THE STORY OF MY EXPERIMENTS WITH TRUTH
by Mohandas K. Gandhi
EDITOR’S INTRODUCTIONThe 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.
INTRODUCTIONFour 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
just yet?’ 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
limitations. 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
is morality. 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.
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
The Gandhis belong to the Bania caste and seem to have been originally grocers. But for
1. BIRTH AND PARENTAGE
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
worship. The outstanding impression my mother has left on my memory is that of saintliness. She was
deeply religious. She would not think of taking her meals without her daily prayers. Going
to Haveli–the Vaishnava temple–was one of her daily duties. As far as my memory can go back, I
do not remember her having ever missed the Chaturmas./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.
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.
2. CHILDHOODI 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
at me. 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
actions. Two other incidents belonging to the same period have always clung to my memory. As a rule I
had a distaste for any reading beyond my school books. The daily lessons had to be done,
because I disliked being taken to task by my teacher as much as I disliked deceiving him.
Therefore I would do the lessons, but often without my mind in them. Thus when even the
lessons could not be done properly, there was of course no question of any extra reading. But
somehow my eyes fell on a book purchased by my father. It was Shravana Pitribhakti Nataka (a
play about 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 MARRIAGEMuch 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
this story. 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
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
the Saptapadi,/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 HUSBANDAbout 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.
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 SCHOOLI 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
to fifty. My own recollection is that I had not any high regard for my ability. I used to be astonished
whenever I won prizes and scholarships. But I very jealously guarded my character. The least
little blemish drew tears from my eyes. When I merited, or seemed to the teacher to merit, a
rebuke, it was unbearable for me. I remember having once received corporal punishment. I did
not so much mind the punishment, as the fact that it was considered my desert. I wept piteously.
That was when I was in the first or second standard. There was another such incident during the
time when I was in the seventh standard. Dorabji Edulji Gimi was the headmaster then. He was
popular among 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.
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 TRAGEDYAmongst 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
gives.’ 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.
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 ATONEMENTI 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 RELIGIONFrom 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 ENGLANDI 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 LASTI 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 CHOICEDr. 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 GENTLEMANMy 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.
16. CHANGESLet 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
propriety. So I decided to take rooms on my own account, instead of living any longer in a family, and
also to remove from place to place according to the work I had to do, thus gaining experience at
the same time. The rooms were so selected as to enable me to reach the place of business on
foot in half an hour, and so save fares. Before this I had always taken some kind of conveyance
whenever I went anywhere, and had to find extra time for walks. The new arrangement combined
walks and economy, as it meant a saving of fares and gave me walks of eight or ten miles a day.
It was mainly this habit of long walks that kept me practically free from illness throughout my stay
in 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 DIETETICSAs 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.
10. FIRST DAY IN PRETORIA
I had expected someone on behalf of Dada Abdulla’s attorney to meet me at Pretoria station. I
knew that no Indian would be there to receive me, since I had particularly promised not to put up
at an Indian house. But the attorney had sent no one. I understood later that as I had arrived on a
Sunday, he could not have sent anyone without inconvenience. I was perplexed, and wondered
where to go, as I feared that no hotel would accept me.
Pretoria station in 1893 was quite different from what it was in 1914. The lights were burning
dimly. The travellers were few. I let all the other passengers go and thought that as soon as the
ticket collector was fairly free, I would hand him my ticket and ask him if he could direct me to
some small hotel or any other such place where I might go; otherwise I would spend the night at
the station. I must confess I shrank from asking him even this, for I was afraid of being insulted.
The station became clear of all passengers. I gave my ticket to the ticket collector and began
my enquiries. He replied to me courteously, but I saw that he could not be of any considerable
help. But an American Negro who was standing near by broke into the conversation.
‘I see,’ said he, ‘that you are an utter stranger here, without any friends. If you will come with
me, I will take you to a small hotel, of which the proprietor is an American who is very well known
to me. I think he will accept you.’
I had my own doubts about the offer, but I thanked him and accepted his suggestion. He took
me to Johnston’s Family Hotel. He drew Mr. Johnston aside to speak to him, and the latter
agreed to accommodate me for the night, on condition that I should have my dinner served in my
‘I assure you,’ said he, ‘that I have no colour prejudice. But I have only European custom, and,
if I allowed you to eat in the dinning room, my guests might be offended and even go away.’
‘Thank you’, said I, ‘even for accommodating me for the night, I am now more or less
acquainted with the conditions here, and I understand your difficulty. I do not mind you serving
the dinner in my room. I hope to be able to make some other arrangement tomorrow.’
I was shown into a room, where I now sat waiting for the dinner and musing, as I was quite
alone. There were not many guests in the hotel, and I had expected the waiter to come very
shortly with the dinner. Instead Mr. Johnston appeared. He said: ‘I was ashamed of having asked
you to have your dinner here. So I spoke to the other guests about you, and asked them if they
would mind your having your dinner in the dining-room. They said that they had no objection, and
that they did not mind your staying here as long as you liked. Please, therefore, come to the
dinning-room, if you will, and stay here as long as you wish.’
I thanked him again, went to the dining room and had a hearty dinner.
Next morning I called on the attorney, Mr. A. W. Baker. Abdulla Sheth had given me some
description of him, so his cordial reception did not surprise me. He received me very warmly and
made kind inquiries. I explained all about myself. Thereupon he said: ‘We have no work for you
here as barrister, for we have engaged the best counsel. The case is a prolonged and
complicated one, so I shall take your assistance only to the extent of getting necessary
information. And of course you will make communication with my client easy for me, as I shall
now ask for all the information I want from him through you. That is certainly an advantage. I have
not yet found rooms for you. I thought I had better do so after having seen you. There is a fearful
amount of colour prejudice here, and therefore it is not easy to find lodgings for such as you. But I
know a poor woman. She is the wife of a baker. I think she will take you, and thus add to her
income at the same time. Come, let us go to her place.’
So he took me to her house. He spoke with her privately about me, and she agreed to accept
me as a boarder at 35 shillings a week.
Mr. Baker, besides being an attorney, was a staunch lay preacher. He is still alive and now
engaged purely in missionary work, having given up the legal profession. He is quite well-to-do.
He still corresponds with me. In his letters he always dwells on the same theme. He upholds the
excellence of Christianity from various points of view, and contends that it is impossible to find
eternal peace unless one accepts Jesus as the only son of God and the Saviour of mankind.
During the very first interview Mr. Baker ascertained my religious views. I said to him: ‘I am a
Hindu by birth. And yet I do not know much of Hinduism, and I know less of other religions. In fact
I do not know where I am, and what is and what should be my belief. I intend to make a careful
study of my own religion and, as far as I can, of other religions as well.’
Mr. Baker was glad to hear all this, and said: ‘I am one of the directors of the South Africa
General Mission. I have built a church at my own expense, and deliver sermons in it regularly. I
am free from colour prejudice. I have some co-workers, and we meet at one o’clock every day for
a few minutes and pray for peace and light. I shall be glad if you will join us there. I shall introduce
you to my co-workers, who will be happy to meet you, and I dare say you will also like their
company. I shall give you, besides, some religious books to read, though of course the book of
books is the Holy Bible, which I would specially recommend to you.’
I thanked Mr. Baker and agreed to attend the one o’clock prayers as regularly as possible.
‘So I shall expect you here tomorrow at one o’clock, and we shall go together to pray,’ added
Mr. Baker, and we said good-bye.
I had little time for reflection just yet.
I went to Mr. Johnston, paid the bill, and removed to the new lodgings, where I had my lunch.
The landlady was a good woman. She had cooked a vegetarian meal for me. It was not long
before I made myself quite at home with the family.
I next went to see the friend to whom Dada Abdulla had given me a note. From him I learnt
more about the hardships of Indians in South Africa. He insisted that I should stay with him. I
thanked him, and told him that I had already made arrangements. He urged me not to hesitate to
ask for anything I needed.
It was now dark. I returned home, had my dinner, went to my room, and lay there absorbed in
deep thought. There was not any immediate work for me. I informed Abdulla Sheth of it. What, I
thought, can be the meaning of Mr. Baker’s interest in me? What shall I gain from his religious coworkers?
How far should I undertake the study of Christianity? How was I to obtain literature
about Hinduism? And how was I to understand Christianity in its proper perspective without
thoroughly knowing my own religion? I could come to only one conclusion: I should make a
dispassionate study of all that came to me, and deal with Mr. Baker’s group as God might guide
me; I should not think of embracing another religion before I had fully understood my own.
Thus musing I fell asleep.
11. CHRISTIAN CONTACTS
The next day at one o’clock I went to Mr. Baker’s prayer-meeting. There I was introduced to
Miss Harris, Miss Gabb, Mr. Coates, and others. Everyone kneeled down to pray, and I followed
suit. The prayers were supplications to God for various things, according to each person’s desire.
Thus the usual forms were for the day to be passed peacefully, or for God to open the doors of
A prayer was now added for my welfare: ‘Lord, show the path to the new brother who has
come amongst us. Give him, Lord, the peace that Thou has given us. May the Lord Jesus who
has saved us save him too. We ask all this in the name of Jesus.’ There was no singing of hymns
or other music at these meetings. After the supplication for something special every day, we
dispersed, each going to his lunch, that being the hour for it. The prayer did not take more than
The Misses Harris and Gabb were both elderly maiden ladies. Mr. Coates was a Quaker. The
two ladies lived together, and they gave me a standing invitation to four o’clock tea at their house
When we met on Sundays, I used to give Mr. Coates my religious diary for the week, and
discuss with him the books I had read and the impression they had left on me. The ladies used to
narrate their sweet experiences and talk about the peace they had found.
Mr. Coates was a frank-hearted staunch young man. We went out for walks together, and he
also took me to other Christian friends.
As we came closer to each other, he began to give me books of his own choice, until my shelf
was filled with them. He loaded me with books, as it were. In pure faith I consented to read all
those books, and as I went on reading them we discussed them.
I read a number of such books in 1893. I do not remember the names of them all, but they
included theCommentary of Dr. Parker of the City Temple, Pearson’s Many Infallible Proofs, and
Butler’s Analogy. Parts of these were unintelligible to me. I liked some things in them, while I did
not like others. Many Infallible Proofs were proofs in support of the religion of the Bible, as the
author understood it. The book had no effect on me. Parker’s Commentary was morally
stimulating, but it could not be of any help to one who had no faith in the prevalent Christian
beliefs. Butler’s Analogy struck me to be a very profound and difficult book, which should be read
four or five times to be understood properly. It seemed to me to be written with a view to
converting atheists to theism. The arguments advanced in it regarding the existence of God were
unnecessary for me, as I had then passed the stage of unbelief; but the arguments in proof of
Jesus being the only incarnation of God and the Mediator between God and man left me
But Mr. Coates was not the man easily to accept defeat. He had great affection for me. He
saw, round my neck, the Vaishnava necklace of Tulasi-beads. He thought it to be superstition,
and was pained by it. ‘This superstition does not become you. Come, let me break the necklace.’
‘No, you will not. It is a sacred gift from my mother.’
‘But do you believe in it?’
‘I do not know its mysterious significance. I do not think I should come to harm if I did not wear
it. But I cannot, without sufficient reason, give up a necklace that she put round my neck out of
love and in the conviction that it would be conducive to my welfare. When, with the passage of
time, it wears away and breaks of its own accord, I shall have no desire to get a new one. But this
necklace cannot be broken.’
Mr. Coates could not appreciate my argument, as he had no regard for my religion. He was
looking forward to delivering me from the abyss of ignorance. He wanted to convince me that, no
matter whether there was some truth in other religions, salvation was impossible for me unless I
accepted Christianity, which represented the truth; and that my sins would not be washed away
except by the intercession of Jesus, and that all good works were useless.
Just as he introduced me to several books, he introduced me to several friends whom he
regarded as staunch Christians. One of these introductions was to a family which belonged to the
Plymouth Brethren, a Christian sect.
Many of the contacts for which Mr. Coates was responsible were good. Most struck me as
being God-fearing. But during my contact with this family, one of the Plymouth Brethren
confronted me with an argument for which I was not prepared:
‘You cannot understand the beauty of our religion. From what you say it appears that you must
be brooding over your transgressions every moment of your life, always mending them and
atoning for them. How can this ceaseless cycle of action bring you redemption? You can never
have peace. You admit that we are all sinners. Now look at the perfection of our belief. Our
attempts at improvement and atonement are futile. And yet redemption we must have. How can
we bear the burden of sin? We can but throw it on Jesus. He is the only sinless Son of God. It is
His word that those who believe in Him shall have everlasting life. Therein lies God’s infinite
mercy. And as we believe in the atonement of Jesus, our own sins do not bind us. Sin we must. It
is impossible to live in this world sinless. And therefore Jesus suffered and atoned for all the sins
of mankind. Only he who accepts His great redemption can have eternal peace. Think what a life
of restlessness is yours, and what a promise of peace we have.’
The argument utterly failed to convince me. I humbly replied:
‘If this be the Christianity acknowledged by all Christians, I cannot accept it. I do not seek
redemption from the consequences of my sin. I seek to be redeemed from sin itself, or rather
from the very thought of sin. Until I have attained that end, I shall be content to be restless.’
To which the Plymouth Brother rejoined: ‘I assure you, your attempt is fruitless. Think again
over what I have said.’
And the Brother proved as good as his word. He knowingly committed transgressions, and
showed me that he was undisturbed by the thought of them.
But I already knew before meeting with these friends that all Christians did not believe in such
a theory of atonement. Mr. Coates himself walked in the fear of God. His heart was pure, and he
believed in the possibility of self-purification. The two ladies also shared this belief. Some of the
books that came into my hands were full of devotion. So, although Mr. Coates was very much
disturbed by this latest experience of mine, I was able to reassure him and tell him that the
distorted belief of a Plymouth Brother could not prejudice me against Christianity.
My difficulties lay elsewhere. They were with regard to the Bible and its accepted
12. SEEKING TOUCH WITH INDIANS
Before writing further about Christian contacts, I must record other experiences of the same
Sheth Tyeb Haji Khan Muhammad had in Pretoria the same position as was enjoyed by Dada
Abdulla in Natal. There was no public movement that could be conducted without him. I made his
acquaintance the very first week, and told him of my intention to get in touch with every Indian in
Pretoria. I expressed a desire to study the conditions of Indians there, and asked for his help in
my work, which he gladly agreed to give.
My first step was to call a meeting of all the Indians in Pretoria and to present to them a picture
of their condition in the Transvaal. The meeting was held at the house of Sheth Haji Muhammad
Haji Joosab, to whom I had a letter of introduction. It was principally attended by Meman
merchants, though there was a sprinkling of Hindus as well. The Hindu population in Pretoria
was, as a matter of fact, very small.
My speech at this meeting may be said to have been the first public speech in my life. I went
fairly prepared with my subject, which was about observing truthfulness in business. I had always
heard the merchants say that truth was not possible in business. I did not think so then, nor do I
now. Even today there are merchant friends who contend that truth is inconsistent with business.
Business, they say, is a very practical affair, and truth a matter of religion; and they argue that
practical affairs are one thing, while religion is quite another. Pure truth, they hold, is out of the
question in business, one can speak it only so far as is suitable. I strongly contested the position
in my speech, and awakened the merchants to a sense of their duty, which was two-fold. Their
responsibility to be truthful was all the greater in a foreign land, because the conduct of a few
Indians was the measure of that of the millions of their fellow-countrymen.
I had found our peoples’ habits to be insanitary, as compared with those of the Englishmen
around them, and drew their attention on it. I laid stress on the necessity of forgetting all
distinctions such as Hindus, Musalmans, Parsis, Christians, Gujaratis, Madrasis, Punjabis,
Sindhis, Kachchhis, Suratis, and so on.
I suggested, in conclusion, the formation of an association to make representations to the
authorities concerned in respect of the hardships of the Indian settlers, and offered to place as its
disposal as much of my time and service as was possible.
I saw that I made a considerable impression on the meeting.
My speech was followed by discussion. Some offered to supply me with facts. I felt
encouraged. I saw that very few amongst my audience knew English. As I felt that knowledge of
English would be useful in that country, I advised those who had leisure to learn English. I told
them that it was possible to learn a language even at an advanced age, and cited cases of people
who had done so. I undertook, besides, to teach a class, if one was started, or personally to
instruct individuals desiring to learn the language.
The class was not started, but three young men expressed their readiness to learn at their
convenience, and on condition that I went to their places to teach them. Of these, two were
Musalmans–one of them a barber and the other a clerk–and the third was a Hindu, a petty
shopkeeper. I agreed to suit them all. I had no misgivings regarding my capacity to teach. My
pupils might become tired, but not I. Sometimes it happened that I would go to their places, only
to find them engaged in their business. But I did not lose patience. None of the three desired a
deep study of English, but two may be said to have made fairly good progress in about eight
months. Two learnt enough to keep accounts and write ordinary business letters. The barber’s
ambition was confined to acquiring just enough English for dealing with his customers. As a result
of their studies, two of the pupils were equipped for making a fair income.
I was satisfied with the result of the meeting. It was decided to hold such meetings, as far as I
remember, once a week, or maybe once a month. These were held more or less regularly, and
on these occasions there was a free exchange of ideas. The result was that there was now in
Pretoria no Indian I did not know, or whose condition I was not acquainted with. This prompted
me in turn to make the acquaintance of the British Agent in Pretoria, Mr. Jacobus de Wet. He had
sympathy for the Indians, but he had very little influence. However, he agreed to help us as best
he could, and invited me to meet him whenever I wished.
I now communicated with the railway authorities and told them that, even under their own
regulations, the disabilities about travelling under which the Indians laboured could not be
justified. I got a letter in reply to the effect that first and second class tickets would be issued to
Indians who were properly dressed. This was far from giving adequate relief, as it rested with the
station master to decide who was ‘properly dressed’.
The British Agent showed me some papers dealing with Indian affairs. Tyeb Sheth had also
given me similar papers. I learnt from them how cruelly the Indians were hounded out from the
Orange Free State.
In short, my stay in Pretoria enabled me to make a deep study of the social, economic, and
political condition of the Indians in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. I had no idea that
this study was to be of invaluable service to me in the future. For I had thought of returning home
by the end of the year, or even earlier, if the case was finished before the year was out.
But God disposed otherwise.
13. WHAT IT IS TO BE A ‘COOLIE’
It would be out of place here to describe fully the condition of Indians in the Transvaal and the
Orange Free State. I would suggest that those who wish to have a full idea of it may turn to
my History of Satyagraha in South Africa. It is, however, necessary to give here a brief outline.
In the Orange Free State the Indians were deprived of all their rights by a special law enacted
in 1888 or even earlier. If they chose to stay there, they could do so only to serve as waiters in
hotels or to pursue some other such menial calling. The traders were driven away, with a nominal
compensation. They made representations and petitions, but in vain.
A very stringent enactment was passed in the Transvaal in 1885. It was slightly amended in
1886, and it was provided under the amended law that all Indians should pay a poll tax of £3 as
fee for entry into the Transvaal. They might not own land except in locations set apart for them,
and in practice even that was not to be ownership. They had no franchise. All this was under the
special law for Asiatics, to whom the laws for the coloured people were also applied. Under these
latter, Indians might not walk on public footpaths, and might not move out of doors after 9 p.m.
without a permit. The enforcement of this last regulation was elastic so far as the Indians were
concerned. Those who passed as ‘Arabs’ were, as a matter of favour, exempted from it. The
exemption thus naturally depended on the sweet will of the police.
I had to experience the effect of both these regulations. I often went out at night for a walk with
Mr. Coates, and we rarely got back home much before ten o’clock. What if the police arrested
me? Mr. Coates was more concerned about this than I. He had to issue passes to his Negro
servants. But how could he give one to me? Only a master might issue a permit to a servant. If I
had wanted one, and even if Mr. Coates had been ready to give it, he could not have done so, for
it would have been fraud.
So Mr. Coates or some friend of his took me to the State Attorney, Dr. Krause. We turned out
to be barristers of the same Inn. The fact that I needed a pass to enable me to be out of doors
after 9 p.m. was too much for him. He expressed sympathy for me. Instead of ordering for me a
pass, he gave me a letter authorizing me to be out of doors at all hours without police
interference. I always kept this letter on me whenever I went out. The fact that I never had to
make use of it was a mere accident.
Dr. Krause invited me to his place, and we may be said to have become friends. I occasionally
called on him, and it was through him that I was introduced to his more famous brother, who was
Public Prosecutor in Johannesburg. During the Boer War he was court-martialled for conspiring to
murder an English officer, and was sentenced to imprisonment for seven years. He was also
disbarred by the Benchers. On the termination of hostilities he was released, and being
honourably re-admitted to the Transvaal bar, resumed practice.
These connections were useful to me later on in my public life, and simplified much of my work.
The consequences of the regulation regarding the use of foot-paths were rather serious for me.
I always went out for a walk through President Street to an open plain. President Kruger’s house
was in this street–a very modest, unostentatious building, without a garden, and not
distinguishable from other houses in its neighbourhood. The houses of many of the millionaires in
Pretoria were far more pretentious, and were surrounded by gardens. Indeed President Kruger’s
simplicity was proverbial. Only the presence of a police patrol before the house indicated that it
belonged to some official. I nearly always went along the footpath past this patrol without the
slightest hitch or hindrance.
Now the man on duty used to be changed from time to time. Once one of these men, without
giving me the slightest warning, without even asking me to leave the footpath, pushed and kicked
me into the street. I was dismayed. Before I could question him as to his behaviour, Mr. Coates,
who happened to be passing the spot on horseback, hailed me and said:
‘Gandhi, I have seen everything. I shall gladly be your witness in court if you proceed against
the man. I am very sorry you have been so rudely assaulted.’
‘You need not be sorry,’ I said. ‘What does the poor man know? All coloured people are the
same to him. He no doubt treats Negroes just as he has treated me. I have made it a rule not to
go to court in respect of any personal grievance. So I do not intend to proceed against him.’
‘That is just like you,’ said Mr Coates, ‘but do think it over again. We must teach such men a
lesson.’ He then spoke to the policeman and reprimanded him. I could not follow their talk, as it
was in Dutch, the policeman being a Boer. But he apologized to me, for which there was no need.
I had already forgiven him.
But I never again went through this street. There would be other men coming in this man’s
place and, ignorant of the incident, they would behave likewise. Why should I unnecessarily court
another kick? I therefore selected a different walk.
The incident deepened my feeling for the Indian settlers. I discussed with them the advisability
of making a test case, if it were found necessary to do so, after having seen the British Agent in
the matter of these regulations.
I thus made an intimate study of the hard condition of the Indian settlers, not only by reading
and hearing about it, but by personal experience. I saw that South Africa was no country for a
self-respecting Indian, and my mind became more and more occupied with the question as to
how this state of thing might be improved.
But my principal duty for the moment was to attend to the case of Dada Abdulla.
14. PREPARATION FOR THE CASE
The year’s stay in Pretoria was a most valuable experience in my life. Here it was that I had
opportunities of learning public work and acquired some measure of my capacity for it. Here it
was that the religious spirit within me became a living force, and here too I acquired a true
knowledge of legal practice. Here I learnt the things that a junior barrister learns in a senior
barrister’s chamber, and here I also gained confidence that I should not after all fail as a lawyer. It
was likewise here that I learnt the secret of success as a lawyer.
Dada Abdulla’s was no small case. The suit was for £40,000. Arising out of business
transactions, it was full of intricacies of accounts. Part of the claim was based on promissory
notes, and part on the specific performance of promise to deliver promissory notes. The defence
was that the promissory notes were fraudulently taken and lacked sufficient consideration. There
were numerous points of fact and law in this intricate case.
Both parties had engaged the best attorneys and counsel. I thus had a fine opportunity of
studying their work. The preparation of the plaintiff’s case for the attorney, and the sorting of facts
in support of his case, had been entrusted to me. It was an education to see how much the
attorney accepted, and how much he rejected from my preparation, as also to see how much use
the counsel made of the brief prepared by the attorney. I saw that this preparation for the case
would give me a fair measure of my powers of comprehension and my capacity for marshalling
I took the keenest interest in the case. Indeed I threw myself into it. I read all the papers
pertaining to the transactions. My client was a man of great ability and reposed absolute
confidence in me, and this rendered my work easy. I made a fair study of book-keeping. My
capacity for translation was improved by having to translate the correspondence, which was for
the most part in Gujarati.
Although, as I have said before, I took a keen interest in religious communion and in public
work and always gave some of my time to them, they were not then my primary interest. The
preparation of the case was my primary interest. Reading of law and looking up law cases, when
necessary, had always a prior claim on my time. As a result, I acquired such a grasp of the facts
of the case as perhaps was not possessed even by the parties themselves, inasmuch as I had
with me the papers of both the parties.
I recalled the late Mr. Pincutt’s advice–facts are three-fourths of the law. At a later date it was
amply borne out by that famous barrister of South Africa, the late Mr. Leonard. In a certain case
in my charge, I saw that though justice was on the side of my client, the law seemed to be against
him. In despair I approached Mr. Leonard for help. He also felt that the facts of the case were
very strong. He exclaimed, ‘Gandhi, I have learnt one thing, and it is this, that if we take care of
the facts of a case, the law will take care of itself. Let us dive deeper into the facts of this case.’
With these words he asked me to study the case further and then see him again. On a reexamination
of the facts I saw them in an entirely new light, and I also hit upon an old South
African case bearing on the point. I was delighted, and went to Mr. Leonard and told him
everything, ‘Right,’ he said, ‘we shall win the case. Only we must bear in mind which of the judges
When I was making preparation for Dada Abdulla’s case, I had not fully realized this paramount
importance of facts. Facts mean truth, and once we adhere to truth, the law comes to our aid
naturally. I saw that the facts of Dada Abdulla’s case made it very strong indeed, and that the law
was bound to be on his side. But I also saw that the litigation, if it were persisted in, would ruin the
plaintiff and the defendant, who were relatives and both belonged to the same city. No one knew
how long the case might go on. Should it be allowed to continue to be fought out in court, it might
go on indefinitely and to no advantage of either party. Both, therefore, desired an immediate
termination of the case, if possible.
I approached Tyeb Sheth and requested and advised him to go to arbitration. I recommended
him to see his counsel. I suggested to him that if an arbitrator commanding the confidence of both
parties could be appointed, the case would be quickly finished. The lawyers’ fees were so rapidly
mounting up that they were enough to devour all the resources of the clients, big merchants as
they were. The case occupied so much of their attention that they had no time left for any other
work. In the meantime mutual ill-will was steadily increasing. I became disgusted with the
profession. As lawyers, the counsel on both sides were bound to rake up points of law in support
of their own clients. I also saw for the first time that the winning party never recovers all the costs
incurred. Under the Court Fees Regulation there was a fixed scale of costs to be allowed as
between party and party, the actual costs as between attorney and client being very much higher.
This was more than I could bear. I felt that my duty was to befriend both parties and bring them
together. I strained every nerve to bring about a compromise. At last Tyeb Sheth agreed. An
arbitrator was appointed, the case was argued before him, and Dada Abdulla won.
But that did not satisfy me. If my client were to seek immediate execution of the award, it would
be impossible for Tyeb Sheth to meet the whole of the awarded amount, and there was an
unwritten law among the Porbandar Memans living in South Africa that death should be preferred
to bankruptcy. It was impossible for Tyeb Sheth to pay down the whole sum of about £37,000 and
costs. He meant to pay not a pie less than the amount, and he did not want to be declared
bankrupt. There was only one way. Dada Abdulla should allow him to pay in moderate
instalments. He was equal to the occasion, and granted Tyeb Sheth instalments spread over a
very long period. It was more difficult for me to secure this concession of payment by instalments
than to get the parties to agree to arbitration. But both were happy over the result, and both rose
in the public estimation. My joy was boundless. I had learnt the true practice of law. I had learnt to
find out the better side of human nature and to enter men’s hearts. I realized that the true function
of a lawyer was to unite parties riven asunder. The lesson was so indelibly burnt into me that a
large part of my time during the twenty years of my practice as a lawyer was occupied in bringing
about private compromises of hundreds of cases. I lost nothing thereby–not even money,
certainly not my soul.
15. RELIGIOUS FERMENT
It is now time to turn again to my experiences with Christian friends.
Mr. Baker was getting anxious about my future. He took me to the Wellington Convention. The
Protestant Christians organize such gatherings every few years for religious enlightenment, or in
other words, self-purification. One may call this religious restoration or revival. The Wellington
Convention was of this type. The chairman was the famous divine of the place, the Rev. Andrew
Murray. Mr. Baker had hoped that the atmosphere of religious exaltation at the Convention, and
the enthusiasm and earnestness of the people attending it, would inevitably lead me to embrace
But his final hope was the efficacy of prayer. He had an abiding faith in prayer. It was his firm
conviction that God could not but listen to prayer fervently offered. He would cite the instances of
men like George Muller of Bristol, who depended entirely on prayer even for his temporal needs. I
listened to his discourse on the efficacy of prayer with unbiassed attention, and assured him that
nothing could prevent me from embracing Christianity, should I feel the call. I had no hesitation in
giving him this assurance, as I had long since taught myself to follow the inner voice. I delighted
in submitting to it. To act against it would be difficult and painful to me.
So we went to Wellington. Mr. Baker was hard put to it in having a ‘coloured man’ like me for
his companion. He had to suffer inconveniences on many occasions entirely on account of me.
We had to break the journey on the way, as one of the days happened to be a Sunday, and Mr.
Baker and his party would not travel on the Sabbath. Though the manager of the station hotel
agreed to take me in after much altercation, he absolutely refused to admit me to the dining-room,
Mr. Baker was not the man to give in easily. He stood by the rights of the guests of a hotel. But I
could see his difficulty. At Wellington also I stayed with Mr. Baker. In spite of his best efforts to
conceal the little inconveniences that he was put to, I could see them all.
This Convention was an assemblage of devout Christians. I was delighted at their faith. I met
the Rev. Murray. I saw that many were praying for me. I liked some of their hymns, they were
The Convention lasted for three days. I could understand and appreciate the devoutness of
those who attended it. But I saw no reason for changing my belief–my religion. It was impossible
for me to believe that I could go to heaven or attain salvation only by becoming a Christian. When
I frankly said so to some good Christian friends, they were shocked. But there was no help for it.
My difficulties lay deeper. It was more than I could believe, that Jesus was the only incarnate
son of God and that only he who believed in Him would have everlasting life. If God could have
sons, all of us were his sons. If Jesus was like God, or God Himself, then all men were like God
and could be God Himself. My reason was not ready to believe literally that Jesus by his death
and by his blood redeemed the sins of the world. Metaphorically there might be some truth in it.
Again, according to Christianity, only human beings had souls, not other living beings, for whom
death meant complete extinction; while I held a contrary belief. I could accept Jesus as a martyr,
an embodiment of sacrifice, and a divine teacher, but not as the most perfect man ever born. His
death on the Cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a
mysterious or miraculous virtue in it my heart could not accept. The pious lives of Christians did
not give me anything that the lives of men of other faiths had failed to give. I had seen in other
lives just the same reformation that I had heard of among Christians. Philosophically there was
nothing extraordinary in Christian principles. From the point of view of sacrifice, it seemed to me
that the Hindus greatly surpassed the Christians. It was impossible for me to regard Christianity
as a perfect religion or the greatest of all religions.
I shared this mental churning with my Christian friends whenever there was an opportunity, but
their answers could not satisfy me.
Thus if I could not accept Christianity either as a perfect, or the greatest, religion, neither was I
then convinced of Hinduism being such. Hindu defects were pressingly visible to me. If
untouchability could be a part of Hinduism, it could but be a rotten part or an excrescence. I could
not understand the raison d’etre of a multitude of sects and castes. What was the meaning of
saying that the Vedas were the inspired Word of God? If they were inspired, why not also the
Bible and Koran?
As Christian friends were endeavouring to convert me, even so were Musalman friends.
Abdulla Sheth had kept on inducing me to study Islam, and of course he had always something to
say regarding its beauty.
I expressed my difficulties in a letter to Raychandbhai. I also corresponded with other religious
authorities in India and received answers from them. Raychandbhia’s letter somewhat pacified
me. He asked me to be patient and to study Hinduism more deeply. One of his sentences was to
this effect: ‘On a dispassionate view of the question I am convinced that no other religion has the
subtle and profound thought of Hinduism, its vision of the soul, or its charity.’
I purchased Sale’s translation of the Koran and began reading it. I also obtained other books
on Islam. I communicated with Christian friends in England. One of them introduced me to
Edward Maitland, with whom I opened correspondence. He sent me The Perfect Way, a book he
had written in collaboration with Anna Kingsford. The book was a repudiation of the current
Christian belief. He also sent me another book, The New Interpretation of the Bible. I liked both.
They seemed to support Hinduism. Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God is Within You overwhelmed
me. It left an abiding impression on me. Before the independent thinking, profound morality, and
the truthfulness of this book, all the books given me by Mr. Coates seemed to pale into
My studies thus carried me in a direction unthought of by the Christian friends. My
correspondence with Edward Maitland was fairly prolonged, and that with Raychandbhai
continued until his death. I read some of the books he sent me. These
included Panchikaran, Maniratnamala, Mumukshu Prakaran of Yogavasishtha, Haribhadra
Suri’s Shaddarshana Samuchchaya, and others.
Though I took a path my Christian friends had not intended for me, I have remained forever
indebted to them for the religious quest that they awakened in me. I shall always cherish the
memory of their contact. The years that followed had more, not less, of such sweet and sacred
contacts in store for me.
16. MAN PROPOSES, GOD DISPOSES
The case having been concluded, I had no reason for staying in Pretoria. So I went back to
Durban and began to make preparations for my return home. But Abdulla Sheth was not the man
to let me sail without a send-off. He gave a farewell party in my honour at Sydenham.
It was proposed to spend the whole day there. Whilst I was turning over the sheets of some of
the newspapers I found there, I chanced to see a paragraph in a corner of one of them under the
caption, ‘Indian Franchise’. It was with reference to the bill then before the House of Legislature,
which sought to deprive the Indians of their right to elect members of the Natal Legislative
Assembly. I was ignorant of the bill, and so were the rest of the guests who had assembled there.
I inquired of Abdulla Sheth about it. He said: ‘What can we understand in these matters? We
can only understand things that affect our trade. As you know, all our trade in the Orange Free
State has been swept away. We agitated about it, but in vain. We are after all lame men, being
unlettered. We generally take in newspapers simply to ascertain the daily market rates, etc. What
can we know of legislation? Our eyes and ears are the European attorneys here.’
‘But,’ said I, ‘there are so many young Indians born and educated here. Do they not help you?’
‘They!’ exclaimed Abdulla Sheth in despair. ‘They never care to come to us, and to tell you the
truth, we care less to recognize them. Being Christians, they are under the thumb of the white
clergymen, who in their turn are subject to the Government.’
This opened my eyes. I felt that this class should be claimed as our own. Was this the meaning
of Christianity? Did they cease to be Indians because they had become Christians?
But I was on the point of returning home and hesitated to express what was passing through
my mind in this matter. I simply said to Abdulla Sheth: ‘This bill, if it passes into law, will make our
lot extremely difficult. It is the first nail into our coffin. It strikes at the root of our self-respect.’
‘It may,’ echoed Sheth Abdulla. ‘I will tell you the genesis of the franchise question. We knew
nothing about it. But Mr. Escombe, one of our best attorneys, whom you know, put the idea into
our heads. It happened thus. He is a great fighter, and there being no love lost between him and
the Wharf Engineer, he feared that the Engineer might deprive him of his votes and defeat him at
the election. So he acquainted us with our position, and at his instance we all registered
ourselves as voters, and voted for him. You will now see how the franchise has not for us the
value that you attach to it. But we understand what you say. Well, then, what is your advice?’
The other guests were listening to this conversation with attention. One of them said: ‘Shall I
tell you what should be done? You cancel your passage by this boat, stay here a month longer,
and we will fight as you direct us.’
All the others chimed in: ‘Indeed, indeed. Abdulla Sheth, you must detain Gandhibhai.’
The Sheth was a shrewd man. He said: ‘I may not detain him now. Or rather, you have as
much right as I to do so. But you are quite right. Let us all persuade him to stay on. But you
should remember that he is a barrister. What about his fees?’
The mention of fees pained me, and I broke in: ‘Abdulla Sheth, fees are out of the question.
There can be no fees for public work. I can stay, if at all, as a servant. And as you know, I am not
acquainted with all these friends. But if you believe that they will co-operate, I am prepared to
stay a month longer. There is one thing, however. Though you need not pay me anything, work of
the nature we contemplate cannot be done without some funds to start with. Thus we may have
to send telegrams, we may have to print some literature, some touring may have to be done, the
local attorneys may have to be consulted, and as I am ignorant of your laws, I may need some
law-books for reference. All this cannot be done without money. And it is clear that one man is not
enough for this work. Many must come forward to help him.’
And a chorus of voices was heard: ‘Allah is great and merciful. Money will come in. Men there
are, as many as you may need. You please consent to stay, and all will be well.’
The farewell party was thus turned into a working committee. I suggested finishing dinner etc.
quickly, and getting back home. I worked out in my own mind an outline of the campaign. I
ascertained the names of those who were on the list of voters, and made up my mind to stay on
for a month.
Thus God laid the foundations of my life in South Africa, and sowed the seed of the fight for
17. SETTLED IN NATAL
Sheth Haji Muhammad Haji Dada was regarded as the foremost leader of the Indian
community in Natal in 1893. Financially Sheth Abdulla Haji Adam was the chief among them, but
he and others always gave the first place to Sheth Haji Muhammad in public affairs. A meeting
was, therefore, held under his presidentship at the house of Abdulla Sheth, at which it was
resolved to offer opposition to the Franchise Bill.
Volunteers were enrolled. Natal-born Indians, that is, mostly Christian Indian youths, had been
invited to attend this meeting. Mr. Paul, the Durban court interpreter, and Mr. Subhan Godfrey,
headmaster of a mission school, were present, and it was they who were responsible for bringing
together at the meeting a good number of Christian youths. All these enrolled themselves as
Many of the local merchants were of course enrolled, note-worthy among them being Sheths
Dawud Muhammad, Muhammad Kasam Kamruddin, Adamji Miyakhan, A. Kolandavellu Pillai, C.
Lachhiram, Rangasami Padiachi, and Amod Jiva. Parsi Rustomji was of course there. From
among the clerks were Messrs Manekji, Joshi, Narsinhram, and others, employees of Dada
Abdulla and Co. and other big firms. They were all agreeably surprised to find themselves taking
a share in public work. To be invited thus to take part was a new experience in their lives. In face
of the calamity that had overtaken the community, all distinctions such as high and low, small and
great, master and servant, Hindus, Musalmans, Parsis, Christians, Gujaratis, Madrasis, Sindhis,
etc., were forgotten. All were alike the children and servants of the motherland.
The Bill had already passed, or was about to pass, its second reading. In the speeches on the
occasion the fact that Indians had expressed no opposition to the stringent Bill was urged as
proof of their unfitness for the franchise.
I explained the situation to the meeting. The first thing we did was to despatch a telegram to
the Speaker of the Assembly requesting him to postpone further discussion of the bill. A similar
telegram was sent to the premier, Sir John Robinson, and another to Mr. Escombe, as a friend of
Dada Abdulla’s. The Speaker promptly replied that discussion of the bill would be postponed for
two days. This gladdened our hearts.
The petition to be presented to the Legislative Assembly was drawn up. Three copies had to be
prepared, and one extra was needed for the press. It was also proposed to obtain as many
signatures to it as possible, and all this work had to be done in the course of a night. The
volunteers with a knowledge of English, and several others, sat up the whole night. Mr. Arthur, an
old man who was known for his calligraphy, wrote the principal copy. The rest were written by
others to someone’s dictation. Five copies were thus got ready simultaneously. Merchant
volunteers went out in their own carriages, or carriages whose hire they had paid, to obtain
signatures to the petition. This was accomplished in quick time and the petition was despatched.
The newspapers published it with favourable comments. It likewise created an impression on the
Assembly. It was discussed in the House. Partisans of the Bill offered a defence–an admittedly
lame one–in reply to the arguments advanced in the petition. The Bill, however, was passed.
We all knew that this was a foregone conclusion, but the agitation had infused new life into the
community, and had brought home to them the conviction that the community was one and
indivisible, and that it was as much their duty to fight for its political rights as for its trading rights.
Lord Ripon was at this time Secretary of State for the Colonies. It was decided to submit to him
a monster petition. This was no small task and could not be done in a day. Volunteers were
enlisted, and all did their due share of the work.
I took considerable pains over drawing up this petition. I read all the literature available on the
subject. My argument centred round a principle and on expedience. I argued that we had a right
to the franchise in Natal, as we had a kind of franchise in India. I urged that it was expedient to
retain it, as the Indian population capable of using the franchise was very small.
Ten thousand signatures were obtained in the course of a fortnight. To secure this number of
signatures from the whole of the province was no light task, especially when we consider that the
men were perfect strangers to the work. Specially competent volunteers had to be selected for
the work, as it had been decided not to take a single signature without the signatory fully
understanding the petition. The villages were scattered at long distances. The work could be
done promptly only if a number of workers put their whole heart into it. And this they did. All
carried out their allotted task with enthusiasm. But as I am writing these lines, the figures of Sheth
Dawud Muhammad, Rustomji, Adamji Miyakhan, and Amod Jiva rise clearly before my mind.
They brought in the largest number of signatures. Dawud Sheth kept going about in his carriage
the whole day. And it was all a labour of love, not one of them asking for even his out-of-pocket
expenses. Dada Abdulla’s house became at once a caravanserai and a public office. A number of
educated friends who helped me and many others had their food there. Thus every helper was
put to considerable expense.
The petition was at last submitted. A thousand copies had been printed for circulation and
distribution. It acquainted the Indian public for the first time with conditions in Natal. I sent copies
to all the newspapers and publicists I knew.
The Times of India, in a leading article on the petition, strongly supported the Indian demands.
Copies were sent to journals and publicists in England representing different parties. The London
Times supported our claims, and we began to entertain hopes of the bill being vetoed.
It was now impossible for me to leave Natal. The Indian friends surrounded me on all sides and
importuned me to remain there permanently. I expressed my difficulties. I had made up my mind
not to stay at public expense. I felt it necessary to set up an independent household. I thought
that the house should be good and situated in a good locality. I also had the idea that I could not
add to the credit of the community, unless I lived in a style usual for barristers. And it seemed to
me to be impossible to run such a household with anything less than £300 a year. I therefore
decided that I could stay only if the members of the community guaranteed legal work to the
extent of that minimum, and I communicated my decision to them.
‘But,’ said they, ‘we should like you to draw that amount for public work, and we can easily
collect it. Of course, this is apart from the fees you must charge for private legal work.’
‘No, I could not thus charge you for public work,’ said I. ‘The work would not involve the
exercise on my part of much skill as barrister. My work would be mainly to make you all work.
And how could I charge you for that? And then I should have to appeal to you frequently for funds
for the work, and if I were to draw my maintenance from you, I should find myself at a
disadvantage in making an appeal for large amounts, and we should ultimately find ourselves at a
standstill. Besides I want the community to find more than £300 annually for public work.’
‘But we have now known you for some time, and are sure you would not draw anything you do
not need. And if we wanted you to stay here, should we not find your expenses?’
‘It is your love and present enthusiasm that make you talk like this. How can we be sure that
this love and enthusiasm will endure for ever? And as your friend and servant, I should
occasionally have to say hard things to you. Heaven only knows whether I should then retain your
affection. But the fact is that I must not accept any salary for public work. It is enough for me that
you should all agree to entrust me with your legal work. Even that may be hard for you. For one
thing I am not a white barrister. How can I be sure that the court will respond to me? Nor can I be
sure how I shall fare as a lawyer. So even in giving me retainers you may be running some risk. I
should regard even the fact of your giving them to me as the reward of my public work.’
The upshot of this discussion was that about twenty merchants gave me retainers for one year
for their legal work. Besides this, Dada Abdulla purchased me the necessary furniture, in lieu of a
purse he had intended to give me on my departure.
Thus I settled in Natal.
18. COLOUR BAR
The symbol of a Court of justice is a pair of scales held evenly by an impartial and blind but
sagacious woman. Fate has purposely made her blind, in order that she may not judge a person
from his exterior but from his intrinsic worth. But the Law Society of Natal set out to persuade the
Supreme Court to act in contravention of this principle and to belie its symbol.
I applied for admission as an advocate of the Supreme Court. I held a certificate of admission
from the Bombay High Court. The English certificate I had to deposit with the Bombay High Court
when I was enrolled there. It was necessary to attach two certificates of character to the
application for admission, and thinking that these would carry more weight if given by Europeans,
I secured them from two well-known European merchants whom I knew through Sheth Abdulla.
The application had to be presented through a member of the bar, and as a rule the Attorney
General presented such applications without fees. Mr. Escombe, who, as we have seen, was
legal adviser to Messrs. Dada Abdulla and Co., was Attorney General. I called on him, and he
willingly consented to present my application.
The Law Society now sprang a surprise on me by serving me with a notice opposing my
application for admission. One of their objections was that the original English certificate was not
attached to my application. But the main objection was that when the regulations regarding
admission of advocates were made, the possibility of a coloured man applying could not have
been contemplated. Natal owed its growth to European enterprise, and therefore it was
necessary that the European element should predominate in the bar. If coloured people were
admitted, they might gradually outnumber the Europeans, and the bulwark of their protection
would break down.
The Law Society had engaged a distinguished lawyer to support their opposition. As he too
was connected with Dada Abdulla and Co., he sent me word through Sheth Abdulla to go and
see him. He talked with me quite frankly, and inquired about my antecedents, which I gave. Then
‘I have nothing to say against you. I was only afraid lest you should be some colonial-born
adventurer. And the fact that your application was unaccompanied by the original certificate
supported by suspicion. There have been men who have made use of diplomas which did not
belong to them. The certificates of character from European traders you have submitted have no
value for me. What do they know about you? What can be the extent of their acquaintance with
‘But,’ said I, ‘everyone here is a stranger to me. Even Sheth Abdulla first came to know me
‘But then you say he belongs to the same place as you? If your father was Prime Minister
there, Sheth Abdulla is bound to know your family. If you were to produce his affidavit, I should
have absolutely no objection. I would then gladly communicate to the Law Society my inability to
oppose your application.’
This talk enraged me, but I restrained my feelings. ‘If I had attached Dada Abdulla’s certificate,’
said I to myself, ‘it would have been rejected, and they would have asked for Europeans’
certificates. And what has my admission as advocate to do with my birth and my antecedents?
How could my birth, whether humble or objectionable, be used against me? But I contained
myself and quietly replied:
‘Though I do not admit that the Law Society has any authority to require all these details, I am
quite prepared to present the affidavit you desire.’
Sheth Abdulla’s affidavit was prepared and duly submitted to the counsel for the Law Society.
He said he was satisfied. But not so the Law Society. It opposed my application before the
Supreme Court, which ruled out the opposition without even calling upon Mr. Escombe to reply.
The Chief Justice said in effect:
‘The objection that the applicant has not attached the original certificate has no substance. If
he has made a false affidavit, he can be prosecuted, and his name can then be struck off the roll,
if he is proved guilty. The law makes no distinction between white and coloured people. The court
has therefore no authority to prevent Mr. Gandhi from being enrolled as an advocate. We admit
his application. Mr. Gandhi, you can now take the oath.’
I stood up and took the oath before the registrar. As soon as I was sworn in, the Chief Justice,
addressing me, said:
‘You must now take off your turban, Mr. Gandhi. You must submit to the rules of the court with
regard to the dress to be worn by practising barristers.’
I saw my limitations. The turban that I had insisted on wearing in the District Magistrate’s court
I took off in obedience to the order of the Supreme Court. Not that if I had resisted the order, the
resistance could not have been justified. But I wanted to reserve my strength for fighting bigger
battles. I should not exhaust my skill as a fighter insisting on retaining my turban. It was worthy of
a better cause.
Sheth Abdulla and other friends did not like my submission (or was it weakness?). They felt
that I should have stood by my right to wear the turban while practising in the court. I tried to
reason with them. I tried to press home to them the truth of the maxim, ‘When at Rome, do as the
Romans do.’ ‘It would be right,’ I said, ‘to refuse to obey, if in India an English officer or judge
ordered you to take off your turban; but as an officer of the court, it would have ill become me to
disregard a custom of the court in the province of Natal.’
I pacified the friends somewhat with these and similar arguments, but I do not think I convinced
them completely, in this instance, of the applicability of the principle of looking at a thing from a
different standpoint in different circumstances. But all my life through, the very insistence on truth
has taught me to appreciate the beauty of compromise. I saw in later life that this spirit was an
essential part of Satyagraha. It has often meant endangering my life and incurring the displeasure
of friends. But truth is hard as adamant and tender as a blossom.
The opposition of the Law Society gave me another advertisement in South Africa. Most of the
newspapers condemned the opposition and accused the Law Society of jealously. The
advertisement, to some extent, simplified my work.
19. NATAL INDIAN CONGRESS
Practise as a lawyer was and remained for me a subordinate occupation. It was necessary
that I should concentrate on public work to justify my stay in Natal. The despatch of the petition
regarding the disfranchising bill was not sufficient in itself. Sustained agitation was essential for
making an impression on the Secretary of State for the Colonies. For this purpose it was thought
necessary to bring into being a permanent organization. So I consulted Sheth Abdulla and other
friends, and we all decided to have a public organization of a permanent character.
To find out a name to be given to the new organization perplexed me sorely. It was not to
identify itself with any particular party. The name ‘Congress’, I knew, was in bad odour with the
Conservatives in England, and yet the Congress was the very life of India. I wanted to popularize
it in Natal. It savoured of cowardice to hesitate to adopt the name. Therefore, with full explanation
of my reasons, I recommended that the organization should be called the Natal Indian Congress,
and on the 22nd May the Natal Indian Congress came into being.
Dada Abdulla’s spacious room was packed to the full on that day. The Congress received the
enthusiastic approval of all present. Its constitution was simple, the subscription was heavy. Only
he who paid five shillings monthly could be a member. The well-to-do classes were persuaded to
subscribe as much as they could. Abdulla Sheth headed the list with £2 per month. Two other
friends also put down the same. I thought I should not stint my subscription, and put down a
pound per month. This was for me no small amount. But I thought that it would not be beyond my
means, if I was to pay my way at all. And God helped me. We thus got a considerable number of
members who subscribed £1 per month. The number of those who put down 10s. was even
larger. Besides this, there were donations, which were gratefully accepted.
Experience showed that no one paid his subscription for the mere asking. It was impossible to
call frequently on members outside Durban. The enthusiasm of one moment seemed to wear
away the next. Even the members in Durban had to be considerably dunned before they would
pay in their subscriptions.
The task of collecting subscriptions lay with me, I being the secretary. And we came to a stage
when I had to keep my clerk engaged all day long in the work of collection. The man got tired of
the job, and I felt that if the situation was to be improved, the subscriptions should be made
payable annually and not monthly, and that too strictly in advance. So I called a meeting of the
Congress. Everyone welcomed the proposal for making the subscription annual instead of
monthly and for fixing the minimum at £3. Thus the work of collection was considerably facilitated.
I had learnt at the outset not to carry on public work with borrowed money. One could rely on
people’s promises in most matters, except in respect of money. I had never found people quick to
pay the amounts they had undertaken to subscribe, and the Natal Indians were no exception to
the rule. As, therefore, no work was done unless there were funds on hand, the Natal Indian
Congress had never been in debt.
My co-workers evinced extraordinary enthusiasm in canvassing members. It was work which
interested them, and was at the same time an invaluable experience. Large numbers of people
gladly came forward with cash subscriptions. Work in the distant villages of the interior was rather
difficult. People did not know the nature of public work. And yet we had invitations to visit far away
places, leading merchants of every place extending their hospitality.
On one occasion during this tour the situation was rather difficult. We expected our host to
contribute £6, but he refused to give anything more than £3. If we had accepted that amount from
him, others would have followed suit, and our collections would have been spoiled. It was a late
hour of the night, and we were all hungry. But how could we dine without having first obtained the
amount we were bent on getting? All persuasion was useless. The host seemed to be adamant.
Other merchants in the town reasoned with him, and we all sat up throughout the night, he as well
as we determined not to budge one inch. Most of my co-workers were burning with rage, but they
contained themselves. At last, when day was already breaking, the host yielded, paid down £6,
and feasted us. This happened at Tongaat, but the repercussion of the incident was felt as far as
Stanger on the North Coast and Charlestown in the interior. It also hastened our work of
But collecting funds was not the only thing to do. In fact I had long learnt the principle of never
having more money at one’s disposal than necessary.
Meetings used to be held once a month, or even once a week if required. Minutes of the
proceedings of the preceding meeting would be read, and all sorts of questions would be
discussed. People had no experience of taking part in public discussions, or of speaking briefly
and to the point. Everyone hesitated to stand up to speak. I explained to them the rules of
procedure at meetings, and they respected them. They realized that it was an education for them,
and many who had never been accustomed to speaking before an audience soon acquired the
habit of thinking and speaking publicly about matters of public interest.
Knowing that in public work minor expenses at times absorbed large accounts, I had decided
not to have even the receipt books printed in the beginning. I had a cyclostyle machine in my
office, on which I took copies of receipts and reports. Such things I began to get printed only
when the Congress coffers were full, and when the number of members, and work, had
increased. Such economy is essential for every organization, and yet I know that it is not always
exercised. That is why I have thought it proper to enter into these little details of the beginnings of
a small but growing organization.
People never cared to have receipts for the amounts they paid, but we always insisted on the
receipts being given. Every pie was thus clearly accounted for, and I dare say the account books
for the year 1894 can be found intact even today in the records of the Natal Indian Congress.
Carefully kept accounts are a sine qua nonfor any organization. Without them it falls into
disrepute. Without properly kept accounts, it is impossible to maintain truth in its pristine purity.
Another feature of the Congress was service of colonial-born educated Indians. The Colonialborn
Indian Educational Association was founded under the auspices of the Congress. The
members consisted mostly of these educated youths. They had to pay a nominal subscription.
The Association served to ventilate their needs and grievances, to stimulate thought amongst
them, to bring them into touch with Indian merchants, and also to afford them scope for service of
the community. It was a sort of debating society. The members met regularly and spoke, or read
papers on different subjects. A small library was also opened in connection with the Association.
The third feature of the Congress was propaganda. This consisted in acquainting the English in
South Africa and England and people in India with the real state of things in Natal. With that end
in view I wrote two pamphlets. The first was An Appeal to Every Briton in South Africa. It
contained a statement, supported by evidence, of the general condition of Natal Indians. The
other was entitled The Indian Franchise–An Appeal. It contained a brief history of the Indian
franchise in Natal with facts and figures. I had devoted considerable labour and study to the
preparation of these pamphlets, and the result was quite commensurate with the trouble taken.
They were widely circulated.
All this activity resulted in winning the Indians numerous friends in South Africa, and in
obtaining the active sympathy of all parties in India. It also opened out and placed before the
South African Indians a definite line of action.
The heart’s earnest and pure desire is always fulfilled. In my own experience I have often seen
this rule verified. Service of the poor has been my heart’s desire, and it has always thrown me
amongst the poor and enabled me to identify myself with them.
Although the members of the Natal Indian Congress included the colonial-born Indians and the
clerical class, the unskilled wage-earners, the indentured labourers, were still outside its pale.
The Congress was not yet theirs. They could not afford to belong to it by paying the subscription
and becoming its members. The Congress could win their attachment only by serving them. An
opportunity offered itself when neither the Congress nor I was really ready for it. I had put in
scarcely three or four months’ practice, and the Congress also was still in its infancy, when a
Tamil man in tattered clothes, head-gear in hand, two front teeth broken and his mouth bleeding,
stood before me trembling and weeping. He had been heavily belaboured by his master. I learnt
all about him from my clerk, who was a Tamilian. Balasundaram–as that was the visitor’s name–
was serving his indenture under a well-known European resident of Durban. The master, getting
angry with him, had lost self-control, and had beaten Balasundaram severely, breaking two of his
I sent him to a doctor. In those days only white doctors were available. I wanted a certificate
from the doctor about the nature of the injury Balasundaram had sustained. I secured the
certificate, and straightway took the injured man to the magistrate, to whom I submitted his
affidavit. The magistrate was indignant when he read it, and issued a summons against the
It was far from my desire to get the employer punished. I simply wanted Balasundaram to be
released from him. I read the law about indentured labour. If an ordinary servant left service
without giving notice, he was liable to be sued by his master in a civil court. With the indentured
labourer the case was entirely different. He was liable, in similar circumstances, to be proceeded
against in a criminal court and to be imprisoned on conviction. That is why Sir William Hunter
called the indenture system almost as bad as slavery. Like the slave, the indentured labourer was
the property of his master.
There were only two ways of releasing Balasundaram: either by getting the Protector of
Indentured Labourers to cancel his indenture or transfer him to someone else, or by getting
Balasundaram’s employer to release him. I called on the latter and said to him: ‘I do not want to
proceed against you and get you punished. I think you realize that you have severely beaten the
man. I shall be satisfied if you will transfer the indenture to someone else.’ To this he readily
agreed. I next saw the Protector. He also agreed, on condition that I found a new employer.
So I went off in search of an employer. He had to be a European, as no Indians could employ
indentured labour. At that time I knew very few Europeans. I met one of them. He very kindly
agreed to take on Balasundaram. I gratefully acknowledged his kindness. The magistrate
convicted Balasundaram’s employer, and recorded that he had undertaken to transfer the
indenture to someone else.
Balasundaram’s case reached the ears of every indentured labourer, and I came to be
regarded as their friend. I hailed this connection with delight. A regular stream of indentured
labourers began to pour into my office, and I got the best opportunity of learning their joys and
The echoes of Balasundaram’s case were heard in far-off Madras. Labourers from different
parts of the province who went to Natal on indenture, came to know of this case through their
There was nothing extraordinary in the case itself, but the fact that there was someone in Natal
to espouse their cause and publicly work for them gave the indentured labourer a joyful surprise
and inspired him with hope.
I have said that Balasundaram entered my office, head-gear in hand. There was a peculiar
pathos about the circumstance, which also showed our humiliation. I have already narrated the
incident when I was asked to take off my turban. A practice had been forced upon every
indentured labourer and every Indian stranger to take off his head-gear when visiting a European,
whether the head-gear were a cap, a turban, or a scarf wrapped round the head. A salute even
with both hands was not sufficient. Balasundaram thought that he should follow the practice even
with me. This was the first case in my experience. I felt humiliated and asked him to tie up his
scarf. He did so, not without a certain hesitation, but I could perceive the pleasure on his face.
It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation
of their fellow-beings.
21. THE £3 TAX
Balasundaram’s case brought me into touch with the indentured Indians. What impelled me,
however, to make a deep study of their condition was the campaign for bringing them under
special heavy taxation.
In the same year, 1894, the Natal Government sought to impose an annual tax of £25 on the
indentured Indians. The proposal astonished me. I put the matter before the Congress for
discussion, and it was immediately resolved to organize the necessary opposition.
At the outset I must explain briefly the genesis of the tax.
About the year 1860 the Europeans in Natal, finding that there was considerable scope for
sugar-cane cultivation, felt themselves in need of labour. Without outside labour the cultivation of
cane and the manufacture of sugar were impossible, as the Natal Zulus were not suited to this
form of work. The Natal Government therefore corresponded with the Indian Government and
secured their permission to recruit Indian labour. These recruits were to sign an indenture to work
in Natal for five years, and at the end of the term they were to be at liberty to settle there and to
have full rights of ownership of land. Those were the inducements held out to them, for the whites
then had looked forward to improving their agriculture by the industry of the Indian labourers after
the term of their indentures had expired.
But the Indians gave more than had been expected of them. They grew large quantities of
vegetables. They introduced a number of Indian varieties and made it possible to grow the local
varieties cheaper. They also introduced the mango. Nor did their enterprise stop at agriculture.
They entered trade. They purchased land for building, and many raised themselves from the
status of labourers to that of owners of land and houses. Merchants from India followed them and
settled there for trade. The late Sheth Abubakar Amod was first among them. He soon built up an
The white traders were alarmed. When they first welcomed the Indian labourers, they had not
reckoned with their business skill. They might be tolerated as independent agriculturists, but their
competition in trade could not be brooked.
This sowed the seed of the antagonism to Indians. Many other factors contributed to its growth.
Our different ways of living, our simplicity, our contentment with small gains, our indifference to
the laws of hygiene and sanitation, our slowness in keeping our surroundings clean and tidy, and
our stinginess in keeping our houses in good repair–all these, combined with the difference in
religion, contributed to fan the flame of antagonism. Through legislation, this antagonism found its
expression in the disfranchising bill and the bill to impose a tax on the indentured Indians.
Independent of legislation, a number of pinpricks had already been started.
The first suggestion was that the Indian labourers should be forcibly repatriated, so that the
term of their indentures might expire in India. The Government of India was not likely to accept
the suggestion. Another proposal was therefore made to the effect that:
1. the indentured labourer should return to India on the expiry of his indenture; or that
2. he should sign a fresh indenture every two years, an increment being given at each renewal;
3. in the case of his refusal to return to India or renew the indenture he should pay an annual
tax of £25.
A deputation composed of Sir Henry Binns and Mr. Mason was sent to India to get the
proposal approved by the Government there. The Viceroy at that time was Lord Elgin. He
disapproved of the £25 tax, but agreed to poll tax of £3. I thought then, as I do even now, that this
was a serious blunder on the part of the Viceroy. In giving his approval he had in no way thought
of the interests of India. It was no part of his duty thus to accommodate the Natal Europeans. In
the course of three or four years an indentured labourer with his wife and each male child over 16
and female child over 13 came under the impost. To levy a yearly tax of £12 from a family of four-
-husband, wife and two children–when the average income of the husband was never more than
14s. a month, was atrocious, and unknown anywhere else in the world.
We organized a fierce campaign against this tax. If the Natal Indian Congress had remained
silent on the subject, the Viceroy might have approved of even the £25 tax. The reduction from
£25 to £3 was probably due solely to the Congress agitation. But I may be mistaken in thinking
so. It may be possible that the Indian Government had disapproved of the £25 tax from the
beginning, and reduced it to £3 irrespective of the opposition from the Congress. In any case it
was a breach of trust on the part of the Indian Government. As trustee of the welfare of India, the
Viceroy ought never to have approved of this inhuman tax.
The Congress could not regard it as any great achievement to have succeeded in getting the
tax reduced from £25 to £3. The regret was still there that it had not completely safeguarded the
interests of the indentured Indians. It ever remained its determination to get the tax remitted, but it
was twenty years before the determination was realized. And when it was realized, it came as a
result of the labours of not only the Natal Indians, but of all the Indians in South Africa. The
breach of faith with the late Mr. Gokhale became the occasion of the final campaign, in which the
indentured took their full share, some of them losing their lives as a result of the firing that was
resorted to, and over ten thousand suffering imprisonment.
But truth triumphed in the end. The sufferings of the Indians were the expression of that truth.
Yet it would not have triumphed except for unflinching faith, great patience, and incessant effort.
Had the community given up the struggle, had the Congress abandoned the campaign and
submitted to the tax as inevitable, the hated impost would have continued to be levied from the
indentured Indians until this day, to the eternal shame of the Indians in South Africa and of the
whole of India.
22. COMPARATIVE STUDY OF RELIGIONS
If I found myself entirely absorbed in the service of the community, the reason behind it was
my desire for self-realization. I had made the religion of service my own, as I felt that God could
be realized only through service. And service for me was the service of India, because it came to
me without my seeking, because I had an aptitude for it. I had gone to South Africa for travel, for
finding an escape from Kathiawad intrigues, and for gaining my own livelihood. But as I have
said, I found myself in search of God and striving for self-realization.
Christian friends had whetted my appetite for knowledge, which had become almost insatiable,
and they would not leave me in peace, even if I desired to be indifferent. In Durban Mr. Spencer
Walton, the head of the South Africa General Mission, found me out. I became almost a member
of his family. At the back of this acquaintance was of course my contact with Christians in
Pretoria. Mr. Walton had a manner all his own. I do not recollect his ever having invited me to
embrace Christianity. But he placed his life as an open book before me, and let me watch all his
movements. Mrs. Walton was a very gentle and talented woman. I liked the attitude of this
couple. We knew the fundamental differences between us. Any amount of discussion could not
efface them. Yet even differences prove helpful, where there are tolerance, charity, and truth. I
liked Mr. and Mrs. Walton’s humility, perseverance, and devotion to work, and we met very
This friendship kept alive my interest in religion. It was impossible now to get the leisure that I
used to have in Pretoria for my religious studies. But what little time I could spare, I turned to
good account. My religious correspondence continued. Raychandbhai was guiding me. Some
friend sent me Narmadashankar’s bookDharma Vichar. Its preface proved very helpful. I had
heard about the Bohemian way in which the poet had lived, and a description in the preface of the
revolution effected in his life by his religious studies captivated me. I came to like the book, and
read it from cover to cover with attention. I read with interest Max Muller’s book,India–What can it
teach us?, and the translation of the Upanishads published by the Theosophical Society. All this
enhanced my regard for Hinduism, and its beauties began to grow upon me. It did not, however,
prejudice me against other religions. I read Washington Irving’s Life of Mahomet and His
Successors and Carlyle’s panegyric on the Prophet. These books raised Muhammad in my
estimation. I also read a book called The Sayings of Zarathustra.
Thus I gained more knowledge of the different religions. The study stimulated my selfintrospection,
and fostered in me the habit of putting into practice whatever appealed to me in my
studies. Thus I began some of the Yogic practices, as well as I could understand them from a
reading of the Hindu books. But I could not get on very far, and decided to follow them with the
help of some expert when I returned to India. The desire has never been fulfilled.
I made too an intensive study of Tolstoy’s books. The Gospels in Brief, What to Do?, and other
books made a deep impression on me. I began to realize more and more the infinite possibilities
of universal love.
About the same time, I came in contact with another Christian family. At their suggestion I
attended the Wesleyan church every Sunday. For these days I also had their standing invitation
to dinner. The church did not make a favourable impression on me. The sermons seemed to me
uninspiring. The congregation did not strike me as being particularly religious. They were not an
assembly of devout souls; they appeared rather to be worldly-minded people, going to church for
recreation and in conformity to custom. Here, at times, I would involuntarily doze. I was ashamed,
but some of my neighbours, who were in no better case, lightened the shame. I could not go on
long like this, and soon gave up attending the service.
My connection with the family I used to visit every Sunday was abruptly broken. In fact it may
be said that I was warned to visit it no more. It happened thus. My hostess was a good and
simple woman, but somewhat narrow-minded. We always discussed religious subjects. I was
then re-reading Arnold’s Light of Asia. Once we began to compare the life of Jesus with that of
Buddha. ‘Look at Gautama’s compassion!’ said I. ‘It was not confined to mankind, it was extended
to all living beings. Does not one’s heart overflow with love to think of the lamb joyously perched
on his shoulders? One fails to notice this love for all living beings in the life of Jesus.’ The
comparison pained the good lady. I could understand her feelings. I cut the matter short, and we
went to the dining room. Her son, a cherub aged scarcely five, was also with us. I am happiest
when in the midst of children, and this youngster and I had long been friends. I spoke derisively of
the piece of meat on his plate and in high praise of the apple on mine. The innoncent boy was
carried away and joined in my praise of the fruit.
But the mother? She was dismayed.
I was warned. I checked myself and changed the subject. The following week I visited the
family as usual, but not without trepidation. I did not see that I should stop going there, I did not
think it proper either. But the good lady made my way easy.
‘Mr. Gandhi,’ she said, ‘please don’t take it ill if I feel obliged to tell you that my boy is none the
better for your company. Every day he hesitates to eat meat and asks for fruit, reminding me of
your argument. This is too much. If he gives up meat, he is bound to get weak, if not ill. How
could I bear it? Your discussions should henceforth be only with us elders. They are sure to react
badly on children.’
‘Mrs. —- ,’ I replied, ‘I am sorry. I can understand your feelings as a parent, for I too have
children. We can very easily end this unpleasant state of things. What I eat and omit to eat is
bound to have a greater effect on the child than what I say. The best way, therefore, is for me to
stop these visits. That certainly need not affect our friendship.’
‘I thank you,’ she said with evident relief.
23. AS A HOUSEHOLDER
To set up a household was no new experience for me. But the establishment in Natal was
different from the ones that I had had in Bombay and London. This time part of the expense was
solely for the sake of prestige. I thought it necessary to have a household in keeping with my
position as an Indian barrister in Natal and as a representative. So I had a nice little house in a
prominent locality. It was also suitably furnished. Food was simple, but as I used to invite English
friends and Indian co-workers, the housekeeping bills were always fairly high.
A good servant is essential in every household. But I have never known how to keep anyone
as a servant.
I had a friend as companion and help, and a cook who had become a member of the family. I
also had office clerks boarding and lodging with me.
I think I had a fair amount of success in this experiment, but it was not without its modicum of
the bitter experiences of life.
The companion was very clever and, I thought, faithful to me. But in this I was deceived. He
became jealous of an office clerk who was staying with me, and wove such a tangled web that I
suspected the clerk. This clerical friend had a temper of his own. Immediately [=As soon as] he
saw that he had been the object of my suspicion, he left both the house and the office. I was
pained. I felt that perhaps I had been unjust to him, and my conscience always stung me.
In the meanwhile, the cook needed a few days’ leave, or for some other cause was away. It
was necessary to procure another during his absence. Of this new man I learnt later that he was
a perfect scamp. But for me he proved a godsend. Within two or three days of his arrival, he
discovered certain irregularities that were going on under my roof without my knowledge, and he
made up his mind to warn me. I had the reputation of being a credulous but straight man. The
discovery was to him, therefore, all the more shocking. Every day at one o’clock I used to go
home from office for lunch. At about twelve o’clock one day the cook came panting to the office,
and said, ‘Please come home at once. There is a surprise for you.’
‘Now, what is this?’ I asked. ‘You must tell me what it is. How can I leave the office at this hour
to go and see it?’
‘You will regret it, if you don’t come. That is all I can say.’
I felt an appeal in his persistence. I went home accompanied by a clerk and the cook who
walked ahead of us. He took me straight to the upper floor, pointed at my companion’s room, and
said, ‘Open this door and see for yourself.’
I saw it all. I knocked at the door. No reply! I knocked heavily so as to make the very walls
shake. The door was opened. I saw a prostitute inside. I asked her to leave the house, never to
To the companion I said, ‘From this moment I cease to have anything to do with you. I have
been thoroughly deceived and have made a fool of myself. That is how you have requited my
trust in you?’
Instead of coming to his senses, he threatened to expose me.
‘I have nothing to conceal,’ said I. ‘Expose whatever I may have done. But you must leave me
This made him worse. There was no help for it. So I said to the clerk standing downstairs:
‘Please go and inform the police superintendent, with my compliments, that a person living with
me has misbehaved himself. I do not want to keep him in my house, but he refuses to leave. I
shall be much obliged if police help can be sent me.’
This showed him that I was in earnest. His guilt unnerved him. He apologized to me, entreated
me not to inform the police, and agreed to leave the house immediately, which he did.
The incident came as a timely warning in my life. Only now could I see clearly how thoroughly I
had been beguiled by this evil genius. In harbouring him I had chosen a bad means for a good
end. I had expected to ‘gather figs of [=from] thistles’. I had known that the companion was a bad
character, and yet I believed in his faithfulness to me. In the attempt to reform him I was near
ruining myself. I had disregarded the warnings of kind friends. Infatuation had completely blinded
But for the new cook, I should never have discovered the truth, and being under the influence
of the companion, I should probably have been unable to lead the life of detachment that I then
began. I should always have been wasting time on him. He had the power to keep me in the dark
and to mislead me.
But God came to the rescue as before. My intentions were pure, and so I was saved in spite of
my mistakes, and this early experience thoroughly forewarned me for the future.
The cook had been almost a messenger sent from Heaven. He did not know cooking, and as a
cook he could not have remained at my place. But no one else could have opened my eyes. This
was not the first time, as I subsequently learnt, that the woman had been brought into my house.
She had come often before, but no one had the courage of this cook. For everyone knew how
blindly I trusted the companion. The cook had, as it were, been sent to me just to do this service,
for he begged leave of me that very moment.
‘I cannot stay in your house,’ he said, ‘You are so easily misled. This is no place for me.’
I let him go.
I now discovered that the man who had poisoned my ears against the clerk was no other than
this companion. I tried very hard to make amends to the clerk for the injustice I had done him. It
has, however, been my eternal regret that I could never satisfy him fully. Howsoever you may
repair it, a rift is a rift.
By now I had been three years in South Africa. I had got to know the people, and they had got
to know me. In 1896 I asked permission to go home for six months, for I saw that I was in for a
long stay there. I had established a fairly good practice, and could see that people felt the need of
my presence. So I made up my mind to go home, fetch my wife and children, and then return and
settle out there. I also saw that if I went home, I might be able to do there some public work, by
educating public opinion and creating more interest in the Indians of South Africa. The £3 tax was
an open sore. There could be no peace until it was abolished.
But who was to take charge of the Congress work and Education Society in my absence? I
could think of two men–Adamji Miyakhan and Parsi Rustomji. There were many workers now
available from the commercial class. But the foremost among those who could fulfil the duties of
the secretary by regular work, and who also commanded the regard of the Indian community,
were these two. The secretary certainly needed a working knowledge of English. I recommended
the late Adamji Miyakhan’s name to the Congress, and it approved of his appointment as
secretary. Experience showed that the choice was a very happy one. Adamji Miyakhan satisfied
all with his perseverance, liberality, amiability, and courtesy, and proved to everyone that the
secretary’s work did not require a man with a barrister’s degree or high English education.
About the middle of 1896 I sailed for home in the s.s. Pongola, which was bound for Calcutta.
There were very few passengers on board. Among them were two English officers, with whom
I came in close contact. With one of them I used to play chess for an hour daily. The ship’s doctor
gave me a Tamil Self-Teacher which I began to study. My experience in Natal had shown me that
I should acquire a knowledge of Urdu to get into closer contact with the Musalmans, and of Tamil
to get into closer touch with the Madras Indians.
At the request of the English friend who read Urdu with me, I found out a good Urdu Munshi
from among the deck passengers, and we made excellent progress in our studies. The officer
had a better memory than I. He would never forget a word after once he had seen it; I often found
it difficult to decipher Urdu letters. I brought more perseverance to bear, but could never overtake
With Tamil I made fair progress. There was no help available, but the Tamil Self-Teacher was
a well-written book, and I did not feel in need of much outside help.
I had hoped to continue these studies even after reaching India, but it was impossible. Most of
my reading since 1893 has been done in jail. I did make some progress in Tamil and Urdu, in
jails–Tamil in South African jails, and Urdu in Yeravda jail. But I never learnt to speak Tamil, and
the little I could do by way of reading is now rusting away for want of practice.
I still feel what a handicap this ignorance of Tamil or Telugu has been. The affection that the
Dravidians in South Africa showered on me has remained a cherished memory. Whenever I see
a Tamil or Telugu friend, I cannot but recall the faith, perseverance, and selfless sacrifice of many
of his compatriots in South Africa. And they were mostly illiterate, the men no less than the
women. The fight in South Africa was for such, and it was fought by illiterate soldiers; it was for
the poor, and the poor took their full share in it. Ignorance of their language, however, was never
a handicap to me in stealing the hearts of these simple and good countrymen. They spoke broken
Hindustani or broken English, and we found no difficulty in getting on with our work. But I wanted
to requite their affection by learning Tamil and Telugu. In Tamil, as I have said, I made some little
progress, but in Telugu, which I tried to learn in India, I did not get beyond the alphabet. I fear
now I can never learn these languages, and am therefore hoping that the Dravidians will learn
Hindustani. The non-English-speaking among them in South Africa do speak Hindi or Hindustani,
however indifferently. It is only the English-speaking ones who will not learn it, as though a
knowledge of English were an obstacle to learning our own languages.
But I have digressed. Let me finish the narrative of my voyage. I have to introduce to my
readers the captain of the s.s. Pongola. We had become friends. The good captain was a
Plymouth Brother. Our talks were more about spiritual subjects than nautical. He drew a line
between morality and faith. The teaching of the Bible was to him child’s play. Its beauty lay in its
simplicity. Let all men, women, and children, he would say, have faith in Jesus and his sacrifice,
and their sins were sure to be redeemed. This friend revived my memory of the Plymouth Brother
of Pretoria. The religion that imposed any moral restrictions was to him no good. My vegetarian
food had been the occasion of the whole of this discussion. Why should I not eat meat, or for that
matter beef? Had not God created all the lower animals for the enjoyment of mankind as, for
instance, He had created the vegetable kingdom? These questions inevitably drew us into
We could not convince each other. I was confirmed in my opinion that religion and morality
were synonymous. The captain had no doubt about the correctness of his opposite conviction.
At the end of twenty-four days the pleasant voyage came to a close, and admiring the beauty
of the Hooghly, I landed at Calcutta. The same day I took the train for Bombay.
25. IN INDIA
On my way to Bombay the train stopped at Allahabad for forty-five minutes. I decided to utilize
the interval for a drive through the town. I also had to purchase some medicine at a chemist’s
shop. The chemist was half asleep, and took an unconscionable time in dispensing the medicine,
with the result that when I reached the station, the train had just started. The station master had
kindly detained the train one minute for my sake, but not seeing me coming, had carefully ordered
my luggage to be taken out of the train.
I took a room at Kelner’s, and decided to start work there and then. I had heard a good deal
about The Pioneer, published from Allahabad, and I had understood it to be an opponent of
Indian aspirations. I have an impresssion that Mr. Chesney, Jr., was the editor at that time. I
wanted to secure the help of every party, so I wrote a note to Mr. Chesney, telling him how I had
missed the train, and asking for an appointment so as to enable me to leave the next day. He
immediately gave me one, at which I was very happy, especially when I found that he gave me a
patient hearing. He promised to notice in his paper anything that I might write, but added that he
could not promise to endorse all the Indian demands, inasmuch as he was bound to understand
and give due weight to the viewpoint of the Colonials as well.
‘It is enough,’ I said, ‘that you should study the question and discuss it in your paper. I ask and
desire nothing but the barest justice that is due to us.’
The rest of the day was spent in having a look round, admiring the magnificent confluence of
the three rivers, the ‘Triveni’, and planning the work before me.
This unexpected interview with the editor of The Pioneer laid the foundation of the series of
incidents which ultimately led to my being lynched in Natal.
I went straight to Rajkot without halting at Bombay, and began to make preparations for writing
a pamphlet on the situation in South Africa. The writing and publication of the pamphlet took
about a month. It had a green cover, and came to be known afterwards as the Green Pamphlet.
In it I drew a purposely subdued picture of the conditions of Indians in South Africa. The language
I used was more moderate than that of the two pamphlets which I have referred to before, as I
knew that things heard of from a distance appear bigger than they are.
Ten thousand copies were printed and sent to all the papers and leaders of every party in
India. The Pioneerwas the first to notice it editorially. A summary of the article was cabled by
Reuter to England, and a summary of that summary was cabled to Natal by Reuter’s London
office. This cable was not longer than three lines in print. It was a miniature, but exaggerated,
edition of the picture I had drawn of the treatment accorded to the Indians in Natal, and it was not
in my words. We shall see later on the effect this had in Natal. In the meanwhile every paper of
note commented at length on the question.
To get these pamphlets ready for posting was no small matter. It would have been expensive
too, if I had employed paid help for preparing wrappers, etc. But I hit upon a much simpler plan. I
gathered together all the children in my locality and asked them to volunteer two or three hours’
labour of a morning, when they had no school. This they willingly agreed to do. I promised to
bless them and give them, as a reward, used postage stamps which I had collected. They got
through the work in no time. That was my first experiment of having little children as volunteers.
Two of those little friends are my co-workers today.
Plague broke out in Bombay about this time, and there was panic all around. There was fear of
an outbreak in Rajkot. As I felt that I could be some help in the sanitation department, I offered
my services to the State. They were accepted, and I was put on the committee which was
appointed to look into the question. I laid especial emphasis on the cleanliness of latrines, and the
committee decided to inspect these in every street. The poor people had no objection to their
latrines being inspected, and what is more, they carried out the improvements suggested to them.
But when we went to inspect the houses of the upper ten [percent?], some of them even refused
us admission, not to talk of listening to our suggestions. It was our common experience that the
latrines of the rich were more unclean. They were dark and stinking and reeking with filth and
worms. The improvements we suggested were quite simple, e.g., to have buckets for excrement
instead of allowing it to drop on the ground, to see that urine also was collected in buckets
instead of allowing it to soak into the ground, and to demolish the partitions between the outer
walls and the latrines, so as to give the latrines more light and air and enable the scavenger to
clean them properly. The upper classes raised numerous objections to this last improvement, and
in most cases it was not carried out.
The committee had to inspect the untouchables’ quarters also. Only one member of the
committee was ready to accompany me there. To the rest it was something preposterous to visit
those quarters, still more so to inspect their latrines. But for me those quarters were an agreeable
surprise. That was the first visit in my life to such a locality. The men and women there were
surprised to see us. I asked them to let us inspect their latrines.
‘Latrines for us!’ they exclaimed in astonishment. ‘We go and perform our functions out in the
open. Latrines are for you big people.’
‘Well, then, you won’t mind if we inspect your houses?’ I asked.
‘You are perfectly welcome, sir. You may see every nook and corner of our houses. Ours are
no houses, they are holes.’
I went in and was delighted to see that the insides were as clean as the outsides. The
entrances were well swept, the floors were beautifully smeared with cowdung, and the few pots
and pans were clean and shining. There was no fear of an outbreak in those quarters.
In the upper class quarters we came across a latrine which I cannot help describing in some
detail. Every room had its gutter, which was used both for water and urine, which meant that the
whole house would stink. But one of the houses had a storeyed bedroom with a gutter which was
being used both as a urinal and a latrine. The gutter had a pipe descending to the ground floor. It
was not possible to stand the foul smell in this room. How the occupant could sleep there I leave
readers to imagine.
The committee also visited the Vaishnava Haveli. The priest in charge of the Haveli was very
friendly with my family. So he agreed to let us inspect everything and suggest whatever
improvements we liked. There was a part of the Haveli premises that he himself had never seen.
It was the place where refuse and leaves used as dinnerplates used to be thrown over the wall. It
was the haunt of crows and kites. The latrines were of course dirty. I was not long enough in
Rajkot to see how many of our suggestions the priest carried out.
It pained me to see so much uncleanliness about a place of worship. One would expect a
careful observance of the rules of sanitation and hygiene in a place which is regarded as holy.
The authors of the Smritis, as I knew even then, have laid the greatest emphasis on cleanliness
both inward and outward.
26. TWO PASSIONS
Hardly ever have I known anybody to cherish such loyalty as I did to the British Constitution. I
can see now that my love of truth was at the root of this loyalty. It has never been possible for me
to simulate loyalty, or for that matter any other virtue. The National Anthem used to be sung at
every meeting that I attended in Natal. I then felt that I must also join in the singing. Not that I was
unaware of the defects in British rule, but I thought it was on the whole acceptable. In those days
I believed that British rule was on the whole beneficial to the ruled.
The colour prejudice that I saw in South Africa was, I thought, quite contrary to British
traditions, and I believed that it was only temporary and local. I therefore vied with Englishmen in
loyalty to the throne. With careful perseverance I learnt the tune of the National Anthem, and
joined in the singing whenever it was sung. Whenever there was an occasion for the expression
of loyalty without fuss or ostentation, I readily took part in it.
Never in my life did I exploit this loyalty, never did I seek to gain a selfish end by its means. It
was for me more in the nature of an obligation, and I rendered it without expecting a reward.
Preparations were going on for the celebrations of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee when I
reached India. I was invited to join the committee appointed for the purpose in Rajkot. I accepted
the offer, but had a suspicion that the celebrations would be largely a matter of show. I
discovered much humbug about them, and was considerably pained. I began to ask myself
whether I should remain on the committee or not, but ultimately decided to rest content with doing
my part of the business.
One of the proposals was to plant trees. I saw that many did it merely for show and for pleasing
the officials. I tried to plead with them that tree-planting was not compulsory, but merely a
suggestion. It should be done seriously or not at all. I have an impression that they laughed at my
ideas. I remember that I was in earnest when I planted the tree allotted to me, and that I carefully
watered and tended it.
I likewise taught the National Anthem to the children of my family. I recollect having taught it to
students of the local Training College, but I forget whether it was on the occasion of the Jubilee or
of King Edward VII’s coronation as Emperor of India. Later on the text began to jar on me. As my
conception of ahimsa went on maturing, I became more vigilant about my thought and speech.
The lines in the Anthem:
‘Scatter her enemies,
And make them fail;
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks’
particularly jarred upon my sentiment of ahimsa. I shared my feelings with Dr. Booth, who agreed
that it ill became a believer in ahimsa to sing those lines. How could we assume that the so-called
‘enemies’ were ‘knavish’? And because they were enemies, were they bound to be in the wrong?
From God we could only ask for justice. Dr. Booth entirely endorsed my sentiments, and
composed a new anthem for his congregation. But of Dr. Booth more later.
Like loyalty, an aptitude for nursing was also deeply rooted in my nature. I was fond of nursing
people, whether friends or strangers.
Whilst busy in Rajkot with the pamphlet on South Africa, I had an occasion to pay a flying visit
to Bombay. It was my intention to educate public opinion in cities on this question by organizing
meetings, and Bombay was the first city I chose. First of all I met Justice Ranade, who listened to
me with attention, and advised me to meet Sir Pherozeshah Mehta. Justice Badruddin Tyabji,
whom I met next, also gave me the same advice. ‘Justice Ranade and I can guide you but little,’
he said. ‘You know our position. We cannot take an active part in public affairs, but our
sympathies are with you. The man who can effectively guide you is Sir Pherozeshah Mehta.’
I certainly wanted to see Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, but the fact that these senior men advised
me to act according to his advice gave me a better idea of the immense influence that Sir
Pherozeshah had on the public. In due course I met him. I was prepared to be awed by his
presence. I had heard of the popular titles that he had earned, and knew that I was to see the
‘Lion of Bombay’, the ‘Uncrowned King of the Presidency’. But the king did not overpower me. He
met me as a loving father would meet his grown up son. Our meeting took place at his chamber.
He was surrounded by a circle of friends and followers. Amongst them were Mr. D. E. Wacha and
Mr. Cama, to whom I was introduced. I had already heard of Mr. Wacha. He was regarded as the
right-hand man of Sir Pherozeshah, and Sjt. Virchand Gandhi had described him to me as a great
statistician. Mr. Wacha said, ‘Gandhi, we must meet again.’
These introductions could scarcely have taken two minutes. Sir Pherozeshah carefully listened
to me. I told him that I had seen Justices Ranade and Tyabji. ‘Gandhi,’ said he, ‘I see that I must
help you. I must call a public meeting here.’ With this he turned to Mr. Munshi, the secretary, and
told him to fix up the date of the meeting. The date was settled, and he bade me good-bye,
asking me to see him again on the day previous to the meeting. The interview removed my fears,
and I went home delighted.
During this stay in Bombay I called on my brother-in-law, who was staying there and lying ill.
He was not a man of means, and my sister (his wife) was not equal to nursing him. The illness
was serious, and I offered to take him to Rajkot. He agreed, and so I returned home with my
sister and her husband. The illness was much more prolonged than I had expected. I put my
brother-in-law in my room and remained with him night and day. I was obliged to keep awake part
of the night, and had to get through some of my South African work whilst I was nursing him.
Ultimately, however, the patient died, but it was a great consolation to me that I had had an
opportunity to nurse him during his last days.
My aptitude for nursing gradually developed into a passion, so much so that it often led me to
neglect my work, and on occasions I engaged not only my wife but the whole household in such
Such service can have no meaning unless one takes pleasure in it. When it is done for show or
for fear of public opinion, it stunts the man and crushes his spirit. Service which is rendered
without joy helps neither the servant nor the served. But all other pleasures and possessions pale
into nothingness before service which is rendered in a spirit of joy.
27. THE BOMBAY MEETING
On the very day after my brother-in-law’s death I had to go to Bombay for the public meeting.
There had hardly been time for me to think out my speech. I was feeling exhausted after days
and nights of anxious vigil, and my voice had become husky. However, I went to Bombay trusting
entirely to God. I had never dreamt of writing out my speech.
In accordance with Sir Pherozeshah’s instructions I reported myself at his office at 5 p.m. on
the eve of the meeting.
‘Is your speech ready, Gandhi?’ he asked.
‘No, sir,’ said I, trembling with fear, ‘I think of speaking ex tempore.’
‘That will not do in Bombay. Reporting here is bad, and if we would benefit by this meeting, you
should write out your speech, and it should be printed before daybreak tomorrow. I hope you can
I felt rather nervous, but I said I would try.
‘Then, tell me, what time should Mr. Munshi come to you for the manuscript?’
‘Eleven o’clock tonight,’ said I.
On going to the meeting the next day, I saw the wisdom of Sir Pherozeshah’s advice. The
meeting was held in the hall of the Sir Cowasji Jehangir Institute. I had heard that when Sir
Pherozeshah Mehta addressed meetings the hall was always packed, chiefly by the students
intent on hearing him, leaving not an inch of room. This was the first meeting of the kind in my
experience. I saw that my voice could reach only a few. I was trembling as I began to read my
speech. Sir Pherozeshah cheered me up continually by asking me to speak louder and still
louder. I have a feeling that far from encouraging me, it made my voice sink lower and lower.
My old friend Sjt. Keshavrao Deshpande came to my rescue. I handed my speech to him. His
was just the proper voice. But the audience refused to listen. The hall rang with the cries of
‘Wacha’, ‘Wacha’. So Mr. Wacha stood up and read the speech, with wonderful results. The
audience became perfectly quiet, and listened to the speech to the end, punctuating it with
applause and cries of ‘shame’ where necessary. This gladdened my heart.
Sir Pherozeshah liked the speech. I was supremely happy.
The meeting won me the active sympathy of Sjt. Deshpande and a Parsi friend, whose name I
hesitate to mention, as he is a high-placed Government official today. Both expressed their
resolve to accompany me to South Africa. Mr. C. M. Cursetji, who was then Small Causes Court
judge, however, moved the Parsi friend from his resolve, as he had plotted his marriage. He had
to choose between marriage and going to South Africa, and he chose the former. But Parsi
Rustomji made amends for the broken resolve, and a number of Parsi sisters are now making
amends for the lady who helped in the breach, by dedicating themselves to Khadi work. I have
therefore gladly forgiven that couple. Sjt. Deshpande had no temptations of marriage, but he too
could not come. Today he is himself doing enough reparation for the broken pledge. On my way
back to South Africa I met one of the Tyabjis at Zanzibar. He also promised to come and help me,
but never came. Mr. Abbas Tyabji is atoning for that offence. Thus none of my three attempts to
induce barristers to go to South Africa bore any fruit.
In this connection I remember Mr. Pestonji Padshah. I had been on friendly terms with him ever
since my stay in England. I first met him in a vegetarian restaurant in London. I knew of his
brother Mr. Barjorji Padshah by his reputation as a ‘crank’. I had never met him, but friends said
that he was eccentric. Out of pity for the horses he would not ride in tramcars, he refused to take
degrees in spite of a prodigious memory, he had developed an independent spirit, and he was a
vegetarian, though a Parsi. Pestonji had not quite this reputation, but he was famous for his
erudition even in London. The common factor between us, however, was vegetarianism, and not
scholarship, in which it was beyond my power to approach him.
I found him out again in Bombay. He was Protonotary in the High Court. When I met him he
was engaged on his contribution to a Higher Gujarati Dictionary. There was not a friend I had not
approached for help in my South African work. Pestonji Padshah, however, not only refused to
aid me, but even advised me not to return to South Africa.
‘It is impossible to help you,’ he said, ‘But I tell you I do not like even your going to South Africa.
Is there lack of work in our own country? Look, now, there is not a little to do for our language. I
have to find out scientific words. But this is only one branch of the work. Think of the poverty of
the land. Our people in South Africa are no doubt in difficulty, but I do not want a man like you to
be sacrificed for that work. Let us win self-government here and we shall automatically help our
coutrymen there. I know I cannot prevail upon you, but I will not encourage any one of your type
to throw in his lot with you.’
I did not like this advice, but it increased my regard for Mr. Pestonji Padshah. I was struck with
his love for the country and for the mother tongue. The incident brought us closer to each other. I
could understand his point of view. But far from giving up my work in South Africa. I became
firmer in my resolve. A patriot cannot afford to ignore any branch of service to the mother land.
And for me the text of the Gita was clear and emphatic:
‘Finally, this is better, that one do
His own task as he may, even though he fail,
Than take tasks not his own, though they seem good.
To die performing duty is no ill:
But who seeks other roads shall wander still.’
28. POONA AND MADRAS
Sir Pherozeshah had made my way easy. So from Bombay I went to Poona. Here there were
two parties. I wanted the help of people of every shade of opinion. First I met Lokamanya Tilak.
‘You are quite right in seeking the help of all parties. There can be no difference of opinion on
the South African question. But you must have a non-party man for your president. Meet
Professor Bhandarkar. He has been taking no part of late in any public movement. But this
question might possibly draw him out. See him and let me know what he says. I want to help you
to the fullest extent. Of course you will meet me whenver you like. I am at your disposal.’
This was my first meeting with the Lokamanya. It revealed to me the secret of his unique
Next I met Gokhale. I found him on the Fergusson College grounds. He gave me an
affectionate welcome, and his manner immediately won my heart. With him too this was my first
meeting, and yet it seemed as though we were renewing an old friendship. Sir Pherozeshah had
seemed to me like the Himalaya, the Lokamanya like the ocean. But Gokhale was as the
Ganges. One could have a refreshing bath in the holy river. The Himalaya was unscaleable, and
one could not easily launch forth on the sea, but the Ganges invited one to its bosom. It was a joy
to be on it with a boat and an oar. Gokhale closely examined me, as a schoolmaster would
examine a candidate seeking admission to a school. He told me whom to approach and how to
approach them. He asked to have a look at my speech. He showed me over the college, assured
me that he was always at my disposal, asked me to let him know the result of the interview with
Dr. Bhandarkar, and sent me away exultantly happy. In the sphere of politics the place that
Gokhale occupied in my heart during his lifetime and occupies even now was and is absolutely
Dr. Bhandarkar received me with the warmth of a father. It was noon when I called on him. The
very fact that I was busy seeing people at that hour appealed greatly to this indefatigable savant,
and my insistence on a non-party man for the president of the meeting had his ready approval,
which was expressed in the spontaneous exclamation, ‘That’s it, that’s it.’
After he had heard me out he said: ‘Anyone will tell you that I do not take part in politics. But I
cannot refuse you. Your case is so strong and your industry is so admirable that I cannot decline
to take part in your meeting. You did well in consulting Tilak and Gokhale. Please tell them that I
shall be glad to preside over the meeting to be held under the joint auspices of the two Sabhas.
You need not have the time of the meeting from me. Any time that suits them will suit me.’ With
this he bade me good-bye with congratulations and blessings.
Without any ado this erudite and selfless band of workers in Poona held a meeting in an
unostentatious little place, and sent me away rejoicing and more confident of my mission.
I next proceeded to Madras. It was wild enthusiasm. The Balasundaram incident made a
profound impression on the meeting. My speech was printed and was, for me, fairly long. But the
audience listened to every word with attention. At the close of the meeting there was a regular run
on the ‘Green Pamphlet’. I brought out a second and revised edition of 10,000 copies. They sold
like hot cakes, but I saw that it was not necessary to print such a large number. In my enthusiasm
I had overcalculated the demand. It was the English-speaking public to which my speech had
been addressed, and in Madras that class alone could not take the whole ten thousand.
The greatest help here came to me from the late Sjt. G. Parameshvaran Pillay, the editor
of The Madras Standard. He had made a careful study of the question, and he often invited me to
his office and gave me guidance. Sjt. G. Subrahamaniam of The Hindu and D.r Subrahmaniam
also were very sympathetic. But Sjt. G. Parameshvaran Pillay placed the columns of The Madras
Standard entirely at my disposal, and I freely availed myself of the offer. The meeting in
Pachaiappa’s Hall, so far as I can recollect, was with Dr. Subrahmaniam in the chair.
The affection showered on me by most of the friends I met, and their enthusiasm for the cause,
were so great that in spite of my having to communicate with them in English, I felt myself entirely
at home. What barrier is here that love cannot break?
29. ‘RETURN SOON’
From Madras I proceeded to Calcutta, where I found myself hemmed in by difficulties. I knew
no one there. So I took a room in the Great Eastern Hotel. Here I became a acquainted with Mr.
Ellerthorpe, a representative of The Daily Telegraph. He invited me to the Bengal Club, where he
was staying. He did not then realize that an Indian could not be taken to the drawing-room of the
Club. Having discovered the restriction, he took me to his room. He expressed his sorrow
regarding this prejudice of the local Englishmen, and apologized to me for not having been able
to take me to the drawing-room.
I had of course to see Surendranath Banerji, the ‘Idol of Bengal’. When I met him, he was
surrounded by a number of friends. He said:
‘I am afraid people will not take interest in your work. As you know, our difficulties here are by
no means few. But you must try as best you can. You will have to enlist the sympathy of
Maharajas. Mind you meet the representatives of the British Indian Association. You should meet
Raja Sir Pyarimohan Mukarji and Maharaja Tagore. Both are liberal-minded and take a fair share
in public work.’
I met these gentlemen, but without success. Both gave me a cold reception and said it was no
easy thing to call a public meeting in Calcutta, and if anything could be done, it would practically
all depend on Surendranath Banerji.
I saw that my task was becoming more and more difficult, I called at the office of the Amrita
Bazar Patrika. The gentleman whom I met there took me to be a wandering Jew. The
Bangabasi went even one better. The editor kept me waiting for an hour. He had evidently many
interviewers, but he would not so much as look at me, even when he had disposed of the rest. On
my venturing to broach my subject after the long wait he said: ‘Don’t you see our hands are full?
There is no end to the number of visitors like you. You had better go. I am not disposed to listen
to you.’ For a moment I felt offended, but I quickly understood the editor’s position. I had heard of
the fame of The Bangabasi. I could see that there was a regular stream of visitors there. And they
were all people acquainted with him. His paper had no lack of topics to discuss, and South Africa
was hardly known at that time.
However serious a grievance may be in the eyes of the man who suffers from it, he will be but
one of the numerous people invading the editor’s office, each with a grievance of his own. How is
the editor to meet them all? Moreover, the aggrieved party imagines that the editor is a power in
the land. Only he knows that his powers can hardly travel beyond the threshold of his office. But I
was not discouraged. I kept on seeing editors of other papers. As usual I met the Anglo-Indian
editors also. The Statesman and The Englishman realized the importance of the question. I gave
them long interviews, and they published them in full.
Mr. Saunders, editor of The Englishman, claimed me as his own. He placed his office and
paper at my disposal. He even allowed me the liberty of making whatever changes I liked in the
leading article he had written on the situation, the proof of which he sent me in advance. It is no
exaggeration to say that a friendship grew up between us. He promised to render me all the help
he could, carried out the promise to the letter, and kept on his correspondence with me until the
time when he was seriously ill.
Throughout my life I have had the privilege of many such friendships, which have sprung up
quite unexpectedly. What Mr. Saunders liked in me was my freedom from exaggeration and my
devotion to truth. He subjected me to a searching cross-examination before he began to
sympathize with my cause, and he saw that I had spared neither will nor pains to place before
him an impartial statement of the case even of the white man in South Africa and also to
My experience has shown me that we win justice quickest by rendering justice to the other
The unexpected help of Mr. Saunders had begun to encourage me to think that I might
succeed after all in holding a public meeting in Calcutta, when I received the following cable from
Durban ‘Parliament opens January. Return soon.’
So I addressed a letter to the Press, in which I explained why I had to leave Calcutta so
abruptly, and set off for Bombay. Before starting I wired to the Bombay agent of Dada Abdulla
and Co., to arrange for my passage by the first possible boat to South Africa. Dada Abdulla had
just then purchased the steamship Courland and insisted on my travelling on that boat, offering to
take me and my family free of charge. I gratefully accepted the offer, and in the beginning of
December set sail a second time for South Africa, now with my wife and two sons and the only
son of my widowed sister. Another steamship, Naderi, also sailed for Durban at the same time.
The agents of the Company were Dada Abdulla and Co. The total number of passengers these
boats carried must have been about eight hundred, half of whom were bound for the Transvaal.
1. RUMBLINGS OF THE STORM
This was my first voyage with my wife and children. I have often observed in the course of this
narrative that on account of child marriages amongst middle class Hindus, the husband will be
literate whilst the wife remains practically unlettered. A wide gulf thus separates them, and the
husband has to become his wife’s teacher. So I had to think out the details of the dress to be
adopted by my wife and children, the food they were to eat, and the manners which would be
suited to their new surroundings. Some of the recollections of those days are amusing to look
A Hindu wife regards implicit obedience to her husband as the highest religion. A Hindu
husband regards himself as lord and master of his wife, who must ever dance attendance upon
I believed, at the time of which I am writing, that in order to look civilized, our dress and
manners had, as far as possible, to approximate to the European standard. Because, I thought,
only thus could we have some influence, and without influence it would not be possible to serve
I therefore determined the style of dress for my wife and children. How could I like them to be
known as Kathiawad Banias? The Parsis used then to be regarded as the most civilized people
amongst Indians, and so, when the complete European style seemed to be unsuited, we adopted
the Parsi style. Accordingly my wife wore the Parsi sari, and the boys the Parsi coat and trousers.
Of course no one could be without shoes and stockings. It was long before my wife and children
could get used to them. The shoes cramped their feet and the stockings stank with perspiration.
The toes often got sore. I always had my answers ready to all these objections. But I have an
impression that it was not so much the answers as the force of authority that carried conviction.
They agreed to the changes in dress, as there was no alternative. In the same spirit and with
even more reluctance they adopted the use of knives and forks. When my infatuation for these
signs of civilization wore away, they gave up the knives and forks. After having become long
accustomed to the new style, it was perhaps no less irksome for me to return to the original
mode. But I can see today that we feel all the freer and lighter for having cast off the tinsel of
On board the same steamer with us were some relatives and acquaintances. These and other
deck passengers I frequently met, because, the boat belonging to my client’s friends, I was free to
move about anywhere and everywhere I liked.
Since the steamer was making straight for Natal, without calling at intermediate ports, our
voyage was of only eighteen days. But as though to warn us of the coming real storm on land, a
terrible gale overtook us whilst we were only four days from Natal. December is a summer month
of monsoon in the southern hemisphere, and gales, great and small, are therefore quite common
in the Southern sea at that season. The gale in which we were caught was so violent and
prolonged that the passengers became alarmed. It was a solemn scene. All became one in face
of the common danger. They forgot their differences and began to think of the one and only God–
Musalmans, Hindus, Christians and all. Some took various vows. The captain also joined the
passengers in their prayers. He assured them that though the storm was not without danger, he
had had experience of many worse ones, and explained to them that a well-built ship could stand
almost any weather. But they were inconsolable. Every minute were heard sounds and crashes
which foreboded breaches and leaks. The ship rocked and rolled to such an extent that it seemed
as though she would capsize at any moment. It was out of the question for anyone to remain on
deck. ‘His will be done’ was the only cry on every lip. So far as I can recollect, we must have been
in this plight for about twenty-four hours. At last the sky cleared, the sun made its appearance,
and the captain said that the storm had blown over. People’s faces beamed with gladness, and
with the disappearance of danger disappeared also the name of God from their lips. Eating and
drinking, singing and merry-making again became the order of the day. The fear of death was
gone, and the momentary mood of earnest prayer gave place to maya./1/ There were of course
the usual namaz/2/ and the prayers, yet they had none of the solemnity of that dread hour.
But the storm had made me one with the passengers. I had little fear of the storm, for I had had
experience of similar ones. I am a good sailor and do not get sea-sick. So I could fearlessly move
amongst the passengers, bringing them comfort and good cheer, and conveying to them hourly
reports of the captain. The friendship I thus formed stood me, as we shall see, in very good stead.
The ship cast anchor in the port of Durban on the 18th or 19th of December. The Naderi also
reached the same day.
But the real storm was still to come.
/1/ The famous word in Hindu philosophy which is nearly untranslatable, but has been frequently
translated in English as ‘delusion’, ‘illusion’.
/2/ The prayer prescribed by the Koran.
2. THE STORM
We have seen that the two ships cast anchor in the port of Durban on or about the 18th
December. No passengers are allowed to land at any of the South African ports before being
subjected to a thorough medical examination. If the ship has any passenger suffering from a
contagious disease, she [=the ship] has to undergo a period of quarantine. As there had been
plague in Bombay when we set sail, we feared that we might have to go through a brief
quarantine. Before the examination every ship has to fly a yellow flag, which is lowered only when
the doctor has certified her to be healthy. Relatives and friends of passengers are allowed to
come on board only after the yellow flag has been lowered.
Accordingly our ship was flying the yellow flag, when the doctor came and examined us. He
ordered a five days’ quarantine because, in his opinion, plague germs took twenty-three days at
the most to develop. Our ship was therefore ordered to be put in quarantine until the twenty-third
day of our sailing from Bombay. But this quarantine order had more than health reasons behind it.
The white residents of Durban had been agitating for our repatriation, and the agitation was
one of the reasons for the order. Dada Abdulla and Co. kept us regularly informed about the daily
happenings in the town. The whites were holding monster meetings every day. They were
addressing all kinds of threats, and at times offering even inducements, to Dada Abdulla and Co.
They were ready to indemnify the Company if both the ships should be sent back. But Dada
Abdulla and Co. were not the people to be afraid of threats. Sheth Abdul Karim Haji Adam was
then the managing partner of the firm. He was determined to moor the ships at the wharf and
disembark the passengers at any cost. He was daily sending me detailed letters. Fortunately the
late Sjt. Mansukhlal Naazar was then in Durban, having gone there to meet me. He was capable
and fearless, and guided the Indian community. Their advocate Mr. Laughton was an equally
fearless man. He condemned the conduct of the white residents, and advised the community not
merely as their paid advocate, but also as their true friend.
Thus Durban had become the scene of an unequal duel. On one side there was a handful of
poor Indians and a few of their English friends, and on the other were ranged the white men,
strong in arms, in numbers, in education, and in wealth. They had also the backing of the State,
for the Natal Government openly helped them. Mr. Harry Escombe, who was the most influential
of the members of the Cabinet, openly took part in their meetings.
The real object of the quarantine was thus to coerce the passengers into returning to India by
somehow intimidating them or the Agent Company. For now threats began to be addressed to us
also: ‘If you do not go back, you will surely be pushed into the sea. But if you consent to return,
you may even get your passage money back.’ I constantly moved amongst my fellow passengers
cheering them up. I also sent messages of comfort to the passengers of the s.s. Naderi. All of
them kept calm and courageous.
We arranged all sorts of games on the ship for the entertainment of the passengers. On
Christmas Day the captain invited the saloon passengers to dinner. The principal among these
were my family and I. In the speeches after dinner I spoke on Western civilization. I knew that this
was not an occasion for a serious speech. But mine could not be otherwise. I took part in the
merriment, but my heart was in the combat that was going on in Durban. For I was the real target.
There were two charges against me:
(1) that whilst in India I had indulged in unmerited condemnation of the Natal whites;
(2) that with a view to swamping Natal Indians I had specially brought the two shiploads of
passengers to settle there.
I was conscious of my responsibility. I knew that Dada Abdulla and Co. had incurred grave
risks on my account, the lives of the passengers were in danger, and by bringing my family with
me I had put them likewise in jeopardy.
But I was absolutely innocent. I had induced no one to go to Natal. I did not know the
passengers when they embarked. And with the exception of a couple of relatives, I did not know
the name and address of even one of the hundreds of passengers on board. Neither had I said,
whilst in India, a word about the whites in Natal that I had not already said in Natal itself. And I
had ample evidence in support of all that I had said.
I therefore deplored the civilization of which the Natal whites were the fruit, and which they
represented and championed. This civilization had all along been on my mind, and I therefore
offered my views concerning it in my speech before that little meeting. The captain and other
friends gave me a patient hearing, and received my speech in the spirit in which it was made. I do
not know that it in any way affected the course of their lives, but afterwards I had long talks with
the captain and other officers regarding the civilization of the West. I had in my speech described
Western civilization as being, unlike the Eastern, predominantly based on force. The questioners
pinned me to my faith, and one of them–the captain, so far as I can recollect–said to me:
‘Supposing the whites carry out their threats, how will you stand by your principle of nonviolence?’
To which I replied: ‘I hope God will give me the courage and the sense to forgive them
and to refrain from bringing them to law. I have no anger against them. I am only sorry for their
ignorance and their narrowness. I know that they sincerely believe that what they are doing today
is right and proper. I have no reason therefore to be angry with them.’
The questioner smiled, possibly distrustfully.
Thus the days dragged on their weary length. When the quarantine would terminate was still
uncertain. The quarantine officer said that the matter had passed out of his hands, and that as
soon as he had orders from the Government, he would permit us to land.
At last ultimatums were served on the passengers and me. We were asked to submit, if we
would escape with our lives. In our reply the pasengers and I both maintained our right to land at
Port Natal, and intimated our determination to enter Natal at any risk.
At the end of twenty-three days the ships were permitted to enter the harbour, and orders
permitting the passengers to land were passed.
3. THE TEST
So the ships were brought into the dock and the passengers began to go ashore. But Mr.
Escombe had sent word to the captain that, as the whites were highly enraged against me and
my life was in danger, my family and I should be advised to land at dusk, when the port
superintendent Mr. Tatum would escort us home. The captain communicated the message to me,
and I agreed to act accordingly. But scarcely half an hour after this, Mr. Laughton came to the
captain. He said: ‘I would like to take Mr. Gandhi with me, should he have no objection. As the
legal adviser of the Agent Company I tell you that you are not bound to carry out the message
you have received from Mr. Escombe.’ After this he came to me and said somewhat to this effect:
‘If you are not afraid, I suggest that Mrs. Gandhi and the children should drive to Mr. Rustomji’s
house. whilst you and I follow them on foot. I do not at all like the idea of your entering the city like
a thief in the night. I do not think there is any fear of anyone hurting you. Everything is quiet now.
The whites have all dispersed. But in any case I am convinced that you ought not to enter the city
stealthily.’ I readily agreed. My wife and children drove safely to Mr. Rustomji’s place. With the
captain’s permission I went ashore with Mr. Laughton. Mr. Rustomji’s house was about two miles
from the dock.
As soon as we landed, some youngesters recognized me and shouted ‘Gandhi, Gandhi.’ About
half a dozen men rushed to the spot and joined in the shouting. Mr. Laughton feared that the
crowd might swell, and hailed a rickshaw. I had never liked the idea of being in a rickshaw. This
was to be my first experience. But the youngsters would not let me get into it. They frightened the
rickshaw boy out of his life, and he took to his heels. As we went ahead, the crowd continued to
swell, until it became impossible to proceed further. They first caught hold of Mr. Laughton and
separated us. Then they pelted me with stones, brickbats, and rotten eggs. Someone snatched
away my turban, whilst others began to batter and kick me. I fainted, and caught hold of the front
railings of a house and stood there to get my breath. But it was impossible. They came upon me,
boxing and battering. The wife of the police superintendent, who knew me, happened to be
passing by. The brave lady came up, opened her parasol though there was no sun then, and
stood between the crowd and me. This checked the fury of the mob, as it was difficult for them to
deliver blows on me without harming Mrs. Alexander.
Meanwhile an Indian youth who witnessed the incident had run to the police station. The police
superintendent, Mr. Alexander, sent a posse of men to ring me round and escort me safely to my
destination. They arrived in time. The police station lay on our way. As we reached there, the
superintendent asked me to take refuge in the station, but I gratefully declined the offer. ‘They are
sure to quiet down when they realize their mistake,’ I said ‘I have trust in their sense of fairness.’
Escorted by the police, I arrived without further harm at Mr. Rustomji’s place. I had bruises all
over, but no abrasions except in one place. Dr. Dadibarjor, the ship’s doctor, who was on the
spot, rendered the best possible help.
There was quiet inside, but outside the whites surrounded the house. Night was coming on,
and the yelling crowd was shouting, ‘We must have Gandhi.’ The quick-sighted police
superintendent was already there, trying to keep the crowds under control not by threats, but by
humouring them. But he was not entirely free from anxiety. He sent me a message to this effect:
‘If you would save your friend’s house and property and also your family, you should escape from
the house in disguise, as I suggest.’
Thus on one and the same day I was faced with two contradictory positions. When danger to
life had been no more than imaginary, Mr. Laughton advised me to launch forth openly. I
accepted the advice. When the danger was quite real, another friend gave me the contrary
advice, and I accepted that too. Who can say whether I did so because I saw that my life was in
jeopardy, or because I did not want to put my friend’s life and property or the lives of my wife and
children in danger? Who can say for certain that I was right both when I faced the crowd in the
first instance bravely, as it was said, and when I escaped from it in disguise?
It is idle to adjudicate upon the right and wrong of incidents that have already happened. It is
useful to understand them and, if possible, to learn a lesson from them for the future. It is difficult
to say for certain how a particular man would act in a particular set of circumstances. We can also
see that judging a man from his outward act is no more than a doubtful inference, inasmuch as it
is not based on sufficient data.
Be that as it may, the preparations for escape made me forget my injuries. As suggested by the
superintendent, I put on an Indian constable’s uniform and wore on my head a Madrasi scarf,
wrapped round a plate to serve as a helmet. Two detectives accompanied me, one of them
disguised as an Indian merchant and with his face painted to resemble that of an Indian. I forget
the disguise of the other. We reached a neighbouring shop by a by-lane, and making our way
through the gunny bags piled in the godown, escaped by the gate of the shop and threaded our
way through the crowd to a carriage that had been kept for me at the end of the street. In this we
drove off to the same police station where Mr. Alexander had offered me refuge a short time
before, and I thanked him and the detective officers.
Whilst I had been thus effecting my escape, Mr Alexander had kept the crowd amused by
singing the tune:
‘Hang old Gandhi
On the sour apple tree.’
When he was informed of my safe arrival at the police station, he thus broke the news to the
crowd: ‘Well, your victim has made good his escape through a neighbouring shop. You had better
go home now.’ Some of them were angry, others laughed, some refused to believe the story.
‘Well then,’ said the superintendent, ‘if you do not believe me, you may appoint one or two
representatives, whom I am ready to take inside the house. If they succeed in finding out Gandhi,
I will gladly deliver him to you. But if they fail, you must disperse. I am sure that you have no
intention of destroying Mr. Rustomji’s house or of harming Mr. Gandhi’s wife and children.’
The crowd sent their representatives to search the house. They soon returned with
disappointing news, and the crowd broke up at last, most of them admiring the superintendent’s
tactful handling of the situation, and a few fretting and fuming.
The late Mr. Chamberlain, who was then Secretary of State for the Colonies, cabled asking the
Natal Government to prosecute my assailants. Mr. Escombe sent for me, expressed his regret for
the injuries I had sustained, and said: ‘Believe me, I cannot feel happy over the least little injury
done to your person. You had a right to accept Mr. Laughton’s advice and to face the worst, but I
am sure that if you had considered my suggestion, these sad occurences would not have
happened. If you can identify the assailants, I am prepared to arrest and prosecute them. Mr.
Chamberlain also desires me to do so.’
To which I gave the following reply:
‘I do not want to prosecute anyone. It is possible that I may be able to identify one or two of
them, but what is the use of getting them punished? Besides, I do not hold the assailants to
blame. They were given to understand that I had made exaggerated statements in India about the
whites in Natal and calumniated them. If they believed these reports, it is no wonder that they
were enraged. The leaders and, if you will permit me to say so, you are to blame. You could have
guided the people properly, but you also believed Reuter and assumed that I must have indulged
in exaggeration. I do not want to bring any one to book. I am sure that, when the truth becomes
known, they will be sorry for their conduct.’
‘Would you mind giving me this in writing?’ said Mr Escombe. ‘Because I shall have to cable to
Mr. Chamberlain to that effect. I do not want you to make any statement in haste. You may, if you
like, consult Mr. Laughton and your other friends, before you come to a final decision. I may
confess, however, that if you waive the right of bringing your assailants to book, you will
considerably help me in restoring quiet, besides enhancing your own reputation.’
‘Thank you,’ said I. ‘I need not consult anyone. I had made my decision in the matter before I
came to you. It is my conviction that I should not prosecute the assailants, and I am prepared this
moment to reduce my decision to writing.’
With this I gave him the necessary statement.
4. THE CALM AFTER THE STORM
I had not yet left the police station, when after two days I was taken to see Mr. Escombe. Two
constables were sent to protect me, though no such precaution was then needed.
On the day of landing, as soon as the yellow flag was lowered, a representative of The Natal
Advertiser had come to interview me. He had asked me a number of questions, and in reply I had
been able to refute every one of the charges that had been levelled against me. Thanks to Sir
Pherozeshah Mehta, I had delivered only written speeches in India, and I had copies of them all,
as well as of my other writings. I had given the interviewer all this literature and showed him that
in India I had said nothing which I had not already said in South African in stronger language. I
had also shown him that I had had no hand in bringing the passengers of
the Courland and Naderi to South Africa. Many of them were old residents, and most of them, far
from wanting to stay in Natal, meant to go to the Transvaal. In those days the Transvaal offered
better prospects than Natal to those coming in search of wealth, and most Indians, therefore,
preferred to go there.
This interview and my refusal to prosecute the assailants produced such a profound
impression that the Europeans of Durban were ashamed of their conduct. The press declared me
to be innocent and condemned the mob. Thus the lynching ultimately proved to be a blessing for
me, that is, for the cause. It enhanced the prestige of the Indian community in South Africa and
made my work easier.
In three or four days I went to my house, and it was not long before I settled down again. The
incident added also to my professional practice.
But if it enhanced the prestige of the community, it also fanned the flame of prejudice against it.
As soon as it was proved that the Indian could put up a manly fight, he came to be regarded as a
danger. Two bills were introduced in the Natal Legislative Assembly, one of them calculated to
affect the Indian trader adversely, and the other to impose a stringent restriction on Indian
immigration. Fortunately the fight for the franchise had resulted in a decision to the effect that no
enactment might be passed against the Indians as such, that is to say, that the law should make
no distinctions of colour or race. The language of the bills above mentioned made them
applicable to all, but their object undoubtedly was to impose further restrictions on the Indian
residents of Natal.
The bills considerably increased my public work and made the community more alive than ever
to their sense of duty. They were translated into Indian languages and fully explained, so as to
bring home to the community their subtle implications. We appealed to the Colonial Secretary, but
he refused to interfere and the bills became law.
Public work now began to absorb most of my time. Sjt. Mansukhlal Naazar, who, as I have
said, was already in Durban, came to stay with me, and as he gave his time to public work, he
lightened my burden to some extent.
Sheth Adamji Miyakhan had, in my absence, discharged his duty with great credit. He had
increased the membership and added about £1,000 to the coffers of the Natal Indian Congress.
The awakening caused by the bills and the demonstration against the passengers I turned to
good acccount by making an appeal for membership and funds, which now amounted to £5,000.
My desire was to secure for the Congress a permanent fund, so that it might procure property of
its own and then carry on its work out of the rent of the property. This was my first experience of
managing a public institution. I placed my proposal before my co-workers, and they welcomed it.
The property that was purchased was leased out, and the rent was enough to meet the current
expenses of the Congress. The property was vested in a strong body of trustees and is still there
today, but it has become the source of much internecine quarrelling, with the result that the rent
of the property now accumulates in the court.
This sad situation developed after my departure from South Africa, but my idea of having
permanent funds for public institutions underwent a change long before this difference arose. And
now after considerable experience with the many public institutions which I have managed, it has
become my firm conviction that it is not good to run public institutions on permanent funds. A
permanent fund carries in itself the seed of the moral fall of the institution. A public institution
means an institution conducted with the approval, and from the funds, of the public. When such
an institution ceases to have public support, it forfeits its right to exist. Institutions maintained on
permanent funds are often found to ignore public opinion, and are frequently responsible for acts
contrary to it. In our country we experience this at every step. Some of the so-called religious
trusts have ceased to render any accounts. The trustees have become the owners, and are
responsible to none. I have no doubt that the ideal is for public institutions to live, like nature, from
day to day. The institution that fails to win public support has no right to exist as such. The
subscriptions that an institution annually receives are a test of its popularity and the honesty of its
management, and I am of opinion that every institution should submit to that test. But let no one
misunderstand me. My remarks do not apply to the bodies which cannot, by their very nature, be
conducted without permanent buildings. What I mean to say it that the current expenditure should
be found from subscriptions voluntarily received from year to year.
These views were confirmed during the days of the Satyagraha in South Africa. That
magnificent campaign, extending over six years, was carried on without permanent funds, though
lakhs of rupees were necessary for it. I can recollect times when I did not know what would
happen the next day if no subscriptions came in. But I shall not anticipate future events. The
reader will find the opinion expressed above amply borne out in the coming narrative.
5. EDUCATION OF CHILDREN
When I landed at Durban in January 1897, I had three children with me, my sister’s son ten
years old, and my own sons nine and five years of age. Where was I to educate them?
I could have sent them to the schools for European children, but only as a matter of favour and
exception. No other Indian children were allowed to attend them. For these there were schools
established by Christian missions, but I was not prepared to send my children there, as I did not
like the education imparted in those schools. For one thing, the medium of instruction would be
only English, or perhaps incorrect Tamil or Hindi; this too could only have been arranged with
difficulty. I could not possibly put up with this and other disadvantages. In the meantime I was
making my own attempt to teach them. But that was at best irregular, and I could not get hold of a
suitable Gujarati teacher.
I was at my wits’ end. I advertised for an English teacher who should teach the children under
my direction. Some regular instruction was to be given them by this teacher, and for the rest they
should be satisfied with what little I could give them irregularly. So I engaged an English
governess at £7 a month. This went on for some time, but not to my satisfaction. The boys
acquired some knowledge of Gujarai through my conversation and intercourse with them, which
was strictly in the mother-tongue. I was loath to send them back to India, for I believed even then
that young children should not be separated from their parents. The education that children
naturally imbibe in a well-ordered household is impossible to obtain in hostels. I therefore kept my
children with me. I did send my nephew and elder son to be educated at residential schools in
India for a few months, but I soon had to recall them. Later the eldest son, long after he had come
of age, broke away from me, and went to India to join a high school in Ahmedabad. I have an
impression that the nephew was satisfied with what I could give him. Unfortunately he died in the
prime of youth after a brief illness. The other three of my sons have never been at a public
school, though they did get some regular schooling in an improvised school which I started for the
children of Satyagrahi parents in South Africa.
These experiments were all indequate. I could not devote to the children all the time I had
wanted to give them. My inability to give them enough attention and other unavoidable causes
prevented me from providing them with the literary education I had desired, and all my sons have
had complaints to make against me in this matter. Whenever they come across an M.A. or a B.A.,
or even a matriculate, they seem to feel the handicap of a want of school education.
Nevertheless I am of opinion that if I had insisted on their being educated somehow at public
schools, they would have been deprived of the training that can be had only at the school of
experience, or from constant contact with the parents. I should never have been free, as I am
today, from anxiety on their score, and the artificial education that they could have had in England
or South Africa, torn from me, would never have taught them the simplicity and the spirit of
service that they show in their lives today, while their artificial ways of living might have been a
serious handicap in my public work. Therefore, though I have not been able to give them a literary
education either to their or to my satisfaction, I am not quite sure, as I look back on my past
years, that I have not done my duty by them to the best of my capacity. Nor do I regret not having
sent them to public schools. I have always felt that the undesirable traits I see today in my eldest
son are an echo of my own undisciplined and unformulated early life. I regard that time as a
period of half-baked knowledge and indulgence. It coincided with the most impressionable years
of my eldest son, and naturally he has refused to regard it as my time of indulgence and
inexperience. He has on the contrary believed that that was the brightest period of my life, and
the changes effected later have been due to delusion, miscalled enlightenment. And well he
might. Why should he not think that my earlier years represented a period of awakening, and the
later years of radical change, years of delusion and egotism? Often have I been confronted with
various posers from friends: What harm had there been, if I had given my boys an academical
education? What right had I thus to clip their wings? Why should I have come in the way of their
taking degrees and choosing their own careers?
I do not think that there is much point in these questions. I have come in contact with numerous
students. I have tried myself, or through others, to impose my educational ‘fads’ on other children
too, and have seen the results thereof. There are within my knowledge a number of young men
today contemporaneous with my sons. I do not think that man to man they are any better than my
sons, or that my sons have much to learn from them.
But the ultimate result of my experiments is in the womb of the future. My object in discussing
this subject here is that a student of the history of civilization may have some measure of the
difference between disciplined home education and school education, and so of the effect
produced on children through changes introduced by parents in their lives. The purpose of this
chapter is to show the lengths to which a votary of truth is driven by his experiments with truth, as
also to show the votary of liberty how many are the sacrifices demanded by that stern goddess.
Had I been without a sense of self-respect, and satisfied myself with having for my children the
education that other children could not get, I should have deprived them of the object-lesson in
liberty and self-respect that I gave them at the cost of the literary training. And where a choice
has to be made between liberty and learning, who will not say that the former has to be preferred
a thousand times to the latter?
The youths whom I called out in 1920 from those citadels of slavery–their schools and
colleges–and whom I advised that it was far better to remain unlettered and break stones for the
sake of liberty, than to go in for a literary education in the chains of slaves, will probably be able
now to trace my advice to its source.
6. SPIRIT OF SERVICE
My profession progressed satisfactorily, but that was far from satisfying me. The question of
further simplifying my life and of doing some concrete act of service to my fellow-men had been
constantly agitating me, when a leper came to my door. I had not the heart to dismiss him with a
meal. So I offered him shelter, dressed his wounds, and began to look after him. But I could not
go on like that indefinitely. I could not afford, I lacked the will, to keep him always with me. So I
sent him to the government hospital for indentured labourers.
But I was still ill at ease. I longed for some humanitarian work of a permanent nature. Dr. Booth
was the head of the St. Aidan’s Mission. He was a kind-hearted man and treated his patients free.
Thanks to Parsi Rustomji’s charities, it was possible to open a small charitable hospital under Dr.
Booth’s charge. I felt strongly inclined to serve as a nurse in this hospital. The work of dispensing
medicines took from one to two hours daily, and I made up my mind to find that time from my
office-work, so as to be able to fill the place of a compounder in the dispensary attached to the
hospital. Most of my professional work was chamber work, conveyancing, and arbitration. I of
course used to have a few cases in the magistrate’s court, but most of them were of a noncontroversial
character, and Mr. Khan, who had followed me to South Africa and was then living
with me, undertook to take them if I was absent. So I found time to serve in the small hospital.
This meant two hours every morning, including the time taken in going to and from the hospital.
This work brought me some peace. It consisted in ascertaining the patient’s complaints, laying
the facts before the doctor, and dispensing the prescriptions. It brought me in close touch with
suffering Indians, most of them indentured Tamil, Telugu, or North India men.
The experience stood me in good stead, when during the Boer War I offered my services for
nursing the sick and wounded soldiers.
The question of the rearing of children had been ever before me. I had two sons born in South
Africa, and my service in the hospital was useful in solving the question of their upbringing. My
independent spirit was a constant source of trial. My wife and I had decided to have the best
medial aid at the time of her delivery, but if the doctor and the nurse were to leave us in the lurch
at the right moment, what was I to do? Then the nurse had to be an Indian. And the difficulty of
getting a trained Indian nurse in South Africa can be easily imagined from the similar difficulty in
India. So I studied the things necessary for safe labour. I read Dr. Tribhuvandas’ book Ma-ne
Shikhaman–‘Advice to a Mother’–and I nursed both my children according to the instructions
given in the book, tempered here and there by such experiences as I had gained elsewhere. The
services of a nurse were utilized–not for more than two months each time–chiefly for helping my
wife, and not for taking care of the babies, which I did myself.
The birth of the last child put me to the severest test. The travail came on suddenly. The doctor
was not immediately available, and some time was lost in fetching the midwife. Even if she had
been on the spot, she could not have helped delivery. I had to see through the safe delivery of the
baby. My careful study of the subject in Dr. Tribhuvandas’ work was of inestimable help. I was not
I am convinced that for the proper upbringing of children, the parents ought to have a general
knowledge of the care and nursing of babies. At every step I have seen the advantages of my
careful study of the subject. My children would not have enjoyed the general health that they do
today, had I not studied the subject and turned my knowledge to account. We labour under a sort
of superstition that the child has nothing to learn during the first five years of its life. On the
contrary, the fact is that the child never learns in after life what it does in its first five years. The
education of the child begins with conception. The physical and mental states of the parents at
the moment of conception are reproduced in the baby. Then during the period of pregnancy it
continues to be affected by the mother’s moods, desires, and temperament, as also by her ways
of life. After birth the child imitates the parents, and for a considerable number of years entirely
depends on them for its growth.
The couple who realize these things will never have sexual union for the fulfilment of their lust,
but only when they desire issue. I think it is the height of ignorance to believe that the sexual act
is an independent function necessary like sleeping or eating. The world depends for its existence
on the act of generation, and as the world is the playground of God and a reflection of His glory,
the act of generation should be conrolled for the ordered growth of the world. He who realizes this
will control his lust at any cost, equip himself with the knowledge necessary for the physical,
mental, and spiritual well-being of his progeny, and give the benefit of that knowledge to posterity.
We now reach the stage in this story when I began seriously to think of taking
the brahmacharya vow. I had been wedded to a monogamous ideal ever since my marriage,
faithfulness to my wife being part of the love of truth. But it was in South Africa that I came to
realize the importance of observingbrahmacharya even with respect to my wife. I cannot definitely
say what circumstance or what book it was that set my thoughts in that direction, but I have a
recollection that the predominant factor was the influence of Raychandbhai, of whom I have
already written. I can still recall a conversation that I had with him. On one occasion I spoke to
him in high praise of Mrs. Gladstone’s devotion to her husband. I had read somewhere that Mrs.
Gladstone insisted on preparing tea for Mr. Gladstone even in the House of Commons, and that
this had become a rule in the life of this illustrious couple, whose actions were governed by
regularity. I spoke of this to the poet, and incidentally eulogized conjugal love. ‘Which of the two
do you prize more,’ asked Raychandbhai, ‘the love of Mrs. Gladstone for her husband as his wife,
or her devoted service irrespective of her relation to Mr. Gladstone? Supposing she had been his
sister, or his devoted servant, and ministered to him the same attention, what would you have
said? Do we not have instances of such devoted sisters or servants? Supposing you had found
the same loving devotion in a male servant, would you have been pleased in the same way as in
Mrs. Gladstone’s case? Just examine the viewpoint suggested by me.’
Raychandbhai was himself married. I have an impression that at the moment his words
sounded harsh, but they gripped me irresistibly. The devotion of a servant was, I felt, a thousand
times more praiseworthy than that of a wife to her husband. There was nothing surprising in the
wife’s devotion to her husband, as there was an indissoluble bond between them. The devotion
was perfectly natural. But it required a special effort to cultivate equal devotion between master
and servant. The poet’s point of view began gradually to grow upon me.
What then, I asked myself, should be my relation with my wife? Did my faithfulness consist in
making my wife the instrument of my lust? So long as I was the slave of lust, my faithfulness was
worth noting. To be fair to my wife, I must say that she was never the temptress. It was therefore
the easiest thing for me to take the vow of brahmacharya, if only I willed it. It was my weak will or
lustful attachment that was the obstacle.
Even after my conscience had been roused in the matter, I failed twice. I failed because the
motive that actuated the effort was none the highest. My main object was to escape having more
children. Whilst in England I had read something about contraceptives. I have already referred to
Dr. Allinson’s birth control propaganda in the chapter on vegetarianism. If it had some temporary
effect on me, Mr. Hills’ opposition to those methods and his advocacy of internal effort as
opposed to outward means, in a word, of self-control, had a far greater effect, which in due time
came to be abiding. Seeing, therefore, that I did not desire more children, I began to strive after
self-control. There was endless difficulty in the task. We began to sleep in separate beds. I
decided to retire to bed only after the day’s work had left me completely exhausted. All these
efforts did not seem to bear much fruit, but when I look back upon the past I feel that the final
resolution was the cumulative effect of those unsuccessful strivings.
The final resolution could only be made as late as 1906. Satyagraha had not then been started.
I had not the least notion of its coming. I was practising in Johannesburg at the time of the Zulu
‘Rebellion’ in Natal, which came soon after the Boer War. I felt that I must offer my services to the
Natal Government on that occasion. The offer was accepted, as we shall see in another chapter.
But the work set me furiously thinking in the direction of self-control, and according to my wont I
discussed my thoughts with my co-workers. It became my conviction that procreation and the
consequent care of children were inconsistent with public service. I had to break up my
household at Johannesburg to be able to serve during the ‘Rebellion’. Within one month of
offering my services, I had to give up the house I had so carefully furnished. I took my wife and
children to Phoenix, and led the Indian ambulance corps attached to the Natal forces. During the
difficult marches that had then to be performed, the idea flashed upon me that if I wanted to
devote myself to the service of the community in this manner, I must relinquish the desire for
children and wealth and live the life of a vanaprastha–of one retired from household cares.
The ‘Rebellion’ did not occupy me for more than six weeks, but this brief period proved to be a
very important epoch in my life. The importance of vows grew upon me more clearly than ever
before. I realized that a vow, far from closing the door to real freedom, opened it. Up to this time I
had not met with success because the will had been lacking, because I had had no faith in
myself, no faith in the grace of God, and therefore my mind had been tossed on the boisterous
sea of doubt. I realized that in refusing to take a vow man was drawn into temptation, and that to
be bound by a vow was like a passage from libertinism to a real monogamous marriage. ‘I believe
in effort, I do not want to bind myself with vows’ is the mentality of weakness, and betrays a
subtle desire for the thing to be avoided. Or where can be the difficulty in making a final decision?
I vow to flee from the serpent which I know will bite me, I do not simply make an effort to flee from
him. I know that mere effort may mean certain death. Mere effort means ignorance of the certain
fact that the serpent is bound to kill me. The fact, therefore, that I could rest content with an effort
only means that I have not yet clearly realized the necessity of definite action. ‘But supposing my
views are changed in the future, how can I bind myself by a vow?’ Such a doubt often deters us.
But that doubt also betrays a lack of clear perception that a particular thing must be renounced.
That is why Nishkulanand has sung:
‘Renunciation without aversion is not lasting.’
Where therefore the desire is gone, a vow of renunciation is the natural and inevitable fruit.
After full discussion and mature deliberation, I took the vow in 1906. I had not shared my
thoughts with my wife until then, but only consulted her at the time of taking the vow. She had no
objection. But I had great difficulty in making the final resolve. I had not the necessary strength.
How was I to control my passions? The elimination of carnal relationship with one’s wife seemed
then a strange thing. But I launched forth with faith in the sustaining power of God.
As I look back upon the twenty years of the vow, I am filled with pleasure and wonderment.
The more or less successful practice of self-control had been going on since 1901. But the
freedom and joy that came to me after taking the vow had never been experienced before 1906.
Before the vow I had been open to being overcome by temptation at any moment. Now the vow
was a sure shield against temptation. The great potentiality of brahmacharya daily became more
and more patent to me. The vow was taken when I was in Phoenix. As soon as I was free from
ambulance work, I went to Phoenix, whence I had to return to Johannesburg. In [=within] about a
month of my returning there, the foundation of Satyagraha was laid. As though unknown to me,
the brahmacharyavow had been preparing me for it. Satyagraha had not been a preconceived
plan. It came on spontaneously, without my having willed it. But I could see that all my previous
steps had led up to that goal. I had cut down my heavy household expenses at Johannesburg
and gone to Phoenix to take, as it were, thebrahmacharya vow.
The knowledge that a perfect observance of brahmacharya means realization of brahman, I did
not owe to a study of the Shastras. It slowly grew upon me with experience. The shastric texts on
the subject I read only later in life. Every day of the vow has taken me nearer the knowledge that
in brahmacharya lies the protection of the body, the mind and the soul. For brahmachrya was
now no process of hard penance, it was a matter of consolation and joy. Every day revealed a
fresh beauty in it.
But if it was a matter of ever-increasing joy, let no one believe that it was an easy thing for me.
Even when I am past fifty-six years, I realize how hard a thing it is. Every day I realize more and
more that it is like walking on the sword’s edge, and I see every moment the necessity for eternal
Control of the palate is the first essential in the observance of the vow. I found that complete
control of the palate made the observance very easy, and so I now pursued my dietetic
experiments not merely from the vegetarian’s but also from the brahmachari’s point of view. As
the result of these experiments I saw that the brahmachari’s food should be limited, simple,
spiceless, and, if possible, uncooked.
Six years of experiment have showed me that the brahmachari’s ideal food is fresh fruit and
nuts. The immunity from passion that I enjoyed when I lived on this food was unknown to me after
I changed that diet. Brahmacharya needed no effort on my part in South Africa when I lived on
fruits and nuts alone. It has been a matter of very great effort ever since I began to take milk. How
I had to go back to milk from a fruit diet will be considered in its proper place. It is enough to
observe here that I have not the least doubt that milk diet makes the brahmacharya vow difficult
to observe. Let no one deduce from this that allbrahmacharis must give up milk. The effect
on brahmacharya of different kinds of food can be determined only after numerous experiments. I
have yet to find a fruit-substitute for milk which is an equally good muscle-builder and easily
digestible. The doctors, vaidyas, and hakims have alike failed to enlighten me. Therefore, though
I know milk to be partly a stimulant, I cannot, for the time being, advise anyone to give it up.
As an external aid to brahmacharya, fasting is as necessary as selection and restriction in diet.
So overpowering are the senses that they can be kept under control only when they are
completely hedged in on all sides, from above, and from beneath. It is common knowledge that
they are powerless without food, and so fasting undertaken with a view to control of the senses is,
I have no doubt, very helpful. With some, fasting is of no avail, because assuming that
mechanical fasting alone will make them immune, they keep their bodies without food, but feast
their minds upon all sorts of delicacies, thinking all the while what they will eat and what they will
drink after the fast terminates. Such fasting helps them in controlling neither palate nor lust.
Fasting is useful when mind co-operates with starving body, that is to say, when it cultivates a
distaste for the objects that are denied to the body. Mind is at the root of all sensuality. Fasting,
therefore, has a limited use, for a fasting man may continue to be swayed by passion. But it may
be said that extinction of the sexual passion is as a rule impossible without fasting, which may be
said to be indispensable for the observance of brahmacharya. Many aspirants
after brahmacharya fail because in the use of their other senses they want to carry on like those
who are not brahmacharis. Their effort is, therefore, identical with the effort to experience the
bracing cold of winter in the scorching summer months. There should be a clear line between the
life of a brahmachari and of one who is not. The resemblance that there is between the two is
only apparent. The distinction ought to be clear as daylight. Both use their eyesight, but whereas
the brahmachari uses it to see the glories of God, the other uses it to see the frivolity around him.
Both use their ears, but whereas the one hears nothing but praises of God, the other feasts his
ears upon ribaldry. Both often keep late hours, but whereas the one devotes them to prayer, the
other fritters them away in wild and wasteful mirth. Both feed the inner man, but the one only to
keep the temple of God in good repair, while the other gorges himself and makes the sacred
vessel a stinking gutter. Thus both live as the poles apart, and the distance between them will
grow and not diminish with the passage of time.
Brahmacharya means control of the senses in thought, word, and deed. Every day I have been
realizing more and more the necessity for restraints of the kind I have detailed above. There is no
limit to the possibilities of renunciation, even as there is none to those of brahmacharya.
Such brahmacharya is impossible of attainment by limited effort. For many it must remain only as
an ideal. An aspirant after brahmacharya will always be conscious of his shortcomings, will seek
out the passions lingering in the innermost recesses of his heart, and will incessantly strive to get
rid of them. So long as thought is not under complete control of the will, brahmacharya in its
fullness is absent. Involuntary thought is an affection of the mind, and curbing of thought therefore
means curbing of the mind, which is even more difficult to curb than the wind. Nevertheless the
existence of God within makes even control of the mind possible. Let no one think that it is
impossible because it is difficult. It is the highest goal, and it is no wonder that the highest effort
should be necessary to attain it.
But it was after coming to India that I realized that such brahmacharya was impossible to attain
by mere human effort. Until then I had been labouring under the delusion that fruit diet alone
would enable me to eradicate all passions, and I had flattered myself with the belief that I had
nothing more to do.
But I must not anticipate the chapter of my struggles. Meanwhile let me make it clear that those
who desire to observe brahmacharya with a view to realizing God need not despair, provided
their faith in God is equal to their confidence in their own effort. ‘The sense-objects turn away
from an abstemious soul, leaving the relish behind. The relish also disappears with the realization
of the Highest’./1/ Therefore His name and His grace are the last resources of the aspirant
after moksha. This truth came to me only after my return to India.
/1/ The Bhagavadgita, 2-59.
9. SIMPLE LIFE
I had started on a life of ease and comfort, but the experiment was short-lived. Although I had
furnished the house with care, yet it failed to have any hold on me. So no sooner had I launched
forth on that life, than I began to cut down expenses. The washerman’s bill was heavy, and as he
was besides by no means noted for his punctuality, even two to three dozen shirts and collars
proved insufficient for me. Collars had to be changed daily, and shirts if not daily at least every
alternate day. This meant a double expense, which appeared to me unnecessary. So I equipped
myself with a washing outfit to save it. I bought a book on washing, studied the art, and taught it
also to my wife. This no doubt added to my work, but its novelty made it a pleasure.
I shall never forget the first collar that I washed myself. I had used more starch than necessary,
the iron had not been made hot enough, and for fear of burning the collar I had not pressed it
sufficiently. The result was that though the collar was fairly stiff, the superfluous starch continually
dropped off it. I went to court with the collar on, thus inviting the ridicule of brother barristers, but
even in those days I could be impervious to ridicule.
‘Well,’ said I, ‘this is my first experiment at washing my own collars, and hence the loose
starch. But it does not trouble me, and then there is the advantage of providing you with so much
‘But surely there is no lack of laundries here?’ asked a friend.
‘The laundry bill is very heavy,’ said I. ‘The charge for washing a collar is almost as much as its
price, and even then there is the eternal dependence on the washerman. I prefer by far to wash
my things myself.’
But I could not make my friends appreciate the beauty of self-help. In course of time I became
an expert washerman so far as my own work went, and my washing was by no means inferior to
laundry washing. My collars were no less stiff or shiny than others.
When Gokhale came to South Africa, he had with him a scarf which was a gift from Mahadeo
Govind Ranade. He treasured the memento with the utmost care and used it only on special
occasions. One such occasion was the banquet given in his honour by the Johannesburg Indians.
The scarf was creased and needed ironing. It was not possible to send it to the laundry and get it
back in time. I offered to try my art.
‘I can trust your capacity as a lawyer, but not as a washerman,’ said Gokhale. ‘What if you
should soil it? Do you know what it means to me?’
With this he narrated, with much joy, the story of the gift. I still insisted, guranteed good work,
got his permission to iron it, and won his certificate [of approval]. After that I did not mind if the
rest of the world refused me its certificate.
In the same way, as I freed myself from slavery to the washerman, I threw off dependence on
the barber. All people who go to England learn there at least the art of shaving, but none, to my
knowledge, learn to cut their own hair. I had to learn that too. I once went to an English hair-cutter
in Pretoria. He contemptuously refused to cut my hair. I certainly felt hurt, but immediately
purchased a pair of clippers and cut my hair before the mirror. I succeeded more or less in cutting
the front hair, but I spoiled the back. The friends in the court shook with laughter.
‘What’s wrong with your hair, Gandhi? Rats have been at it?’
‘No. The white barber would not condescend to touch my black hair,’ said I, ‘so I preferred to
cut it myself, no matter how badly.’
The reply did not surprise the friends.
The barber was not at fault in having refused to cut my hair. There was every chance of his
losing his custom, if he should serve black men. We do not allow our barbers to serve our
untouchable brethren. I got the reward of this in South Africa, not once but many times, and the
conviction that it was the punishment for our own sins saved me from becoming angry.
The extreme forms in which my passion for self-help and simplicity ultimately expressed itself
will be described in their proper place. The seed had been long sown. It only needed watering to
take root, to flower, and to fructify, and the watering came in due course.
10. THE BOER WAR
I must skip many other experiences of the period between 1897 and 1899, and come straight
to the Boer War.
When the war was declared, my personal sympathies were all with the Boers, but I believed
then that I had yet no right, in such cases, to enforce my individual convictions. I have minutely
dealt with the inner struggle regarding this in my history of the Satyagraha in South Africa, and I
must not repeat the argument here. I invite the curious to turn to those pages. Suffice it to say
that my loyalty to the British rule drove me to participation with the British in that war. I felt that if I
demanded rights as a British citizen, it was also my duty, as such, to participate in the defence of
the British Empire. I held then that India could achieve her complete emancipation only within and
through the British Empire. So I collected together as many comrades as possible, and with very
great difficulty got their services accepted as an ambulance corps.
The average Englishman believed that the Indian was a coward, incapable of taking risks or
looking beyond his immediate self-interest. Many English friends, therefore, threw cold water on
my plan. But Dr. Booth supported it whole-heartedly. He trained us in ambulance work. We
secured medical certificates of fitness for service. Mr. Laughton and the late Mr. Escombe
enthusiastically supported the plan, and we applied at last for service at the front. The
government thankfully acknowledged our application, but said that our services were not then
I would not rest satisfied, however, with this refusal. Through the introduction of Dr. Booth, I
called on the Bishop of Natal. There were many Christian Indians in our Corps. The Bishop was
delighted with my proposal, and promised to help us in getting our services accepted.
Time too was working with us. The Boer had shown more pluck, determination, and bravery
than had been expected; and our services were ultimately needed.
Our corps was 1,100 strong, with nearly 40 leaders. About three hundred were free Indians,
and the rest indentured. Dr. Booth was also with us. The corps acquitted itself well. Though our
work was to be outside the firing line, and though we had the protection of the Red Cross, we
were asked at a critical moment to serve within the firing line. The reservation had not been of our
seeking. The authorities did not want us to be within the range of fire. The situation, however, was
changed after the repulse at Spion Kop, and General Buller sent the message that, though we
were not bound to take the risk, Government would be thankful if we would do so, and fetch the
wounded from the field. We had no hesitation, and so the action at Spion Kop found us working
within the firing line. During these days we had to march from twenty to twenty-five miles a day,
bearing the wounded on stretchers. Amongst the wounded we had the honour of carrying soldiers
like General Woodgate.
The corps was disbanded after six weeks’ service. After the reverses at Spion Kop and
Vaalkranz, the British Commander-in-Chief abandoned the attempt to relieve Ladysmith and
other places by summary procedure, and decided to proceed slowly, awaiting reinforcements
from England and India.
Our humble work was at the moment much applauded, and the Indians’ prestige was
enhanced. The newspapers published laudatory rhymes with the refrain, ‘We are sons of Empire
General Buller mentioned with appreciation the work of the corps in his despatch, and the
leaders were awarded the War Medal.
The Indian community became better organized. I got into closer touch with the indentured
Indians. There came a greater awakening amongst them, and the feeling that Hindus,
Musalmans, Christians, Tamilians, Gujaratis, and Sindhis were all Indians and children of the
same motherland took deep root amongst them. Everyone believed that the Indians’ grievances
were now sure to be redressed. At the moment the white man’s attitude seemed to be distinctly
changed. The relations formed with the whites during the war were of the sweetest. We had come
in contact with thousands of tommies. They were friendly with us and thankful for [our] being
there to serve them.
I cannot forbear from recording a sweet reminiscence of how human nature shows itself at its
best in moments of trial. We were marching towards Chievely Camp where Lieutenant Roberts,
the son of Lord Roberts, had received a mortal wound. Our corps had the honour of carrying the
body from the field. It was a sultry day–the day of our march. Everyone was thirsting for water.
There was a tiny brook on the way where we could slake our thirst. But who was to drink first?
We had proposed to come in after the tommies had finished. But they would not begin first and
urged us to do so, and for a while a pleasant competition went on for giving precedence to one
11. SANITARY REFORM AND FAMINE
It has always been impossible for me to reconcile myself to any one member of the body
politic remaining out of use. I have always been loath to hide or connive at the weak points of the
community, or to press for its rights without having purged it of its blemishes. Therefore ever
since my settlement in Natal, I had been endeavouring to clear the community of a charge that
had been levelled against it, not without a certain amount of truth. The charge had often been
made that the Indian was slovenly in his habits and did not keep his house and surroundings
clean. The principal men of the community had, therefore, already begun to put their houses in
order, but house-to-house inspection was undertaken only when plague was reported to be
imminent in Durban. This was done after consulting, and gaining the approval of, the city fathers,
who had desired our co-operation. Our co-operation made work easier for them, and at the same
time lessened our hardships. For whenever there is an outbreak of epidemics, the executive as a
general rule get impatient, take excessive measures, and behave to such as may have incurred
their displeasure with a heavy hand. The community saved itself from this oppression by
voluntarily taking sanitary measures.
But I had some bitter experiences. I saw that I could not so easily count on the help of the
community in getting it to do its own duty, as I could in claiming for it rights. At some places I met
with insults, at others with polite indifference. It was too much for people to bestir themselves to
keep their surroundings clean. To expect them to find money for the work was out of the question.
These experiences taught me, better than ever before, that without infinite patience it was
impossible to get the people to do any work. It is the reformer who is anxious for the reform, and
not society, from which he should expect nothing better than opposition, abhorrence, and even
mortal prosecution. Why may not society regard as retrogression what the reformer holds dear as
Nevertheless the result of this agitation was that the Indian community learnt to recognize more
or less the necessity for keeping their houses and environments clean. I gained the esteem of the
authorities. They saw that though I had made it my business to ventilate grievances and press for
rights, I was no less keen and insistent upon self-purification.
There was one thing, however, which still remained to be done, namely, the awakening in the
Indian settler of a sense of duty to the motherland. India was poor, the Indian settler went to
South Africa in search of wealth, and he was bound to contribute part of his earnings for the
benefit of his countrymen in the hour of their adversity. This the settler did during the terrible
famines of 1897 and 1899. They contributed handsomely for famine relief, and more so in 1899
than in 1897. We had appealed to Englishmen also for funds, and they had responded well. Even
the indentured Indians gave their share to the contribution, and the system inaugurated at the
time of these famines has been continued ever since, and we know that Indians in South Africa
never fail to send handsome contributions to India in times of national calamity.
Thus service of the Indians in South Africa ever revealed to me new implications of truth at
every stage. Truth is like a vast tree, which yields more and more fruit, the more you nurture it.
The deeper the search in the mine of truth, the richer the discovery of the gems buried there, in
the shape of openings for an ever greater variety of service.
12. RETURN TO INDIA
On my relief from war-duty, I felt that my work was no longer in South Africa but in India. Not
that there was nothing to be done in South Africa, but I was afraid that my main business might
become merely money-making.
Friends at home were also pressing me to return, and I felt that I should [=would] be of more
service in India. And for the work in South Africa, there were of course Messrs Khan and
Mansukhlal Naazar. So I requested my co-workers to relieve me. After very great difficulty my
request was conditionally accepted, the condition being that I should be ready to go back to
South Africa, if within a year the community should need me. I thought it was a difficult condition,
but the love that bound me to the community made me accept it.
‘The Lord has bound me
With the cotton-thread of love,
I am His bondslave,’
sang Mirabai. And for me, too, the cotton-thread of love that bound me to the community was too
strong to break. The voice of the people is the voice of God, and here the voice of friends was too
real to be rejected. I accepted the condition and got their permission to go.
At this time I was intimately connected only with Natal. The Natal Indians bathed me with the
nectar of love. Farewell meetings were arranged at every place, and costly gifts were presented
Gifts had been bestowed on me before when I returned to India in 1899, but this time the
farewell was overwhelming. The gifts of course included things in gold and silver, but there were
articles of costly diamond as well.
What right had I to accept all these gifts? Accepting them, how could I persuade myself that I
was serving the community without remuneration? All the gifts, excepting a few from my clients,
were purely for my service to the community, and I could make no difference between my clients
and co-workers; for the clients also helped me in my public work.
One of the gifts was gold necklace worth fifty guineas, meant for my wife. But even that gift
was given because of my public work, and so it could not be separated from the rest.
The evening I was presented with the bulk of these things, I had a sleepless night. I walked up
and down my room deeply agitated, but could find no solution. It was difficult for me to forego gifts
worth hundreds, it was more difficult to keep them.
And even if I could keep them, what about my children? What about my wife? They were being
trained to a life of service, and to an understanding that service was its own reward.
I had no costly ornaments in the house. We had been fast simplifying our life. How then could
we afford to have gold watches? How could we afford to wear gold chains and diamond rings?
Even then I was exhorting people to conquer the infatuation for jewellery. What was I now to do
with the jewellery that had come upon me?
I decided that I could not keep these things. I drafted a letter, creating a trust of them in favour
of the community and appointing Parsi Rustomji and others trustees. In the morning I held a
consultation with my wife and children and finally got rid of the heavy incubus.
I knew that I should have some difficulty in persuading my wife, and I was sure that I should
have none so far as the children were concerned. So I decided to constitute them my attorneys.
The children readily agreed to my proposal. ‘We do not need these costly presents, we must
return them to the community, and should we ever need them, we could easily purchase them,’
I was delighted. ‘Then you will plead with mother, won’t you?’ I asked them.
‘Certainly,’ said they. ‘That is our business. She does not need to wear the ornaments. She
would want to keep them for us, and if we don’t want them, why should she not agree to part with
But it was easier said than done.
‘You may not need them,’ said my wife. ‘Your children may not need them. Cajoled, they will
dance to your tune. I can understand your not permitting me to wear them. But what about my
daughters-in-law? They will be sure to need them. And who knows what will happen tomorrow? I
would be the last person to part with gifts so lovingly given.’
And thus the torrent of argument went on, reinforced, in the end, by tears. But the children were
adamant. And I was unmoved.
I mildly put in: ‘The children have yet to get married. We do not want to see them married
young. When they are growing up, they can take care of themselves. And surely we shall not
have, for our sons, brides who are fond of ornaments. And if after all we need to provide them
with ornaments, I am there. You will ask me then.’
‘Ask you? I know you by this time. You deprived me of my ornaments, you would not leave me
in peace with them. Fancy you offering to get ornaments for the daughters-in-law! You who are
trying to make sadhus of my boys from today! No, the ornaments will not be returned. And pray
what right have you to my necklace?’
‘But,’ I rejoined, ‘is the necklace given you for your service or for my service?’
‘I agree. But service rendered by you is as good as rendered by me. I have toiled and moiled
for you day and night. Is that no service? You forced all and sundry on me, making me weep
bitter tears, and I slaved for them!’
These were pointed thrusts, and some of them went home. But I was determined to return the
ornaments. I somehow succeeded in extorting a consent from her. The gifts received in 1896 and
1901 were all returned. A trust-deed was prepared, and they were deposited with a bank, to be
used for the service of the community, according to my wishes or to those of the trustees.
Often, when I was in need of funds for public purposes, and felt that I must draw upon the trust,
I have been able to raise the requisite amount, leaving the trust money intact. The fund is still
there, being operated upon in times of need, and it has regularly accumulated.
I have never since regretted the step, and as the years have gone by, my wife has also seen
its wisdom. It has saved us from many temptations.
I am definitely of opinion that a public worker should accept no costly gifts.
13. IN INDIA AGAIN
So I sailed for home. Mauritius was one of the ports of call, and as the boat made a long halt
there, I went ashore and acquainted myself fairly well with the local conditions. For one night I
was the guest of Sir Charles Bruce, the Governor of the Colony.
After reaching India I spent some time in going about the country. It was the year 1901, when
the Congress met at Calcutta under the presidentship of Mr. (later Sir) Dinshaw Wacha. And I of
course attended it. It was my first experience of the Congress.
From Bombay I travelled in the same train as Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, as I had to speak to him
about conditions in South Africa. I knew the kingly style in which he lived. He had engaged a
special saloon [car on the train] for himself, and I had orders to take my opportunity of speaking to
him by travelling in his saloon for one stage. I, therefore, went to the saloon and reported myself
at the appointed station. With him were Mr. Wacha, and Mr. (now Sir) Chimanlal Setalvad. They
were discussing politics. As soon as Sir Pherozeshah saw me, he said, ‘Gandhi, it seems nothing
can be done for you. Of course we will pass the resolution you want. But what rights have we in
our own country? I believe that so long as we have no power in our own land, you cannot fare
better in the colonies.’
I was taken aback. Mr. Setalvad seemed to concur in the view; Mr. Wacha cast a pathetic look
I tried to plead with Sir Pherozeshah, but it was out of the question for one like me to prevail
upon the uncrowned king of Bombay. I contented myself with the fact that I should be allowed to
move my resolution.
‘You will of course show me the resolution,’ said Mr. Wacha, to cheer me up. I thanked him,
and left them at the next stop.
So we reached Calcutta. The President was taken to his camp with great eclat by the
Reception Committee. I asked a volunteer where I was to go. He took me to the Ripon College,
where a number of delegates were being put up. Fortune favoured me. Lokamanya was put up in
the same block as I. I have a recollection that he came a day later.
And as was natural, Lokamanya would never be without his darbar. Were I a painter, I could
paint him as I saw him seated on his bed–so vivid is the whole scene in my memory. Of the
numberless people that called on him, I can recollect today only one, namely, the late Babu
Motilal Ghose, editor of the Amrita Bazar Patrika. Their loud laughter and their talks about the
wrong-doings of the ruling race cannot be forgotten.
But I propose to examine in some detail the appointments in this camp. The volunteers were
clashing against one another. You asked one of them to do something. He delegated it to
another, and he in his turn to a third, and so on; and as for the delegates, they were neither here
I made friends with a few volunteers. I told them some things about South Africa, and they felt
somewhat ashamed. I tried to bring home to them the secret of service. They seemed to
understand, but service is no mushroom growth. It presupposes the will first, and then
experience. There was no lack of will on the part of those good simple-hearted young men, but
their experience was nil. The Congress would meet three days every year, and then go to sleep.
What training could one have out of a three days’ show once a year? And the delegates were of a
piece with the volunteers. They had no better or longer training. They would do nothing
themselves. ‘Volunteer, do this,’ ‘Volunteer, do that,’ were their constant orders.
Even here I was face to face with untouchability in a fair measure. The Tamilian kitchen was far
away from the rest. To the Tamil delegates even the sight of others, whilst they were dining,
meant pollution. So a special kitchen had to be made for them in the college compound, walled in
by wicker-work. It was full of smoke which choked you. It was a kitchen, dining-room, washroom,
all in one–a close safe with no outlet. To me this looked like a travesty ofVarnadharma./1/ If, I
said to myself, there was such untouchability between the delegates of the Congress, one could
well imagine the extent to which it existed amongst their constituents. I heaved a sigh at the
There was no limit to insanitation. Pools of water were everywhere. There were only a few
latrines, and the recollection of their stink still oppresses me. I pointed it out to the volunteers.
They said point-blank: ‘That is not our work, it is the scavenger’s work.’ I asked for a broom. The
man stared at me in wonder. I procured one and cleaned the latrine. But that was for myself. The
rush was so great, and the latrines were so few, that they needed frequent cleaning; but that was
more than I could do. So I had to content myself with simply ministering to myself. And the others
did not seem to mind the stench and the dirt.
But that was not all. Some of the delegates did not scruple to use the verandahs outside their
rooms for calls of nature at night. In the morning I pointed out the spots to the volunteers. No one
was ready to undertake the cleaning, and I found no one to share the honour with me of doing it.
Conditions have since considerably improved, but even today thoughtless delegates are not
wanting who disfigure the Congress camp by committing nuisances wherever they choose, and
all the volunteers are not always ready to clean up after them.
I saw that if the Congress session were to be prolonged, conditions would be quite favourable
for the outbreak of an epidemic.
/1/ Duties of the four fundamental divisions of Hindu society
14. CLERK AND BEARER
There were yet two days for the Congress session to begin. I had made up my mind to offer my services
to the Congress office, in order to gain some experience. So as soon as I had finished the daily ablutions on
arrival at Calcutta, I proceeded to the Congress office.
Babu Bhupendranath Basu and Sjt. Ghosal were the secretaries. I went to Bhupenbabu and offered my
services. He looked at me, and said: ‘I have no work, but possibly Ghosalbabu might have something to give
you. Please go to him.’
So I went to him. He scanned me and said with a smile: ‘I can give you only clerical work. Will you do it?’
‘Certainly,’ said I. ‘I am here to do anything that is not beyond my capacity.’
‘That is the right spirit, young man,’ he said. Addressing the volunteers who surrounded him, he added,
‘Do you hear what this young man says?’
Then turning to me he proceeded: ‘Well then, here is a heap of letters for disposal. Take that chair and
begin. As you see, hundreds of people come to see me. What am I to do? Am I to meet them, or am I to
answer these busybodies inundating me with letters? I have no clerks to whom I can entrust this work. Most
of these letters have nothing in them, but will you please look them through. Acknowledge those that are
worth it, and refer to me those that need a considered reply.’
I was delighted at the confidence reposed in me.
Sjt. Ghosal did not know me when he gave me the work. Only later did he enquire about my credentials.
I found my work very easy–the disposal of that heap of correspondence. I had done with it in no time, and
Sjt. Ghosal was very glad. He was talkative. He would talk away for hours together. When he learnt
something from me about my history, he felt rather sorry to have given me clerical work. But I reassured
him: ‘Please don’t worry. What am I before you? You have grown grey in the service of the Congress, and
are as an elder to me. I am but an inexperienced youth. You have put me under a debt of obligation by
entrusting me with this work. For I want to do Congress work, and you have given me the rare opportunity of
understanding the details.’
‘To tell you the truth,’ said Sjt. Ghosal. ‘that is the proper spirit. But young men of today do not realize it.
Of course I have known the Congress since its birth. In fact I may claim a certain share with Mr. Hume in
bringing the Congress into being.’
And thus we became good friends. He insisted on my having lunch with him.
Sjt. Ghosal used to get his shirt buttoned by his bearer. I volunteered to do the bearer’s duty, and I loved
to do it, as my regard for elders was always great. When he came to know this, he did not mind my doing
little acts of personal service for him. In fact he was delighted. Asking me to button his shirt, he would say,
‘You see, now, the Congress secretary has no time even to button his shirt. He has always some work to
do.’ Sjt. Ghosal’s naivete amused me, but did not create any dislike in me for service of that nature. The
benefit I received from this service is incalculable.
In a few days I came to know the working of the Congress. I met most of the leaders, I observed the
movements of stalwarts like Ghokhale and Surendranath. I also noticed the huge waste of time there. I
observed too, with sorrow even then, the prominent place that the English language occupied in our affairs.
There was little regard for economy of energy. More than one did the work of one, and many an important
thing was no one’s business at all.
Critical as my mind was in observing these things, there was enough charity in me, and so I always
thought that it might after all be impossible to do better in the circumstances, and that saved me from
undervaluing any work.
15. IN THE CONGRESS
In the Congress at last. The immense pavilion and the volunteers in stately array, as also the
elders seated on the dais, overwhelmed me. I wondered where I should be in that vast
The presidential address was a book by itself. To read it from cover to cover was out of the
question. Only a few passages were therefore read.
After this came the election of the Subjects Committee. Gokhale took me to the Committee
Sir Pherozeshah had of course agreed to admit my resolution, but I was wondering who would
put it before the Subjects Committee, and when. For there were lengthy speeches to every
resolution, all in English to boot, and every resolution had some well-known leader to back it.
Mine was but a feeble pipe amongst those veteran drums, and as the night was closing in, my
heart beat fast. The resolutions coming at the fag-end were, so far as I can recollect, rushed
through at lightning speed. Everyone was hurrying to go. It was eleven o’clock. I had not the
courage to speak. I had already met Gokhale, who had looked at my resolution. So I drew near
his chair and whispered to him: ‘Please do something for me.’ He said: ‘Your resolution is not out
of my mind. You see the way they are rushing through the resolutions. But I will not allow yours to
be passed over.’
‘So we have done?’ said Sir Pherozeshah Mehta.
‘No, no there is still the resolution on South Africa. Mr. Gandhi has been waiting long,’ cried out
‘Have you seen the resolution?’ asked Sir Pherozeshah.
‘Do you like it?’
‘It is quite good.’
‘Well then, let us have it, Gandhi.’
I read it trembling.
Gokhale supported it.
‘Unanimously passed,’ cried out everyone.
‘You will have five minutes to speak on it, Gandhi,’ said Mr. Wacha.
The procedure was far from pleasing to me. No one had troubled to understand the resolution,
everyone was in a hurry to go, and because Gokhale had seen the resolution, it was not thought
necessary for the rest to see it or understand it!
The morning found me worrying about my speech. What was I to say in five minutes? I had
prepared myself fairly well, but the words would not come. I had decided not to read my speech,
but to speak ex tempore. But the faculty for speaking that I had acquired in South Africa seemed
to have left me for the moment.
As soon as it was time for my resolution, Mr. Wacha called out my name. I stood up. My head
was reeling. I read the resolution somehow. Someone had printed and distributed amongst the
delegates copies of a poem he had written in praise of foreign emigration. I read the poem and
referred to the grievances of the settlers in South Africa. Just at this moment Mr. Wacha rang the
bell. I was sure I had not yet spoken for five minutes. I did not know that the bell was rung in order
to warn me to finish in two minutes more. I had heard others speak for half an hour or threequarters
of an hour, and yet no bell was rung for them. I felt hurt and sat down as soon as the bell
was rung. But my childlike intellect thought then that the poem contained an answer to Sir
Pherozeshah./1/ There was no question about the passing of the resolution. In those days there
was hardly any difference between visitors and delegates. Everyone raised his hand and all
resolutions passed unanimously. My resolution also fared in this wise, and so lost all its
importance for me. And yet the very fact that it was passed by the Congress was enough to
delight my heart. The knowledge that the imprimatur [=seal of approval] of the Congress meant
that of the whole country was enough to delight anyone.
/1/ See *Chapter 13*, Paragraph Third.
16. LORD CURZON’S DARBAR
The Congress was over, but as I had to meet the Chamber of Commerce and various people
in connection with work in South Africa, I stayed in Calcutta for a month. Rather than stay this
time in a hotel, I arranged to get the required introduction for a room in the India Club. Among its
members were some prominent Indians, and I looked forward to getting into touch with them and
interesting them in the work in South Africa. Gokhale frequently went to this club to play billiards,
and when he knew that I was to stay in Calcutta for some time, he invited me to stay with him. I
thankfully accepted the invitation, but did not think it proper to go there by myself. He waited for a
day or two and then took me personally. He discovered my reserve and said: ‘Gandhi, you have
to stay in the country, and this sort of reserve will not do. You must get into touch with as many
people as possible. I want you to do Congress work.’
I shall record here an incident in the India Club, before I proceed to talk of my stay with
Lord Curzon held his darbar about this time. Some Rajas and Maharajas who had been invited
to the darbar were members of the club. In the club I always found them wearing fine
Bengali dhotis and shirts and scarves. On the darbar day they put on trousers
befitting khansamas/1/ and shining boots. I was pained and inquired of one of them the reason for
‘We alone know our unfortunate condition. We alone know the insults we have to put up with,
in order that we may possess our wealth and titles,’ he replied.
‘But what about these khansama turbans and these shining boots?’ I asked.
‘Do you see any difference between khansamas and us?’ he replied, and added, ‘they are
our khansamas, we are Lord Curzon’s khansamas. If I were to be absent from the levee, I should
have to suffer the consequences. If I were to attend it in my usual dress, it would be an offense.
And do you think I am going to get any opportunity there of talking to Lord Curzon? Not a bit of it!’
I was moved to pity for this plain-spoken friend.
This reminds me of another darbar.
At the time when Lord Hardinge laid the foundation-stone of the Hindu University, there was a
darbar. There were Rajas and Maharajas of course, but Pandit Malaviyaji specially invited me
also to attend it, and I did so.
I was distressed to see the Maharajas bedecked like women–silk pyjamas and silk achkans,
pearl necklaces round their necks, bracelets on their wrists, pearl and diamond tassels on their
turbans, and besides all this, swords with golden hilts hanging from their waist-bands.
I discovered that these were insignia not of their royalty, but of their slavery. I had thought that
they must be wearing these badges of impotence of their own free will, but I was told that it was
obligatory for these Rajas to wear all their costly jewels at such functions. I also gathered that
some of them had a positive dislike for wearing these jewels, and that they never wore them
except on occasions like the darbar.
I do not know how far my information was correct. But whether they wear them on other
occasions or not, it is distressing enough to have to attend viceregal darbars in jewels that only
some women wear.
How heavy is the toll of sins and wrongs that wealth, power and prestige exact from man!
17. A MONTH WITH GOKHALE—I
From the very first day of my stay with him, Gokhale made me feel completely at home. He
treated me as though I were his younger brother; he acquainted himself with all my requirements,
and arranged to see that I got all I needed. Fortunately my wants were few, and as I had
cultivated the habit of self-help, I needed very little personal attendance. He was deeply
impressed with my habit of fending for myself, my personal cleanliness, perseverance, and
regularity, and would often overwhelm me with praise.
He seemed to keep nothing private from me. He would introduce me to all the important people
that called on him. Of these the one who stands foremost in my memory is Dr. (now Sir) P. C.
Ray. He lived practically next door and was a very frequent visitor.
This is how he introduced Dr. Ray: ‘This is Professor Ray, who having a monthly salary of Rs.
800, keeps just Rs. 40 for himself and devotes the balance to public purposes. He is not, and
does not want to get, married.’
I see little difference between Dr. Ray as he is today, and as he used to be then. His dress
used to be nearly as simple as it is, with this difference of course, that whereas it is Khadi now, it
used to be Indian mill-cloth in those days. I felt I could never hear too much of the talks between
Gokhale and Dr. Ray, as they all pertained to public good or were of educative value. At times
they were painful too, containing, as they did, strictures on public men. As a result, some of those
whom I had regarded as stalwart fighters began to look quite puny.
To see Gokhale at work was as much a joy as an education. He never wasted a minute. His
private relations and friendships were all for public good. All his talks had reference only to the
good of the country and were absolutely free from any trace of untruth or insincerity. India’s
poverty and subjection were matters of constant and intense concern to him. Various people
sought to interest him in different things. But he gave every one of them the same reply: ‘You do
the thing yourself. Let me do my own work. What I want is freedom for my country. After that is
won, we can think of other things. Today that one thing is enough to engage all my time and
His reverence for Ranade could be seen every moment. Ranade’s authority was final in every
matter, and he would cite it at every step. The anniversary of Ranade’s death (or birth, I forget
which) occured during my stay with Gokhale, who observed it regularly. There were with him
then, besides myself, his friends Professor Kathavate and a Sub-Judge. He invited us to take part
in the celebration, and in his speech he gave us his reminiscences of Ranade. He compared
incidentally Ranade, Telang, and Mandlik. He eulogized Telang’s charming style and Mandlik’s
greatness as a reformer. Citing an instance of Mandlik’s solicitude for his clients, he told us an
anecdote as to how once, having missed his usual train, he engaged a special train so as to be
able to attend the court in the interest of his client. But Ranade, he said, towered above them all,
as a versatile genius. He was not only a great judge, he was an equally great historian,
economist, and reformer. Although he was a judge, he fearlessly attended the Congress, and
everyone had such confidence in his sagacity that they unquestioningly accepted his decisions.
Gokhale’s joy knew no bounds, as he described these qualities of head and heart which were all
combined in his master.
Gokhale used to have a horse-carriage in those days. I did not know the circumstances that
had made a horse-carriage a necessity for him, and I remonstrated with him: ‘Can’t you make use
of the tramcar in going about from place to place? Is it derogatory to a leader’s dignity?’
Slightly pained, he said, ‘So you also have failed to understand me! I do not use my Council
allowances for my own personal comforts. I envy your liberty to go about in tramcars, but I am
sorry I cannot do likewise. When you are the victim of as wide a publicity as I am, it will be
difficult, if not impossible, for you to go about in a tramcar. There is no reason to suppose that
everything that the leaders do is with a view to personal comfort. I love your simple habits. I live
as simply as I can, but some expense is almost inevitable for a man like myself.’
He thus satisfactorily disposed of one of my complaints, but there was another which he could
not dispose of to my satisfaction.
‘But you do not even go out for walks,’ said I. ‘Is it surprising that you should be always ailing?
Should public work leave no time for physical exercise?’
‘When do you ever find me free to go out for a walk?’ he replied.
I had such a great regard for Gokhale that I never strove with him. Though this reply was far
from satisfying me, I remained silent. I believed then, and I believe even now, that no matter what
amount of work one has, one should always find some time for exercise, just as one does for
one’s meals. It is my humble opinion that, far from taking away from one’s capacity for work, it
adds to it.
18. A MONTH WITH GOKHALE—II
Whilst living under Gokhale’s roof I was far from being a stay-at-home.
I had told my Christian friends in South Africa that in India I would meet the Christian Indians
and acquaint myself with their condition. I had heard of Babu Kalicharan Banerji, and held him in
high regard. He took a prominent part in the Congress, and I had none of the misgivings about
him that I had about the average Christian Indian, who stood aloof from the Congress and
isolated himself from Hindus and Musalmans. I told Gokhale that I was thinking of meeting him.
He said: ‘What is the good of your seeing him? He is a very good man, but I am afraid he will not
satisfy you. I know him very well. However, you can certainly meet him if you like.’
I sought an appointment, which he readily gave me. When I went, I found that his wife was on
her death-bed. His house was simple. In the Congress I had seen him in a coat and trousers, but
I was glad to find him now wearing a Bengali dhoti and shirt. I liked his simple mode of dress,
though I myself then wore a Parsi coat and trousers. Without much ado I presented my difficulties
to him. He asked: ‘Do you believe in the doctrine of original sin?’
‘I do,’ said I.
‘Well then, Hinduism offers no absolution therefrom, Christianity does,’ and added: ‘The wages
of sin is death, and the Bible says that the only way of deliverance is surrender unto Jesus.’
I put forward Bhakti-marga (the path of devotion) of the Bhagavadgita, but to no avail. I
thanked him for his goodness. He failed to satisfy me, but I benefited by the interview.
During these days I walked up and down the streets of Calcutta. I went to most places on foot.
I met Justice Mitter and Sir Gurudas Banerji, whose help I wanted in my work in South Africa. And
about this time I met Raja Sir Pyarimohan Mukarji.
Kalicharan Banerji had spoken to me about the Kali temple, which I was eager to see,
especially as I had read about it in books. So I went there one day. Justice Mitter’s house was in
the same locality, and I therefore went to the temple on the same day that I visited him. On the
way I saw a stream of sheep going to be sacrificed to Kali. Rows of beggars lined the lane
leading to the temple. There were religious mendicants too, and even in those days I was sternly
opposed to giving alms to sturdy beggars. A crowd of them pursued me. One of such men was
found seated on a verandah. He stopped me, and accosted me: ‘Whither are you going, my boy?’
I replied to him.
He asked my companion and me to sit down, which we did.
I asked him: ‘Do you regard this sacrifice as religion?’
‘Who would regard killing of animals as religion?’
‘Then, why don’t you preach against it?’
‘That’s not my business. Our business is to worship God.’
‘But could you not find any other place in which to worship God?’
‘All places are equally good for us. The people are like a flock of sheep, following where
leaders lead them. It is no business of us sadhus.’
We did not prolong the discussion, but passed on to the temple. We were greeted by rivers of
blood. I could not bear to stand there. I was exasperated and restless. I have never forgotten that
That very evening I had an invitation to dinner at a party of Bengali friends. There I spoke to a
friend about this cruel form of worship. He said: ‘The sheep don’t feel anything. The noise and the
drum-beating there deaden all sensation of pain.’
I could not swallow this. I told him that if the sheep had speech, they would tell a different tale. I
felt that the cruel custom ought to be stopped. I thought of the story of Buddha, but I also saw that
the task was beyond my capacity.
I hold today the same opinion as I held then. To my mind the life of a lamb is no less precious
than that of a human being. I should be unwilling to take the life of a lamb for the sake of the
human body. I hold that the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man
from the cruelty of man. But he who has not qualified himself for such service is unable to afford
to it any protection. I must go through more self-purification and sacrifice, before I can hope to
save these lambs from this unholy sacrifice. It is my constant prayer that there may be born on
earth some great spirit, man or woman, fired with divine pity, who will deliver us from this heinous
sin, save the lives of the innocent creatures, and purify the temple. How is it that Bengal, with all
its knowledge, intelligence, sacrifice, and emotion, tolerates this slaughter?
19. A MONTH WITH GOKHALE—III
The terrible sacrifice offered to Kali in the name of religion enhanced my desire to know
Bengali life. I had read and heard a good deal about the Brahmo Samaj. I knew something about
the life of Pratap Chandra Mazumdar. I had attended some of the meetings addressed by him. I
secured his life of Keshav Chandra Sen, read it with great interest, and understood the distinction
between Sadharan Brahmo Samaj and Adi Brahmo Samaj. I met Pandit Shivanath Shastri, and in
company with Professor Kathavate went to see Maharshi Devendranath Tagore; but as no
interviews with him were allowed then, we could not see him. We were, however, invited to a
celebration of the Brahmo Samaj held at his place, and there we had the privilege of listening to
fine Bengali music. Ever since I have been a lover of Bengali music.
Having seen enough of the Brahmo Samaj, it was impossible to be satisfied without seeing
Swami Vivekanand. So with great enthusiasm I went to Belur Math, mostly, or maybe all the way,
on foot. I loved the sequestered site of the Math. I was disappointed and sorry to be told that the
Swami was at his Calcutta house, lying ill, and could not be seen.
I then ascertained the place of residence of Sister Nivedita, and met her in a Chowringhee
mansion. I was taken aback by the splendour that surrounded her, and even in our conversation
there was not much meeting ground. I spoke to Gokhale about this, and he said he did not
wonder that there could be no point of contact between me and a volatile/1/ person like her.
I met her again at Mr. Pestonji Padshah’s place. I happened to come in just as she was talking
to his old mother, and so I became an interpreter between the two. In spite of my failure to find
any agreement with her, I could not but notice and admire her overflowing love for Hinduism. I
came to know of her books later.
I used to divide my day between seeing the leading people in Calcutta regarding the work in
South Africa, and visiting and studying the religious and public institutions of the city. I once
addressed a meeting, presided over by Dr. Mullick, on the work of the Indian Ambulance Corps in
the Boer War. My acquaintance with The Englishman stood me in good stead on this occasion
too. Mr. Saunders was ill then, but rendered me as much help as in 1896. Gokhale liked this
speech of mine, and he was very glad to hear Dr. Ray praising it.
Thus my stay under the roof of Gokhale made my work in Calcutta very easy, brought me into
touch with the foremost Bengali families, and was the beginning of my intimate contact with
I must needs skip over many a reminiscence of this memorable month. Let me simply mention
my flying visit to Burma, and the foongis/2/ there. I was pained by their lethargy. I saw the golden
pagoda. I did not like the innumerable little candles burning in the temple, and the rats running
about the sanctum brought to my mind thoughts of Swami Daynand’s experience at Morvi. The
freedom and energy of the Burmese women charmed just as the indolence of the men pained
me. I also saw, during my brief sojourn, that just as Bombay was not India, Rangoon was not
Burma, and that just as we in India have become commission agents of English merchants, even
so in Burma have we combined with the English merchants, in making the Burmese people our
On my return from Burma, I took leave of Gokhale. The separation was a wrench, but my work
in Bengal, or rather Calcutta, was finished, and I had no occasion to stay any longer.
Before settling down I had thought of making a tour through India travelling third class, and
acquainting myself with the hardships of third class passengers. I spoke to Gokhale about this. To
begin with he ridiculed the idea, but when I explained to him what I hoped to see, he cheerfully
approved. I planned to go first to Benares to pay my respects to Mrs. Besant, who was then ill.
It was necessary to equip myself anew for the third class tour. Gokhale himself gave me a
metal tiffin-box, and got it filled with sweet-balls and puris. I purchased a canvas bag worth twelve
annas and a long coat made of Chhaya/3/ wool. The bag was to contain this coat, a dhoti, a
towel, and a shirt. I had a blanket as well, to cover myself with, and a water-jug. Thus equipped, I
set forth on my travels. Gokhale and Dr. Ray came to the station to see me off. I had asked them
both not to trouble to come, but they insisted. ‘I should not have come if you had gone first class,
but now I had to,’ said Gokhale.
No one stopped Gokhale from going on to the platform. He was in his silk turban, jacket
and dhoti. Dr. Ray was in his Bengali dress. He was stopped by the ticket collector, but on
Gokhale telling him that he was his friend, he was admitted.
Thus with their good wishes I started on my journey.
/1/ Regarding the use of the word ‘volatile’, see note ‘In Justice of Her Memory’, Young India, 30th June,
/3/ A place in Porbandar State noted locally for its coarse woollen fabrics.
20. IN BENARES
The journey was from Calcutta to Rajkot, and I planned to halt at Benares, Agra, Jaipur, and
Palanpur en route. I had not the time to see any more places than these. In each city I stayed one
day, and put up in dharmashalas or with pandas/1/ like the ordinary pilgrims, excepting at
Palanpur. So far as I can remember, I did not spend more than Rs. 31 (including the train fare) on
In travelling third class I mostly preferred the ordinary to the mail trains, as I knew that the latter
were more crowded and the fares in them higher.
Third class compartments are practically as dirty, and the closet [=toilet] arrangements as bad,
today as they were then. There may be a little improvement now, but the difference between the
facilities provided for the first and the third classes is out of all proportion to the difference
betweeen the fares for the two classes. Third class passengers are treated like sheep, and their
comforts are sheeps’ comforts. In Europe I travelled third–and only once first, just to see what it
was like–but there I noticed no such difference between the first and the third classes. In South
Africa third class passengers are mostly Negroes, yet the third class comforts are better there
than here. In parts of South Africa third class compartments are provided with sleeping
accommodation and cushioned seats. The accommodation is also regulated, so as to prevent
overcrowding, whereas here I have found the regulation limit usually exceeded.
The indifference of the railway authorities to the comforts of the third class passengers,
combined with the dirty and inconsiderate habits of the passengers themselves, makes third class
travelling a trial for a passenger of cleanly ways. These unpleasant habits commonly include
throwing of rubbish on the floor of the compartment, smoking at all hours and in all places, betel
and tobacco chewing, converting of the whole carriage into a spittoon, shouting and yelling, and
using foul language, regardless of the convenience or comfort of fellow passengers. I have
noticed little difference between my experience of the third class travelling in 1902 and that of my
unbroken third class tours from 1915 to 1919.
I can think of only one remedy for this awful state of things–that educated men should make a
point of travelling third class and reforming the habits of the people, as also of never letting the
railway authorities rest in peace, sending in complaints wherever necessary, never resorting to
bribes or any unlawful means for obtaining their own comforts, and never putting up with
infringements of rules on the part of anyone concerned. This, I am sure, would bring about
My serious illness in 1918-19 has unfortunately compelled me practically to give up third class
travelling, and it has been a matter of constant pain and shame to me, especially because the
disability came at a time when the agitation for the removal of the hardships of third class
passengers was making fair headway. The hardships of poor railway and steamship passengers,
accentuated by their bad habits, the undue facilities allowed by Government to foreign trade, and
such other things, make an important group of subjects, worthy to be taken up by one or two
enterprising workers who could devote their full time to it.
But I shall leave the third class passengers at that, and come to my experiences in Benares. I
arrived there in the morning. I had decided to put up with apanda. Numerous Brahmans
surrounded me as soon as I got out of the train, and I selected one who struck me to be
comparatively cleaner and better than the rest. It proved to be a good choice. There was a cow in
the courtyard of his house, and an upper storey where I was given a lodging. I did not want to
have any food without ablution in the Ganges in the proper orthodox manner. The panda made
preparations for it. I had told him beforehand that on no account could I give him more than a
rupee and four annas as dakshina,/2/ and that he should therefore keep this in mind while making
The panda readily assented. ‘Be the pilgrim rich or poor,’ said he, ‘the service is the same in
every case. But the amount of dakshina we receive depends upon the will and the ability of the
pilgrim.’ I did not find that the panda at all abridged the usual formalities in my case.
The puja/3/ was over at twelve o’clock, and I went to the Kashi Vishvanath temple for darshan. I
was deeply pained by what I saw there. When practising as a barrister in Bombay in 1891, I had
occasion to attend a lecture on ‘Pilgrimage to Kashi’ in the Prarthana Samaj hall. I was therefore
prepared for some measure of disappointment. But the actual disappointment was greater than I
had bargained for.
The approach was through a narrow and slippery lane. Quiet there was none. The swarming
flies and the noise made by the shopkeepers and pilgrims were perfectly insufferable.
Where one expected an atmosphere of meditation and communion, it was conspicuous by its
absence. One had to seek that atmosphere in oneself. I did observe devout sisters,who were
absorbed in meditation, entirely unconscious of the environment. But for this the authorities of the
temple could scarcely claim any credit. The authorities should be responsible for creating and
maintaining about the temple a pure, sweet, and serene atmosphere, physical as well as moral.
Instead of this I found a bazar where cunning shopkeepers were selling sweets and toys of the
When I reached the temple, I was greeted at the entrance by a stinking mass of rotten flowers.
The floor was paved with fine marble, which was however broken by some devotee innocent of
aesthetic taste, who had set it with rupees serving as an excellent receptacle for dirt.
I went near the Jnana-vapi (Well of Knowledge). I searched here for God but failed to find Him.
I was not therefore in a particularly good mood. The surroundings of the Jnana-vapi too I found to
be dirty. I had no mind to give any dakshina. So I offered a pie [=penny coin]. The panda in
charge got angry and threw away the pie. He swore at me and said, ‘This insult will take you
straight to hell.’
This did not perturb me. ‘Maharaj,’ said I, ‘whatever fate has in store for me, it does not behove
one of your class to indulge in such language. You may take this pie if you like, or you will lose
‘Go away,’ he replied. ‘I don’t care for your pie.’ And then followed a further volley of abuse.
I took up the pie and went my way, flattering myself that the Brahman had lost a pie and I had
saved one. But the Maharaj was hardly the man to let the pie go. He called me back and said, ‘All
right, leave the pie here, I would rather not be as you are. If I refuse your pie, it will be bad for
I silently gave him the pie and, with a sigh, went away.
Since then I have twice been to Kashi Vishvanath, but that has been after I had already been
afflicted with the title of Mahatma, and experiences such as I have detailed above had become
impossible. People eager to have my darshan would not permit me to have a darshan of the
temple. The woes of Mahatmas are known to Mahatmas alone. Otherwise the dirt and the noise
were the same as before.
If anyone doubts the infinite mercy of God, let him have a look at these sacred places. How
much hypocrisy and irreligion does the Prince of Yogis suffer to be perpetrated in His holy name?
He proclaimed long ago: ‘Whatever a man sows, that shall he reap.’ The law of Karma is
inexorable and impossible of evasion. There is thus hardly any need for God to interfere. He laid
down the law and, as it were, retired.
After this visit to the temple, I waited upon Mrs. Besant. I knew that she had just recovered
from an illness. I sent in my name. She came at once. As I wished only to pay my respects to her,
I said, ‘I am aware that you are in delicate health. I only wanted to pay my respects. I am thankful
that you have been good enough to receive me in spite of your indifferent health. I will not detain
you any longer.’
So saying, I took leave of her.
21. SETTLED IN BOMBAY?
Gokhale was very anxious that I should settle down in Bombay, practise at the bar, and help
him in public work. Public work in those day meant Congress work, and the chief work of the
institution which he had assisted to found was carrying on the Congress administration.
I liked Gokhale’s advice, but I was not overconfident of success as a barrister. The unpleasant
memories of past failure were yet with me, and I still hated as poison the use of flattery for getting
I therefore decided to start work first at Rajkot. Kevalram Mavji Dave, my old well-wisher, who
had induced me to go to England, was there, and he started me straightway with three briefs.
Two of them were appeals before the Judical Assistant to the Political Agent in Kathiawad, and
one was an original case in Jamnagar. This last was rather important. On my saying that I could
not trust myself to do it justice, Kevalram Dave exclaimed: ‘Winning or losing is no concern of
yours. You will simply try your best, and I am of course there to assist you.’
The counsel on the other side was the late Sjt. Samarth. I was fairly well prepared. Not that I
knew much of Indian law, but Kevalram Dave had instructed me very thoroughly. I had heard
friends say, before I went out to South Africa, that Sir Pherozeshah Mehta had the law of
evidence at his finger-tips, and that that was the secret of his success. I had borne this in mind,
and during the voyage had carefully studied the Indian Evidence Act with commentaries thereon.
There was of course also the advantage of my legal experience in South Africa.
I won the case and gained some confidence. I had no fear about the appeals, which were
successful. All this inspired a hope in me that after all I might not fail even in Bombay.
But before I set forth the circumstances in which I decided to go to Bombay, I shall narrate my
experience of the inconsiderateness and ignorance of English officials. The Judicial Assistant’s
court was peripatetic. He was constantly touring, and vakils and their clients had to follow him
wherever he moved his camp. The vakils would charge more whenever they had to go out of
headquarters, and so the clients had naturally to incur double the expenses. The inconvenience
was no concern of the judge.
The appeal of which I am talking was to be heard at Veraval, where plague was raging. I have
a recollection that there were as many as fifty cases daily in the place with a population of 5,500.
It was practically deserted, and I put up in a deserted dharmashala at some distance from the
town. But where were the clients to stay? If they were poor, they had simply to trust themselves to
A friend who also had cases before the court had wired that I should put in an application for
the camp to be moved to some other station because of the plague at Veraval. On my submitting
the application, the sahib asked me: ‘Are you afraid?’
I answered: ‘It is not a question of my being afraid. I think I can shift for myself, but what about
‘The plague has come to stay in India,’ replied the sahib. ‘Why fear it? The climate of Veraval is
lovely. (The sahib lived far away from the town in a palatial tent pitched on the seashore.) Surely
people must learn to live thus in the open.’
It was no use arguing against this philosophy. The sahib told his shirastedar: ‘Make a note of
what Mr. Gandhi says, and let me know if it is very incovenient for the vakils or the clients.’
The sahib of course had honestly done what he thought was the right thing. But how could the
man have an idea of the hardships of poor India? How was he to understand the needs, habits,
idiosyncrasies, and customs of the people? How was one accustomed to measure things in gold
sovereigns, all at once to make calculations in tiny bits of copper? As the elephant is powerless to
think in the terms of the ant, in spite of the best intentions in the world, even so is the Englishman
powerless to think in the terms of, or legislate for, the Indian.
But to resume the thread of the story. In spite of my successes, I had been thinking of staying
on in Rajkot for some time longer, when one day Kevalram Dave came to me and said: ‘Gandhi,
we will not suffer you to vegetate here. You must settle in Bombay.’
‘But who will find work for me there?’ I asked. ‘Will you find the expenses?’
‘Yes, yes, I will,’ said he. ‘We shall bring you down here sometimes as a big barrister from
Bombay, and drafting work we shall send you there. It lies with us vakils to make or mar a
barrister. You have proved your worth in Jamnagar and Veraval, and I have therefore not the
least anxiety about you. You are destined to do public work, and we will not allow you to be
buried in Kathiawad. So tell me, then, when you will go to Bombay.’
‘I am expecting a remittance from Natal. As soon as I get it I will go,’ I replied.
The money came in about two weeks, and I went to Bombay. I took chambers in Payne, Gilbert
and Sayani’s offices, and it looked as though I had settled down.
22. FAITH ON ITS TRIAL
Though I had hired chambers in the Fort and a house in Girgaum, God would not let me settle
down. Scarcely had I moved into my new house when my second son Manilal, who had already
been through an acute attack of small-pox some years back, had a severe attack of typhoid,
combined with pneumonia and signs of delirium at night.
The doctor was called in. He said medicine would have little effect, but eggs and chicken broth
might be given with profit.
Manilal was only ten years old. To consult his wishes was out of the question. Being his
guardian, I had to decide. The doctor was a very good Parsi. I told him that we were all
vegetarians, and that I could not possibly give either of the two things to my son. Would he
therefore recommend something else?
‘Your son’s life is in danger,’ said the good doctor. ‘We could give him milk diluted with water,
but that will not give him enough nourishment. As you know, I am called in by many Hindu
families, and they do not object to anything I prescribe. I think you will be well advised not to be
so hard on your son.’
‘What you say is quite right,’ said I. ‘As a doctor you could not do otherwise. But my
responsibility is very great. If the boy had been grown up, I should certainly have tried to ascertain
his wishes and respected them. But here I have to think and decide for him. To my mind it is only
on such occasions that a man’s faith is truly tested. Rightly or wrongly, it is part of my religious
conviction that man may not eat meat, eggs, and the like. There should be a limit even to the
means of keeping ourselves alive. Even for life itself we may not do certain things. Religion, as I
understand it, does not permit me to use meat or eggs for me or mine even on occasions like this,
and I must therefore take the risk that you say is likely. But I beg of you one thing. As I cannot
avail myself of your treatment, I propose to try some hydropathic remedies which I happen to
know. But I shall not know how to examine the boy’s pulse, chest, lungs, etc. If you will kindly look
in from time to time to examine him and keep me informed of his condition, I shall be grateful to
The good doctor appreciated my difficulty and agreed to my request. Though Manilal could not
have made his choice, I told him what had passed between the doctor and myself and asked him
‘Do try your hydropathic treatment,’ he said. ‘I will not have eggs or chicken broth.’
This made me glad, though I realized that if I had given him either of these, he would have
I knew Kuhne’s treatment, and had tried it too. I knew as well that fasting also could be tried
with profit. So I began to give Manilal hip baths according to Kuhne, never keeping him in the tub
for more than three minutes, and kept him on orange juice mixed with water for three days.
But the temperature persisted, going up to 104 degrees. At night he would be delirious. I began
to get anxious. What would people say of me? What would my elder brother think of me? Could
we not call in another doctor? Why not have an Ayurvedic physician? What right had the parents
to inflict their fads on their children?
I was haunted by thoughts like these. Then a contrary current would start. God would surely be
pleased to see that I was giving the same treatment to my son as I would give myself. I had faith
in hydropathy, and little faith in allopathy. The doctors could not guarantee recovery. At best they
could experiment. The thread of life was in the hands of God. Why not trust it to Him, and in His
name go on with what I thought was the right treatment?
My mind was torn between these conflicting thoughts. It was night. I was in Manilal’s bed lying
by his side. I decided to give him a wet sheet pack. I got up, wetted a sheet, wrung the water out
of it, and wrapped it about Manilal, keeping only his head out, and then covered him with two
blankets. To the head I applied a wet towel. The whole body was burning like hot iron, and quite
parched. There was absolutely no perspiration.
I was sorely tired. I left Manilal in the charge of his mother, and went out for a walk on Chaupati
to refresh myself. It was about ten o’clock. Very few pedestrians were out. Plunged in deep
thought, I scarcely looked at them. ‘My honour is in Thy keeping, oh Lord, in this hour of trial,’ I
repeated to myself.Ramanama was on my lips. After a short time I returned, my heart beating
within my breast.
No sooner had I entered the room than Manilal said, ‘You have returned, Bapu?’
‘Do please pull me out. I am burning.’
‘Are you perspiring, my boy?’
‘I am simply soaked. Do please take me out.’
I felt his forehead. It was covered with beads of perspiration. The temperature was going down.
I thanked God.
‘Manilal, your fever is sure to go now. A little more perspiration, and then I will take you out.’
‘Pray, no. Do deliver me from this furnace. Wrap me some other time if you like.’
I just managed to keep him under the pack for a few minutes more by diverting him. The
perspiration streamed down his forehead. I undid the pack and dried his body. Father and son fell
asleep in the same bed.
And each slept like a log. Next morning Manlial had much less fever. He went on thus for forty
days on diluted milk and fruit juices. I had no fear now. It was an obstinate type of fever, but it had
been got under control.
Today Manilal is the healthiest of my boys. Who can say whether his recovery was due to
God’s grace, or to hydropathy, or to careful dietary and nursing? Let everyone decide according
to his own faith. For my part I was sure that God had saved my honour, and that belief remains
unaltered to this day.
23. TO SOUTH AFRICA AGAIN
Manilal was restored to health, but I saw that the Girgaum house was not habitable. It was
damp and ill-lighted. So in consultation with Shri Raveshankar Jagivan, I decided to hire some
well-ventilated bungalow in a suburb of Bombay. I wandered about in Bandra and Santa Cruz.
The slaughter house in Bandra prevented our choice falling there. Ghatkopar and places near it
were too far from the sea. At last we hit upon a fine bungalow in Santa Cruz, which we hired as
being the best from the point of view of sanitation.
I took a first class season ticket from Santa Cruz to Churchgate, and remember having
frequently felt a certain pride in being the only first class passenger in my compartment. Often I
walked to Bandra in order to take the fast train from there direct to Churchgate.
I prospered in my profession better than I had expected. My South African clients often
entrusted me with some work, and it was enough to enable me to pay my way.
I had not yet succeeded in securing any work in the High Court, but I attended the ‘moot’ that
used to be held in those days, though I never ventured to take part in it. I recall Jamiatram
Nanabhai taking a prominent part. Like other fresh barristers I made a point of attending the
hearing of cases in the High Court, more, I am afraid, for enjoying the soporific breeze coming
straight from the sea than for adding to my knowledge. I observed that I was not the only one to
enjoy this pleasure. It seemed to be the fashion and therefore nothing to be ashamed of.
However I began to make use of the High Court library and make fresh acquaintances, and felt
that before long I should secure work in the High Court.
Thus whilst on the one hand I began to feel somewhat at ease about my profession, on the
other hand Gokhale, whose eyes were always on me, had been busy making his own plans on
my behalf. He peeped in at my chambers twice or thrice every week, often in company with
friends whom he wanted me to know, and he kept me acquainted with his mode of work.
But it may be said that God has never allowed any of my own plans to stand. He has disposed
them in His own way.
Just when I seemed to be settling down as I had intended, I received an unexpected cable
from South Africa: ‘Chamberlain expected here. Please return immediately.’ I remembered my
promise, and cabled to say that I should be ready to start the moment they put me in funds. They
promptly responded, I gave up the chambers and started for South Africa.
I had an idea that the work there would keep me engaged for at least a year, so I kept the
bungalow and left my wife and children there.
I believed then that enterprising youths who could not find an opening in the country should
emigrate to other lands. I therefore took with me four or five such youths, one of whom was
The Gandhis were and are a big family. I wanted to find out all those who wished to leave the
trodden path and venture abroad. My father used to accommodate a number of them in some
state service. I wanted them to be free from this spell. I neither could nor would secure other
service for them; I wanted them to be self-reliant.
But as my ideals advanced, I tried to persuade these youths also to conform their ideals to
mine, and I had the greatest success in guiding Maganlal Gandhi. But about this later.
The separation from wife and children, the breaking up of a settled establishment, and the
going from the certain to the uncertain–all this was for a moment painful, but I had inured myself
to an uncertain life. I think it is wrong to expect certainties in this world, where all else but God
that is Truth is an uncertainty. All that appears and happens about and around us is uncertain,
transient. But there is a Supreme Being hidden therein as a Certainty, and one would be blessed
if one could catch a glimpse of that Certainty and hitch one’s waggon to it. The quest for that
Truth is the summum bonum of life.
I reached Durban not a day too soon. There was work waiting for me. The date for the
deputation to wait on Mr. Chamberlain had been fixed. I had to draft the memorial to be submitted
to him, and accompany the deputation.