will have an easy time of it there.’
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 England than study here?’ Nothing could have been more
welcome to me. I was fighting shy of my difficult studies. So I jumped at the proposal, and said
that the sooner I was sent the better. It was no easy business to pass examinations quickly.
Could I not be sent to qualify for the medical profession?
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
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 England. Be sure to let me know if I can assist in any way.’
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 surely 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 Porbandar State.
Mr. Lely is the Administrator. He thinks highly of our family, and uncle is in his good books. It is
just possible that he might recommend you for some State help for your education in England.
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 England, which completely possessed me. I
hired a bullock-cart as far as Dhoraji, and from Dhoraji I took a camel in order to get to Porbandar
a day quicker. This was my first camel-ride.
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 England without prejudice to one’s
own religion. From all I have heard, I have my doubts. When I meet these big barristers, I see no
difference between their life and that of Europeans. They know no scruples regarding food.
Cigars are never out of their mouths. They dress as shamelessly as Englishmen. All that would
not be in keeping with our family tradition. I am shortly going on a pilgrimage and have not many
years to live. At the threshold of death, how dare I give you permission to go to England, to cross
the seas? But I will not stand in your way. It is your mother’s permission which really matters. If
she permits you, then godspeed! Tell her I will not interfere. You will go with my blessings.’
‘I could expect nothing more from you,’ said I. ‘I shall now try to win mother over. But would you
not recommend me to Mr. Lely?
‘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 England, which was in his opinion an irreligious
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. first 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 Rajkot from Porbandar and reported all that had happened. I consulted Joshiji,
who of course advised even incurring a debt if necessary. I suggested the disposal of my wife’s
ornaments, which could fetch about two to three thousand rupees. My brother promised to find
the money somehow.
My mother, however, was still unwilling. She had begun making minute inquiries. Someone
had told her that young men got lost in England. Someone else had said that they took to meat;
and yet another that they could not live there without liquor. ‘How about all this?’ she asked me. I
said: ‘Will you not trust me? I shall not lie to you. I swear that I shall not touch any of those things.
If there were any such danger, would Joshiji let me go?’
‘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
Rajkot to go to England. I had written out a few words of thanks. But I could scarcely stammer
them out. I remember how my head reeled and how my whole frame shook as I stood up to read
With the blessings of my elders, I started for Bombay. This was my first journey from Rajkot to
Bombay. My brother accompanied me. But there is many a slip, ‘twixt the cup and the lip. There
were difficulties to be faced in Bombay.
With my mother’s permission and blessings, I set off exultantly for Bombay, leaving my wife
with a baby of a few months. But on arrival there, friends told my brother that the Indian Ocean
was rough in June and July, and as this was my first voyage, I should not be allowed to sail until
November. Someone also reported that a steamer had just been sunk in a gale. This made my
brother uneasy, and he refused to take the risk of allowing me to sail immediately. Leaving me
with a friend in Bombay, he returned to Rajkot to resume his duty. He put the money for my
travelling expenses in the keeping of a brother-in-law, and left word with some friends to give me
whatever help I might need.
Time hung heavily on my hands in Bombay. I dreamt continually of going to England.
Meanwhile my caste-people were agitated over my going abroad. No Modh Bania had been to
England up to now, and if I dared to do so, I ought to be brought to book! A general meeting of
the caste was called and I was summoned to appear before it. I went. How I suddenly managed
to muster up courage I do not know. Nothing daunted, and without the slightest hesitation, I came
before the meeting. The Sheth–the headman of the community–who was distantly related to me
and had been on very good terms with my father, thus accosted me:
‘In the opinion of the caste, your proposal to go to England is not proper. Our religion forbids
voyages abroad. We have also heard that it is not possible to live there without compromising our
religion. One is obliged to eat and drink with Europeans!’
To which I replied: ‘I do not think it is at all against our religion to go to England. I intend going
there for further studies. And I have solemnly promised to my mother to abstain from three things
you fear most. I am sure the vow will keep me safe.’
‘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 these relations,’ said I. ‘And you are as an elder to me. But I am helpless in this matter.
I cannot alter my resolve to go to England. My father’s friend and adviser, who is a learned
Brahman, sees no objection to my going to England, and my mother and brother have also given
me their permission.’
‘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 England, for being called to the bar, by a boat sailing on the 4th of September. I met the friends
to whose care my brother had commended me. They also agreed that I should not let go the
opportunity of going in such company. There was no time to be lost. I wired to my brother for
permission, which he granted. I asked my brother-in-law to give me the money. But he referred to
the order of the Sheth and said that he could not afford to lose caste. I then sought a friend of the
family and requested him to accommodate me to the extent of my passage and sundries, and to
recover the loan from my brother. The friend was not only good enough to accede to my request,
but he cheered me up as well. I was so thankful. With part of the money I at once purchased the
passage. Then I had to equip myself for the voyage. There was another friend who had
experience in the matter. He got clothes and other things ready. Some of the clothes I liked and
some I did not like at all. The necktie, which I delighted in wearing later, I then abhorred. The
short jacket I looked upon as immodest. But this dislike was nothing before the desire to go to
England, which was uppermost in me. Of provisions also I had enough and to spare for the
voyage. A berth was reserved for me by my friends in the same cabin as that of Sjt. Tryambakrai
Mazmudar, the Junagadh vakil. They also commended me to him. He was an experienced man
of mature age and knew the world. I was yet a stripling of eighteen without any experience of the
world. Sjt. Mazmudar told my friends not to worry about me.
I sailed at last from Bombay on the 4th of September.
13. IN LONDON AT LAST
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 Bay of Biscay. And it is so cold in England that one cannot possibly live there without meat.’
‘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 to India than eat meat in order to remain there.’
We entered the Bay of Biscay, but I did not begin to feel the need either of meat or liquor. I had
been advised to collect certificates of my having abstained from meat, and I asked the English
friend to give me one. He gladly gave it, and I treasured it for some time. But when I saw later that
one could get such a certificate in spite of being a meat-eater, it lost all its charm for me. If my
word was not to be trusted, where was the use of possessing a certificate in the matter?
However, we reached Southampton, as far as I remember, on a Saturday. On the boat I had
worn a black suit, the white flannel one which my friends had got me having been kept especially
for wearing when I landed. I had thought that white clothes would suit me better when I stepped
ashore, and therefore I did so in white flannels. Those were the last days of September, and I
found I was the only person wearing such clothes. I left in charge of an agent of Grindlay and Co.
all my kit, including the keys, seeing that many others had done the same and I must follow suit.
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 Victoria
Hotel in London. Sjt. Mazmudar and I accordingly went there. The shame of being the only
person in white clothes was already too much for me. And when at the hotel I was told that I
should not get my things from Grindlay’s the next day, it being a Sunday, I was exasperated.
Dr. Mehta, to whom I had wired from Southampton, called at about eight o’clock the same
evening. He gave me a hearty greeting. He smiled at my being in flannels. As we were talking, I
casually picked up his top-hat, and trying to see how smooth it was, passed my hand over it the
wrong way and disturbed the fur. Dr. Mehta looked somewhat angrily at what I was doing and
stopped me. But the mischief had been done. The incident was a warning for the future. This was
my first lesson in European etiquette, into the details of which Dr. Mehta humourously initiated
me. ‘Do not touch other people’s things,’ he said. ‘Do not ask questions as we usually do in India
on first acquaintance; do not talk loudly; never address people as ‘sir’ whilst speaking to them as
we do in India; only servants and subordinates address their masters that way.’ And so on and so
forth. He also told me that it was very expensive to live in a hotel and recommended that I should
live with a private family. We deferred consideration of the matter until Monday.
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 Malta who had become friends with Sjt.
Mazmudar, and as he was not a stranger to London, he offered to find rooms for us. We agreed,
and on Monday, as soon as we got our baggage, we paid up our bills and went to the rooms
rented for us by the Sindhi friend. I remember my hotel bill came to £3, an amount which shocked
me. And I had practically starved in spite of this heavy bill! For I could relish nothing. When I did
not like one thing, I asked for another, but had to pay for both just the same. The fact is that all
this while I had depended on the provisions which I had brought with me from Bombay.
I was very uneasy even in the new rooms. I would continually think of my home and country.
My mother’s love always haunted 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. England I could not
bear, but to return to India was not to be thought of. Now that I had come, I must finish the three
years, said the inner voice.
14. MY CHOICE
Dr. Mehta went on Monday to the Victoria Hotel, expecting to find me there. He discovered
that we had left, got our new address, and met me at our rooms. Through sheer folly I had
managed to get ringworm on the boat. For washing and bathing we used to have sea-water, in
which soap is not soluble. I, however, used soap, taking its use to be a sign of civilization, with
the result that instead of cleaning the skin it made it greasy. This gave me ringworm. I showed it
to Dr. Mehta, who told me to apply acetic acid. I remember how the burning acid made me cry.
Dr. Mehta inspected my room and its appointments and shook his head in disapproval. ‘This
place won’t do,’ he said. ‘We come to England not so much for the purpose of studies as for
gaining experience of English life and customs. And for this you need to live with a family. But
before you do so, I think you had better serve a period of apprenticeship with —- . I will take you
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 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 vow in law. It is pure superstition to sick 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 meat. 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 surprise. 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 England.
That is how I served my apprenticeship for a month. The friend’s house was in Richmond, and
it was not possible to go to London more than once or twice a week. Dr. Mehta and Sjt.
Dalpatram Shukla therefore decided that I should be put with some family. Sjt. Shukla hit upon an
Anglo-Indian’s house in West Kensington and placed me there. The landlady was a widow. I told
her about my vow. The old lady promised to look after me properly, and I took up my residence in
the house. Here too I practically had to starve. I had sent for sweets and other eatables from
home, but nothing had yet come. Everything was insipid. Every day the old lady asked me
whether I liked the food, but what could she do? I was still as shy as ever and dared not ask for
more than was put before me. She had two daughters. They insisted on serving me with an extra
slice or two of bread. But little did they know that nothing less than a loaf would have filled me.
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 India I had never read a newspaper. But here I
succeeded in cultivating a liking for them by regular reading. I always glanced over The Daily
News, The Daily Telegraph, and The Pall Mall Gazette. This took me hardly an hour. I therefore
began to wander about. I launched out in search of a vegetarian restaurant. The landlady had told
me that there were such places in the city. I would trot ten or twelve miles each day, go into a
cheap restaurant and eat my fill of bread, but would never be satisfied. During these wanderings I
once hit on a vegetarian restaurant in Farringdon Street. The sight of it filled me with the same joy
that a child feels on getting a thing after its own heart. Before I entered I noticed books for sale
exhibited under a glass window near the door. I saw among them Salt’s Plea for Vegetarianism.
This I purchased for a shilling and went straight to the dining room. This was my first hearty meal
since my arrival in England. God had come to my aid.
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.
15. PLAYING THE ENGLISH GENTLEMAN
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 vegetarianism and read them. One of these,
Howard Williams’ The Ethics of Diet, was a ‘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
Victoria Hotel. The stay at that hotel had scarcely been a helpful experience, for I had not lived
there with my wits about me. The friend had planned to take me to this restaurant, evidently
imagining that modesty would forbid any questions. And it was a very big company of diners, in
the midst of which my friend and I sat sharing a table between us. The first course was soup. I
wondered what it might be made of, but durst [=dared] not ask the friend about it. I therefore
summoned the waiter. My friend saw the movement and sternly asked across the table what was
the matter. With considerable hesitation I told him that I wanted to inquire if the soup was a
vegetable soup. ‘You are too clumsy for decent society,’ he passionately exclaimed. ‘If you cannot
behave yourself, you had better go. Feed in some other restaurant and await me outside.’ This
delighted me. Out I went. There was a vegetarian restaurant close by, but it was closed. So I
went without food that night. I accompanied my friend to the theatre, but he never said a word
about the scene I had created. On my part of course there was nothing to say.
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 society. And for this purpose I undertook the all too
impossible task of becoming an English gentleman.
The clothes after the Bombay cut that I was wearing were, I thought, unsuitable for English
society, and I got new ones at the Army and Navy Stores. I also went in for a chimney-pot hat
costing nineteen shillings–an excessive price in those days. Not content with this, I wasted ten
pounds on an evening suit made in Bond Street, the centre of fashionable life in London; and got
my good and noble-hearted brother to send me a double watch-chain of gold. It was not correct to
wear a ready-made tie, and I learnt the art of tying one for myself. While in India, the mirror had
been a luxury permitted on the days when the family barber gave me a shave. Here I wasted ten
minutes every day before a huge mirror, watching myself arranging my tie and parting my hair in
the correct fashion. My hair was by no means soft, and every day it meant a regular struggle with
the brush to keep it in position. Each time the hat was put on and off, the hand would
automatically move towards the head to adjust the hair, not to mention the other civilized habit of
the hand every now and then operating for the same purpose when sitting in polished society.
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 neighbouring France, but it was thelingua franca of the Continent over which I had a
desire to travel. I decided to take dancing lessons at a class and paid down £3 as fees for a term.
I must have taken about six lessons in three weeks. But it was beyond me to achieve anything
like rhythmic motion. I could not follow the piano and hence found it impossible to keep time.
What then was I to do? The recluse in the fable kept a cat to keep off the rats, and then a cow to
feed the cat with milk, and a man to keep the cow and so on. My ambitions also grew like the
family of the recluse. I thought I should learn to play the violin in order to cultivate an ear for
Western music. So I invested £3 in a violin and something more in fees. I sought a third teacher
to give me lessons in elocution and paid him a preliminary fee of a guinea. He recommended
Bell’s Standard Elocutionist as the text book, which I purchased. And I began with a speech of
But Mr. Bell rang the bell of alarm in my ear and I awoke.
I had not to spend a lifetime in England, I said to myself. What then was the use of learning
elocution? And how could dancing make a gentleman of me? The violin I could learn even in
India. I was a student and ought to go on with my studies. I should qualify myself to join the Inns
of Court. If my character made a gentleman of me, so much the better. Otherwise I should forego
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 ideal. 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
infatuations 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 caused through a false sense of
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 England and gave me a fairly strong body.
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 [=that I failed]
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 India, and so I had selected it for the London Matriculation. This time, however, I chose Heat
and Light instead of Chemistry. It was said to be easy and I found it to be so.
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 coca 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.
17. EXPERIMENTS IN DIETETICS
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 medial 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 had 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 England with a weekly journal of its own. I subscribed to the weekly,
joined the society, and very shortly found myself on the Executive Committee. Here I came in
contact with those who were regarded as pillars of vegetarianism, and began my own
experiments in dietetics.
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 Richmond tasted insipid, cooked without condiments. Many such experiments taught me
that the real seat of taste was not the tongue but the mind.
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 produced six-penny
dinners of three courses with a slice of bread. In my days of strict frugality I usually dined in the
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 experiment 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 [=subtle] point underlying the argument, and worth noting. I came across three
definitions of meat in England. According to the first, meat denoted only the flesh of birds and
beasts. Vegetarians who accepted that definition abjured the flesh of birds and beasts, but ate
fish, not to mention eggs. According to the second definition, meat meant flesh of all living
creatures. So fish was here out of the question, but eggs were allowed. The third definition
included under meat the flesh of living beings, as well as all their products, thus covering eggs
and milk alike. If I accepted the first definition, I could take not only eggs, but fish also. But I was
convinced that my mother’s definition was the definition binding on me. If, therefore, I would
observe the vow I had taken, I must abjure eggs. I therefore did so. This was a hardship,
inasmuch as inquiry showed that even in vegetarian restaurants many courses used to contain
eggs. This meant that unless I knew what was what, I had to go through the awkward process of
ascertaining whether a particular course contained eggs or no, for many puddings and cakes
were not free from them. But though the revelation of my duty caused this difficulty, it simplified
my food. The simplification in its turn brought me annoyance, in that I had to give up several
dishes I had come to relish. These difficulties were only passing, for the strict observance of the
vow produced an inward relish distinctly more healthy, delicate, and permanent.
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 England were conducted from the point of view of economy and hygiene.
The religious aspect of the question was not considered until I went to South Africa, where I
undertook strenuous experiments which will be narrated later. The seed, however, for all of them
was sown in England.
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 England, and likewise for me, because, as we have seen, I
had gone there a convinced meat-eater, and was intellectually converted to vegetarianism later.
Full of the neophyte’s zeal for vegetarianism, I decided to start a vegetarian club in my locality,
Bayswater. I invited Sir Edwin Arnold, who lived there, to be Vice-President. Dr. Oldfield, who was
Editor of The Vegetarian, became President. I myself became the Secretary. The club went well
for a while, but came to an end in the course of a few months. For I left the locality, according to
my custom of moving from place to place periodically. But this brief and modest experience gave
me some little training in organizing and conducting institutions.
18. SHYNESS MY SHIELD
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 it 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. Allison’s views regarding artificial methods of birth control as
dangerous, and I believe that Mr. Hills was entitled, as a puritan, to oppose him. I had 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 England. Even when I paid a social call, the
presence of half a dozen or more people would strike me dumb.
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 watering-place. 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 England was on the eve of my departure for home.
But this time too I only succeeded in making myself ridiculous. I invited my vegetarian friends to
dinner in the Holborn Restaurant referred to in these chapters. ‘A vegetarian dinner could be had,’
I said to myself, ‘in vegetarian restaurants as a matter of course. But why should it not be
possible in a non-vegetarain restaurant too?’ And I arranged with the manager of the Holborn
Restaurant to provide a strictly vegetarian meal. The vegetarians hailed the new experiment with
delight. All dinners are meant for enjoyment, but the West has developed the thing into an art.
They are celebrated with great eclat, music and speeches. And the little dinner party that I gave
was also not unaccompanied by some such display. Speeches, therefore, there had to be. When
my turn for speaking came, I stood up to make a speech. I had with great care thought out one
which would consist of a very few sentences. But I could not proceed beyond the first sentence. I
had read of Addison that he began his maiden speech in the House of Commons, repeating ‘I
conceive’ three times, and when he could proceed no further, a wag stood up and said, ‘The
gentleman conceived thrice but brought forth nothing.’ I had thought of making a humorous
speech taking this anecdote as the text. I therefore began with it and stuck there. My memory
entirely failed me and in attempting a humorous speech I made myself ridiculous. ‘I thank you,
gentlemen, for having kindly responded to my invitation,’ I said abruptly, and sat down.
It was only in South Africa that I got over this shyness, though I never completely overcame it.
It was impossible for me to speak impromptu. I hesitated whenever I had to face strange
audiences, and avoided making a speech whenever I could. Even today I do not think I could or
would even be inclined to keep a meeting of friends engaged in idle talk.
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 any 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.
19. THE CANKER OF UNTRUTH
There were comparatively few Indian students in England forty years ago. It was a practice
with them to affect the [role of] bachelor even though they might be married. School or college
students in England are all bachelors, studies being regarded as incompatible with married life.
We had that tradition in the good old days, a student then being invariably known as
a brahmachari./1/ But in these days we have child-marriages, a thing practically unknown in
England. Indian youths in England, therefore, felt ashamed to confess that they were married.
There was also another reason for dissembling, namely, that in the event of the fact being known
it would be impossible for the young men to go about or flirt with the young girls of the family in
which they lived. The flirting was more or less innocent. Parents even encouraged it; and that sort
of association between young men and young women may even be a necessity there, in view of
the fact that every young man has to choose his mate. If, however, Indian youths, on arrival in
England, indulge in these relations quite natural to English youths, the result is likely to be
disastrous, as has often been found. I saw that our youths had succumbed to the temptation and
chosen a life of untruth for the sake of companionships which, however innocent in the case of
English youths, were for them undesirable. I too caught the contagion. I did not hesitate to pass
myself off as a bachelor, though I was married and the father of a son. But I was none the happier
for being a dissembler. Only my reserve and my reticence saved me from going into deeper
waters. If I did not talk, no girl would think it worth her while to enter into conversation with me or
to go out with me.
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 Brighton, another watering-place like Ventnor. This was before the
Ventnor visit. I met there at a hotel an old widow of moderate means. This was my first year in
England. The courses on the menu were all described in French, which I did not understand. I sat
at the same table as the old lady. She saw that I was a stranger and puzzled, and immediately
came to my aid. ‘You seem to be a stranger,’ she said, ‘and look perplexed. Why have you not
ordered anything?’ I was spelling through the menu and preparing to ascertain the ingredients of
the courses from the waiter, when the good lady thus intervened. I thanked her, and explaining
my difficulty told her that I was at a loss to know which of the courses were vegetarian, as I did
not understand French.
‘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 England and long after. She gave me her
London address, and invited me to dine at her house every Sunday. On special occasions also
she would invite me, help me to conquer my bashfulness, and introduce me to young ladies and
draw me into conversation with them. Particularly marked out for these conversation was a young
lady who stayed with her, and often we would be left entirely alone together.
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 wish I had told the good lady that I was married!’ I said to myself.
‘She would then not have 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 Brighton you have been kind to me. You have taken care of me even as
a mother of her son. You also think that I should get married, and with that view you have been
introducing me to young ladies. Rather than allow matters to go further, I must confess to you that
I have been unworthy of your affection. I should have told you when I began my visits to you that I
was married. I knew that Indian students in England dissembled the fact of their marriage, and I
followed suit. I now see that I should not have done so. I must also add that I was married while
yet a boy, and am the father of a son. I am pained that I should have kept this knowledge from
you so long. But I am glad God has now given me the courage to speak out the truth. Will you
forgive me? I assure you I have taken no improper liberties with the young lady you were good
enough to introduce to me. I knew my limits. You, not knowing that I was married, naturally
desired that we should be engaged. In order that things should not go beyond the present stage, I
must tell you the truth.
‘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.
/1/ One who observes brahmacharya, i.e., complete self-restraint. (See *Chapter 7, Note 2*.)
20. ACQUAINTANCE WITH RELIGIONS
Towards the end of my second year in England I came across two Theosophists, brothers,
and both unmarried. They talked to me about the Gita. They were reading Sir Edwin Arnold’s
translatio–The Song Celestial–and they invited me to read the original with them. I felt ashamed,
as I had read the divine poem neither in Sanskrit nor in Gujarati. I was constrained to tell them
that I had not read the Gita, but that I would gladly read it with them, and that though my
knowledge of Sanskrit was meagre, still I hoped to be able to understand the original to the extent
of telling where the translation failed to bring out the meaning. I began reading the Gita with them.
The verses in the second chapter
Ponders on objects of the sense, there springs
Attraction; from attraction grows desire,
Desire flames to fierce passion, passion breeds
Recklessness; then the memory–all betrayed–
Lets noble purpose go, and saps the mind,
Till purpose, mind, and man are all undone
made a deep impression on my mind, and they still ring in my ears.
The book struck me as one of
priceless worth. The impression has ever since been growing on me, with the result that I regard
it today as the bookpar excellence for the knowledge of Truth. It has afforded me invaluable help
in my moments of gloom. I have read almost all the English translations of it, and I regard Sir
Edwin Arnold’s as the best. He has been faithful to the text, and yet it does not read like a
translation. Though I read the Gita with these friends, I cannot pretend to have studied it then. It
was only after some years that it became a book of daily reading.
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 Manchester in a vegetarian boarding house.
He talked to me about Christianity. I narrated to him my Rajkot recollections. He was pained to
hear them. He said, ‘I am a vegetarian. I do not drink. Many Christians are meat-eaters and drink,
no doubt; but neither meat-eating nor drinking is enjoined by Scripture. Do please read the Bible.’
I accepted his advice, and he got me a copy. I have a faint recollection that he himself used to
sell copies of the Bible, and I purchased from him an edition containing maps, concordance, and
other aids. I began reading it, but I could not possibly read through the Old Testament. I read the
book of Genesis, and the chapters that followed invariably sent me to sleep. But just for the sake
of being able to say that I had read it, I plodded through the other books with much difficulty, and
without the least interest or understanding. I disliked reading the book of Numbers.
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 [=cloak] 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 crossed the Sahara of atheism. Mrs. Besant, who was then very much in
the limelight, had turned to theism from atheism, and that fact also strengthened my aversion to
atheism. I had read her book How I became a Theosophist.
It was about this time that Bradlaugh died. He was buried in the Woking Cemetery. I attended
the funeral, as I believe every Indian residing in London did. A few clergymen also were present
to do him the last honours. On our way back from the funeral we had to wait at the station for our
train. A champion atheist from the crowd heckled one of these clergymen. ‘Well, sir, you believe
in the existence of God?’
‘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.
‘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.
21. ‘NIRBAL KE BALA RAMA’
/1/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 trials. 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 England that I first discovered the futility of mere religious knowledge. How I was
saved on previous occasions is more than I can say, for I was very young then; but now I was
twenty and had gained some experience as husband and father.
During the last year, as far as I can remember, of my stay in England, that is in 1890, there
was a Vegetarian Conference at Portsmouth to which an Indian friend and I were invited.
Portsmouth is a sea-port with a large naval population. It has many houses with women of ill
fame, women not actually prostitutes, but at the same time not very scrupulous about their
morals. We were put up in one of these houses. Needless to say, the Reception Committee did
not know anything about it. It would have been difficult in a town like Portsmouth to find out which
were good lodgings and which were bad for occasional travellers like us.
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 customary in England even in respectable households.
Every player indulges in innocent jokes as a matter of course, but here my companion and our
hostess began to make indecent ones as well. I did not know that my friend was an adept in the
art. It captured me and I also joined in. Just when I was about to go beyond the limit, leaving the
cards and the game to themselves, God through the good companion uttered the blessed
warning: ‘Whence this devil in you, my boy? Be off, quick!’
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 somehow
leave Portsmouth. The Conference was not to go on for more than two days, and I remember I
left Portsmouth the next evening, my companion staying there some time longer.
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 fail 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 in itself independent of any sensuous [=sensory] effort. I have not the slightest doubt that
prayer is an unfailing means of cleansing the heart of passions. But it must be combined with the
/1/ ‘Nirbal ke bala Rama’–Refrain of Surdas’ famous hymn, ‘He is the help of the helpless, the strength of
22. NARAYAN HEMCHANDRA
Just about this time Narayan Hemchandra came to England. I had heard of him as a writer.
We met at the house of Miss Manning of the National Indian Association. Miss Manning knew that
I could not make myself sociable. When I went to her place I used to sit tongue-tied, never
speaking except when spoken to. She introduced me to Narayan Hemchandra. He did not know
English. His dress was queer–a clumsy pair of trousers, a wrinkled, dirty brown coat after the
Parsi fashion, no necktie or collar, and a tasselled woollen cap. He grew a long beard.
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
‘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 Store Street.’
‘Then we are neighbours. I want to learn English. Will you teach me?’
‘I shall be happy to teach you anything I can, and will try my best. If you like, I will go to your
‘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 been to school like you. I have never felt the
need of grammar in expressing my thoughts. Well, do you know Bengali? I know it. I have
travelled in Bengal. It is I who have given Maharshi Devendranath Tagore’s works to the Gujaratispeaking
world. And I wish to translate into Gujarati the treasures of many other languages. And
you know I am never literal in my translations. I always content myself with bringing out the spirit.
Others, with their better knowledge, may be able to do more in future. But I am quite satisfied with
what I have achieved without the help of grammar. I know Marathi, Hindi, Bengali, and now I have
begun to know English. What I want is a copious vocabulary. And do you think my ambition ends
here? No fear. I want to go to France and learn French. I am told that language has an extensive
literature. I shall go to Germany also, if possible, and there learn German.’ And thus he would talk
on unceasingly. He had a boundless ambition for learning languages and for foreign travel.
‘Then you will go to America also?’
‘Certainly. How can I return to India without having seen the New World?’
‘But where will you find the money?’
‘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 America also I
shall travel on deck.’
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 I would got to his room, and
sometimes he would come to mine. I cooked in the English style. Nothing but Indian style would
satisfy him. He could 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,/1/ 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 have 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 what he spoke in Gujarati.
‘I am glad you have come. I hope your stay in London will agree with you and that you will get
in touch with people here. God bless you.’
With these words the Cardinal stood up and said good-bye.
23. THE GREAT EXHIBITION
There was a great Exhibition at Paris in 1890. I had read about its elaborate preparations, and
I also had a keen desire to see Paris. So I thought I had better combine two things in one, and go
there at this juncture. A particular attraction of the Exhibition was the Eiffel Tower, constructed
entirely of iron, and nearly 1,000 feet high. There were of course many other things of interest,
but the Tower was the chief one, inasmuch as it had been supposed till then that a structure of
that height could not safely stand.
I had heard of a vegetarian restaurant in Paris. I engaged a room there and stayed seven days.
I managed everything very economically, both the journey to Paris and the sight-seeing there.
This I did mostly on foot and with the help of a map of Paris, as also a map of and guide to the
Exhibition. These were enough to direct one to the main streets and chief places of interest.
I remember nothing of the Exhibition excepting its magnitude and variety. I have a fair
recollection of the Eiffel Tower, as I ascended it twice or thrice. There was a restaurant on the first
platform, and just for the satisfaction of being able to say that I had had my lunch at a great
height, I threw away seven shillings on it.
The ancient churches of Paris are still in my memory. Their grandeur and their peacefulness
are unforgettable. The wonderful construction of Notre Dame, and the elaborate decoration of the
interior with its beautiful sculptures, cannot be forgotten. I felt then that those who expended
millions on such divine cathedrals could not but have the love of God in their hearts.
I had read a lot about the fashions and frivolity of Paris. These were in evidence in every street,
but the churches stood noticeably apart from these scenes. A man would forget the outside noise
and bustle as soon as he entered one of these churches. His manner would change, he would
behave with dignity and reverence as he passed someone kneeling before the image of the
Virgin. The feeling I had then has since been growing on me, that all this kneeling and prayer
could not be mere superstition; the devout souls kneeling before the Virgin could not be
worshipping mere marble. They were fired with genuine devotion and they worshipped not stone,
but the divinity of which it was symbolic. I have an impression that I felt then that by this worship
they were not detracting from, but increasing, the glory of God.
I must say a word about the Eiffel Tower. I do not know what purpose it serves today. But I
then heard it greatly disparaged as well as praised. I remember that Tolstoy was the chief among
those who disparaged it. He said that the Eiffel Tower was a monument of man’s folly, not of his
wisdom. Tobacco, he argued, was the worst of all intoxicants, inasmuch as a man addicted to it
was tempted to commit crimes which a drunkard never dared to do; liquor made a man mad, but
tobacco clouded his intellect and made him build castles in the air. The Eiffel Tower was one of
the creations of a man under such influence. There is no art about the Eiffel Tower. In no way can
it be said to have contributed to the real beauty of the Exhibition. Men flocked to see it and
ascended it, as it was a novelty and of unique dimensions. It was the toy of the Exhibition. So
long as we are children we are attracted by toys, and the Tower was a good demonstration of the
fact that we are all children attracted by trinkets. That may be claimed to be the purpose served
by the Eiffel Tower.
24. ‘CALLED’ —BUT THEN?
I have deferred saying anything up to now about the purpose for which I went to England, viz.,
being called to the bar. It is time to advert to it briefly.
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 everyone 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 India it is a matter for
surprise, if we are not ‘civilized’, that the cost of drink should exceed the cost of food. The first
revelation gave me a great shock, and I wondered how people had the heart to throw away so
much money on drink. Later I came to understand. I often ate nothing at these dinners, for the
things that I might eat were only bread, boiled potato, and cabbage. In the beginning I did not eat
these, as I did not like them; and later, when I began to relish them, I also gained the courage to
ask for other dishes.
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 were allowed to each group of four, and as I did not touch them, I was ever
in demand to form a quartet, so that three might empty two bottles. And there was a ‘grand night’
in each term when extra wines, like champagne, in addition to port and sherry, were served. I was
therefore specially requested to attend and was in great demand on that grand night.
I could not 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 England retained it nevertheless.
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 anyone 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 South Africa, where Roman
Dutch is the common law. The reading of Justinian, therefore, helped me a great deal in
understanding the South African law.
It took me nine months of fairly hard labour to read through the Common Law of England. For
Broom’sCommon 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 Leading Cases,
from which certain cases were prescribed, was full of interest and instruction. I read also with
interest Williams’ and Edward’s Real Property and Goodeve’sPersonal Property. Williams’ book
read like a novel. The one book I remember to have read, on my return to India, with the same
unflagging interest, was Mayne’s Hindu Law. But it is out of place to talk here of Indian law books.
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 I 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.
25. MY HELPLESSNESS
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 leant the art in England? It was out of the question for me ever to acquire his legal
acumen, but I had serious misgivings as to whether I should be able even to earn a living by the
I was torn with these doubts and anxieties whilst I was studying law. I confided my difficulties 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 England, I possessed a note of introduction to Dadabhai. I
availed myself of it very late. I thought I had no right to trouble such a great man for an interview.
Whenever an address by him was announced, I would attend it, listen to him from a corner of the
hall, and go away after having feasted my eyes and ears. In order to come in close touch with the
students, he had founded an association. I used to attend its meetings, and rejoiced at
Dadabhai’s solicitude for the students, and the latter’s respect for him. In course of time I
mustered up courage to present to him the note of introduction. He said: ‘You can come and have
my advice whenever you like.’ But I never availed myself of his offer. I thought it wrong to trouble
him without the most pressing necessity. Therefore I dared not venture to accept my friend’s
advice to submit my difficulties to Dadabhai at that time. I forget now whether it was the same
friend or someone else who recommended me to meet Mr. Frederick Pincutt. He was a
Conservative, but his affectation for Indian students was pure and unselfish. Many students
sought his advice, and I also applied to him for an appointment, which he granted. I can never
forget that interview. He greeted me as a friend. He laughed away my pessimism. ‘Do you think,’
he said, ‘that everyone must be a Pherozeshah Mehta? Pherozeshahs and Badruddins are rare.
Rest assured it takes no unusual skill to be an ordinary lawyer. Common honesty and industry
are enough to enable him to make a living. All cases are not complicated. Well, let me know the
extent of your general reading.’
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 hisory of India. A vakil should know
human nature. He should be able to read a man’s character from his face. And every Indian
ought to know Indian History. This has no connection with the practice of law, but you ought to
have that knowledge. I see that you have not even read Kaye’s and Malleson’s history of the
Mutiny of 1857. Get hold of that at once, and also read two more books to understand human
nature.’ These were Lavator’s and Shemmelpennick’s books on physiognomy.
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’s and Malleson’s volumes in England, but I did so in South Africa, as I
had made a point of reading them at the first opportunity.
Thus with just a little leaven of hope mixed with my despair, I landed at Bombay from
S.S. Assam. The sea was rough in the harbour, and I had to reach the quay in a launch.
I said in the last chapter that the sea was rough in Bombay harbour, not an unusual thing in
the Arabian Sea in June and July. It had been choppy all the way from Aden. Almost every
passenger was sick; I alone was in perfect form, staying on deck to see the stormy surge, and
enjoying the splash of the waves. At breakfast there would be just one or two people besides
myself, eating their oatmeal porridge from plates carefully held in their laps, lest the porridge itself
find its place there.
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 England continued in India, and ripened into a
permanent friendship between the two families.
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 England. He
wanted to spare me the blow in a foreign land. The news, however, was none the less a severe
shock to me. But I must not dwell upon it. My grief was even greater than over my father’s death.
Most of my cherished hopes were shattered. But I remember that I did not give myself up to any
wild expression of grief. I could even check the tears, and took to life just as though nothing had
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
aShatavadhani (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 selfrealization.
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 transactions, 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 [the] 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/1/ 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 hisUnto this Last. But of these more in their proper
/1/ A knowing one, a seer.
2. HOW I BEGAN LIFE
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 Nasik before going to Rajkot, gave me a bath in
the sacred river, and on reaching Rajkot gave a caste dinner. I did not like all this. But my
brother’s love for me was boundless, and my devotion to him was in proportion to it, and so I
mechanically acted as he wished, taking his will to be law. The trouble about readmission to the
caste was thus practically over.
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 caste-men, they would surely have retaliated; and instead of
steering clear of the storm, I should, on arrival from England, have found myself in a whirlpool of
agitation, and perhaps a party to dissimulation.
My relations with my wife were still not as I desired. Even my stay in England had not cured me
of jealously. I continued my squeamishness and suspiciousness in respect of every little thing,
and hence all my cherished desires remained unfulfilled. I had decided that my wife should learn
reading and writing, and that I should help her in her studies, but my lust came in the way and
she had to suffer for my own shortcoming. Once I went [to] the length of sending her away to her
father’s house, and consented to receive her back only after I had made her thoroughly
miserable. I saw later that all this was pure folly on my part.
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 England was now a boy of nearly four. It was my desire to
teach these little ones physical exercise and make them hardy, and also to give them the benefit
of my personal guidance. In this I had my brother’s support, and I succeeded in my efforts more
or less. I very much liked the company of children, and the habit of playing and joking with them
has stayed with me till today. I have ever since thought that I should make a good teacher of
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 other such 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 Rajkot would
have meant sure ridicule. I had hardly the knowledge of a qualified vakil, and yet I expected to be
paid ten times his fee! No client would be fool enough to engage me. And even if such a one was
to be found, should I add arrogance and fraud to my ignorance, and increase the burden of debt I
owed to the world?
Friends advised me to go to Bombay for some time in order to gain experience of the High
Court, to study Indian law, and to try to get what briefs I could. I took up the suggestion, and went.
In Bombay I started a household with a cook as incompetent as myself. He was a Brahman. I
did not treat him as a servant, but as a member of the household. He would pour water over
himself but never wash. Hisdhoti was dirty, as also his sacred thread, and he was completely
innocent of the scriptures. But how was I to get a better cook?
‘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 Bombay for more than four or five months, there
being no income to square with the ever-increasing expenditure.
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.
3. THE FIRST CASE
Whilst in Bombay I began on the one hand, my study of Indian law, and on the other, my
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 lucky if you can paddle your
own canoe in three years’ time.’
Expenses were mounting up every month. To have a barrister’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’sHindu 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
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 Bombay have gone up frightfully. You must be
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 not 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 South Africa. There was no virtue
in my decision. I had simply made a virtue of necessity. There would be no one so foolish as to
entrust his case to me, only to lose it!
But there was another case in store for me at Bombay. It was a memorial to be drafted. A poor
Mussalman’s land was confiscated in Porbandar. He approached me as the worthy son of a
worthy father. His case appeared to be weak, but I consented to draft a memorial for him, the cost
of printing to be borne by him. I drafted it and read it out to friends. They approved of it, and that
to some extent made me feel confident that I was qualified enough to draft a memorial, as indeed
I really was.
My business could flourish if I drafted memorials without any fees. But that would bring 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 advertisement
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 Bombay. I should settle in
Rajkot where my brother, himself a petty pleader, could give me some work in the shape of
drafting applications and memorials. And then as there was already a household at Rajkot, the
breaking up of the one at Bombay meant a considerable saving. I liked the suggestion. My little
establishment was thus closed after a stay of six months in Bombay.
I used to attend High Court daily whilst in Bombay, but I cannot say that I learnt anything there.
I had not sufficient knowledge to learn much. Often I could not follow the cases, and dozed off.
There were others also who kept me company in this, and thus lightened my load of shame. After
a time, I even lost the sense of shame, as I learnt to think that it was fashionable to doze in the
If the present generation has also its briefless barristers like me in Bombay, I would commend
[to] them a little practical precept about living. Although I lived in Girgaum, I hardly ever took a
carriage or a tramcar. I had made it a rule to walk to the High Court. It took me quite forty-five
minutes, and of course I invariably returned home on foot. I had inured myself to the heat of the
sun. This walk to and from the Court saved a fair amount of money, and when many of my friends
in Bombay used to fall ill, I do not remember having once had an illness. Even when I began to
earn money, I kept up the practice of walking to and from the office, and I am reaping the benefits
of that practice.
4. THE FIRST SHOCK
Disappointed, I left Bombay and went to Rajkot, where I set up my own office. Here I got along
moderately well. Drafting applications and memorials brought me in, on the average, Rs. 300 a
month. For this work I had to thank influence rather than my own ability, for my brother’s partner
had a settled practice. All applications etc. which were, really or to his mind, of an important
character, he sent to big barristers. To my lot fell the applications to be drafted on behalf of his
I must confess that here I had to compromise the principle of giving no commission, which in
Bombay I had so scrupulously observed. I was told that conditions in the two cases were
different; that whilst in Bombay commissions had to be paid to touts, here they had to be paid to
vakils who briefed you; and that here as in Bombay all barristers, without exception, paid a
percentage of their fees as commission. The argument of my brother was, for me, unanswerable.
‘You see,’ said he, ‘that I am in partnership with another vakil. I shall always be inclined to make
over to you all our cases with which you can possibly deal, and if you refuse to pay a commission
to my partner, you are sure to embarrass me. As you and I have a joint establishment, your fee
comes to our common purse, and I automatically get a share. But what about my partner?
Supposing he gave the same case to some other barrister, he would certainly get his commission
from him.’ I was taken in by this plea, and felt that if I was to practise as a barrister, I could not
press my principle regarding commissions in such cases. That is how I argued with myself, or to
put it bluntly, how I deceived myself. Let me add, however, that I do not remember ever to have
given 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,/1/ 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 England, and he may be said to have
been fairly friendly to me. My brother thought that I should avail myself of the friendship and,
putting in a good word on his behalf, try to disabuse the Political Agent of his prejudice. I did not
at all like this idea. I should not, I thought, try to take advantage of a trifling acquaintance in
England. If my brother was really at fault, what use was my recommendation? If he was innocent,
he should submit a petition in the proper course and, confident of his innocence, face the result.
My brother did not relish this advice. ‘You do not know Kathiawad,’ he said, ‘and you have yet to
know the world. Only influence counts here. It is not proper for you, a brother, to shirk your duty,
when you can clearly put in a good word about me to an officer you know.’
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 England; that an officer on leave was not the same as an officer on
duty. The Political Agent owned the acquaintance, but the reminder seemed to stiffen him. ‘Surely
you have not come here to abuse that acquaintance, have you?’ appeared to be the meaning of
that stiffness, and seemed to be written on his brow. Nevertheless I opened my case.
The sahib was impatient. ‘Your brother is an intriguer. I want to hear nothing more from you. I
have no time. If your brother has anything to say, let him apply through the proper channel.’ The
answer was enough, was perhaps deserved. But selfishness is blind. I went on with my story.
The sahib got up and said: ‘You must go now.’
‘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 crestfallen, 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 Rajkot at this time, having come down from Bombay for some case. But how could a
junior barrister like me dare to see him? So I sent him the papers of my case, through the vakil
who had engaged him, and begged for his advice. ‘Tell Gandhi,’ he said, ‘such things are the
common experience of many vakils and barristers. He is still fresh from England, and hotblooded.
He does not know British officers. If he would earn something and have an easy time
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 never been guilty of a breach
of that determination. This shock changed the course of my life.
V. PREPARING FOR SOUTH AFRICA
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 visitors.
The slightest unpleasantness was sure to put thesahib 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.
Porbandar 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 South Africa. Ours is a big firm, and we have a big case there in the Court,
our claim being £40,000. It has been going on for a long time. We have engaged the services of
the best vakils and barristers. If you sent your brother there, he would be useful to us and also to
himself. He would be able to instruct our counsel better than ourselves. And he would have the
advantage of seeing a new part of the world, and of making new acquaintances.’
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 in 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
[=with all living expenses paid by the employer].’
This was hardly going there as a barrister. It was going as a servant of the firm. But I wanted
somehow to leave India. There was also the tempting opportunity of seeing a new country, and of
having new experience. Also I could send £105 to my brother and help in the expenses of the
household. I closed with the offer without any haggling, and got ready to go to South Africa.
VI. ARRIVAL IN NATAL
When starting for South Africa, I did not feel the wrench of separation which I had experienced
when leaving for England. My mother was now no more. I had gained some knowledge of the
world and of travel abroad, and going from Rajkot to Bombay was no unusual affair.
This time I only felt the pang of parting with my wife. Another baby had been born to us since
my return from England. Our love could not yet be called free from lust, but it was getting
gradually purer. Since my return from Europe, we had lived very little together; and as I had now
become her teacher, however indifferent, and helped her to make certain reforms, we both felt the
necessity of being more together, if only to continue reforms. But the attraction of South Africa
rendered the separation bearable. ‘We are bound to meet again in a year,’ I said to her, by way of
consolation, and left Rajkot for Bombay.
Here I was to get my passage through the agent of Dada Abdulla and Co. But no berth was
available on the boat, and if I did not sail then, I should be stranded in Bombay. ‘We have tried
our best,’ said the agent, ‘to secure a first-class passage, but in vain–unless you are prepared to go
on deck. Your meals can be arranged for in the saloon.’ Those were the days of my first class
travelling, and how could a barrister travel as a deck passenger? So I refused the offer. I suspected
the agent’s veracity, for I could not believe that a first class passage was not available. With the
agent’s consent I set about securing it myself. I went on board the boat and met the chief officer.
He said to me quite frankly, ‘We do not usually have such a rush. But as the Governor-General of
Mozambique is going by this boat, all the berths are engaged.’
‘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 ususally 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 South Africa.
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 high 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 Mombasa and then Zanzibar. The halt here was a long one–eight
or ten days–and we then changed to another boat.
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 went ashore in his boat. I had not the
least notion of 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. When the Captain called me I came out just as I had gone in. 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 not
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 claim no credit for having come out unscathed. 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 a good deal by
wandering about the neighbourhood. Only Malabar can give any idea of the luxuriant vegetation
of Zanzibar. I was amazed at the gigantic trees and the size of the fruits.
The next call was at Mozambique, and thence we reached Natal towards the close of May.
7. SOME EXPERIENCES
The port of Natal is Durban, also known as Port Natal. Abdulla Sheth was there to receive me.
As the ship arrived at the quay and I watched the people coming on board to meet their friends, I
observed that the Indians were not held in much respect. I could not fail to notice a sort of
snobbishness about the manner in which those who knew Abdulla Sheth behaved towards him,
and it stung me. Abdulla Sheth had got used to it. Those who looked at me did so with a certain
amount of curiosity. My dress marked me out from other Indians. I had a frock-coat and a turban,
an imitation of the Bengal pugree.
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
Transvaal. There was no meaning in sending me there immediately. And how far could he trust
my ability and honesty? He would not be in Pretoria to watch me. The defendants were in
Pretoria, and for aught he knew they might bring undue influence to bear on me. And if work in
connection with the case in question was not to be entrusted to me, what work could I be given to
do, as all other work could be done much better by his clerks? The clerks could be brought to
book, if they did wrong. Could I be, if I also happened to err? So if no work in connection with the
case could be given me, I should have to be kept for nothing.
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
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
On the second or third day of [=after] my arrival, he took me to see the Durban court. There he
introduced me to several people, and seated me next to his attorney. The magistrate kept staring
at me, and finally asked me to take off my turban. This I refused to do, and left the court.
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 [=subtle] 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 ‘Arabs’. 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
Sanksrit 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 [=them] 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 goodbye
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 Christianity. 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 South Africa within a few days of my arrival there. Some supported me, while
others severely criticized my temerity.
My turban stayed with me practically until the end of my stay in South Africa. When and why I
left off wearing any head-dress at all in South Africa, we shall see later.
8. ON THE WAY TO PRETORIA
I soon came in contact with the Christian Indians living in Durban. The Court Interpreter, Mr.
Paul, was a Roman Catholic. I made his acquaintance, as also that of the late Mr. Subhan
Godfrey, then a teacher under the Protestant Mission, and father of Mr. James Godfrey, who as a
member of the South African Deputation visited India in 1924. I likewise met the late Parsi
Rustomji and the late Adamji Miyakhan about the same time. All these friends, who up to then
had never met one another except on business, came ultimately into close contact, as we shall
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
Pretoria himself or send a representative.
Abdulla Sheth gave me this letter to read, and asked me if I would go to Pretoria. ‘I can only
say after I have understood the case from you,’ said I. ‘At present I am at a loss to know what I
have to do there.’ He thereupon asked his clerks to explain the case to me.
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 Zanzibar, I had been to the court to see the work there. A Parsi
lawyer was examining a witness and asking him questions regarding credit and debit entries in
account books. It was all Greek to me. Book-keeping I had learnt neither at school nor during my
stay in England. And the case for which I had come to South Africa was mainly about accounts.
Only one who knew accounts could understand and explain it. The clerk went on talking about
this debited and that credited, and I felt more and more confused. I did not know what a P. Note
meant. I failed to find the word in the dictionary. I revealed my ignorance to the clerk, and learnt
from him that a P. Note meant a promissory note. I purchased a book on book-keeping and
studied it. That gave me some confidence. I understood the case. I saw that Abdulla Sheth, who
did not know how to keep accounts, had so much practical knowledge that he could quickly solve
intricacies of book-keeping. I told him that I was prepared to go to Pretoria.
‘Where will you put up?’ asked the Sheth.
‘Wherever you want me to,’ said I.
‘Then I shall write to our lawyer.
He will arrange for your lodgings. I shall also write to my
Meman friends there, but I would not advise you to stay with them. The other party has great
influence in Pretoria. Should any one of them manage to read our private correspondence, it
might do us much harm. The more you avoid familiarity with them, the better for us.’
‘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 Durban, and we now knew and understood each other. I was
no longer a ‘white elephant’. So he said:
‘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 anything.’
‘Don’t be anxious about that,’ said I. ‘I need not talk to Tyeb Sheth, or for that matter to anyone
else, about the case. I would only suggest to him to come to an understanding, and so save a lot
of unnecessary litigation.’
On the seventh or eighth day after my arrival, I left Durban. A first class seat was booked for
me. It was usual there to pay five shillings extra, if one needed a bedding. Abdulla Sheth insisted
that I should book one bedding but, out of obstinacy and pride and with a view to saving five
shillings, I declined. Abdulla Sheth warned me. ‘Look, now,’ said he ‘this is a different country
from India. Thank God, we have enough and to spare. Please do not stint yourself in anything
that you may need.’
I thanked him and asked him not to be anxious.
The train reached Maritzburg, the capital of Natal, at about 9 p.m. Beddings used to be
provided at this station. A railway servant came and asked me if I wanted one. ‘No,’ said I, ‘I have
one with me.’ He went away. But a passenger came next, and looked me up and down. He saw
that I was a ‘coloured’ man. This disturbed him. Out he went and came in again with one or two
officials. They all kept quiet, when another official came to me and said, ‘Come along, you must
go to the van compartment.’
‘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 at Durban, and I insist on going on in it.’
‘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 South Africa is severely cold. Maritzburg being
at a high altitude, the cold was extremely bitter. My over-coat was in my luggage, but I did not
dare to ask for it lest I should be insulted again, so I sat and shivered. There was no light in the
room. A passenger came in at about midnight and possibly wanted to talk to me. But I was in no
mood to talk.
I began to think of my duty. Should I fight for my rights, or go back to India, or should I go on to
Pretoria without minding the insults and return to India after finishing the case? It would be
cowardice to run back to India without fulfilling my obligation. The hardship to which I was
subjected was superficia–only a symptom of the deep disease of colour prejudice. I should try, if
possible, to root out the disease and suffer hardships in the process. Redress for wrongs I should
seek only to the extent that would be necessary for the removal of the colour prejudice.
So I decided to take the next available train to Pretoria.
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 Durban.
The train took me to Charlestown.
9. MORE HARDSHIPS
The train reached Charlestown in the morning. There was no railway, in those days, between
Charlestown and Johannesburg, but only a stage-coach, which halted at Standerton for the
night en route. I possessed a ticket for the coach, which was not cancelled by the break of the
journey at Maritzburg for a day; besides, Abdulla Sheth had sent a wire to the coach agent at
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 to 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
beating fast 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 here to 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
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
Johannesburg quite safely that night.
Standerton is a small village and Johannesburg a big city. Abdulla Sheth had wired to
Johannesburg also, and given me the name and address of Muhammad Kasam Kamruddin’s firm
there. Their man had come to receive me at the stage, but neither did I see him nor did he
recognize me. So I decided to go to a hotel. I knew the names of several. Taking a cab I asked to
be driven to the Grand National Hotel. I saw the manager and asked for a room. He eyed me for
a moment, and politely saying, ‘I am very sorry, we are full up,’ bade me good-bye. So I asked the
cabman to drive to Muhammad Kasam Kamruddin’s shop. Here I found Abdul Gani Sheth
expecting me, and he gave me a cordial greeting. He had a hearty laugh over the story of my
experience at the hotel. ‘How ever did you expect to be admitted to a hotel?’ he said.
‘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 South Africa.
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 Pretoria tomorrow.
You will haveto travel third class. Conditions in the Transvaal are worse than in Natal. First and
second class tickets are never issued to Indians.’
‘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
Transvaal enactments was not very exact or precise; that of the railway regulations was even less
I said to the Sheth: ‘I wish to go first class, and if I cannot, I shall prefer to take a cab to
Pretoria, a matter of only thirty-seven miles.’
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
‘coolie’ 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 Pretoria today.’
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 Pretoria all right. I am afraid
the guard will not leave you in peace in the first class, and even if he does, the passengers will
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
There was only one English passenger in the compartment. He took the guard to task. ‘What
do you mean by troubling the gentleman?’ he said. ‘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 reached Pretoria.