1927 (självbiografi) The Story of My Experiments with Truth – Mahatma Gandhi

M. K. Gandhi

The story of my experiments with truth

Bombay Sarvodaya Mandal
299, Tardeo Raod, Nana Chowk
Bombay – 7 INDIA 3872061
email: info @ mkgandhi-sarvodaya.org
www: mkgandhi-sarvodaya.org

Chapter 1
The Gandhis belong to the Bania caste and seem to have been originally grocers. But for three
generations, from my grandfather, they have been Prime Ministers in several Kathiawad States.
Uttamchand Gandhi, alias Ota Gandhi, my grandfather, must have been a man of principle. State
intrigues compelled him to leave Porbandar, where he was Diwan, and to seek refuge in
Junagadh. There he saluted the Nawab with the left hand. Someone, noticing the apparent
discourtesy, asked for an explanation, which was given thus: ‘The right hand is already pledged
to Porbandar.’
Ota Gandhi married a second time, having lost his first wife. He had four sons by his first wife and
two by his second wife. I do not think that in my childhood I ever felt or knew that these sons of
Ota Gandhi were not all of the same mother. The fifth of these six brothers was Karamchand
Gandhi, alias Kaba Gandhi, and the sixth was Tulsidas Gandhi. Both these brothers were Prime
Ministers in Porbandar, one after the other. Kaba Gandhi was my father. He was a member of the
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 given to carnal pleasures. For he married for the fourth time when he
was over forty. But he was incorruptible and had earned a name for strict impartiality in his family
as well as outside. His loyalty to the state was well known. An Assistant Political Agent spoke
insultingly of the Rajkot Thakore Saheb, his chief, and he stood up to the insult. The Agent was
angry and asked Kaba Gandhi to apologize. This he refused to do and was therefore kept under
detention for a few hours. But when the Agent saw that Kaba Gandhi was adamant, he ordered
him to be released.
My father never had any ambition to accumulate riches and left us very little property.
He had no education, save that of experience. At best, he might be said to have read up to the
fifth Gujarati standard. Of history and geography he was innocent. But his rich experience of
practical affairs stood him in good stead in the solution of the most intricate questions and in
managing hundreds of men. Of religious training he had very little, but he had that kind of
religious culture which frequent visits to temples and listening to religious discourses make
available to many Hindus. In his last days he began reading the Gita at the instance of a learned
Brahman friend of the family, and he used to repeat aloud some verses every day at the time of
The outstanding impression my mother has left on my memory is that of saintliness. She was
deeply religious. She would not think of taking her meals without her daily prayers. Going to
Haveli -the Vaishnava temple-was one of her daily duties. As far as my memory can go back, I do
not remember her having ever missed the Chaturmas . She would take the hardest vows and
keep them without flinching. Illness was no excuse for relaxing them. I can recall her once falling
ill when she was observing the Chandrayana vow, but the illness was not allowed to interrupt the
observance. To keep two or three consecutive fasts was nothing to her. Living on one meal a day during Chaturmas was a habit with her. Not content with that she fasted every alternate day
during one Chaturmas . During another Chaturmas she vowed not to have food without seeing
the sun. We children on those days would stand, staring at the sky, waiting to announce the
appearance of the sun to our mother. Everyone knows that at the height of the rainy season the
sun often does not condescend to show his face. And I remember days when, at his sudden
appearance, we would rush and announce it to her, She would run out to se with her own eyes,
but by that time the fugitive sun would be gone, thus depriving her of her meal. “That does not
matter,” she would say cheerfully, “God did not want me to eat today.” And then she would return
to her round of duties.
My mother had strong commonsense. She was well informed about all matters of state, and
ladies of the court thought highly of her intelligence. Often I would accompany her, exercising the
privilege of childhood, and I still remember many lively discussions she had with the widowed
mother of the Thakore Saheb.
Of these parents I was born at Porbandar, otherwise known as Sudamapuri, on the 2nd October,
1869, I passed my childhood in Porbandar. I recollect having been put to school. It was with some
difficulty that I got through the multiplication tables. The fact that I recollect nothing more of those
days than having learnt, in company with other boys, to call our teacher all kinds of names, would
strongly suggest that my intellect must have been sluggish, and my memory raw.
Chapter 2
I must have been about seven when my father left Porbandar for Rajkot to become a member of
the Rajasthanik Court. There I was put into a primary school, and I can well recollect those days,
including the names and other particulars of the teachers who taught me. As at Porbandar, so
here, there is hardly anything to note about my studies. I could only have been 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 school-mates, I used to be very shy and avoided all
company. My books and my lessons were my sole companions. To be at school at the stroke of
the hour and to run back home as soon as the 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 occurred at the examination during my first year at the high school and
which is worth recording. Mr Giles, the educational Inspector, had come on a visit of inspection.
He had set us five words to write as a spelling exercise. One of the words was ‘Kettle’. I had misspelt it. The teacher tried to prompt me with the point of his boot, but I would not be prompted. It
was beyond me to see that he wanted me to copy the spelling from my neighbour’s slate, for I
had thought that the teacher was there to supervise us against copying. The result was that all
the boys, except myself, were found to have spelt every word correctly. Only I had been stupid.
The teacher tried later to bring this stupidity home to me. but without effect. I never could learn
the art of ‘copying’.
Yet the incident did not in the least diminish my respect for my teacher. I was by nature, blind to
the faults of elders. Later I came to know of many other failings of this teacher, but my regard for
him remained the same. For I had learnt to carry out the orders of elders, not to scan their
actions. Two other incidents belonging to the same period have always clung to my memory. As a rule I
had a distaste for any reading beyond my school books. The daily lessons had to be done,
because I disliked being taken to task by my teacher as much as I disliked deceiving him.
Therefore I would do the lessons, but often without my mind in them. Thus when even the
lessons could not be done properly, there was of course no question of any extra reading. But
somehow my eyes fell on a book purchased by my father. It was Shravana Pitribhakti Nataka (a
play about Sharavana’s devotion to his parents). I read it with intense interest. There came to our
place about the same time itinerant showmen. One of the pictures I was shown was of Shravana
carrying, by means of slings fitted for his shoulders, his blind parents on a pilgrimage. The book
and the picture left an indelible impression on my mind. ‘Here is an example for you to copy,’ I
said to myself. The agonized lament of the parents over Shravana’s death is still fresh in my
memory. The melting tune moved me deeply, and I played it on a concertina which my father had
purchased for me.
There was a similar incident connected with another play. Just about this time, I had secured my
father’s permission to see a play performed by a certain dramatic company. This playHarishchandra- captured my heart. I could never be tired of seeing it. But how often should I be
permitted to go? It haunted me and I must have acted Harishchandra to myself times without
number. ‘Why should not all be truthful like Harishchandra?’ was the question I asked myself day
and night. To follow truth and to go through all the ordeals Harishchandra went through was the
one ideal it inspired in me. I literally believed in the story of Harishchandra. The thought of it all
often made me weep. My commonsense tells me today that Harishchandra could not have been
a historical character. Still both Harishchandra and Shravana are living realities for me, and I am
sure I should be moved as before if I were to read those plays again today.
Chapter 3
Much as I wish that I had not to write this chapter, I know that I shall have to swallow many
such bitter draughts in the course of this narrative. And I cannot do otherwise, if I claim to be a
worshipper of Truth. It is my painful duty to have to record here my marriage at the age of
thirteen. As I see the youngsters of the same age about me who are under my care, and think of
my own marriage, I am inclined to pity myself and to congratulate them on having escaped my lot.
I can see no moral argument in support of such a preposterously early marriage.
Let the reader make no mistake. I was married, not betrothed. For in Kathiawad there are two
distinct rites, betrothal and marriage. Betrothal is a preliminary promise on the part of the parents
of the boy and the girl to join them in marriage, and it is not inviolable. The death of the boy
entails no widowhood on the girl. It is an agreement purely between the parents, and the children
have no concern with it. Often they are not even informed of it. It appears that I was betrothed
thrice, though without my knowledge. I was told that two girls chosen for me had died in turn, and
therefore I infer that I was betrothed three times. I have a faint recollection, however, that the third
betrothal took place in my seventh year. But I do not recollect having been informed about it. In
the present chapter I am talking about my marriage, of which I have the clearest recollection.
It will be remembered that we were three brothers. The first was already married. The elders
decided to marry my second brother, who was two or three years my senior,a cousin, possibly a year older, and me, all at the same time. In doing so there was no thought of our welfare, much
less our wishes. It was purely a question of their own convenience and economy.
Marriage among Hindus is no simple matter. The parents of the bride and the bridegroom often
bring themselves to ruin over it. They waste their substance, they waste their time. Months are
taken up over the preparations in making clothes and ornaments and in preparing budgets for
dinners. Each tries to outdo the other in the number and variety of courses to be prepared.
Women, whether they have a voice or no, sing themselves hoarse, even get ill, and disturb the
peace of their neighbours. these in their turn quietly put up with all the turmoil and bustle all the
dirt and filth, representing the remains of the feasts, because they know that a time will come
when they also will be behaving in the same manner.
It would be better, thought my elders, to have all this bother over at one and the same time. Less
expense and greater eclat. For money could be freely spent if it had only to be spent once instead
of thrice. My father and my uncle were both old, and we were the last children they had to marry.
it is likely that they wanted to have the last best time of their lives. In view of all these
considerations, a triple wedding was decided upon, and as I have said before, months were taken
up in preparation for it.
It was only through these preparations that we got warning of the coming event. I do not think it
meant to me anything more than the prospect of good clothes to wear, drum beating, marriage
processions, rich dinners and a strange girl to play with. The carnal desire came later. I propose
to draw the curtain over my shame, except for a few details worth recording. To these I shall
come later. But even they have little to do with the central idea I have kept before me in writing
this story.
So my brother and I were both taken to Porbandar from 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 favour
with the Thakore Saheb. The latter would not let him go until the last moment. And when he did
so, he ordered for my father special stage coaches, reducing the journey by two days. But the
fates had willed otherwise. Porbandar is 120 miles from 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 ceremony had to be gone through. For how could the marriage dates be
changed? However, I forgot my grief over my father’s injuries in the childish amusement of the
I was devoted to my parents. but no less was I devoted to the passions that flesh is heir to. I had
yet to learn that all happiness and pleasure should be sacrificed in devoted service to my parents.
And yet, as though by way of punishment for my desire for pleasures, an incident happened,
which has ever since rankled in my mind and which I will relate later. Nishkulanand sings:
‘Renunciation of objects, without the renunciation of desires, is short-lived, however hard you may
try.’ Whenever I sing this song or hear it sung, this bitter untoward incident, rushes to my memory
and fills me with shame.
My father put on a brave face in spite of his injuries, and took full part in the wedding. As I think of
it, I can even today call before my mind’s eye the places where he sat as he went through the
different details of the ceremony. Little did I dream then that one day I should severely criticize my
father for having married me as a child. Everything on that day seemed to me own right and
proper and pleasing. There was also my own eagerness to get married. And as everything that
my father did then struck me as beyond reproach, the recollection of those things is fresh in my memory. I can picture to myself, even today, how we sat on our wedding dais, how we performed
the Saptapadi how we, the newly wedded husband and wife, put the sweet Kansar into each
other’s mouth, and how we began to live together. And oh! that first night.Two innocent children
all unwittingly hurled themselves into the ocean of life. My brother’s wife had thoroughly coached
me about my behaviour on the first night. I do not know who had coached my wife. I have never
asked her about it, nor am I inclined to do so now. The reader may be sure that we were too
nervous to face each other. We were certainly too shy. How was I to talk to her, and what was I to
say? The coaching could not carry me far. But no coaching is really necessary in such matters.
The impressions of the former birth are potent enough to make all coaching superfluous. We
gradually began to know each other, and to speak freely together. We were the same age. but I
took no time in assuming the authority of a husband.
Chapter 4
About the time of my marriage, little pamphlets costing a pice, or a pie (I now forget how
much), used to be issued, in which conjugal love, thrift, child marriages, and other such subjects
were discussed. Whenever I came across any of these, I used to go through them cover to cover,
and it was a habit with me to forget what I did not like, and to carry out in practice whatever I
liked. Lifelong faithfulness to the wife, inculcated in these booklets as the duty of the husband,
remained permanently imprinted on my heart. Furthermore, the passion for truth was innate in
me, and to be false to her was therefore out of the question. And then there was very little chance
of my being faithless at that tender age.
But the lesson of faithfulness had also untoward effect. ‘If I should be pledged to be faithful to my
wife, she also should be pledged to be faithful to me,’ I said to myself. The thought made me a
jealous husband. Her duty was easily converted into my right to exact faithfulness from her, and if
it had to be exacted, I should be watchfully tenacious of the right. I had absolutely no reason to
suspect my wife’s fidelity, but jealousy does not wait for reasons. I must needs be for ever on the
look-out regarding her movements, and therefore she could not go anywhere without my
permission. This sowed the seeds of a bitter quarrel between us. The restraint was virtually a sort
of imprisonment. And Kasturbai was not the girl to brook any such thing. She made it a point to
go out whenever and wherever she liked. More restraint on my part resulted in more liberty being
taken by her, and in my getting more and more cross. Refusal to speak to one another thus
became the order of the day with us, married children. I think it was quite innocent of Kasturbai to
have taken those liberties with my restrictions. How could a guileless girl brook any restraint on
going to the temple or on going on visits to friends? If I had the right to impose restrictions on her,
had not she also a similar right? All this is clear to me today. But at that time I had to make good
my authority as a husband!
Let not the reader think, however, that ours was a life of unrelieved bitterness. For my severities
were all based on love. I wanted to make my wife an ideal wife. My ambition was to make her live
a pure life, learn what I learnt,and identify her life and thought with mine.
I do not know whether Kasturbai had any such ambition. She was illiterate. By nature she was
simple, independent, persevering and, with me at least, reticent. She was not impatient of her
ignorance and I do not recollect my studies having ever spurred her to go in for a similar
adventure. I fancy, therefore, that my ambition was all one- sided. My passion was entirely centred on one woman, and I wanted it to be reciprocated. But even if there were no reciprocity, it
could not be all unrelieved misery because there was active love on one side at least.
I must say I was passionately fond of her. Even at school I used to think of her, and the thought of
nightfall and our subsequent meeting was ever haunting me. Separation was unbearable. I used
to keep her awake till late in the night with my idle talk. If with this devouring passion there had
not been in me a burning attachment to duty, I should either have fallen a prey to disease and
premature death, or have sunk into a burdensome existence. But the appointed tasks had to be
gone through every morning, and lying to anyone was out of the question. It was this last thing
that saved me from many a pitfall.
I have already said that Kasturbai was illiterate. I was very anxious to teach her, but lustful love
left me no time. For one thing the teaching had to be done against her will, and that too at night. I
dared not meet her in the presence of the elders, much less talk to her. Kathiawad had then, and
to a certain extent has even today, its own peculiar, useless and barbarous Purdah.
Circumstances were thus unfavourable. I must therefore confess that most of my efforts to
instruct Kasturbai in our youth were unsuccessful. And when I awoke from the sleep of lust, I had
already launched forth into public life, which did not leave me much spare time. I failed likewise to
instruct her through private tutors. As a result Kasturbai can now with difficulty write simple letters
and understand simple Gujarati. I am sure that, had my love for her been absolutely untainted
with lust, she would be a learned lady today; for I could than have conquered her dislike for
studies. I know that nothing is impossible for pure love.
I have mentioned one circumstance that more or less saved me from the disasters of lustful love.
There is another worth noting. Numerous examples have convinced me that God ultimately saves
him whose motive is pure. Along with the cruel custom of child marriages, Hindu society has
another custom which to a certain extent diminishes the evils of the former. Parents do not allow
young couples to stay long. The child-wife spends more than half her time at her father’s place.
Such was the case with us. That is to say, during the first five years of our married life (from the
age of 13 to 18), we could not have lived together longer than an aggregate period of three years.
We would hardly have spent six months together, when there would be a call to my wife from her
parents. Such calls were very unwelcome in those days, But they saved us both. At the age of
eighteen I went to 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.
Chapter 5
I have already said that I was learning at the high school when I was married. We three brothers
were learning at the same school. The eldest brother was in a much higher class, and the brother
who was married at the same time as I was, only one class ahead of me. Marriage resulted in
both of us wasting a year. Indeed the result was oven worse for my brother, for he gave up
studies altogether. Heaven knows how many youths are in the same plight as he. Only in our
present Hindu society do studies and marriage go thus hand in hand.
My studies were continued. I was not regarded as a dunce at the high school. I always enjoyed
the affection of my teachers. Certificates of progress and character used to be sent to the parents every year. I never had a bad certificate. In fact I even won prizes after I passed out of the second
standard. In the fifth and sixth I obtained scholarships and rupees four and ten respectively, an
achievement for which I have to thank good luck more than my merit. For the scholarships were
not open to all, but reserved for the best boys amongst those coming from the Sorath Division of
Kathiawad. And in those days there could not have been many boys from Sorath in a class of
forty to fifty.
My own recollection is that I had not any high regard for my ability. I used to be astonished
whenever I won prizes and scholarships. But I very jealously guarded my character. The least
little blemish drew tears from my eyes. When I merited, or seemed to the teacher to merit, a
rebuke, it was unbearable for me. I remember having once received corporal punishment. I did
not so much mind the punishment, as the fact that it was considered my desert. I wept piteously.
That was when I was in the first or second standard. There was another such incident during the
time when I was in the seventh standard. Dorabji Edulji Gimi was the headmaster then. He was
popular among boys, as he was a disciplinarian, a man of method and a good teacher. He had
made gymnastics and cricket compulsory for boys of the upper standards. I disliked both. I never
took part in any exercise, cricket or football, before they were made compulsory. My shyness was
one of the reasons for this aloofness, which I now see was wrong. I then had the false notion that
gymnastics had nothing to do with education. Today I know that physical training should have as
much place in the curriculum as mental training.
I may mention, however, that I was none the worse for abstaining from exercise. That was
because I had read in books about the benefits of long walks in the open air, and having liked the
advice, I had formed a habit of taking walks, which has still remained with me. These walks gave
me a fairly hardy constitution.
The reason of my dislike for gymnastics was my keen desire to serve as nurse to my father. As
soon as the school closed, I would hurry home and begin serving him. Compulsory exercise
came directly in the way of this service. I requested Mr. Gimi to exempt me from gymnastics so
that I might be free to serve my father. But he would not listen to me. Now it so happened that
one Saturday, when we had school in the morning, I had to go from home to the school for
gymnastics at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. I had no watch, and the clouds deceived me. Before I
reached the school the boys had all left. The next day Mr. Gimi, examining the roll, found me
marked absent. Being asked the reason for absence, I told him what had happened. He refused
to believe me and ordered me to pay a fine of one or two annas (I cannot now recall how much).
I was convicted of lying ! That deeply pained me. How was I to prove my innocence? There was
no way. I cried in deep anguish. I saw that a man of truth must also be a man of care. This was
the first and last instance of my carelessness in school. I have a faint recollection that I finally
succeeded in getting the fine remitted. The exemption from exercise was of course obtained, as
my father wrote himself to the headmaster saying that he wanted me at home after school.
But though I was none the worse for having neglected exercise, I am still paying the penalty of
another neglect, I do not know whence I got the notion that good handwriting was not a
necessary part of education, but I retained it until I went to England. When later, especially in
South Africa, I saw the beautiful handwriting of lawyers and young men born and educated in
South Africa, I was ashamed of myself and repented of my neglect. I saw that bad handwriting
should be regarded as a sign of an imperfect education. I tried later to improve mine, but it was
too late. I could never repair the neglect of my youth. Let every young man and woman be
warned by my example, and understand that good handwriting is a necessary part of education. I
am now of opinion that children should first be taught the art of drawing before learning how to
write. Let the child learn his letters by observation as he does different objects, such as flowers,
birds, etc., and let him learn handwriting only after he has learnt to draw objects. He will then
write a beautifully formed hand. Two more reminiscences of my school days are worth recording. I had lost one year because of
my marriage, and the teacher wanted me to make good the loss by skipping a class a privilege
usually allowed to industrious boys. I therefore had only six months in the third standard and was
prompted to he forth after the examinations which are followed by the summer vacation. English
became the medium of instruction in most subjects from the fourth standard. I found myself
completely at sea. Geometry was a new subject in which I was not particularly strong, and the
English medium made it still more difficult for me. The teacher taught the subject very well, but I
could not follow him. Often I would lose heart and think of going back to the third standard, feeling
that the packing of two years’ studies into a single year was too ambitious. But this would
discredit not only me, but also the teacher; because, counting on my industry, he had
recommended my promotion. So the fear of the double discredit kept me at my post. When
however, with much effort I reached the thirteenth proposition of 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 used
to talk among themselves that Persian was very easy and the Persian teacher very good and
considerate to the students. The ‘easiness’ tempted me and one day I sat in the Persian class.
The Samskrit teacher was grieved. He called me to his side and said: ‘How can you forget that
you are the son of a Vaishnava father? Won’t you learn the language of your own religion? If you
have any difficulty, why not come to me? I want to teach you students Samskrit to the best of my
ability. As you proceed further, you will find in it things of absorbing interest. You should not lose
heart. Come and sit again in the Samskrit class.’
This kindness put me to shame. I could not disregard my teacher’s affection. Today I cannot but
think with gratitude of Krishnashankar Pandya. For if I had not acquired the little Samskrit that I
had learnt then, I should have found it difficult to take any interest in our sacred books. In fact I
deeply regret that I was not able to acquire a more thorough knowledge of the language, because
I have since realized that every Hindu boy and girl should possess sound Samskrit learning.
It is now my opinion that in all Indian curricula of higher education there should be a place for
Hindi, Samskrit, Persian, Arabic and English, besides of course the vernacular. This big list need
not frighten anyone. If our education were more systematic, and the boys free from the burden of
having to learn their subjects through a foreign medium, I am sure learning all these languages
would not be an irksome task. but a perfect pleasure. A scientific knowledge of one language
makes a knowledge of other languages comparatively easy.
In reality, Hindi, Gujarati and Samskrit may be regarded as one language, and Persian and
Arabic also as one. Though Persian belongs to the Aryan, and Arabic to the Semitic family of
languages, there is a close relationship between Persian and Arabic, because both claim their full
growth through the rise of Islam. Urdu I have not regarded as a distinct language, because it has
adopted the Hindi grammar and its vocabulary is mainly Persian and Arabic, and he who would
learn good Urdu must learn Persian and Arabic, as one who would learn good Gujarati, Hindi,
Bengali, or Marathi must learn Samskrit. Chapter 6
Amongst my few friends at the high school I had, at different times, two who might be called
intimate. One of these friendships did not last long, though I never forsook my friend. He forsook
me, because I made friends with the other. This latter friendship I regard as a tragedy in my life. It
lasted long. I formed it in spirit of a reformer.
This companion was originally my elder brother’s friend. They were classmates. I knew his
weaknesses, but I regarded him as a faithful friend. My mother, my eldest brother, and my wife
warned me that I was in bad company. I was too proud to heed my wife’s warning. But I dared not
go against the opinion of my mother and my eldest brother. Nevertheless I pleaded with them
saying, ‘I know he has the weaknesses you attribute to him, but you do not know his virtues. He
cannot lead me astray, as my association with him is meant to reform him. For I am sure that if he
reforms his ways, he will be a splendid man. I beg you not to be anxious on my account.’
I do not think this satisfied them, but they accepted my explanation and let me go my way.
I have seen since that I had calculated wrongly. A reformer cannot afford to have close intimacy
with him whom he seeks to reform. True friendship is an identity of souls rarely to be found in this
world. Only between like natures can friendship be altogether worthy and enduring. Friends react
on one another. Hence in friendship there is very little scope for reform. I am of opinion that all
exclusive intimacies are to be avoided; for man takes in vice far more readily than virtue. And he
who would be friends with God must remain alone, or make the whole world his friend. I may be
wrong, but my effort to cultivate an intimate friendship proved a failure.
A wave of ‘reform’ was sweeping over Rajkot at the time when I first came across this friend. He
informed me that many of our teachers were secretly taking meat and wine. He also named many
well-known people of Rajkot as belonging to the same company. There were also, I was told,
some high-school boys among them.
I was surprised and pained. I asked my friend the reason and he explained it thus: ‘We are a
weak people because we do not eat meat. The English are able to rule over us, because they are
meat-eaters. You know how hardy I am, and how great a runner too. It is because I am a meateater. Meat-eaters do not have boils or tumours, and even if they sometimes happen to have any,
these heal quickly. Our teachers and other distinguished people who eat meat are no fools. They
know its virtues. You should do likewise. There is nothing like trying. Try, and see what strength it
All these pleas on behalf of meat-eating were not advanced at a single sitting. They represent the
substance of a long and elaborate argument which my friend was trying to impress upon me from
time to time. My elder brother had already fallen. He therefore supported my friend’s argument. I
certainly looked feeble-bodied by the side of my brother and this friend. They were both hardier,
physically stronger, and more daring. This friend’s exploits cast a spell over me. He could run
long distances and extraordinarily fast. He was an adept in high and long jumping. He could put
up with any amount of corporal punishment. He would often display his exploits to me and, as
one is always dazzled when he sees in others the qualities that he lacks himself, I was dazzled by
this friend’s exploits. This was followed by a strong desire to be like him. I could hardly jump or
run. Why should not I also be as strong as he? Moreover, I was a coward. I used to be haunted by the fear of thieves, ghosts, and serpents. I did
not dare to stir out of doors at night. Darkness was a terror to me. It was almost impossible for me
to sleep in the dark, as I would imagine ghosts coming from one direction, thieves from another
and serpents from a third. I could not therefore bear to sleep without a light in the room. How
could I disclose my fears to my wife, no child, but already at the threshold of youth, sleeping by
my side? I knew that she had more courage than I, and I felt ashamed of myself. She knew no
fear of serpents and ghosts. She could go out anywhere in the dark. My friend knew all these
weaknesses of mine. He would tell me that he could hold in his hand live serpents, could defy
thieves and did not believe in ghosts. And all this was, of course, the result of eating meat.
A doggerel of the Gujarati poet Narmad was in vogue amongst us schoolboys, as follows: Behold
the mighty Englishman He rules the Indian small, Because being a meat-eater He is five cubits
All this had its due effect on me. I was beaten. It began to grow on me that meat-eating was
good, that it would make me strong and daring, and that, if the whole county took to meat-eating,
the English could be overcome.
A day was thereupon fixed for beginning the experiment. It had to be conducted in secret. The
Gandhis were Vaishnavas. My parents were particularly staunch Vaishnavas. They would
regularly visit the Haveli. The family had even its own temples. Jainism was strong in 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 extremely 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 what freedom meant. The frenzy of the ‘reform’ blinded
me. And having ensured secrecy, I persuaded myself that mere hiding the deed from parents was
no departure from truth.
Chapter 7
A TRAGEDY (contd.)
So the day came. It is difficult fully to describe my condition. There were, on the one hand, the
zeal for ‘reform’, and the novelty of making a momentous departure in life. There was, on the
other, the shame of hiding like a thief to do this very thing. I cannot say which of the two swayed
me more. We went in search of a lonely spot by the river, and there I saw, for the first time in my
life – meat. There was baker’s bread also. I relished neither. The goat’s meat was as tough as
leather. I simply could not eat it. I was sick and had to leave off eating.
I had a very bad night afterwards. A horrible night-mare haunted me. Every time I dropped off to
sleep it would seem as though a live goat were bleating inside me, and I would jump up full of
remorse. But then I would remind myself that meat-eating was a duty and so become more
cheerful. My friend was not a man to give in easily. He now began to cook various delicacies with meat,
and dress them neatly. And for dining, no longer was the secluded spot on the river chosen, but a
State house, with its dining hall, and tables and chairs, about which my friend had made
arrangements in collusion with the chief cook there.
This bait had its effect. I got over my dislike for bread, forswore my compassion for the goats, and
became a relisher of meat-dishes, if not of meat itself. This went on for about a year. But not
more than half a dozen meat-feasts were enjoyed in all; because the State house was not
available every day, and there was the obvious difficulty about frequently preparing expensive
savoury meat-dishes. I had no money to pay for this ‘reform’. My friend had therefore always to
find the wherewithal. I had no knowledge where he found it. But find it he did, because he was
bent on turning me into a meat-eater. But even his means must have been limited, and hence
these feasts had necessarily to be few and far between.
Whenever I had occasion to indulge in these surreptitious feasts, dinner at home was out of the
question. My mother would naturally ask me to come and take my food and want to know the
reason why I did not wish to eat. I would say to her, ‘I have no appetite today; there is something
wrong with my digestion.’ It was not without compunction that I devised these pretexts. I knew I
was lying, and lying to my mother. I also knew that, if my mother and father came to know of my
having become a meat-eater, they would be deeply shocked. This knowledge was gnawing at my
Therefore I said to myself: ‘Though it is essential to eat meat, and also essential to take up food
‘reform’ in the country, yet deceiving and lying to one’s father and mother is worse than not eating
meat. In their lifetime, therefore, meat-eating must be out of the question. When they are no more
and I have found my freedom, I will eat meat openly, but until that moment arrives I will abstain
from it.’
This decision I communicated to my friend, and I have never since gone back to meat. My
parents never knew that two of their sons had become meat-eaters.
I abjured meat out of the purity of my desire not to lie to my parents, but I did not abjure the
company of my friend. My zeal for reforming him had proved disastrous for me, and all the time I
was completely unconscious of the fact.
The same company would have led me into faithlessness to my wife. But I was saved by the skin
of my teeth. My friend once took me to a brothel. He sent me in with the necessary instructions. It
was all prearranged. The bill had already been paid. I went into the jaws of sin, but God in His
infinite mercy protected me against myself. I was almost struck blind and dumb in this den of vice.
I sat near the woman on her bed, but I was tongue-tied. She naturally lost patience with me, and
showed me the door, with abuses and insults. I then felt as though my manhood had been
injured, and wished to sink into the ground for shame. But I have ever since given thanks to God
for having saved me. I can recall four more similar incidents in my life, and in most of them my
good fortune, rather than any effort on my part, saved me. From a strictly ethical point of view, all
these occasions must be regarded as moral lapses; for the carnal desire was there, and it was as
good as the act. But from the ordinary point of view, a man who is saved from physically
committing sin is regarded as saved. And I was saved only in that sense. There are some actions
from which an escape is a godsend both for the man who escapes and for those about him. Man,
as soon as he gets back his consciousness of right, is thankful to the Divine mercy for the
escape. As we know that a man often succumbs to temptation, however much he say resist it, we
also know that 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 carcumstances,- how far free-will
comes into play and where fate enters on the scene, all this is a mystery and will remain a
mystery. But to go on with the story. Even this was far from opening my eyes to the viciousness of my
friend’s company. I therefore had many more bitter draughts in store for me, until my eyes were
actually opened by an ocular demonstration of some of his lapses quite unexpected by me. But of
them later, as we are proceeding chronologically.
One thing, however, I must mention now, as it pertains to the same period. One of the reasons of
my differences with my wife was undoubtedly the company of this friend. I was both a devoted
and a jealous husband, and this friend fanned the flame of my suspicions about my wife. I never
could doubt his veracity. And I have never forgiven myself the violence of which I have been
guilty in often having pained my wife by acting on his information. Perhaps only a Hindu wife
would tolerate these hardships, and that is why I have regarded woman as an incarnation of
tolerance. A servant wrongly suspected may throw up his job, a son in the same case may leave
his father’s roof, and a friend may put an end to the friendship. The wife, if she suspects her
husband, will keep quiet, but if the husband suspects her, she is ruined. Where is she to go? A
Hindu wife may not seek divorce in a law-court. Law has no remedy for her. And I can never
forget or forgive myself for a having driven my wife to that desperation.
The canker of suspicion was rooted out only when I understood Ahimsa in all its bearings. I saw
then the glory of Brahmacharya and realized that the wife is not the husband’s bondslave, but his
companion and his help-mate, and an equal partner in all his joy and sorrows – as free as the
husband to choose her own path. Whenever I think of those dark days of doubts and suspicions. I
am filled with loathing of my folly and my lustful cruelty, and I deplore my blind devotion to my
Chapter 8
I have still to relate some of my failings during this meat-eating period and also previous to it,
which date from before my marriage or soon after.
A relative and I became fond of smoking. Not that we saw any good in smoking, or were
enamoured of the smell of a cigarette. We simply imagined a sort of pleasure in emitting clouds of
smoke from our mouths. My uncle had the habit, and when we saw him smoking, we thought we
should copy his example. But we had no money. So we began pilfering stumps of cigarettes
thrown away by my uncle.
The stumps, however, were not always available, and could not emit much smoke either. So we
began to steal coppers from the servant’s pocket money in order to purchase Indian cigarettes.
But the question was where to keep them. We could not of course smoke in the presence of
elders. We managed somehow for a few weeks on these stolen coppers. In the meantime we
heard that the stalks of a certain plant were porous and could be smoked like cigarettes. We got
them and began this kind of smoking.
But we were far from being satisfied with such things as these. Our want of independence began
to smart, It was unbearable that we should be unable to do anything without the elders’
permission. At last, in sheer disgust, we decided to commit suicide!
But how were we to do it? From where were we to get the poison? We heard that Dhatura seeds
were an effective poison. Off we went to the jungle in search of these seeds, and got them. Evening was thought to be the auspicious hour. We went to Kedarji Mandir , put ghee in the
temple-lamp, had the Darshan and then looked for a lonely corner. But our courage failed us.
Supposing we were not instantly killed? And what was the good of killing ourselves? Why not
rather put up with the lack of independence? But we swallowed two or three seeds nevertheless.
We dared not take more. Both of us fought shy of death, and decided to go to Ramji Mandir to
compose ourselves, and to dismiss the thought of suicide.
I realized that it was not as easy to commit suicide as to contemplate it. And since then,
whenever I have heard of someone threatening to commit suicide, it has had little or on effect on
The thought of suicide ultimately resulted in both of us bidding good- bye to the habit of smoking
stumps of cigarettes and of stealing the servant’s coppers for the purpose of smoking.
Ever since I have been grown up, I have never desired to smoke and have always regarded the
habit of smoking as barbarous, dirty and harmful. I have never understood why there is such a
rage for smoking throughout the world. I cannot bear to travel in a compartment full of people
smoking. I become choked.
But much more serious than this theft was the one I was guilty of a little later. I pilfered the
coppers when I was twelve or thirteen, possibly less. The other theft was committed when I was
fifteen. In this case I stole a bit of gold out of my meat-eating brother’s armlet. This brother had
run into a debt of about twenty-five rupees. He had on his arm an armlet of solid gold. It was not
difficult to clip a bit out of it.
Well, it was done, and the debt cleared. But this became more than I could bear. I resolved never
to steal again. I also made up my mind to confess it to my father. But I did not dare to speak. Not
that I was afraid of my father beating me. No I do not recall his ever having beaten any of us. I
was afraid of the pain that I should cause him. But I felt that the risk should be taken; that there
could not be a cleaning without a clean confession.
I decided at last to write out the confession, to submit it to my father, and ask his forgiveness. I
wrote it on a slip of paper and handed it to him myself. In this note not only did I confess my guilt,
but I asked adequate punishment for it, and closed with a request to him not to punish himself for
my offence. I also pledged myself never to steal in future.
I was trembling as I handed the confession to my father. He was then suffering from a fistula and
was confined to bed. His bed was a plain wooden plank. I handed him the note and sat opposite
the plank.
He read it through, and pearl-drops trickled down his cheeks, wetting the paper. For a moment he
closed his eyes in thought and then tore up the note. He had sat up to read it. He again lay down.
I also cried. I could see my father’s agony. If I were a painter I could draw a picture of the whole
scene today. It is still so vivid in my mind.
Those pearl-drops of love cleansed my heart, and washed my sin away. Only he who has
experienced such love can know what it is. As the hymn says: ‘Only he Who is smitten with the
arrows of love. Knows its power.’
This was, for me, an object-lesson in Ahimsa. Then I could read in it nothing more than a father’s
love, but today I know that it was pure Ahimsa. When such Ahimsa becomes all-embracing it
transforms everything it touches. There is no limit to its power. This sort of sublime forgiveness was not natural to my father. I had thought that he would be
angry, say hard things, and strike his forehead. But he was so wonderfully peaceful, and I believe
this was due to my clean confession. A clean confession, combined with a promise never to
commit the sin again, when offered before one who has the right to receive it, is the purest type of
repentance. I know that my confession made my father feel absolutely safe about me, and
increased his affection for me beyond measure.
Chapter 9
The time of which I am now speaking is my sixteenth year. My father, as we have seen, was
bed-ridden, suffering from a fistula. My mother, an old servant of the house, and I were his
principal attendants. I had the duties of a nurse, which mainly consisted in dressing the wound.
giving my father his medicine, and compounding drugs whenever they had to be made up at
home, Every night I massaged his legs and retired only when he asked me to do so or after he
had fallen asleep. I loved to do this service. I do not remember ever having neglected it. All the
time at my disposal, after the performance of the daily duties, was divided between school and
attending on my father. I would only go out for an evening walk either when he permitted me or
when he was feeling well.
This was also the time when my wife was expecting a baby,- a circumstance which, as I can see
today, meant a double shame for me. For one thing I did not restrain myself, as I should have
done, whilst I was yet a student. And secondly, this carnal lust got the better of what I regarded
as my duty to my parents, Shravana having been my ideal since childhood. Every night whilst my
hands were busy massaging my father’s legs, my mind was hovering about the bed-room,- and
that too at a time when religion, medical science and commonsense alike forbade sexual
intercourse. I was always glad to be relieved from my duty, and went straight to the bed-room
after doing obeisance to my father.
At the same time my father was getting worse every day. Ayurvedic physicians had tied all their
ointments, Hakims their plasters, and local quacks their nostrums. An English surgeon had also
used his skill. As the last and only resort he had recommended a surgical operation. But the
family physician came in the way. He disapproved of an operation being performed at such an
advanced age. The physician was competent and well-known, and his advice prevailed. The
operation was abandoned, and various medicines purchased for the purpose were of no account.
I have an impression that, if the physician had allowed the operation, the wound would have been
easily healed. The operation also was to have been performed by a surgeon who was then well
known 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 necessary 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 cleanliness are so inexorable.
Such cleanliness is quite essential no doubt, but Western medical science had taught us that all
the functions, including a bath, can be done in bed with the strictest regard to cleanliness, and
without the slightest discomfort to the patient, the bed always remaining spotlessly clean. I should
regard such cleanliness as quite consistent with Vaishnavism. But my father’s insistence on
leaving the bed only struck me with wonder then, and I had nothing but admiration for it. The dreadful night came. My uncle was then in 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 p.m. I was giving the massage. My uncle offered to relieve me. I was glad and
went straight to the bed-room. My wife, poor thing, was fast asleep. But how could she sleep
when I was there? I woke her up. In five or six minutes. however, the servant knocked at the
door. I started with alarm. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘Father is very ill.’ I knew of course that he was very
ill, and so I guessed what ‘very ill’ meant at that moment. I sprang out of bed. ‘What is the matter?
Do tell me!’ ‘Father is no more.’ So all was over! I had but to wring my hands. I felt deeply
ashamed and miserable. I ran to my father’s room. I saw that, if animal passion had not blinded
me. I should have been spared the torture of separation from my father during his last moments. I
should have been massaging him, and he would have died in my arms. But now it was my uncle
who had this privilege. He was so deeply devoted to his elder brother that he had earned the
honour of doing him the last services! My father had forebodings of the coming event. He had
made a sign for pen and paper, and written: ‘Prepare for the last rites.’ He had then snapped the
amulet off his arm and also his gold necklace of tulasi beads and flung them aside. A moment
after this he was no more.
The shame, to which I have refered in a foregoing chapter, was this of my carnal desire even at
the critical hour of my father’s death, which demanded wakeful service. It is a blot I have never
been able to efface or forget, and I have always thought that, although my devotion to my parents
knew no bounds and I would have given up anything for it, yet I was weighed and found
unpardonably wanting because my mind was at the same moment in the grip of lust. I have
therefore always regarded myself as a lustful. though a faithful, husband. It took me long to get
free from the shackles of lust, and I had to pass through many ordeals before I could overcome it.
Before I close this chapter of my double shame. I may mention that the poor mite that was born to
my wife scarcely breathed for more than three or four days. Nothing else could be expected. Let
all those who are married be warned by my example.
Chapter 10
From my sixth or seventh year up to my sixteenth I was at school, being taught all sorts of
things except religion. I may say that I failed to get from the teachers what they could have given
me without any effort on their part. And yet I kept on picking up things here and there from my
surroundings. The term ‘religion’ I am using in its broadest sense, meaning thereby selfrealization or knowledge of self.
Being born in the Vaishnava faith, I has often to go to the Haveli. But it never appealed to me. I
did not like its glitter and pomp. Also I heard rumours of immorality being practised there, and lost
all interest in it. Hence I could gain nothing from the Haveli.
But what I failed to get there I obtained from my nurse, an old servant of the family, whose
affection for me I still recall. I have said before that there was in me a fear of ghosts and spirits.
Rambha, for that was her name, suggested, as a remedy for this fear, the repetition of Ramanama. I had more faith in her than in her remedy, and so at a tender age I began repeating
Ramanama to cure my fear of ghosts and spirits. This was of course short-lived, but the good
seed sown in childhood was not sown in vain. I think it is due to the seed by that good woman
Rambha that today Ramanama is an infallible remedy for me.
Just about this time, a cousin of mine who was a devotee of the Ramayana arranged for my
second brother and me to learn Ram Raksha. We got it by heart, and made it a rule to recite it
every morning after the bath. The practice was kept up as long as we were in Porbandar. As soon
as we reached 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, it was said, had made him whole.
This may or may not be true. We at any rate believed the story. And it is a fact that when Ladha
Maharaj began his reading of the Ramayana his body was entirely free from leprosy. He had a
melodious voice. He would sing the Dohas (couplets) and Chopais (quatrains), and explain them,
losing himself in the discourse and carrying his listeners along with him. I must have been thirteen
at that time, but I quite remember being enraptured by his reading. That laid the foundation of my
deep devotion to the Ramayana. Today I regard the Ramayana of Tulasidas as the greatest book
in all devotional literature.
A few months after this we came to Rajkot. There was no Ramayana reading there. The
Bhagavat, however, used to be read on every Ekadashi 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 twentyone day’s fast, I wished I had heard it in
my childhood from such a devote 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 the time an exception. I developed a sort of dislike for it. And for a
reason. In those days Christian missionaries used to stand in a corner near the high school and
hold forth, pouring abuse on Hindus and their gods. I could not endure this. I must have stood
there to hear them once only, but that was enough to dissuade me from repeating the
experiment. About the same time, I heard of a well known Hindu having been converted to
Christianity. It was the talk of the town that, when he was baptized, he had to eat beef and drink
liquor, that he also had to change his clothes, and that thenceforth he began to go about in
European costume including a hat. These things got on my nerves. Surely, thought I, a religion
that compelled one to eat beef, drink liquor, and change one’s own clothes did not deserve the name. I also heard that the new convert had already begun abusing the religion of his ancestors,
their customs and their country. All these things created in me a dislike for Christianity.
But the fact that I had learnt to be tolerant to other religions did not mean that I had any living faith
in God. I happened, about this time, to come across Manusmriti which was amongst my father’s
collection. The story of the creation and similar things in it did not impress me very much, but on
the contrary made me incline somewhat towards atheism.
There was a cousin of mine, still alive, for whose intellect I had great regard. To him I turned with
my doubts. But he could not resolve them. He sent me away with this answer: ‘When you grow
up, you will be able to solve these doubts yourself. These questions ought not to be raised at your
age.’ I was silenced, but was not comforted. Chapters about diet and the like in Manusmriti
seemed to me to run contrary to daily practice. To my doubts as to this also, I got the same
answer.’With intellect more developed and with more reading I shall understand it better,’ I said to
Manusmriti at any rate did not then teach me ahimsa. I have told the story of my meat-eating.
Manusmriti seemed to support it. I also felt that it was quite moral to kill serpents, bugs and the
like. I remember to have killed at that age bugs and such other insects, regarding it as a duty.
But one thing took deep root in me the conviction that morality is the basis of things, and that truth
is the substance of all morality. Truth became my sole objective. It began to grow in magnitude
every day, and my definition of it also has been ever widening. A Gujarati didactic stanza likewise
gripped my mind and heart. Its Precept-return good for evil-became my guiding principle. It
became such a passion with me that I began numerous experiments in it. Here are those (for me)
wonderful lines: For a bowl of water give a goodly meal: For a kindly greeting bow thou down with
zeal: For a simple penny pay thou back with gold: If thy life be rescued, life do not withhold. Thus
the words and actions of the wise regard; Every little service tenfold they reward. But the truly
noble know all men as one, And return with gladness good for evil done.
Chapter 11
I passed the matriculation examination in 1887. It then used to be held at two centres,
Ahmedabad and Bombay. The general poverty of the country naturally led Kathiawad students to
prefer the nearer and the cheaper centre. The poverty of my family likewise dictated to me the
same choice. This was my first journey from Rajkot to Ahmedabad and that too without a
My elders wanted me to pursue my studies at college after the matriculation. There was a college
in Bhavnagar as well as in Bombay, and as the former was cheaper, I decided to go there and
join the Samaldas College. I went, but found myself entirely at sea. Everything was difficult. I
could not follow, let alone taking interest in, the professors’ lectures. It was no fault of theirs. The
professors in that College were regarded as first-rate. But I was so raw. At the end of the first
term, I returned home.
We had in Mavji Dave, who was a shrewd and learned Brahman an old friend and adviser of the
family. He had kept up his connection with the family even after my father’s death. He happened to visit us during my vacation. In conversation with my mother and elder brother, he inquired
about my studies. Learning that I was at Samaldas College, he said: ‘The times are changed. And
none of you can expect to succeed to your father’s gadi without having 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 still longer, 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 sorely perplexed. She did not like the idea of parting with me. This is how she
tried to put me off: ‘Uncle,’ she said, ‘is now the eldest member of the family. He should first be
consulted. If he consents we will consider the matter.’
My brother had another idea. He said to me: ‘We have a certain claim on the 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. fist and then see me. No help can be given you
now’, he hurried upstairs. I had made elaborate preparations to meet him. I had carefully learnt up
a few sentences and had bowed low and saluted him with both hands. But all to no purpose!
I thought of my wife’s ornaments. I thought of my elder brother, in whom I had the utmost faith.
He was generous to a fault, and he loved me as his son.
I returned to 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 or 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 blessing of my elders, I started for Bombay. This was my first journey from Rajkot to
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. Chapter 12
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. Now 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 out
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 already 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 those 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 gong 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.
Chapter 13
I did not feel at all sea-sick. But as the days passed, I became fidgety. I felt shy even in
speaking to the steward. I was quite unaccustomed to talking English, and except for Sjt.
Mazmudar all the other passengers in the second saloon were English. I could not speak to them.
For I could rarely follow their remarks when they came up to speak to me, and even when I
understood I could not reply. I had to frame every sentence in my mind, before I could bring it out.
I was innocent of the use of knives and forks and had not the boldness to inquire what dishes on
the menu were free of meat, I therefore never took meals at table but always had them in my
cabin, and they consisted principally of sweets and fruits which I had brought with me. Sjt.
Mazmudar had no difficulty, and he mixed with everybody. He would move about freely on deck,
while I hid myself in the cabin the whole day, only venturing up on deck when there were but few
people. Sjt. Mazmudar kept pleading with me to associate with the passengers and to talk with
them freely. He told me that lawyers should have a long tongue, and related to me his legal
experiences. He advised me to take every possible opportunity of talking English, and not to mind
making mistakes which were obviously unavoidable with a foreign tongue. But nothing could
make me conquer my shyness.
An English passenger, taking kindly to me, drew me into conversation. He was older than I. He
asked me what I ate, what I was, where I was going, why I was shy, and so on. He also advised
me to come to table. He laughed at my insistence on abjuring meat, and said in a friendly way when we were in the Red Sea: ‘It is all very well so far but you will have to revise your decision in
the Bay of Biscay. And it is so cold in England that one cannot possibly live there without meat.’
‘But I have heard that people can live there without eating meat,’ I said.
‘Rest assured it is a fib,’ said he. ‘No one, to my knowledge, lives there without being a meateater. Don’t you see that I am not asking you to take liquor, though I do so? But I do think you
should eat meat, for you cannot live without it.’
‘I thank you for your kind advice, but I have solemnly promised to my mother not to touch meat,
and therefore I cannot think of taking it. If it be found impossible to get on without it, I will far
rather go back to India than eat meat in order to remain there.’
We entered the Bay of Biscay, but I did not begin to feel the need either of meat or liquor. I had
been advised to collect certificates of my having abstained from met, 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 humorously 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 hunted me. At night the tears would stream down my cheeks, and home
memories of all sorts made sleep out of the question. It was impossible to share my misery with
anyone. And even if I could have done so, where was the use? I knew of nothing that would
soothe me. Everything was strange-the people, their ways, and even their dwellings. I was a
complete novice in the matter of English etiquette and continually had to be on my guard. There
was the additional inconvenience of the vegetarian vow. Even the dishes that I could eat were
tasteless and insipid. I thus found myself between Scylla and Charybdis. 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.
Chapter 14
Dr. Mehta went on Monday to the Victoria Hotel expecting to find me there. He discovered that
we had left, got our new address, and met me at our rooms. Through sheer folly I had managed
to get ringworm on the boat. For washing and bathing we used to have sea-water, in which soap
is not soluble. I, however, used soap, taking its use to be a sign of civilization, with the result that
instead of cleaning the skin it made it greasy. This gave me ringworm. I showed it to Dr. Mehta,
who told me to apply acetic acid. I remember how the burning acid made me cry. Dr. Mehta
inspected my room and its appointments and shook his head in disapproval. ‘This place won’t do,’
he said. ‘We come to England not so much for the purpose of studies as for gaining experience of
English life and customs. And for this you need to live with a family. But before you do so, I think
you had better serve a period of apprenticeship with -. I will take you there.’
I gratefully accepted the suggestion and removed to the friend’s rooms. He was all kindness and
attention. He treated me as his own brother, initiated me into English ways and manners, and
accustomed me to talking the language. My food, however, became a serious question. I could
not relish boiled vegetables cooked without salt or condiments. The landlady was at a loss to
know what to prepare for me. We had oatmeal porridge for breakfast, which was fairly filling, but I
always starved at lunch and dinner. The friend continually reasoned with me to eat meat, but I
always pleaded my vow and then remained silent. Both for luncheon and dinner we had spinach
and bread and jam too. I was a good eater and had a capacious stomach; but I was ashamed to
ask for more than two or three slices of bread, as it did not seem correct to do so. Added to this,
there was no milk either for lunch or dinner. The friend once got disgusted with this state of
things, and said: ‘Had you been my own brother, I would have sent you packing. What is the
value of a vow made before an illiterate mother, and in ignorance of conditions here? It is no vow
at all. It would not be regarded as a vow in law. It is pure superstition to stick to such a promise.
And I tell you this persistence will not help you to gain anything here. You confess to having eaten
and relished met. You took it where it was absolutely unnecessary, and will not where it is quite
essential. What a pity!’
But I was adamant.
Day in and day out the friend would argue, but I had an eternal negative to face him with. The
more he argued, the more uncompromising I became. Daily I would pray for God’s protection and
get it. Not that i had any idea of God. It was faith that was at work-faith of which the seed had
been sown by the good nurse Rambha. One day the friend began to read to me Bentham’s Theory of Utility. I was at my wits’ end. The
language was too difficult for me to understand. He began to expound it. I said: ‘Pray excuse me.
These abstruse things are beyond me. I admit it is necessary to eat meat. But I cannot break my
vow. I cannot argue about it. I am sure I cannot meet you in argument. But please give me up as
foolish or obstinate. I appreciate your love for me and I know you to be my well-wisher. I also
know that you are telling me again and again about this because you feel for me. But I am
helpless. A vow is a vow. It cannot be broken.’
The friend looked at me in surpirse. He closed the book and said: ‘All right. I will not argue any
more.’ I was glad. He never discussed the subject again. But he did not cease to worry about me.
He smoked and drank, but he never asked me to do so. In fact he asked me to remain away from
both. His one anxiety was lest I should become very weak without meat, and thus be unable to
feel at home in 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. Dalparam
Shukla therefore decided that I should be put with some family. Sjt. Shukla hit upon an AngloIndian’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 her
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 satisifed. 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. Chapter 15
My faith in vegetarianism grew on me from day to day. Salt’s book whetted my appetite for
dietetic studies. I went in for all books available on on vegetaranism and read them. One of these,
Howard Williams’ The Ethics of Diet, was ‘biographical history of the literature of humane dietetics
from the earliest period to the present day.’It tried to make out, that all philosophers and prophets
from Pythagoras and Jesus down to those of the present age were vegetarians. Dr. Anna
Kingsford’s The Perfect Way in Diet was also an attractive book. Dr. Allinson’s writings on health
and hygiene were likewise very helpful. He advocated a curative system based on regulation of
the dietary of patients. Himself a vegetarian, he prescribed for his patients also a strictly
vegetarian diet. The result of reading all this literature was that dietetic experiments came to take
an important place in my life. Health was the principal consideration of these experiments to
begin with. But later on religion became the supreme motive.
Meanwhile my friend had not ceased to worry about me. His love for me led him to think that, if I
persisted in my objections to meat-eating, I should not only develop a weak constitution, but
should remain a duffer, because I should never feel at home in English society. When he came to
know that I had begun to interest myself in books on vegetarianism, he was afraid lest these
studies should muddle my head; that I should fritter my life away in experiments, forgetting my
own work, and become a crank. He therefore made one last effort to reform me. He one day
invited me to go to the theatre. Before the play we were to dine together at the Holborn
Restaurant, to me a palatial place and the first big restaurant I had been to since leaving the
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 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 soceity. 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 the lingua 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
the ambition.
These and similar thoughts possessed me, and I expressed them in a letter which I addressed to
the elocution teacher, requesting him to excuse me from further lessons. I had taken only two or
three. I wrote a similar letter to the dancing teacher, and went personally to the violin teacher with
a request to dispose of the violin for any price it might fetch. She was rather friendly to me, so I
told her how I had discovered that I was pursuing a false idea. She encouraged me in the
determination to make a complete change.
This infatuation must have lasted about three months. The punctiliousness in dress persisted for
years. But henceforward I became a student.
Chapter 16
Let no one imagine that my experiments in dancing and the like marked a stage of indulgence in
my life. The reader will have noticed that even then I had my wits about me. That period of
infatuation was not unrelieved by a certain amount of self-introspection on my part. I kept account
of every farthing I spent, and my expenses were carefully calculated. Every little item such as
omnibus fares or postage or a couple of coppers spent on newspapers, would be entered, and
the balance struck every evening before going to bed. That habit has stayed with me ever since,
and I know that as a result, though I have had to handle public funds amounting to lakhs, I have succeeded in exercising strict economy in their disbursement, and instead of outstanding debts
have had invariably a surplus balance in respect of all the movements I have led. Let every youth
take a leaf out of my book and make it a point to account for everything that comes into and goes
out of his pocket, and like me he is sure to be a gainer in the end.
As I kept strict watch over my way of living, I could see that it was necessary to economize. I
therefore decided to reduce my expenses by half. My accounts showed numerous items spent on
fares. Again my living with a family meant the payment of a regular weekly bill. It also included the
courtesy of occasionally taking members of the family out to dinner, and likewise attending parties
with them. All this involved heavy items for conveyances, especially as, if the friend was a lady,
custom required that the man should pay all the expenses. Also dining out meant extra cost, as
no deduction could be made from the regular weekly bill for meals not taken. It seemed to me that
all these items could be saved, as likewise the drain on my purse through a false sense of
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 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 cocoa at home. Thus I
managed to live on a shilling and three pence a day. This was also a period of intensive study.
Plain living saved me plenty of time and I passed my examination.
Let not the reader think that this living made my life by any means a dreary affair. On the contrary
the change harmonized my inward and outward life. It was also more in keeping with the means
of my family. My life was certainly more truthful and my soul knew no bounds of joy.
Chapter 17
As I searched myself deeper, the necessity for changes both internal and external began to
grow on me. As soon as, or even before, I made alterations in my expenses and my way of living,
I began to make changes in my diet. I saw that the writers on vegetarianism had examined the
question very minutely, attacking it in its religious, scientific, practical and medical aspects.
Ethically they had arrived at the conclusion that man’s supremacy over the lower animals meant
not that the former should prey upon the latter, but that the higher should protect the lower, and
that there should be mutual aid between the two as between man and man. They had also
brought out the truth that man eats not for enjoyment but to live. And some of them accordingly
suggested and effected in their lives abstention not only from flesh-meat but from eggs and milk.
Scientifically some had concluded that man’s physical structure showed that he was not meant to
be a cooking but a frugivorous animal, that he could take only his mother’s milk and, as soon as
he teeth, should begin to take solid foods. Medically they had suggested the rejection of all spices
and condiments. According to the practical and economic argument they had demonstrated that a
vegetarian diet was the least expensive. All these considerations had their effect on me, and I
came across vegetarians of all these types in vegetarian restaurants. There was a vegetarian
Society in 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 provided six-penny
dinners of three courses with a slice of bread. In my days of strict frugality I usually dined in the
second division.
There were many minor experiments going on along with the main one; as for example, giving up
starchy foods at one time, living on bread and fruit alone at another, and once living on cheese,
milk and eggs. This last experiments is worth noting. It lasted not even a fortnight. The reformer
who advocated starchless food had spoken highly of eggs and held that eggs were not meat. It
was apparent that there was no injury done to living creatures in taking eggs. I was taken in by
this plea and took eggs in spite of my vow. But the lapse was momentary. I had no business to
put a new interpretation on the vow. The interpretation of my mother who administered the vow
was there for me. I knew that her definition of meat included eggs. And as soon as I saw the true
import of the vow I gave up eggs and the experiment alike.
There is a nice point underlying the argument, and worth noting. I came across three definitions
of meat in 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 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 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.
Chapter 18
I was elected to the Executive Committee of the Vegetarian Society, and made it a point to
attend every one of its meetings, but I always felt tongue-tied. Dr. Oldfield once said to me, ‘You
talk to me quite all right, but why is it that you never open your lips at a committee meeting? You
are a drone.’ I appreciated the banter. The bees are ever busy, the drone is a thorough idler. And
it was not a little curious that whilst others expressed their opinions at these meetings, I sat quite
silent. Not that I never felt tempted to speak. But I was at a loss to know how to express myself.
All the rest of the members appeared to me to be better informed than I. Then I often happened
that just when I had mustered up courage to speak, a fresh subject would be started. This went
on for a long time.
Meantime a serious question came up for discussion. I thought it wrong to be absent, and felt it
cowardice to register a silent vote. The discussion arose somewhat in this wise. The President of
the Society was Mr. Hills, proprietor of the Thames Iron Works. He was a puritan. It may be said
that the existence of the Society depended practically on his financial assistance. Many members
of the Committee were more or less his proteges. Dr. Allinson of vegetarian fame was also a
member of the Committee. He was an advocate of the then new birth control movement, and
preached its methods among the working classes. Mr. Hills regarded these methods as cutting at
the root of morals. He thought that the Vegetarian Society had for its object not only dietetic but
also moral reform, and that a man of Dr. Allinson’s anti- puritanic views should not be allowed to
remain in the Society. A motion was therefore brought for his removal. The question deeply
interested me. I considered Dr. Allinson’s views regarding artificial methods of birth control as
dangerous, and I believed that Mr. Hills was entitled, as a puritan, to oppose him. I had also a
high regard for Mr. Hills and his generosity. But I thought it was quite improper to exclude a man
from a vegetarian society simply because he refused to regard puritan morals as one of the
objects of the society. Mr. Hills’ view regarding the exclusion of anti-puritans from the society was
personal to himself, and it had nothing to do with the declared object of the society, which was
simply the promotion of vegetarianism and not of any system of morality. I therefore held that any
vegetarian could be a member of the society irrespective of his views on other morals.
There were in the Committee others also who shared my view, but I felt myself personally called
upon to express my own. How to do it was the question. I had not the courage to speak and I
therefore decided to set down my thoughts in writing. I went to the meeting with the document in my pocket. So far as I recollect, I did not find myself equal even to reading it, and the President
had it read by someone else. Dr. Allinson lost the day. Thus in the very first battle of the kind I
found myself siding with the losing party. But I had comfort in the thought that the cause was
right. I have a faint recollection that, after this incident, I resigned from the Committee.
This shyness I retained throughout my stay in 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 wateringplace. We met
him, and he invited us to speak at a meeting for the promotion of vegetarianism. I had
ascertained that it was not considered incorrect to read one’s speech. I knew that many did so to
express themselves coherently and briefly. To speak ex tempore would have been out of the
question for me. I had therefore written down my speech. I stood up to read it, but could not. My
vision became blurred and I trembled, though the speech hardly covered a sheet of foolscap. Sjt.
Mazmudar had to read it for me. His own speech was of course excellent and was received with
applause. I was ashamed of myself and sad at heart for my incapacity.
My last effort to make a public speech in 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- vegetarian 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 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 my benefit to the world. It is so much waste of time. My shyness has been in reality my shield and buckler. It has allowed
me to grow. It has helped me in my discernment of truth.
Chapter 19
There were comparatively few Indian students in England forty years ago. It was a practice with
them to affect the 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. 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 conversations 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 wished I had told the good lady that I was married!’ I said to myself.
‘She would then have not thought of an engagement between us. It is, however, never too late to
mend. If I declare the truth, I might yet be saved more misery.’ With these thoughts in my mind, I
wrote a letter to her somewhat to this effect:
‘Ever since we met at 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. Chapter 20
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
translation 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 Samskrit 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 Samskrit was meagre, still I hoped to be able to understand the original to the
meaning. I began reading the Gita with them. The verses in the second chapter If one 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 book par 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 not 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 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. I had read her book How I became a
It was about this time that Bradlaugh died. He was buried in the Working 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. ‘Indeed.’ ‘Pray tell me then the size of your God and where he may
‘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
Chapter 21
Though I had acquired a nodding acquaintance with Hinduism and other religions of the world, I
should have known that it would not be enough to save me in my trails. Of the thing that sustains
him through trials man has no inkling, much less knowledge, at the time. If an unbeliever, he will
attribute his safety to chance. If a believer, he will say God saved him. He will conclude, as well
he may, that his religious study or spiritual discipline was at the back of the state of grace within
him. But in the hour of his deliverance he does not know whether his spiritual discipline or
something else saves him. Who that has prided himself on his spiritual strength has not seen it
humbled to the dust? A knowledge of religion, as distinguished from experience, seems but chaff
in such moments of trial. It was in 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. Needles 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 fall and
comforts flee,’ I find that help arrives somehow, from I know not where. Supplication, worship,
prayer are no superstition; they are acts more real than the acts of eating, drinking, sitting or
walking. It is no exaggeration to say that they alone are real, all else is unreal.
Such worship or prayer is no flight of eloquence; it is no lip-homage. It springs from the heart. If,
therefore, we achieve that purity of the heart when it is ’emptied of all but love’, if we keep all the
chords in proper tune, they ‘trembling pass in music out of sight’. Prayer needs no speech. It is
itself independent of any sensuous effort. I have not the slightest doubt that prayer is an unfailing
means of cleaning the heart of passions. But it must be combined with the utmost humility. Chapter 22
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 woolen 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 place.’
‘Oh, no. I shall come to you. I shall also bring with me a Translation Exercise Book.’ So we made
an appointment. Soon we were close friends.
Narayan Hemchandra was innocent of grammar. ‘Horse’ was a verb with him and ‘run’ a noun I
remember many such funny instances. But he was not to be baffled by his ignorance. My little
knowledge of grammar could make no impression on him. Certainly he never regarded his
ignorance of grammar as a matter for shame.
With perfect nonchalance he said: ‘I have never felt the need of grammar in expressing my
thoughts. Well, do you know Bengali? I know it. I have travelled in Bengal. It is I who have given
Maharshi Devendranath Tagore’s works to the Gujarati speaking world. And I wish to translate
into Gujarati the treasures of many other 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 when I would go to his room, and
sometimes he would come to mine. I cooked in the English style. Nothing but Indian style would
satisfy him. He would not do without dal. I would make soup of carrots etc., and he would pity me
for my taste. Once he somehow hunted out mung cooked it and brought it to my place. I ate it
with delight. This led on to a regular system of exchange between us. I would take my delicacies
to him and he would bring his to me.
Cardinal Manning’s name was then on every lip. The dock labourers’ strike had come to an early
termination owing to the efforts of John Burns and Cardinal Manning. I told Narayan Hemchandra
of Disraeli’s tribute to the Cardinal’s simplicity. ‘Then I must see the sage,’ said he.
‘He is a big man. How do you expect to meet him?’
‘Why? I know how. I must get you to write to him in my name. Tell him I am an author and that I
want to congratulate him personally on his humanitarian work, and also say that I shall have to
take you as interpreter as I do not know English.’
I wrote a letter to that effect. In two or three days came Cardinal Manning’s card in reply giving us
an appointment. So we both called on the Cardinal. I put on the usual visiting suit. Narayan
Hemchandra was the same as ever, in the same coat and the same trousers. I tried to make fun
of this, but he laughed me out and said:
‘You civilized fellows are all cowards. Great men never look at a person’s exterior. They think of
his heart.’
We entered the Cardinal’s mansion. As soon as we were seated, a thin, tall, old gentleman made
his appearance, and shook hands with us. Narayan Hemchandra thus gave his greetings:
‘I do not want to take up your time. I had heard a lot about you and I felt I should come and thank
you for the good work you done for the strikers. It has been my custom to visit the sages of the
world and that is why I have put you to this trouble.’
This was of course my translation of that he spoke in Gujarati.
‘I am glad you have come. I hope your stay in 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.
Once Narayan Hemchandra came to my place in a shirt and dhoti. The good landlady opened the
door, came running to me in a fright this was a new landlady who did not know Narayan
Hemchandra and said: ‘A sort of a madcap wants to see you.’ I went to the door and to my surprise found Narayan Hemchandra. I was shocked. His face, however, showed nothing but his
usual smile.
‘But did not the children in the street rag you?’
‘Well, they ran after me, but I did not mind them and they were quiet.’
Narayan Hemchandra went to Paris after a few months’ stay in London. He began studying
French and also translating French books. I knew enough French to revise his translation, so he
gave it to me to read. It was not a translation, it was the substance.
Finally he carried out his determination to visit America. It was with great difficulty that he
succeeded in securing a duck ticket. While in the United States he was prosecuted for ‘being
indecently dressed’, as he once went out in a shirt and dhoti. I have a recollection that he was
Chapter 23
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 the 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 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.
Chapter 24
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 every one ate
and drank the good commons and choice wines provided. A dinner cost from two and six to three
and six, that is from two to three rupees. This was considered moderate, inasmuch as one had to
pay that same amount for wines alone if one dined at a hotel. To us in 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 allowed to each group of four, and as I did not touch them, I was ever in
demand to form a quarter, so that three might empty two bottles. And there was a ‘grand night’ in
each term when extra wines. I was therefore specially requested to attend and was in great
demand on that ‘grand night’. I could see then, nor have I seen since, how these dinners qualified the students better for the
bar. There was once a time when only a few students used to attend these dinners and thus there
were opportunities for talks between them and the benchers, and speeches were also made.
These occasions helped to give them knowledge of the world with a sort of polish and refinement,
and also improved their power of speaking. No such thing was possible in my time, as the
benchers had a table all to themselves. The institution had gradually lost all its meaning but
conservative 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 any one read them. I have
known many to pass the Roman Law examination by scrambling through notes on Roman Law in
a couple of weeks, and the Common Law examination by reading notes on the subject in two or
three months. Question papers were easy and examiners were generous. The percentage of
passes in the Roman Law examination used to be 95 to 99 and of those in the final examination
75 or even more. There was thus little fear of being plucked, and examinations were held not
once but four times in the year. They could not be felt as a difficulty.
But I succeeded in turning them into one. I felt that I should read all the text-books. It was a fraud,
I thought, not to read these books. I invested much money in them. I decided to read Roman Law
in Latin. The Latin which I had acquired in the London Matriculation stood me in good stead. And
all this reading was not without its value later on in 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’s Common Law, a big but interesting volume, took up a good deal of time. Snell’s Equity
was full of interest, but a bit hard to understand. White and Tudor’s LeadingCases, from which
certain cases were prescribed, was full of interest and instruction. I read also with interest
Williams’ and Edwards’ Real Property, and Goodeve’s Personal Property. Williams’ book read like
a novel. The one book I remember to have read on my 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 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.
Chapter 25
It was easy to be called, but it was difficult to practise at the bar. I had read the laws, but not
learnt how to practise law. I had read with interest ‘Legal Maxims’, but did not know how to apply
them in my profession. ‘Sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas’ (Use your property in such a way as not to damage that of others) was one of them, but I was at a loss to know how one could employ
this maxim for the benefit of one’s client. I had read all the leading cases on this maxim, but they
gave me no confidence in the application of it in the practice of law.
Besides, I had learnt nothing at all of Indian law. I had not the slightest idea of Hindu and
Mahomedan Law. I had not even learnt how to draft a plaint, and felt completely at sea. I had
heard of Sir Pherozeshah Mehta as one who roared like a lion in law courts. How, I wondered,
could he have learnt the art in 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 he
I was torn with these doubts and anxieties to some of my friends. One of them suggested that I
should seek Dadabhai Naoroji’s advice. I have already said that, when I went to 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 feasting my eyes
and ears. In order to come in close touch with the students he had founded an association, I used
to attend its meeting, 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 affection 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
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 history 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 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 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.
Chapter 26
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
Shatavadhani (one having the faculty of remembering or attending to a hundred things
simultaneously), and Dr. Mehta recommended me to see some of his memory feats. I exhausted
my vocabulary of all the European tongues I knew, and asked the poet to repeat the words, He
did so in the precise order in which I had given them. I envied his gift without, however, coming
under its spell. The thing that did cast its spell over me I came to know afterwards. This was his
wide knowledge of the scriptures, his spotless character, and his burning passion for self-realization. I saw later that this last was the only thing for which he lived. The following lines of
Muktanand were always on his lips and engraved on the tablets of his heart:
‘I shall think myself blessed only when I see Him in every one of my daily acts; Verily He is the
thread, Which supports Muktanand’s life.’
Raychandbhai’s commercial transactions covered hundreds of thousands. He was a connoisseur
of pearls and diamonds. No knotty business problem was too difficult for him. But all these things
were not the centre round which his life revolved. That centre was the passion to see God face to
face. Amongst the things on his business table there were invariably to be found some religious
book and his diary. The moment he finished his business he opened the religious book or the
diary. Much of his published writings is a reproduction from this diary. The man who, immediately
on finishing his talk about weighty business transaction, began to write about the hidden things of
the spirit could evidently not be a businessman at all, but a real seeker after Truth. And I saw him
thus absorbed in godly pursuits in the midst of business, not once or twice, but very often. I never
saw him lose his state of equipoise. There was no business or other selfish tie that bound him to
me, and yet I enjoyed the closest association with him. I was but a briefless barrister then, and
yet whenever I saw him he would engage me in conversation of a seriously religious nature.
Though I was then groping and could not be said to have any serious interest in religious
discussion, Still I found his talk of absorbing interest. I have since met many a religious leader or
teacher. I have tried to meet the heads of various faiths, and I must say that no one else has ever
made on me the impression that Raychandbhai did. His words went straight home to me. His
intellect compelled as great a regard from me as his moral earnestness, and deep down in me
was the conviction that he would never willingly lead me astray and would always confide to me
his innermost thoughts. In my moments of spiritual crisis, therefore, he was my refuge.
And yet in spite of this regard for him I could not enthrone him in my heart as my Guru. The
throne has remained vacant and my search still continues.
I believe in the Hindu theory of Guru and his importance in spiritual realization. I think there is a
great deal of truth in the doctrine that true knowledge is impossible without a Guru. An imperfect
teacher may be tolerable in mundane matters, but not in spiritual matters. Only a perfect gnani
deserves to be enthroned as Guru. There must, therefore, be ceaseless striving after perfection.
For one gets the Guru that one deserves. Infinite striving after perfection is one’s right. It is its
own reward. The rest is in the hands of God.
Thus, though I could not place Raychandbhai on the throne of my heart as Guru, we shall see
how he was, on many occasions, my guide and helper. Three moderns have left a deep impress
on my life, and captivated me: Raychandbhai by his living contact; Tolstoy by his book, The
Kingdom of God is Within You; and Ruskin by his Unto this Last. But of these more in their proper
Chapter 27
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 castemen, 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
jealousy. 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 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 children.
The necessity for food ‘reform’ was obvious. Tea and coffee had already found their place in the
house. My brother had thought it fit to keep some sort of English atmosphere ready for me on my
return, and to that end, crockery and such other things, which used to be kept in the house only
for special occasions, were now in general use. My ‘reforms’ put the finishing touch. I introduced
oatmeal porridge, and cocoa was to replace tea and coffee. But in truth it became an addition to
tea and coffee. Boots and shoes were already there. I completed the Europeanization by adding
the European dress.
Expenses thus went up. New things were added every day. We had succeeded in tying a white
elephant at our door. But how was the wherewithal to be found? To start practice in 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 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. His dhoti 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.
Chapter 28
While 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 luckly if you can paddle your
own canoe in three years’ time.’
Expenses were mounting up every month. To have a barister’s board outside the house, whilst
still preparing for the barrister’s profession inside, was a thing to which I could not reconcile
myself. Hence I could not give undivided attention to my studies. I developed some liking for the
Evidence Act and read Mayne’s Hindu Law with deep interest, but I had not the courage to
conduct a case. I was helpless beyond words, even as the bride come fresh to her father-in- law’s
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 no likely to last longer than a day.
This was my debut in the Small Causes Court. I appeared for the defendant and had thus to
cross-examine the plaintiff’s witnesses. I stood up, but my heart sank into my boots. My head was
reeling and I felt as though the whole court was doing likewise. I could think of no question to ask.
The judge must have laughed, and the vakils no doubt enjoyed the spectacle. But I was past
seeing anything. I sat down and told the agent that I could not conduct the case, that he had
better engage Patel and have the fee back from me. Mr. Patel was duly engaged for Rs. 51. To
him, of course, the case was child’s play.
I hastened from the Court, not knowing whether my client won or lost her case, but I was
ashamed of myself, and decided not to take up any more cases until I had courage enough to
conduct them. Indeed I did not go to Court again until I went to 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 approched 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 being no grist to
the mill. So I thought I might take up a teacher’s job. My knowledge of English was good enough,
and I should have loved to teach English to Matriculation boys in some school. In this way I could
have met part at least of the expenses. I came across an advertisement in the papers: ‘Wanted,
an English teacher to teach one hour daily. Salary Rs 75.’ The advertisment was from a famous
high school. I applied for the post and was called for an interview. I went there in high spirits, but
when the principal found that I was not a graduate, he regretfully refused me. ‘But I have passed the London Matriculation with Latin as my second language.’
‘True but we want a graduate.’
There was no help for it. I wrung my hands in despair. My brother also felt much worried. We both
came to the conclusion that it was no use spending more time in 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 case 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
High Court.
If the present generation has also its briefless barristers like me in Bombay, I would commend
them a little practical precept about living. Although I lived in Girgaum I hardly ever toa 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 still reaping the benefits of that
Chapter 29
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 an 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
poor clients.
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 a commission in respect of any other case.
Though I thus began to make both ends meet, I got the first shock of my life about this time. I had
heard what a British officer was like, but up to now had never been face to face with one.
My brother had been secretary and adviser to the late Ranasaheb of Porbandar before he was
installed on his gadi and hanging over his head at this time was the charge of having given wrong
advice when in that office. The matter had gone to the Political Agent who was prejudiced against
my brother. Now I had known this officer when in 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 crest fallen, and told my brother all that had
happened. He was grieved, but was at a loss as to how to console me. He spoke to his vakil
friends. For I did not know how to proceed against the sahib. Sir Pherozeshah Mehta happened
to be in 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 been guilty of a breach of
that determination. This shock changed the course of my life.
Chapter 30
I was no doubt at fault in having gone to that officer. But his impatience and overbearing anger
were out of all proportion to my mistake. It did not warrant expulsion. I can scarcely have taken up
more than five minutes of his time. But he simply could not endure my talking. He could have
politely asked me to go, but power had intoxicated him to an inordinate extent. Later I came to
know that patience was not one of the virtues of this officer. It was usual for him to insult his
visitors. The slightest unpleasantness was sure to put the sahib out.
Now most of my work would naturally be in his court. It was beyond me to conciliate him. I had no
desire to curry favour with him, Indeed, having once threatened to proceed against him, I did not
like to remain silent.
Meanwhile I began to learn something of the petty politics of the country. Kathiawad, being a
conglomeration of small states, naturally had its rich crop of politicals. Petty intrigues between
states, and intrigues of officers for power were the order of the day. Princes were always at the
mercy of others and ready to lend their ears to sycophants. Even the sahib’s peon had to be
cajoled, and the sahib’s shirastedar was more than his master, as he was his eyes, his ears and
his interpreter. The shirastedar’s will was law, and his income was always reputed to be more
than the sahib’s. This may have been an exaggeration, but he certainly lived beyond his salary.
This atmosphere appeared to me to be poisonous, and how to remain unscathed was a perpetual
problem for me.
I was thoroughly depressed and my brother clearly saw it. We both felt that, if I could secure
some job, I should be free from this atmosphere of intrigue. But without intrigue a ministership or
judgeship was out of the question. And the quarrel with the sahib stood in the way of my practice.
Probandar was then under administration, and I had some work there in the shape of securing
more powers for the prince. Also I had to see the Administrator in respect of the heavy vighoti
(land rent) exacted from the Mers. This officer, though an Indian, was, I found, one better than the
sahib in arrogance. He was able, but the ryots appeared to me to be none the better off for his
ability. I succeeded in securing a few more powers for the Rana, but hardly any relief for the
Mers. It struck me that their cause was not even carefully gone into.
So even in this mission I was comparatively disappointed. I thought justice was not done to my
clients, but I had not the means to secure it. At the most I could have appealed to the Political
Agent or to the Governor who would have dismissed the appeal saying, ‘We decline to interfere.’ If there had been any rule or regulation governing such decisions, it would have been something,
but here the sahib’s will was law.
I was exasperated.
In the meantime a Meman firm from Porbandar wrote to my brother making the following offer:
‘We have business in 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 our shop. Much of our
correspondence is in English and you can help us with that too. You will, of course, be our guest
and hence will have no expense whatever.’
‘How long do you require my services?’ I asked. ‘And what will be the payment?’
‘Not more than a year. We will pay you a first class return fare and a sum of £ 105, all found.’
This was hardly going there as a barrister. It was going as a servant of the firm. But I wanted
somehow to leave 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 higgling, and got ready to go to South Africa.
Chapter 31
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 Eurpoe, 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 the 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 Company. 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 traveling, 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 usually not available
for passengers. But I am prepared to give it to you.’ I thanked him and got the agent to purchase
the passage. In April 1893 I set forth full of zest to try my luck in 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 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 what the outing meant. And little did the
Captain know what an ignoramus I was in such matters. We were taken to some Negro women’s
quarters by a tout. We were each shown into a room. I simply stood there dumb with shame.
Heaven only knows what the poor woman must have thought of me. He saw my innocence. At
first I felt very much ashamed, but as I could not think of the thing except with horror, the sense of
shame wore away, and I thanked God that the sight of the woman had no moved me in the least.
I was disgusted at my weakness and pitied myself for not having had the courage to refuse to go
into the room. This in my life was the third trial of its kind. Many a youth, innocent at first, must have been drawn
into sin by a false sense of shame. I could have credit if I had refused to enter that room. I must
entirely thank the All-merciful for having saved me. The incident increased my faith in God and
taught me, to a certain extent, to cast off false shame.
As we had to remain in this port for a week. I took rooms in the town and saw good deal by
wandering about the neighbourhood. Only Malabar can give any idea of the luxuriant vegetation
of 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.
Chapter 32
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 not 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 nature
He was proud of Islam and loved to discourse on Islamic philosophy. Though he did not know
Arabic, his acquaintance with the Holy Koran and Islamic literature in general was fairly good.
Illustrations he had in plenty, always ready at hand. Contact with him gave me a fair amount of
practical knowledge of Islam. When we came closer to each other, we had long discussions on
religious topics. On the second or third day of my arrival, he took me to see 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 distinction intelligible. In the course of these two
or three days I could see that the Indians were divided into different groups. One was that of
Musalman merchants, who would call themselves ‘Arabs.’ Another was that of Hindu, and yet
another of Parsi, clerks. The Hindu clerks were neither here nor there, unless they cast in their lot
with the ‘Arab.’ The Parsi clerks would call themselves Persians. These three classes had some
social relations with one another. But by far the largest class was that composed of Tamil, Telugu
and North Indian indentured and freed labourers. The indentured labourers were those who went
to natal on an agreement to serve for five years, and came to be known there as girmitiyas from
girmit, which was the corrupt form of the English word ‘agreement’. The other three classes had
none but business relations with this class. Englishmen called them’ coolies’ and as the majority
of Indians belonged to the labouring class, all Indians were called ‘coolies,’ or ‘samis’. ‘sami’ is a
Tamil suffix occurring after many Tamil names, and it is nothing else than the Samskrit Swami,
meaning a master. Whenever, therefore, an Indian resented being addressed as a ‘sami’ and had
enough wit in him, he would try to return the compliment in this wise: ‘You may call me sami, but
you forget that sami means a master. I am not your master!’ Some Englishmen would wince at
this, while others would get angry, swear at the Indian and, if there was a chance, would even
belabour him; for sami to him was nothing better than a term of contempt. To interpret it to mean
a master amounted to an insult!
I was hence known as a ‘coolie barrister.’ The merchants were known as ‘coolie merchants.’ The
original meaning of the word ‘coolie’ was thus forgotten, and it became a common appellation for
all Indians. The Musalman merchant would resent this and say: ‘I am not a coolie, I am an Arab,’
or ‘I am a merchant,’ and the Englishman, if courteous, would apologize to him.
The question of wearing the turban had a great importance in this state of things, Being obliged to
take off one’s Indian turban would be pocketing an insult. So I thought I had better bid good-bye
to the Indian turban and begin wearing an English hat, which would save me from the insult and
the unpleasant controversy.
But Abdulla Sheth disapproved of the idea. He said, ‘If you do anything of the kind, it will have a
very bad effect. You will compromise those insisting on wearing Indian turbans. And an Indian
turban sits well on your head. If you wear an English hat, you will pass for a waiter.’
There was practical wisdom, patriotism and a little bit of narrowness in this advice. The wisdom
was apparent, and he would not have insisted on the Indian turban except out of patriotism; the
slighting reference to the waiter betrayed a kind of narrowness. Amongst the indentured Indians
there were three classes Hindus, Musalmans and Christians. The last were the children of
indentured Indians who became converts to Christanity. Even in 1893 their number was large.
They wore the English costume., and the majority of them earned their living by service as
waiters in hotels. Abdulla Sheth’s criticism of the English hat was with reference to this class. It
was considered degrading to serve as a waiter in a hotel. The belief persists even today among
many. On the whole I liked Abdulla Sheth’s advice. I wrote to the press about the incident and defended
the wearing of my turban in the court. The question was very much discussed in the papers,
which described me as an ‘unwelcome visitor.’ Thus the incident gave me an unexpected
advertisement in 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.
Chapter 33
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 James Godfery 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
see later.
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 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 question 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 I learnt
from him that a P. Note meant a promisory 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 nothing.’
‘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
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 superficial 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.
Chapter 34
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 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
The passengers took their seats and, the whistle given, the coach rattled away. My heart was
beatingfast within my breast, and I was wondering whether I should ever reach my destination
alive. The man cast an angry look at me now and then and, pointing his finger at me, growled:
‘Take care, let me once get to Standerton and I shall show you what I do.’ I sat speechless and
prayed to God to help me.
After dark we reached Standerton and I heaved a sigh of relief on seeing some Indian faces. As
soon as I got down, these friends said: ‘We are hereto receive you and take you to Isa Sheth’s
shop. We have had a telegram from Dada Abdulla.’ I was very glad, and we went to Sheth Isa
Haji Sumar’s shop. The Sheth and his clerks gathered round me. I told them all that I had gone
through. They were very sorry to hear it and comforted me by relating to me their own bitter
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 have to 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
‘collie’ barrister. I would therefore appear before him in faultless English dress, talk to him and
possibly persuade him to issue a first class ticket. So I went to the station in a frock-coat and
necktie, placed a sovereign for my fare on the counter and asked for a first class ticket.
‘You sent me that note?’ he asked.
‘That is so. I shall be much obliged if you will give me a ticket. I must reach 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
third class.’
There was only one English passenger in the compartment. He took the guard to ask. ‘Don’t you
see he has a first class ticket? I do not mind in the least his travelling with me.’ Addressing me, he
said, ‘You should make yourself comfortable where you are.’
The guard muttered; If you want to travel with a coolie, what do I care?’ and went away.
At about eight o’clock in the evening the train reached Pretoria.
Chapter 35
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
inquiries. He replied to me courteously, but I saw that he could not be of any considerable help.
But an American Negro who was standing near by broke into the conversation.
‘I see,’ said he, ‘that you are an utter stranger here, without any friends. If you will come with me, I
will take you to a small hotel, of which the proprietor is an American who is very well known to
me. I think he will accept you.’
I had my own doubts about the offer, but I thanked him and accepted his suggestion. He took me
to Johnson’s Family Hotel. He drew Mr. Johnson aside to speak to him, and the latter agreed to
accommodate me for the night, on condition that I should have my dinner served in my room.
‘I assure you,’ said he, ‘that I have no colour prejudice. But I have only European custom, and, if I
allowed you to eat in the dining-room, my guests might be offended and even go away.’ ‘Thank you,’ said I, ‘even for accommodating me for the night. I am now more or less acquainted
with the conditions here, and I understand your difficulty. I do not mind your serving the dinner in
my room. I hope to be able to make some other arrangement tomorrow.’
I was shown into a room, where I now sat waiting for the dinner and musing, as I was quite alone.
There were not many guests in the hotel, and I had expected the waiter to come very shortly with
the dinner. Instead Mr. Johnston appeared. He said: I was ashamed of having asked you to have
your dinner here. So I spoke to the other guests about you, and asked them if they would mind
your having your dinner in the dining-room. They said they had no objection, and that they did not
mind your staying here as long as you liked. Please, therefore, come to the dining-room, if you
will, and stay here as long as you wish.’
I thanked him again, went to the dining-room and had a hearty dinner.
Next morning I called on the attorney, Mr. A. W. Baker. Abdulla Sheth had given me some
description of him, so his cordial reception did not surprise me. He received me very warmly and
made kind inquiries. I explained all about myself. Thereupon he said: ‘We have no work for you
here as barrister, for we have engaged the best counsel. The case is a prolonged and
complicated one, so I shall take your assistance only to the extent of getting necessary
information. And of course you will make communication with my client easy for me, as I shall
now ask for all the information I want from him through you. That is certainly an advantage, I have
not yet found rooms for you. I thought I had better do so after having seen you. There is a fearful
amount of colour prejudice here, and therefore it is not easy to find lodgings for such as you. But I
know a poor woman. She is the wife of a baker. I think she will take you and thus add to her
income at the same time. Come, let us go to her place.’
So he took me to her house. He spoke with her privately about me, and she agreed to accept me
as a boarder at 35 shilling a week.
Mr. Baker, besides being an attorney, was a staunch lay preacher, He is still alive and now
engaged purely in missionary work, having given up the legal profession. He is quite well-to-do.
He still corresponds with me. In his letters he always dwells on the same theme. He upholds the
excellence of Christianity from various points of view, and contends that it is impossible to find
eternal peace, unless one accepts Jesus as the only son of God and the Saviour of mankind.
During the very first interview Mr. Baker ascertained my religious views. I said to him: ‘I am a
Hindu by birth. And yet I do not know much of Hinduism, and I know less of other religions. In fact
I do not know where I am, and what is and what should be my belief. I intend to make a careful
study of my own religion and, as far as I can, of other religions as well.’
Mr. Baker was glad to hear all this, and said: ‘I am one of the Directors of the 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 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 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.
Chapter 36
The next day at one o’clock I went to Mr. Baker’s prayer-meeting. There I was introduced to
Miss Harris, Miss Gabb, Mr. Coates and others. Everyone kneeled down to pray, and I followed
suit. The prayers were supplications to God for various things, according to each person’s desire.
Thus the usual forms were for the day to be passed peacefully, or for God to open the doors of
the heart.
A prayer was now added for my welfare: ‘Lord, show the path to the new brother who has come
amongst us, Give him, Lord, the peace that Thou hast given us. May the Lord Jesus who has
saved us save him too. We ask all this in the name of Jesus.’ There was no singing of hymns or
other music at these meetings. After the supplication for something special every day, we
dispersed, each going to his lunch, that being the hour for it. The prayers did not take more than
five minutes.
The Misses Harris and Gabb were both elderly maiden ladies. Mr. Coates was a Quaker. The two
ladies lived together, and they gave me a standing invitation to four o’clock tea at their house
every Sunday.
When we met on Sundays, I used to give Mr. Coates my religious diary for the week, and discuss
with him the books I had read and the impression they had left on me. The ladies used to narrate
their sweet experiences and talk about the peace they had found.
Mr. Coates was a frank-hearted staunch young man. We went out for walks together, and he also
took me to other Christian friends. As we came closer to each other, he began to give me books of his own choice, until my shelf
was filled with them. He loaded me with books, as it were. In pure faith I consented to read all
those books, and as I went on reading them we discussed them.
I read a number of such books in 1893. I do not remember the names of them all, but they
included the Commentary of Dr. Parker of the 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 out throw it on Jesus. He is the only sinless Son of God. It is His word that
those who believe in Him shall have everlasting life. Therein lies God’s infinite mercy. And as we
believe in the atonement of Jesus, our own sins do not bind us. Sin we must, It is impossible to
live in this world sinless. And therefore Jesus suffered and atoned for all the sins of mankind. Only he who accepts His great redemption can have eternal peace. Think what a life of
restlessness is yours, and what a promise of peace we have.’
The argument utterly failed to convince me. I humbly replied:
‘If this be the Christianity acknowledged by all Christians, I cannot accept it. I do not seek
redemption from the consequences of my sin. I seek to be redeemed from sin itself, or rather
from the very thought of sin. Until I have attained that end, I shall be content to be restless.’
To which the Plymouth Brother rejoined: I assure you, your attempt is fruitless. Think again over
what I have said.’
And the brother proved as good as his word. he knowingly committed transgressions, and
showed me that he was undisturbed by the thought of them.
But I already knew before meeting with these friends that all Christians did not believe in such a
theory of atonement. Mr. Coates himself walked in the fear of God, His heart was pure, and he
believed in the possibility of self-purification. The two ladies also shared this belief. Some of the
books that came into my hands were full of devotion, So, although Mr. Coates was very much
disturbed by this latest experience of mine. I was able to reassure him and tell him that the
distorted belief of a Plymouth Brother could not prejudice me against Christianity.
My difficulties lay elsewhere. They were with regard to the Bible and its accepted interpretation.
Chapter 37
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 metter 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 of the millions of their
I had found our people’s habits to be insanitary, as compared with those of the Englishmen
around them, and drew their attention to it. I laid stress on the necessity of forgetting all
distinctions such as Hindus, Musalmans, Parsis, Christians, Gujaratis, Madrasis, Punjabis,
Sindhis, Kachchhis, Surtis and so on.
I suggested, in conclusion, the formation of an association to make representations to the
authorities concerned in respect of the hardships of the Indian settlers, and offered to place at its
disposal as much of my time and service as was possible.
I saw that I made a considerable impression on the meeting.
My speech was followed by discussion. Some offered to supply me with facts. I felt encouraged. I
saw that very few amongst my audience knew English. As I felt that knowledge of English would
be useful in that country, advised those who had leisure to learn English. I told them that it was
possible to learn a language even at an advanced age, and cited cases of people who had done
so. I undertook, besides, to teach a class, if one was started or personally to instruct individuals
desiring to learn the language.
The class was not started, but three young men expressed their readiness to learn at their
convenience, and on condition that I went to their places to teach them. Of these, two were
Musalmans one of them a barbar and the other a clerk and the third was a Hindu, a petty
shopkeeper. I agreed to suit them all. I had no misgivings regarding my capacity to teach. My
pupils might become tried, but not I. Sometimes it happened that I would go to their places only to
find them engaged in their business. But I did not lose patience. None of the three desired a deep
study of English, but two may be said to have made fairly good progress in about eight months.
Two learnt enough to keep accounts and write ordinary business letters. The barber’s ambition
was confined to acquiring just enough English for dealing with his customers. As a result of their
studies, two of the pupils were equipped for making a fair income.
I was satisfied with the result of the meeting. It was decided to hold such meetings, as far as I
remember, once a week or, may be, once a month. These were held more or less regularly, and
on these occasions there was a free exchange of ideas. The result was that there was now in
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.
Chapter 38
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 readmitted 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 footpaths 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 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 things might be improved.
But my principal duty for the moment was to attend to the case of Dada Abdulla. Chapter 39
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 delivery promissory notes. The defence
was that the promissory notes were fraudulently taken and lacked sufficient consideration. There
were numerous points of fact and law in this intricate case.
Both parties had engaged the best arrorneys and counsel. I thus had a fine opportunity of
studying their work. The preparation of the plaintiff’s case for the attorney and the sifting of facts
in support of his case had been entrusted to me. It was an education to see how much the
attorney accepted, and how much he rejected from my preparation, as also to see how much use
the counsel made of the brief prepared by the attorney. I saw that this preparation for the case
would give me a fair measure of my powers of comprehension and my capacity for marshalling
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 re-
examination 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
takes it.’
When I was making preparation for Dada Abdulla’s case, I had not fully realized this paramount
importance of facts. Facts mean truth, and once we adhere to truth, the law comes to our aid naturally. I saw that the facts of Dada Abdulla’s case made it very strong indeed, and that the law
was bound to be persisted in, would ruin the plaintiff and the defendant, who were relatives and
both belonged to the same city. No one knew how long the case might go on. Should it be
allowed to continue to be fought out in court, it might go on indefinitely and to no advantage of
either party. Both, therefore, desired an immediate termination of the case, if possible.
I approached Tyeb Sheth and requested and advised him to go to arbitration. I recommended him
to see his counsel. I suggested to him that if an arbitrator commanding the confidence of both
parties could appointed, the case would be quickly finished. The lawyers’ fees were so rapidly
mounting up that they were enough to devour all the resources of the clients, big merchants as
they were. The case occupied so much of their attention that they had no time left for any other
work. In the meantime mutual ill-will was steadily increasing. I became disgusted with the
profession. As lawyers the counsel on both sides were bound to rake up points of law in support
of their own clients. I also saw for the first time that the winning party never recovers all the costs
incurred. Under the Court Fees Regulation there was a fixed scale of costs to be allowed as
between party and party, the actual costs as between attorney and client being very much higher.
This was more than I could bear. I felt that my duty was to befriend both parties and bring them
together. I strained every nerve to bring about a compromise. At last Tyeb Sheth agreed. An
arbitrator was appointed, the case was argued before him, and Dada Abdulla won.
But that did not satisfy me. If my client were to seek immediate execution of the award, it would
be impossible for Tyeb Sheth to meet the whole of the awarded amount, and there was an
unwritten law among the Porbandar Memans living in 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 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.
Chapter 40
It is now time to turn again to my experiences with Christian friends.
Mr. Baker was getting anxious about my future. He took me to the Wellington Convention. The
Protestant Christians organize such gatherings every few years for religious enlightenment or, in
other words, self-purification. One may call this religious restoration or revival. The Wellington
Convention was of this type. The chairman was the famous divine of the place, the Rev. Andrew
Murray. Mr. Baker had hoped that the atmosphere of religious exaltation at the Convention, and
the enthusiasm and earnestness of the people attending it, would inevitably lead me to embrace
Christianity. But his final hope was the efficacy of prayer. He had an abiding faith in prayer. It was his firm
conviction that God could not but listen to prayer fervently offered. He would cite the instances of
men like George Muller of Bristol, who depended entirely on prayer even for his temporal needs. I
listened to his discourse on the efficacy of prayer with unbiased 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 way 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 very
The Convention lasted for three days. I could understand and appreciate the devoutness of those
who attended it. But I saw no reason for changing my belief my religion. It was impossible for me
to believe that I could go to heaven or attain salvation only by becoming a Christian. When I
frankly said so to some of the good Christian friends, they were shocked. But there was no help
for it.
My difficulties lay deeper. It was more than I could believe that Jesus was the only incarnate son
of God, and that only he who believed in him would have everlasting life. If God could have sons,
all of us were His sons. If Jesus was like God, or God Himself, then all men were like God and
could be God Himself. My reason was not ready to believe literally that Jesus by his death and by
his blood redeemed the sins of the world. Metaphorically there might be some truth in it. Again,
according to Christianity only human beings had souls, and not other living beings, for whom
death meant complete extinction; while I held a contrary belief. I could accept Jesus as a martyr,
an embodiment of sacrifice, and a divine teacher, but not as the most perfect man ever born. His
death on the Cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a
mysterious or miraculous virtue in it my heart could not accept. The pious lives of Christians did
not give me anything that the lives of men of other faiths had failed to give. I had seen in other
lives just the same reformation that I had heard of among Christian principles. From the point of
view of sacrifice, it seemed to me that the Hindus greatly surpassed the Christians. It was
impossible for me to regard Christianity as a perfect religion or the greatest of all religions.
I shared this mental churning with my Christian friends whenever there was an opportunity, but
their answers could not satisfy me.
Thus if I could not accept Christianity either as a perfect, or the greatest religion, neither was I
then convinced of Hinduism being such. Hindu defects were pressingly visible to me. If
untouchability could be a part of Hinduism, it could but be a rotten part or an excrescence. I could
not understand the raison d’etre of a multitude of sects and castes. What was the meaning of
saying that the Vedas were the inspired Word of God? If they were inspired, why not also the
Bible and the Koran? As Christian friends were endeavouring to convert me, even so were Musalman friends. Abdulla
Sheth had kept on inducing me to study Islam, and of course he had always something to say
regarding its beauty.
I expressed my difficulties in a letter to Raychandbhai. I also corresponded with other religious
authorities in India and received answers from them. Raychandbhai’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 insignificance.
My studies thus carried me in a direction unthought of by the Christian friends. My
correspondence with Edward Maitland was fairly prolonged, and that with Raychandbhai
continued until his death. I read some of the books he sent me. These included Panchikaran,
Maniratnamala, Mumukshu Prakaran of Yogavasishtha, Haribhadra Suri’s Shaddarshana
Samuchchaya and others.
Though I took a path my Christian friends had not intended for me, I have remained for indebted
to them for the religious quest that they awakened in me. I shall always cherish the memory of
their contact. The years that followed had more, not less, of such sweet and sacred contacts in
store for me.
Chapter 41
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 not they help you?’
‘They!’ exclaimed Abdulla Sheth in despair. ‘They never care to come to us, and to tell you the
truth, we care less to recognize them. Being Christians, they are under the thumb of the white
clergymen, who in their turn are subject to the Government.’
This opened my eyes. I felt that this class should be claimed as our own. Was this the meaning of
Christianity? Did they cease to be Indians because they had become Christians?
But I was on the point of returning home and hesitated to express what was passing through my
mind in this matter. I simply said to Abdulla Sheth: ‘This Bill, if it passes into law, will make our lot
extremely difficult. It is the first nail into our coffin. It strikes at the root of our self-respect.’
‘It may,’ echoed Sheth Abdulla. ‘I will tell you the genesis of the franchise question. We knew
nothing about it. But Mr. Escombe, one of our best attorneys, whom you know, put the idea into
our heads. It happened thus. He is a great fighter, and there being no love lost between, him and
the Wharf Engineer, he feared that the Engineer might deprive him of his votes and defeat him at
the election. So he acquainted us with our position, and at his instance we all registered
ourselves as voters, and voted for him. You will now see how the franchise has not for us the
value that you attach to it. But we understand what you say. Well, then, what is your advice?’
The other guests were listening to this conversation with attention. One of them said: ‘Shall I tell
you what should be done? You cancel your passage by this boat, stay here a month longer, and
we will fight as you direct us.’
All the others chimed in : ‘Indeed, indeed. Abdulla Sheth, you must detain Gandhibhai.’
The Sheth was a shrewd man. He said: ‘I may not detain him now. Or rather, you have as much
right as I to do so. But you are quite right. Let us all persuade him to stay on. But you should
remember that he is a barrister. What about his fees?’
The mention of fees pained me, and I broke in : ‘Abdulla Sheth, fees are out of the question.
There can be no fees for public work. I can stay, if at all, as a servant. And as you know, I am not
acquainted with all these friends. But if you believe that they will co-operate, I am prepared to
stay a month longer. There is one thing, however. Though you need not pay me anything, work of
the nature we contemplate cannot be done without some funds to start with. Thus we may have
to send telegrams, we may have to print some literature, some touring may have to be done, the
local attorneys may have to be consulted, and as I am ignorant of your laws, I may need some
law-books for reference. All this cannot be done without money. And it is clear that one man is not
enough for this work. Many must come forward to help him.’
And a chorus of voices was heard: ‘Allah is great and merciful. Money will come in. Men there
are, as many as you may need. You please consent to stay, and all will be well.’
The farewell party was thus turned into a working committee. I suggested finishing dinner etc.
quickly and getting back home. I worked out in my own mind an outline of the campaign. I
ascertained the names of those who were on the list of voters, and made up my mind to stay on
for a month.
Thus God laid the foundations of my life in South Africa and sowed the seed of the fight for
national self-respect. Chapter 42
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, noteworthy among them Sheths Dawud
Muhammad, Muhammad Kasam Kamruddin, Adamji Miyakhan, A. Kolandavellu Pillai, C.
Lachhiram, Rangasami Padiachi, and Amad Jiva. Parsi Rustomji was of course there. From
among the clerks were Messrs Manekji, Joshi, Narsinhram and others, employees of Dada
Abdulla and Co. and other big firms. They were all agreeably surprised to find themselves taking
a share in public work. To be invited thus to take part was a new experience the community, all
distinctions such as high and low, small and great, master and servant, Hindus, Musalmans,
Parsis, Christians, Gujaratis, Madrasis, Sindhis, etc., were forgotten. All were alike the children
and servants of the motherland.
The Bill had already passed, or was about to pass, its second reading. In the speeches on the
occasion the fact that Indians had expressed no opposition the stringent Bill was urged as proof
of their unfitness for the franchise.
I explained the situation to the meeting. The first thing we did was to despatch a telegram to the
Speaker of the Assembly requesting him to postpone further discussion of the Bill. A similar
telegram was sent to the Premier, Sir John Robinson, and another to Mr. Escombe, as a friend of
Dada Abdulla’s. The Speaker promptly replied that discussion of the Bill would be postponed for
two days. This gladdened our hearts.
The petition to be presented to the Legislative Assembly was drawn up. Three copies had to be
prepared and one extra was needed for the press. It was also proposed to obtain as many
signatures to it as possible, and all this work had to be done in the course of a night. The
volunteers with a knowledge of English and several others sat up the whole night. Mr. Arthur, an
old man, who was known for his calligraphy, wrote principal copy. The rest were written by others
to someone’s dictation. Five copies were thus got ready simultaneously. Merchant volunteers
went out in their own carriages, or carriages whose hire they had paid, to obtain signatures to the
petition was despatched. The newspapers published it with favourable comments. It likewise
created an impression on the Assembly. It was discussed in the House. Partisans of the Bill
offered a defence, an admittedly lame one, in reply to the arguments advanced in the petition.
The Bill, however, was passed. We all knew that this was a foregone conclusion, but the agitation had infused new life into the
community and had brought home to them the conviction that the community was one and
indivisible, and that it was as much their duty to fight for its political rights as for its trading rights.
Lord Ripon was at this time Secretary of State for the Colonies. It was decided to submit to him a
monster petition. This was no small task and could not be done in a day. Volunteers were
enlisted, and all did their due share of the work.
I took considerable pains over drawing up this petition. I read all the literature available on the
subject. My argument centred round a principle and an expedience. I argued that we had a right
to the franchise in 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 figures of Sheth Dawud Muhammad, Rustomji, Adamji Miyakhan,
and Amad Jiva rise clearly before my mind. They brought in the largest number of signatures.
Dawud Sheth kept going about in his carriage the whole day. And it was all a labour of love, not
one of them asking for even his out-of-pocket expenses. Dada Abdulla’s house became at once a
caravanserai and a public office. A number of educated fiends who helped me and many others
had their food there. Thus every helper was put to considerable expense.
The petition was at last submitted. A thousand copies had been printed for circulation and
distribution. It acquainted the Indian public for the first time with conditions in Natal. I sent copies
to all the newspapers and publicists I knew.
The Times of Inida, 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 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.
Chapter 43
Practice as a lawyer was and remained for me a subordinate occupation. It was necessary that I
should concentrate on public work to justify my stay in 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 also put the list with £ 2 per month. Two other
friends also put down the same. I thought I should not stint my subscription, and put down a
pound per month. This was for me beyond my means, if at all I was to pay my way. And God
helped me. We thus got a considerable number of members who subscribed £ 1 per month. The
number of those who put down 10s. was even larger. Besides this, there were donations which
were gratefully accepted.
Experience showed that no one paid his subscription for the mere asking. It was impossible to
call frequently on members outside 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
I had learnt at the outset not to carry on public work with borrowed money. One could rely on
people’s promises in most matters except in respect of money. I had never found people quick to
pay the amounts they had undertaken to subscribe, and the Natal Indians were no exception to
the rule. As, therefore, no work was done unless there were funds on hand, the Natal Indian
Congress has never been in debt.
My co-workers evinced extraordinary enthusiasm in canvassing members. It was work which
interested them and was at the same time an invaluable experience. Large numbers of people
gladly came forward with cash subscriptions. Work in the distant villages of the interior was rather
difficult. People did not know the nature of public work. And yet we had invitations to visit far away
places, leading merchants of every place extending their hospitality.
On one occasion during this tour the situation was rather difficult. We expected our host to
contribute £ 6, but he refused to give anything more than £ 3. If we had accepted that amount
from him, others would have followed suit, and our collections would have been spoiled. It was a
late hour of the night, and we were all hungry. But how could we dine without having first obtained
the amount we were bent on getting? All persuasion was useless. The host seemed to be
adamant. Other merchants in the town reasoned with him, and we all sat up throughout the night,
he as well as we determined not to budge one inch. Most of my co-workers were burning with
rage, but they contained themselves. At last, when day was already breaking, the host yielded,
paid down £ 6 and feasted us. This happened at Tongaat, but the repercussion of the incident
was felt as far as Stanger on the North Coast and Charelstown in the interior. It also hastened our
work of collection.
But collecting funds was not the only thing to do. In fact I had long learnt the principle of never
having more money at one’s disposal than necessary.
Meetings used to be held once a month or even once a week if required. Minutes of the
proceedings of the preceding meeting would be read, and all sorts of questions would be
discussed. People had no experience of taking part in public discussion or of speaking briefly and
to the point. Everyone hesitated to stand up to speak. I explained to them. They realized that it
was an education for them, and many who had never been accustomed to speaking before an
audience soon acquired the habit of thinking and speaking publicly about matters of public
Knowing that in public work minor expenses at times absorbed large amounts, I had decided not
to have even the receipt books printed in the beginning. I had a cyclostyle machine in my office,
on which I took copies of receipt and reports. Such things I began to get printed only when the
Congress coffers were full, and when the number of members and work had increased. Such
economy is essential for every organization, and yet I know that it is not always exercised. That is
why I have thought it proper to enter into these little details of the beginnings of a small but
growing organization. People never cared to have receipts for the amounts they paid, but we always insisted on the
receipts being given. Every pie was thus clearly accounted for, and I dare say the account books
for the year 1894 can be found intact even today in the records of Natal Indian Congress.
Carefully kept accounts are a sine qua non for any organization. Without them it falls into
disrepute. Without properly kept accounts it is impossible to maintain truth in its pristine purity.
Another feature of the Congress was service of Colonial-born educated Indians. The Colonialborn Indian Educational Association was founded under the auspices of the Congress. The
members consisted mostly of these educated youths. They had to pay a nominal subscription.
The Association served to ventilate their needs and grievances, to stimulate thought amongst
them, to bring them into touch with Indian merchants and also to afford them scope for service of
the community. It was a sort of debating society. The members met regularly and spoke or read
papers on different subjects. A small library was also opened in connection with the Association.
The third feature of the Congress was propaganda. This consisted in acquainting the English in
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 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.
Chapter 44
The symbol of a Court of justice is pair of scales held evenly by an impartial and blind but
sagacious woman. Fate has purposely made her blind, in order that she may not judge a person
from his exterior but from his intrinsic worth. But the Law Society of natal set out to persuade the
Supreme Court to act in contravention of this principle and to belie its symbol.
I applied for admission as an advocate of the Supreme Court. I held a certificate of admission
from the Bombay High Court. The English certificate I had to deposit with the Bombay High Court
when I was enrolled there. It was necessary to attach two certificates of character to the
application for admission, and thinking that these would carry more weight if given by Europeans,
I secured them from two well-known European merchants whom I knew through Sheth Abdulla.
The application had to be presented through a member of the bar, and as a rule the Attorney
General presented such applications without fees. Mr. Escombe, who, as we have seen, was
legal adviser to Messrs. Dada Abdulla & Co, was the Attorney General. I called on him, and he
willingly consented to present my application.
The Law Society now sprang a surprise on me by serving me with a notice opposing my
application for admission. One of their objections was that the original English certificate was not
attached to my application. But the main objection was that, when the regulations regarding
admission of advocates were made, the possibility of a coloured man applying could not have
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 & Co, he sent me word through Sheth Abdulla to go and see him.
He talked with me quite frankly, and inquired about my antecedents, which I gave. Then he said:
‘I have nothing to say against you. I was only afraid lest you should be some Colonial-born
adventurer. And the fact that your application was unaccompanied by the original certificate
supported my suspicion. There have been men who have made use of diplomas which did not
belong to them. The certificates of character from European traders you have submitted have no
value for me. What do they know about you? What can be the extent of their acquaintance with
‘But,’ said I, ‘everyone here is a stranger to me. Even Sheth Abdulla first came to know me here.’
‘But then you say he belongs to the same place as you? It your father was Prime Minister there,
Sheth Abdulla is bound to know your family. if you were to produce his affidavit, I should have
absolutely no objection. I would then gladly communicate to the Law Society my inability to
oppose your application.’
This talk enraged me, but I restrained my feelings. ‘If I had attached Dada Abdulla’s certificate.’
said I to myself, ‘it would have been rejected, and they would have asked for Europeans’
certificates. And what has my admission as advocate to do with my birth and my antecedents?
How could my birth, whether humble or objectionable, be used against me?’ But I contained
myself and quietly replied: continue from here
‘Though I do not admit that the Law Society has any authority to require all these details, I am
quite prepared to present the affidavit you desire.’
Sheth Abdulla’s affidavit was prepared and duly submitted to the counsel for the Law Society. He
said he was satisfied. But not so the Law Society. it opposed my application before the Supreme
Court, which ruled out the opposition without even calling upon Mr. Escombe to reply. The Chief
justice said in effiect :
‘The objection that the applicant has not attached the original certificate has no substance. If he
has made a false affifavit, he can be prosecuted, and his name can then be struck off the roll, if
he is proved guilty. The law makes no distinction between white and coloured people. The Court
has therefore no authority to prevent Mr. Gandhi from being enrolled as an advocate. We admit
his application. Mr. Gandhi, you can now take the oath.’
I stood up and took the oath before the Registar. As soon as I was sworn in, the Chief Justice,
addressing me, said:
‘You must now take off your turban, Mr. Gandhi. you must submit to the rules of the Court with
regard to the dress to be worn by practising barristers.’
I saw my limitations. The turban that I had insisted on wearing in the District Magistrate’s Court I
took off in obedience to the order of the Supreme Court. Not that, if I had resisted the order, the
resistance could not have been justified. But I wanted to reserve my strength for fighting bigger
battles. I should not exhaust my skill as a fighter in insisting on retaining my turban. It was worthy
of a better cause. Sheth Abdulla and other friends did not like my submission (or was it weakness?). They felt that I
should have stood by my right to wear the turban while practising in the Court. I tried to reason
with them. I tried to press home to them the truth of the maxim, ‘When at 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 though, the very insistence on truth
has taught me to appreciate the beauty of compromise. I saw in later life that this spirit was an
essential part of Satyagraha. It has often meant endangering my life and incurring the displeasure
of friends. But truth is hard as adamant and tender as a blossom.
The opposition of the Law Society gave me another advertisement in South Africa. Most of the
newspapers condemned the opposition and accused the Law Society of jealousy. The
advertisement, to some extent, simplified my work.
Chapter 45
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 employer.
It was far from my desire to get the employer punished. I simply wanted Balasundaram to be
released from him. I read the law about indentured labour. If an ordinary servant left service
without giving notice, he was liable to be sued by his master in a civil court. With the indentured
labourer the case was entirely different. He was liable, in similar circumstances, to be proceeded
against in a criminal court and to be imprisoned on conviction. That is why Sir William Hunter called the indenture system almost as bad as slavery. Like the slave the indentured labourer was
the property of his master.
There were only two ways of releasing Balasundaram: either by getting the Protector of
Indentured Labourers to cancel his indenture or transfer him to someone else, or by getting
Balasundaram’s employer to release him. I called on the latter and said to him: ‘I do not want to
proceed against you and get you punished. I think you realize that you have severely beaten the
man. I shall be satisfied if you will transfer the indenture to someone else.’ To this he readily
agreed. I next saw the Protector. He also agreed, on condition that I found a new employer.
So I went off in search of an employer. He had to be a European, as no Indians could employ
indentured labour. At that time I knew very few Europeans. I met one of them. He very kindly
agreed to take on Balasundaram. I gratefully acknowledged his kindness. The magistrate
convicted Balasundaram’s employer, and recorded that he had undertaken to transfer the
indenture to someone else.
Balasundaram’s case reached the ears of every indentured labourer, and I came to be regarded
as their friend. I hailed this connection with delight. A regular stream of indentured labourers
began to pour into my office, and I got the best opportunity of learning their joys and sorrows.
The echoes of Balasundaram’s case were heard in far off Madras. Labourers from different parts
of the province, who went to Natal on indenture, came to know of this case through their
indentured brethren.
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 labourers a joyful surprise
and inspired them 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.
Chapter 46
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
sugarcane 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
extensive business.
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;
and that
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 a 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 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 Indians 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
Chapter 47
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 Kathiawas 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 Narmadashanker’s book Dharma 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 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 be
uninspiring. The congregation did not strike me as being particularly religious. They were not an
assembly of devout souls; they appeared rather to be worldly-minded people, going to church for
recreation and in conformity to custom. Here, at times, I would involuntarily doze. I was ashamed,
but some of my neighbours, who were in no better case, lightened the shame. I could not go on
long like this, and soon gave up attending the service.
My connection with the family I used to visit every Sunday was abruptly broken. In fact it may be
said that I was warned to visit it no more. It happened thus. My hostess was a good and simple
woman, but somewhat narrow-minded. We always discussed religious subjects. I was then rereading 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 innocent 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 discussion should henceforth be only with us elders. They are sure to react
badly on children.’
‘Mrs—,’ I replied, ‘I am sorry. I can understand your feelings as a parent, for I too have children.
We can very easily end this unpleasant state of things. What I eat and omit to eat is bound to
have a greater effect on the child than what I say. The best way, therefore, is for me to stop these
visits. That certainly need not affect our friendship.’
‘I thank you,’ she said with evident relief.
Chapter 48
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 a never known how to keep anyone as
a servant.
I had a friend as companion and help, and a cook who had become a member of the family. I also
had office clerks boarding and lodging with me.
I think I had a fair amount of success in this experiment, but it was not without its modicum of the
bitter experiences of life.
The companion was very clever and, I thought, faithful to me. But in this I was deceived. He
became jealous of an office clerk who was staying with me, and wove such a tangled web that I
suspected the clerk. This clerical friend had a temper of his own. Immediately he saw that he had
been the object of my suspicion, he left both the house and the office. I was pained. I felt that
perhaps I had been unjust to him, and my conscience always stung me.
In the meanwhile, the cook needed a few days leave, or for some other cause was away. It was
necessary to procure another during his absence. Of this new man I learnt later that he was a
perfect scamp. But for me he proved a godsend. Within two or three days of his arrival, he
discovered certain irregularities that were going on under my roof without my knowledge, and he
made up his mind to warn me. I had the reputation of being a credulous but straight man. The
discovery was to him, therefore, all the more shocking. Every day at one o’clock I used to go
home from office for lunch. At about twelve o’clock one day the cook came panting to the office,
and said, ‘Please come home at once. There is a surprise for you.’ ‘Now, what is this?’ I asked. ‘You must tell me what it is. How can I leave the office at this hour to
go and see it?’
‘You will regret it, if you don’t come. That is all I can say.’
I felt an appeal in his persistence. I went home accompanied by a clerk and the cook who walked
ahead of us. He took me straight to the upper floor, pointed at my companion’s room, and said,
‘Open this door and see for yourself.’
I saw it all. I knocked at the door. No reply! I knocked heavily so as to make the very walls shake.
The door was opened. I saw a prostitute inside. I asked her to leave the house, never to return.
To the companion I said, ‘From this moment I cease to have anything to do with you. I have been
thoroughly deceived and have made a fool of myself. That is how you have requited my trust in
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
This made him worse. There was no help for it. So I said to the clerk standing downstairs: ‘Please
go and inform the Police Superintendent, with my compliments, that a person living with me has
misbehaved himself. I do not want to keep him in my house, but he refuses to leave. I shall be
much obliged if police help can be sent me.’
This showed him that I was in earnest. His guilt unnerved him. He apologized to me, entreated
me not to inform the police, and agreed to leave the house immediately, which he did.
The incident came as a timely warning in my life. Only now could I see clearly how thoroughly I
had been beguiled by this evil genius. In harbouring him I had chosen a bad means for a good
end. I had expected to ‘gather figs of thistles’ I had known that the companion was a bad
character, and yet I believed in his faithfulness to me. In the attempt to reform him I was near
ruining myself. I had disregarded the warning of kind friends. Infatuation had completely blinded
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.
Chapter 49
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 every one that the secretary’s
work did not require a man with a barrister’s degree or high English education.
About the middle of 1896 I sailed for home in the s. s. Pongola which was bound for Calcutta.
There were very few passengers on board. Among them were two English oficers, with whom I
came in close contact. With one of them I used to play chess for an hour daily. The ship’s doctor
gave me a Tamil Self- Teacher which I began to study. My experience in 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
amongst he deck passengers, and we made excellent progress in our studies. The officer had a
better memory than I. He would never forget a word after once he had seen it; I often found it
difficult to decipher Urdu letters. I brought more perseverance to bea, but could never overtake
the officer.
With Tamil I made fair progress. There was no help available, but the Tamil Self-Teacher was
well-written book, and I did not feel in need of much outside help.
I had hoped to continue these studies even after reaching 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. Poongola. We had become friends. The good Captain was a Plymouth
Brother. Our talks were more about spiritual subjects than nautical. He drew a line between
morality and faith. The teaching of the Bible was to him child’s play. Its beauty lay in its simplicity.
Let all, men, women and children, he would say, have faith in Jesus and his sacrifice, and their
sins were sure to be redeemed. This friend revived my memory of the Plymouth Brother of
Pretoria. The religion that imposed any moral restrictions was 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 religious discussion.
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.
Chapter 50
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 Kellner’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 impression that Mr. Chesney Jr. was the editor at that time. I wanted to
secure the help of every party, so I wrote a note to Mr. Chesney, telling him how I had missed the
train, and asking for an appointment so as to enable me to leave the next day. He immediately
gave me one, at which I was very happy especially when I found that he gave me a patient
hearing. He promised to notice in his paper anything that I might write, but added that he could
not promise to endorse all the Indian demands, inasmuch as he was bound to understand and
give due weight to the viewpoint of the Colonials as well.
‘It is enough,’ I said, ‘that you should study the question and discuss it in your paper. I ask and
desire nothing but the barest justice that is due to us.’
The rest of the day was spent in having a look round admiring the magnificent confluence of the
three rivers, the Triveni, and planning the work before me.
This unexpected interview with the editor of The Pioneer laid the foundation of the series of
incidents which ultimately led to my being 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 condition 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 Pioneer was 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 of 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, 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 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 untouchables’ quarters also. Only one member of the committee
was ready to accompany me there. To the rest it was something preposterous to visit those
quarters, still more so to inspect their latrines. But for me those quarters were an agreeable
surprise. That was the first visit in my life to such a locality. The men and women there were
surprised to see us. I asked them to let us inspect their latrines.
‘Latrines for us!’ they exclaimed in astonishment. ‘We go and perform our functions out in the
open. Latrines are for you big people.’
‘Well, then, you won’t mind if we inspect your houses?’ I asked.
‘You are perfectly welcome, sir. You may see every nook and corner of our houses. Ours are no
houses, they are holes.’
I went in and was delighted to see that the insides were as clean as the outsides. The entrances
were well swept, the floors were beautifully smeared with cow-dung, and the few pots and pans
were clean and shining. There was no fear of an outbreak in those quarters.
In the upper class quarters we came across a latrine which I cannot help describing in some
detail. Every room had its gutter, which was used both for water and urine, which meant that the
whole house would stink. But one of the houses had a storeyed bedroom with a gutter which was
being used both as a urinal and a latrine. The gutter had a pipe discending to the ground floor. It
was not possible to stand the foul smell in this room. How the occupants could sleep there I leave
the readers to imagine.
The committee also visited the Vaishnava Haveli. The priest in charge of the Haveli was very
friendly with my family. So he agreed to let us inspect everything and suggest whatever
improvements we liked. There was a part of the Haveli premises that he himself had never seen.
It was the place where refuse and leaves used as dinner- plates used to be thrown over the wall.
It was the haunt of crows and kites. The latrines were of course dirty. I was not long enough in
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.
Chapter 51
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 was unaware of the defects in British rule, but I thought
that 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 celebration 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 fall; 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 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 way 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.
Chapter 52
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
manage this?’ I felt rather nervous, but I said I would try.
‘Then, tell me, what time Mr. Munshi should come to you for the manuscript?’
‘Eleven o’clock tonight,’ said I.
On going to the meeting the next day, I saw the wisdom of Sir Pherozeshah’s advice. The
meeting was held in the hall of the Sir Cowasji Jehangir Institute. I had heard that when Sir
Pherozeshah Mehta addressed meetings the hall was always packed. Chiefly by the students
intent on hearing him, leaving not an inch of room. This was the first meeting of the kind in my
experience. I saw that my voice could reach only a few. I was trembling as I began to read my
speech. Sir Pherozeshah cheered me up continually by asking me to speak louder and still
louder. I have a feeling that, far from encouraging me, it made my voice sink lower and lower.
My old friend Sjt. Keshavrao Deshpande came to my rescue. I handed my speech to him. His
was just the proper voice. But the audience refused to listen. The hall rang with the cries of
‘Wacha,’ ‘Wacha.’ So Mr. Wacha stood up and read the speech, with wonderful results. The
audience became perfectly quiet, and listened to the speech to the end, punctuating it with
applause and cries of ‘shame’ where necessary. This gladdened my heart.
Sir Pherozeshah liked the speech. I was supremely happy.
The meeting won me the active sympathy of Sjt. Deshpande and a Parsi friend, whose name I
hesitate to mention, as he is a high-placed Government official today. Both expressed their
resolve to accompany me to 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 tram-cars, 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 Prothonotary in the High Court. When I met him he was
engaged on his contribution to a Higher Gujarati Dictonary. 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 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 countrymen there. I know I cannot prevail upon you, but I will not encourage anyone of your type
to throw in his lot with you.’
I did not like this advice, but it increased my regard for Mr. Pestonji Padshah. I was struck with his
love for the country and for the mother tongue. The incident brought us closer to each other. I
could understand his point of view. But far from giving up my work in South Africa, I became
firmer in my resolve. A patriot cannot afford to ignore any branch of service to the motherland.
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.’
Chapter 53
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.
He said:
‘You are quite right in seeking the help of all parties. There can be no difference of opinion on the
South African question. But you must have a non-party man for your president. Meet Professor
Bhandarkar. He has been taking no part of late in any public movement. But this question might
possibly drew him out. See him and let me know what he says. I want to help you to the fullest
extent. Of course you will meet me whenever you like. I am at your disposal.’
This was my first meeting with the Lokamanya. It revealed to me the secret of his unique
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 me 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 unique.
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 with 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. Subrahmaniam of The Hindu and Dr. Subrahmaniam also
were very sympathetic. But Sjt. G. Parameshvaran Pillay placed the columns of The Madras
Standard entirely at my disposal, and I freely availed myself of the offer. The meeting in
Pachaiappa’s Hall, so far as I can recollect, was with Dr. Subrahmaniam in the chair.
The affection showered on me by most of the friends I met and their enthusiasm for the cause
were so great that, in spite of my having to communicate with them in English, I felt myself
entirely at home. What barrier is there that love cannot break?
Chapter 54
From Madras I proceeded to Calcutta where I found myself hemmed by difficulties. I knew no
one there, so I took a room in the Great Eastern Hotel. Here I became 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 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 copies 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 power can hardly travel beyond the threshold of his office. But I
was not discouraged. I kept on seeing editors of other papers. As usual I met the Anglo-Indian
editors also. The Stateman and The Englishman realized the importance of the question. I gave
them long interviews, and they published them in full.
Mr. Saunders, editor of The Englishman, claimed me as his own. He placed his office and paper
at my disposal. He even allowed me the liberty of making whatever changes I liked in the leading
article he had written on the situation, the proof of which he sent me in advance. It is no
exaggeration to say that a friendship grew up between us. He promised to render me all the help
he could, carried out the promise to the letter, and kept on his correspondence with me until the
time when he was seriously ill.
Throughout my life I have had the privilege of many such friendships, which have sprung up quite
unexpectedly. What Mr. Saunders liked in me was my freedom from exaggeration and my
devotion to truth. He subjected me to a searching cross-examination before he began to
sympathize with my cause, and he saw that I had spared neither will nor pains to place before
him an impartial statement of the case even of the white man in South Africa and also to
appreciate it.
My experience has shown me that we win justice quickest by rendering justice to the other party.
The unexpected help of Mr. Saunders had begun to encourage me to think that I might succeed
after all in holding a public meeting in Calcutta, when I received the following cable from Durban:
‘Parliament opens January. Return soon.’
So I addressed a letter to the press, in which I explained why I had to leave Calcutta so abruptly,
and set off for Bombay. Before starting I wired to the Bombay agent of Dada Abdulla & 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 & Co. The total number of passengers these boats carried must
have been about eight hundred, half of whom were bound for the Transvaal. Chapter 55
This was my first voyage with my wife and children. I have often observed in the course of this
narrative that, on account of child marriages amongst middle class Hindus, the husband will be
literate whilst the wife remains practically unlettered. A wide gulf thus separates them, and the
husband has to become his wife’s teacher. So I had to think out the details of the dress to be
adopted by my wife and children, the food they were to eat, and the manners which would be
suited to their new surroundings. Some of the recollections of those days are amusing to look
back upon.
A Hindu wife regards implicit obedience to her husband as the highest religion. A Hindu husband
regards himself as lord and master of his wife who must ever dance attendance upon him.
I believed, at the time of which I am writing, that in order to look civilized, our dress and manners
had as far as possible to approximate to the European standard. Because I thought only thus
could we have some influence, and without influence it would not be possible to serve the
I therefore determined the style of dress for my wife and children. How could I like them to be
known as Kathiawad Banias? The Parsis used then to be regarded as the most civilized people
amongst Indians, and so, when the complete European style seemed to be unsuited, we adopted
the Parsi style. Accordingly my wife wore the Parsi sari, and the boys the Parsi coat and trousers.
Of course no one could be without shoes and stockings. It was long before my wife and children
could get used to them. The shoes cramped their feet and the stockings stank with perspiration.
The toes often got sore, I always had my answers ready to all these objections. But I have an
impression that it was not so much the answers as the force of authority that carried conviction.
They agreed to the changes in dress as there was no alternative. In the same spirit and with even
more reluctance they adopted the use of knives and forks. When my infatuation for these signs of
civilization wore away, they gave up the knives and forks. After having become long accustomed
to the new style, it was perhaps no less irksome for them to return to the original mode. But I can
see today that we feel all the freer and lighter for having cast off the tinsel of ‘civilization.’
On board the same steamer with us were some relatives and acquaintances. These and other
deck passengers I frequently met, because, the boat belonging to my client friends, I was free to
move about anywhere and every where I liked.
Since the steamer was making straight for 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 his appearance,
and the captain said that the storm had blown over. People’s faces beamed with gladness, and
with the disappearance of danger disappeared also the name of God from their lips, Eating and
drinking, singing and merry- making again became the order of the day. The fear of death was
gone, and the momentary mood of earnest prayer gave place to maya. There were of course the
usual namaz and he prayers, yet they had none of the solemnity of that dread hour.
But the storm had made me one with the passengers. I had little fear of the storm, for I had had
experience of similar ones. I am a good sailor and do not get sea-sick. So I could fearlessly move
amongst the passengers, bringing them comfort and good cheer, and conveying to them hourly
reports of the captain. The friendship I thus formed stood me, as we shall see, in very good stead.
The ship cast anchor in the 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.
Chapter 56
We have seen that the two ships cast anchor in the port of Durban on or about the 18th of
December. No passengers are allowed to land at any of the South African ports before being
subjected to a thorough medical examination. If the ship has any passenger suffering from a
contagious disease, she has to undergo a period of quarantine. As there had been plague in
Bombay when we met 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
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 with 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, whils 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 tha 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 passengers 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.
Chapter 57
So the ships were brought into the dock and the passengers began to go ashore. But Mr.
Escombe had sent word to the captain that, as the whites were highly enraged against me and
my life was in danger, my family and I should be advised to land at dusk, when the Port
Superintendent Mr. Tatum would escort us home. The captain communicated the message to
me. and I agreed to act accordingly. But scarcely half an hour after this, Mr. Laughton came to
the captain. He said: ‘I would like to take Mr. Gandhi with me, should he have no objection. As the
legal adviser of the Agent Company I tell you that you are not bound to carry out the message
you have received from Mr. Escombe.’ After this he came to me and said somewhat to this effect:
‘If you are not afraid, I suggest that Mrs. Gandhi and the children should drive to Mr. Rustomji’s
house, whilst you and I follow them on foot. I do not at all like the idea of your entering the city like
a thief in the night. I do not think there is any fear of anyone hurting you. Everything is quiet now.
The whites have all dispersed. But in any case I am convinced that you ought not to enter the city
stealthily.’ I readily agreed. My wife and children drove safely to Mr. Rustomji’s place. With the
captain’s permission I went ashore with Mr. Laughton. Mr Rustomji’s house was about two miles
from the dock.
As soon as we landed, some youngsters recognized me and shouted ‘Gandhi, Gandhi.’ About
half a dozen men rushed to the spot and joined in the shouting. Mr. Laughton feared that the
crowd might swell and hailed a rickshaw. I had never liked the idea of being in a rickshaw. This
was to be my first experience. But the youngsters would not let me get into it. They frightened the
rickshaw boy out of his life, and he took to his heels. As we went ahead, the crowd continued to
swell, until it became impossible to proceed further. They first caught hold of Mr. Laughton and
separated us. Then they pelted me with stones, brickbats and rotten eggs. Someone snatched
away my turban, whilst others began to batter and kick me. I fainted and caught hold of the front
railings of a house and stood there to get my breath. But it was impossible. They came upon me
boxing and battering. The wife of the Police Superintendent, who knew me, happened to be
passing by. The brave lady came up, opened her parasol though there was no sun then, and
stood between the crowd and me. This checked the fury of the mob, as it was difficult for them to
deliver blows on me without harming Mrs. Alexander.
Meanwhile an Indian youth who witnessed the incident had run to the police station. The Police
Superintendent Mr. Alexander sent a posse of men to ring me round and escort me safely to my
destination. They arrived in time. The police station lay on our way. As we reached there, the
Superintendent asked me to take refuge in the station, but I gratefully declined the offer, ‘They
are sure to quiet down when they realize their mistake,’ I said. ‘I have trust in their sense of
fairness.’ Escorted by the police, I arrived without further harm at Mr. Rustomji’s place. I had
bruises all over, but no abrasions except in one place. Dr. Dadibarjor, the ship’s doctor, who was
on the spot, rendered the best possible help. There was quiet inside, but outside the whites surrounded the house. Night was coming on, and
the yelling crowd was shouting, ‘We must have Gandhi.’ The quick-sighted Police Superintendent
was already there trying to keep the crowds under control, not by threats, but by humouring them.
But he was not entirely free from anxiety. He sent me a message to this effect: ‘If you would save
your friend’s house and property and also your family, you should escape from the house in
disguise, as I suggest.’
Thus on one and the same day I was faced with two contradictory positions. When danger to life
had been no more than imaginary, Mr. Laughton advised me to launch forth openly. I accepted
the advice. When the danger was quite real, another friend gave me the contrary advice, and I
accepted that too. Who can say whether I did so because I saw that my life was in jeopardy, or
because I did not want to put my friend’s life and property or the lives of my wife and children in
danger? Who can say for certain that I was right both when I faced the crowd in the first instance
bravely, as it was said, and when I escaped from it in disguise?
It is idle to adjudicate upon the right and wrong of incidents that have already happened. It is
useful to understand them and, if possible, to learn a lesson from them for the future. It is difficult
to say for certain how a particular man would act in a particular set of circumstances. We can also
see that judging a man from his outward act is no more than a doubtful inference, inasmuch as it
is not based on sufficient data.
Be that as it may, the preparations for escape made me forget my injuries. As suggested by the
Superintendent, I put on an Indian constable’s uniform and wore on my head a Madrasi scarf,
wrapped round a plate to serve as a helmet. Two detectives accompanied me, one of them
disguised as an Indian merchant and with his face painted to resemble that of an Indian. I forget
the disguise of the other. We reached a neighbouring shop by a by-lane and, making our way
through the gunny bags piled in the godown, escaped by the gate of the shop and threaded our
way through the crowd to a carriage that had been kept for me at the end of the street. In this we
drove off to the same police station where Mr. Alexander had offered me refuge a short time
before, and I thanked him and the detective officers.
Whilst I had been thus effecting my escape Mr. Alexander had kept the crowd amused by singing
the tune: ‘Hang old Gandhi On the sour apple tree.’ When he was informed of my safe arrival at
the police station, he thus broke the news to the crowd: ‘Well, your victim had made good his
escape through a neighbouring shop. You had better go home now.’ Some of them were angry,
others laughed, some refused to believe the story.
‘Well then,’ said the Superintendent, ‘If you do not believe me, you may appoint one or two
representatives, whom I am ready to take inside the house, If they succeed in finding out Gandhi,
I will gladly deliver him to you. But if they fail, you must disperse. I am sure that you have no
intention of destroying Mr. Rustomji’s house or of harming Mr. Gandhi’s wife and children.’
The crowed sent their representatives to search the house. They soon returned with
disappointing news, and the crowd broke up at last, most of them admiring the Superintendent’s
tactful handling of the situation, and a few fretting and fuming.
The late Mr. Chamberlain, who was then Secretary of State for the Colonies, cabled asking the
Natal Government to prosecute my assailants. Mr. Escombe sent for me, expressed his regret for
the injuries I had sustained, and said: ‘Believe me, I cannot feel happy over the least little injury
done to your person. You had a right to accept Mr. Laughton’s advice and to face the worst, but I
am sure that, if you had considered my suggestion favourably, these sad occurrences would not
have happened. If you can identify the assailants, I am prepared to arrest and prosecute them.
Mr. Chamberlain also desires me to do so.’ To which I gave the following reply:
‘I do not want to prosecute anyone. It is possible that I may be able to identify one or two of them,
but what is the use of getting them punished? Besides, I do not hold the assailants to blame.
They were given to understand that I had made exaggerated statements in 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 anyone 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
considerable 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.
Chapter 58
I had not yet left the police station, when, after two days, I was taken to see Mr.Escombe. Two
constables were sent to protect me, though no such precaution was then needed.
On the day of landing, as soon as the yellow flag was lowered, a representative of The Natal
Advertiser had come to interview me. He had asked me a number of questions, and in reply I had
been able to refute everyone of the charges that had been levelled against me. Thanks to Sir
Pherozeshah Mehta, I had delivered only written speeches in 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 Africa 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 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 then 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 account 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 is 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.
Chapter 59
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 on 7 pounds a month. This went on for some time, but not to my satisfaction. The boys
acquired some knowledge of Gujarati through my conversation and intercourse with them, which
was strictly in the mother-tounge. I was loath to send them back to 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 inadequate. I could not devote to the children all the time I had
wanted to give them. My inability to give them enough attention and other unavoidable causes
prevented me from providing them with the literary education I had desired, and all my sons have
had complaints to make against me in this matter. Whenever they come across an M.A. or a B.A.,
or even a matriculate, they seem to feel the handicap of a want of school education.
Nevertheless I am of opinion that, if I had insisted on their being educated somehow at public
schools, they would have been deprived of the training that can be had only at the school of
experience, or from constant contact with the parents. I should never have been free, as I am
today, from anxiety on their score, and the artificial education that they could have had in England
or South Africa, torn from me, would never have taught them the simplicity and the spirit of
service that they show in their lives today, while their artificial ways of living might have been a
serious handicap in my public work. Therefore, though I have not been able to give them a literary
education either to their or to my satisfaction, I am not quite sure, as I look back on my past
years, that I have not done my duty by them to the best of my capacity. Nor do I regret not having
sent them to public schools. I have always felt that the undesirable traits I see today in my eldest
son are an echo of my own undisciplined and unformulated early life. I regard that time as a
period of half-baked knowledge and indulgence. It coincided with the most impressionable years
of my eldest son, and naturally he has refused to regard it as my time of indulgence and
inexperience. He has on the contrary believed that that was the brightest period of my life, and
the changes, effected later, have been due to delusion miscalled enlightenment. And well he
might. Why should he not think that my earlier years represented a period of awakening, and the
later years of radical change, years of delusion and egotism ? Often have I been confronted with
various posers from friends : What harm had there been, if I had given my boys an academical
education ? What right had I thus to clip their wings ? Why should I have come in the way of their
taking degrees and choosing their own careers ?
I do not think that there is much point in these questions. I have come in contact with numerous
students. I have tried myself or through others to impose my educational ‘fads’ on other children
too and have seen the results thereof. There are within my knowledge a number of young men today contemporaneous with my sons. I do not think that man to man they are any better that my
sons, or that my sons have much to learn from them.
But the ultimate result of my experiments is in the womb of the future. My object in discussing this
subject here is that a student of the history of civilization may have some measure of the
difference between disciplined home education and school education, and also the effect
produced on children through changes introduced by parents in their lives. The purpose of this
chapter is also to show the lengths to which a votary of truth is driven by his experiments with
truth, as also to show the votary of liberty how many are the sacrifices demanded by that stern
goddess. Had I been without a sense of self-respect and satisfied of myself with having for my
children the education that other children could not get, I should have deprived them of the
object-lesson in liberty and self-respect that I gave them at the cost of the literary training. And
where a choice has to be made between liberty and learning, who will not say that the former has
to be preferred a thousand times to the latter ?
The youths whom I called out in 1920 from those citadels of slavery — their schools and colleges –
– and whom I advised that it was far better to remain unlettered and break stones for the sake of
liberty than to go in for a literary education in the chains of slaves will probably be able now to
trace my advice to its source.
Chapter 60
My profession progressed satisfactorily, but that was far from satisfying me. The Question of
further simplifying my life and of doing some concrete act of service to my fellowmen had been
constantly agitating me, when a leper came to my door. I had not the heart to dismiss him with a
meal. So I offered him shelter, dressed his wounds, and began to look after him. But I could not
go on like that indefinately. I could not afford, I lacked the will to keep him always with me. So I
sent him to the 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 a 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 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 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, Telegu or North Indian 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 medical aid at the time of her delivery, but if the doctor and the nurse were to leave us in the lurch
at the right moment, what was I to do? Then the nurse had to be an Indian. And the difficulty of
getting a trained Indian nurse in 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 experience 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 a child has nothing to learn during the first five years of its life. On the contrary
the fact is that the child never learns in after life what it does in its first five years. The education
of the child begins with conception. The physical and mental states of the parents at the moment
of conception are reproduced in the baby. Then during the period of pregnancy it continues to be
affected by the mother’s moods, desires and temperament, as also by her ways of life. After birth
the child imitates the parents, and for a considerable number of years entirely depends on them
for its growth.
The couple who realize these things will never have sexual union for the fulfilment of their lust,
but only when they desire issue. I think it is the height of ignorance to believe that the sexual act
is an independent function necessary like sleeping or eating. The world depends for its existence
on the act of generation, and as the world is the play-ground of God and a reflection of His glory,
the act of generation should be controlled for the ordered growth of the world. He who realizes
this will control his lust at any cost, equip himself with the knowledge necessary for the physical,
mental and spiritual well-being of his progeny, and give the benefit of that knowledge to posterity.
Chapter 61
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 observing brahmacharya 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 some where 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 with 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 view-point 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 nothing. To be fair to my
wife, I must say that she was never the temptress. It was therefore the easiest thing for me to
take the vow of brahmacharya , if only I willed it. It was my weak will or lustful attachment that
was the obstacle. Even after my conscience had been roused in the matter, I failed twice. I failed
because the motive that actuated the effort was none the highest. My main object was to escape
having more children. Whilst in 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. Hill’s opposition to those methods and his advocacy of
internal efforts 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
Idiscussed my thoughts with my co-workers, It became my conviction that procreation and the
consequent care of children were inconsistent with public serviice. 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 :
‘Renunciatfon without aversion is not lasting.’
Where therefore the desire is gone, a vow of renunciation is the natural and inevitable fruit.
Chapter 62
After full discussion and mature deliberation I took the vow in 1906. I had not shared my
thoughts with my wife until then, but only consulted her at the time of taking the vow. She had no
objection. But I had great difficulty in making the final resolve. I had not the necessary strength.
How was I to control my passions ? The elimination of carnal relationship with one’s wife seemed
then a strange thing. But I launched forth with faith in the sustaining power of God. As I look back
upon the twenty years of the vow, I am filled with pleasure and wonderment. The more or less
successful practice of self-control had been going on since 1901. But the freedom and joy that
came to me after taking the vow had never been experienced before 1906. Before the vow I had
been open to being overcome by temptation at any moment. Now the vow was a sure shield
against temptation. The great potentiality of brahmacharya daily became more an more patent to
me. The vow was taken when I was in Phoenix. As soon as I was free from ambulance work, I
went to Phoenix, whence I had to return to Johannesburg. In about a month of my returning there,
the foundation of Satyagraha was laid. As though unknown to me, the brahmacharya vow 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, the brahmacharya 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 #brahmacharya# was
now no process of hard penance, it was a matter of consolation and joy. Every day revealed a
fresh beauty in it.
But if it was a matter of ever-increasing joy, let no one believe that it was an easy thing for me.
Even when I am past fifty-six years, I realize how hard a thing it is. Every day I realize more and
more that it is like walking on the sword’s edge, and I see every moment the necessity for eternal
Control of the palate is the first essential in the observance of the vow. I found that complete
control of the palate made the observance very easy, and so I now persued my dietetic
experiments not merely from the vegetarian’s but also from the #brahmachari’s# point of view. As
the result of these experiments I saw that the #brahmachari’s# food should be limited, simple,
spiceless, and, if possible, uncooked. Six years of experiment have showed me that the brahmachari’s ideal food is fresh fruit and nuts.
The immunity from passion that I enjoyed when I lived on this food was unknown to me after I
changed that diet. Brahmacharya needed no effort on my part in 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 all brahmacharis 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. F’or many it must remain only as an
ideal. An aspirant after #brahmacharya# will always be conscious of his shortcomings, will seek
out the passions lingering in the innermost recesses of his heart and will incessantly strive to get
rid of them. So long as thought is not under complete control of the will, #brahmacharya# in its
fulness is absent. Involuntary thought is an affection of the mind, and curbing of thought,
therefore, means curbing of the mind which is even more difficult to curb than the wind.
Nevertheless the existence of God within makes even control of the mind possible. Let no one
think that it is impossible because it is difficult. It is the highest goal, and it is no wonder that the
highest effort should be necessary to attain it.
But it was after coming to 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 struggle. Meanwhile let me make it clear that those
who desire to observe brahmacharya with a view to realizing God need not despair, provided
their faith in God is equal to their confidence in their own effort.
‘The sense-objects turn away from an abstemious soul, leaving the relish behind. The relish also
disappears with the realization of the Highest.’ Therefore His name and His grace are the last
resources of the aspirant after moksha. This truth came to me only after my return to India.
Chapter 63
I had started on a life of ease and comfort, but the experiment was short-lived. Although I had
furnished the house with care, yet it failed to have any hold on me. So no sooner had I launched
forth on that life, than I began to cut down expenses. The washerman’s bill was heavy, and as he
was besides by no means noted for his punctuality, even two or three dozen shirts and collars
proved insufficient for me. Collars had to be changed daily and shirts, if not daily, at least every
alternate day. This meant a double expense, which appeared to me unnecessary. So I equipped
myself with a washing outfit to save it. I bought a book on washing, studied the art and taught it
also to my wife. This no doubt added to my work, but its novelty made it a pleasure.
I shall never forget the first collar that I washed myself. I had used more starch than necessary,
the iron had not been made hot enough, and for fear of burning the collar I had not pressed it
sufficiently. The result was that, though the collar was fairly stiff, the superfluous starch
continually dropped off it. I went to court with the collar on, thus inviting the ridicule of brother
barristers, but even in those days I could be impervious to ridicule.
‘Well,’ said I, ‘this is my first experiment at washing my own collars and hence the loose starch.
But it does not trouble me, and then there is the advantage of providing you with so much fun.’
‘But surely there is no lack of laundries here?’ asked a friend.
‘The laundry bill is very heavy,’ said 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
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 to your capacity as a lawyer, but not as a washerman,’ said Gokhale; ‘What if you
should soil it? Do you know what it means to me ? ‘
With this he narrated, with much joy, the story of the gift. I still insisted, guaranteed good work,
got his permission to iron it, and won his certificate. After that I did not mind if the rest of the world
refused me its certificate.
In the same way, as I freed myself from slavery to the washerman, I threw off dependence on the
barber. All people who go to 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.
Chapter 64
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 to gather 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 Beer had shown more pluck, determination and bravery than had been
expected ; and our services were ultimately needed. Our corps was 1,100 strong, with nearly 40
leaders, About three hundred were free Indians, and the rest indentured. Dr. Booth was also with
us, The corps acquitted itself well. Though our work was to be outside the firing line, and though
we had the protection of the Red Cross, we were asked at a critical moment to serve within the
firing line. The reservation had not been of our seeking. The authorities did not want us to be
within the range of fire. The situation, however, was changed after the repulse at Spion Kop, and
General Buller sent the message that, though we were not bound to take the risk, Government
would be thankful if we would do so and fetch the wounded from the field. We had no hesitation,
and so the action at Spion Kop found us working within the firing line. During these days we had
to march from twenty to twenty-five miles a day, bearing the wounded on stretchers. Amongst the
wounded we had the honour of carrying soldiers like General Woodgate.
The corps was disbanded after six weeks’ service. After the reverses at Spion Kop and
Vaalkranz, the British Commander-in-Chief abandoned the attempt to relieve Ladysmith and
other places by summary procedure, and decided to proceed slowly, awaiting reinforcements
from 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 after all.’
General Buller mentioned with appreciation the work of the corps in his despatch, and the leaders
were awarded the War Medal.
The Indian community became better organized. I got into closer touch with the indentured
Indians. There came a greater awakening amongst them, and the feeling that Hindus,
Musalmans, Christians, Tamilians, Gujaratis and Sindhis were all Indians and children of the
same motherland took deep root amongst them. Everyone believed that the Indians’ grievances
were now sure to be redressed. At the moment the white man’s attitude seemed to be distinctly
changed. The relations formed with the whites during the war were of the sweetest. We had come
in contact with thousands of tommies. They were friendly with us and thankful for being there to
serve them. I cannot forbear from recording a sweet reminiscence of how human nature shows
itself at its best in moments of trial. We were marching towards Chievely Camp where Lieutenant
Roberts, the son of Lord Roberts, had received a mortal wound. Our corps had the honour of
carrying the body from the field. It was a sultry day — the day of our march. Everyone was
thirsting for water. There was a tiny brook on the way where we could slake our thirst. But who
was to drink first ? We had proposed to come in after the tommies had finished. But they would
not begin first and urged us to do so, and for a while a pleasant competition went on for giving
precedence to one another. Chapter 65
It has always been impossible for me to reconcile myself to any one member of the bady politic
remaining out of use. I have always been loath to hide or connive at the. weak points of the
community or to press for its rights without having purged it of its blemishes. Therefore, ever
since my 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 persecution. Why may not society regard as retrogression what the reformer holds dear as
life itself ?
Nevertheless the result of this agitation was that the Indian community learnt to recognize more
or less the necessity for keeping their houses and environments clean. I gained the esteem of the
authorities. They saw that, though I had made it my business to ventilate grievances and press
for rights, I was no less keen and insistent upon self-purification.
There was one thing, however, which still remained to be done, namely, the awakening in the
Indian settler of a sense of duty to the 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. Chapter 66
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 be 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 coworkers 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
to me.
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 ? A11 the gifts, excepting a few from my clients,
were purely for my service to the community, and I could make no difference between my clients
and co-workers; for the clients also helped me in my public work.
One of the gifts was a gold necklace/worth fifty guineas, meant for my wife. But even that gift was
given because of my public work, and so it could not be separated from the rest.
The evening I was presented with the bulk of these things I had a sleepless night. I walked up
and down my room deeply agitated, but could find no solution. It was difficult for me to forego gifts
worth hundreds, it was more difficult to keep them.
And even if I could keep them , what about my children ? What about my wife? They were being
trained to a life of service and to an understanding that service was its own reward.
I had no costly ornaments in the house. We had been fast simplifying our life How then could we
afford to have gold watches? How could we afford to wear gold chains and diamond rings? Even
then I was exhorting people to conquer the infatuation for jewellery. What was I now to do with
the jewellery that had come upon me ?
I decided that I could not keep these things. I drafted a letter, creating a trust of them in favour of
the community and appointing Parsi Rustomji and others trustees. In the morning I held a
consultation with my wife and children and finally go rid of the heavy incubus.
I knew that I should have some difficulty in persuading my wife, and I was sure that I should have
none so far as the children were concerned. So I decided to constitute them my attorneys. The children readily agreed to my proposal. ‘We do not need these costly presents, we must
return them to the community, and should we ever need them, we could easily purchase them,’
they said.
I was delighted.’ Then you will plead with mother won’t you ? ‘ I asked them.
‘Certainly,’ said they. ‘That is our business. She did not need to wear the ornaments. She would
want to keep them for us, and if we don’t want them, why should she not agree to part with them
But it was easier said than done.
‘You may not need them,’ said my wife. ‘ Your children may not need them. Cajoled they will
dance to your tune. I can understand your not permitting me to wear them. But what about my
daughters-in-law? They will be sure to need them. And who knows what will happen tomorrow ? I
would be the last person to part with gifts so lovingly given.’
And thus the torrent of argument went on, reinforced, in the end, by tears. But the children were
adamant. And I was unmoved.
I mildly put in: ‘The children have yet to get married. We do not want to see them married young.
When they are grown up, they can take care of themselves. And surely we shall not have, for our
sons, brides who are fond of ornaments. And if after all, we need to provide them with ornaments,
I am there. You will ask me then.’ ‘Ask you ? I know you by this time. You deprived me of my
ornaments, you would not leave me in peace with them. Fancy you offering to get ornaments for
the daughters-in-law ! You who are trying to make sadhus of my boys from today ! No, the
ornaments will not be returned. And pray what right have you to my necklace ? ‘
‘But,’ I rejoined,’ is the necklace given you for your service or for my service ?’
‘I agree. But service rendered by you is as good as rendered by me. I have toiled and moiled for
you day and night. Is that no service ? You forced all and sundry on me, making me weep bitter
tears, and I slaved for them !’
These were pointed thrusts, and some of them went home. But I was determined to return the
ornaments. I somehow succeeded in extorting a consent from her. The gifts received in 1896 and
1901 were all returned. A trust-deed was prepared, and they were deposited with a bank, to be
used for the service of the community, according to my wishes or to those of the trustees.
Often, when I was in need of funds for public purposes, and felt that I must draw upon the trust, I
have been able to raise the requisite amount, leaving the trust money intact. The fund is still
there, being operated upon in times of need, and it has regularly accumulated.
I have never since regretted the step, and as the years have gone by, my wife has also seen its
wisdom. It has saved us from many temptations.
I am definitely of opinion that a public worker should accept no costly gifts. Chapter 67
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 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 at me. 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 Ripen 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 nor there. 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 of Varnadharma.’ 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 thought. 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 pointblank: ‘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 nuisance wherever they choose, and all
the volunteers are not always ready to clean up after them. I saw that, if the Congress session
were to be prolonged, conditions would be quite favourable for the outbreak of an epidemic.
Chapter 68
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 you will please look them
through. Acknowledge those that are worth it, and refer to me those that need a considered
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
I found my work very easy – the disposal of that heap of correspondence. I had done with it in no
time, and Sjt. Ghosal was very glad. He was talkative. He would talk away for hours together.
When he learnt something from me about my history, he felt rather sorry to have given me clerical
work. But I reassured him: ‘Please don’t worry. What am I before you? You have grown gray in
the service of the Congress, and are as an elder to me. I am but an inexperienced youth. You have put me under a debt of obligation by entrusting me with this work. For I want to do Congress
work, and you have given me the rare opportunity of understanding the details.’
‘To tell you the truth,’ said Sjt. Ghosal, ‘that is the proper spirit. But young men of today do not
realize it. Of course I have known the Congress since its birth. In fact I may claim a certain share
with Mr. Hume in bringing the Congress into being.’
And thus we became good friends. He insisted on my having lunch with him.
Sjt. Ghosal used to get his shirt buttoned by his bearer. I volunteered to do the bearer’s duty, and
I loved to do it, as my regard for elders was always great. When he came to know this, he did not
mind my doing little acts of personal service for him. In fact he was delighted. Asking me to button
his shirt, he would say, ‘You see, now, the Congress secretary has no time even to button his
shirt. He has always some work to do.’ Sjt. Ghosal’s naivete amused me, but did not create any
dislike in me for service of that nature. The benefit I received from this service in incalculable.
In a few days I came to know the working of the Congress. I met most of the leaders. I observed
the movements of stalwarts like Gokhale and Surendranath. I also noticed the huge waste of time
there. I observed too, with sorrow even then, the prominent place that the English language
occupied in our affairs. There was little regard for economy of energy. More than one did the work
of one, and many an important thing was no one’s business at all.
Critical as my mind was in observing these things, there was enough charity in me, and so I
always thought that it might, after all, be impossible to do better in the circumstances, and that
saved me from undervaluing any work.
Chapter 69
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 lighting speed. Everyone was hurrying to go. It was 11 o’clock. I had not the courage to
speak. I had already met Gokhale, who had looked at my resolution. So I drew near his chair and
whispered to him: ‘Please do something for me.’ He said: ‘Your resolution is not out of my mind. You see the way they are rushing through the resolutions. But I will not allow yours to be passed
‘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.
‘Of course.’
‘Do you like it?’
‘It is quite good.’
‘Well then, let us have it, Gandhi.’
I read it trembling.
Gokhale supported it.
‘Unanimously passed,’ cried out everyone.
‘You will have five minutes to speak to it Gandhi,’ said Mr. Wacha.
The procedure was far from pleasing to me. No one had troubled to understand the resolution,
everyone was in a hurry to go and, because Gokhale had seen the resolution, it was not thought
necessary for the rest to see it or understand it!
The morning found me worrying about my speech. What was I to say in five minutes? I had
prepared myself fairly well but the words would not come to me. I had decided not to read my
speech but to speak ex tempore. But the facility for speaking that I had acquired in 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 three
quarters 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. 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 of the Congress meant that of the whole
country was enough to delight anyone. Chapter 70
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 Gokhale.
Lord Curzon held his darbar about this time. Some Rajas and Maharajas who had been invited to
the darbar were members of the Club. In the Club I always found them wearing fine Bengalee
dhotis and shirts and scarves. On the darbar day they put on trousers befitting khansamas and
shining boots. I was pained and inquired of one of them the reason for the change.
‘We alone know our unfortunate condition. We alone know the insults we have to put up with, in
order that we may possess our wealth and titles,’ he replied.
‘But what about these khansama turbans and these shining boots?’ I asked.
‘Do you see any difference between khansamas and us?’ he replied, and added, ‘they are our
khansamas, we are Lord Cruzon’s khansamas. If I were to absent myself from the levee, I should
have to suffer the consequences. If I were to attend it in my usual dress, it would be an offence.
And do you think I am going to get any opportunity there of talking to Lord Curzon? Not a bit of it!’
I was moved to pity for this plainspoken friend.
This reminds me of another darbar.
At the time when Lord Hardinge laid the foundation stone of 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!
Chapter 71
From the very first day of my stay with him Gokhale made me feel completely at home. He
treated me as though I were his younger brother, he acquainted himself with all my requirements
and arranged to see that I got all I needed. Fortunately my wants were few, and I had cultivated
the habit of self-help, I needed very little personal attendance. He was deeply impressed with my
habit of fending for myself, my personal cleanliness, perseverance and regularity, and would
often overwhelm me with praise.
He seemed to keep nothing private from me. He would introduce me to all the important people
that called on him. Of these the one who stands foremost in my memory is Dr. (now Sir) P. C.
Ray. He lived practically next door and was a very frequent visitor.
This is how he introduced Dr. Ray: ‘This is Prof. Ray who having a monthly salary of Rs. 800,
keeps just Rs. 40 for himself and devotes the balance to public purposes. He is not, and does not
want to get, married.
I see little difference between Dr. Ray as he is today and as he used to be then. His dress used to
be nearly as simple as it is, with this difference of course that whereas it is Khadi now, it used to
be Indian mill-cloth in those days. I felt I could never hear too much of the talks between Gokhale
and Dr. Ray, as they all pertained to public good or were of educative value. At times they were
painful too, containing as they did, strictures on public men. As a result, some of those whom I
had regarded as stalwart fighters began to look quite puny.
To see Gokhale at work was as much a joy as an education. He never wasted a minute. His
private relations and friendships were all for public good. All his talks had reference only to the
good of the country and were absolutely free from any trace of untruth or insincerity. 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) occurred during my stay with Gokhale, who observed it regularly. There were with him
then, besides myself, his friends Prof. Kathavate and a Sub-Judge. He invited us to take part in
the celebration, and in his speech he gave us his reminiscences of Ranade. He compared
incidentally Ranade, Telang and Mandlik. He eulogized Telang’s charming style and Mandlik’s
greatness as a reformer. Citing an instance of Mandlik’s solicitude for his clients, he told us an
anecdote as to how once, having missed his usual train, he engaged a special train so as to be able to attend the court in the interest of his client. But Ranade, he said, towered above them all,
as a versatile genius. He was not only a great judge, he was an equally great historian, an
economist and reformer. Although he was a judge, he fearlessly attended the Congress, and
everyone had such confidence in his sagacity that they unquestioningly accepted his decisions.
Gokhale’s joy knew no bounds, as he described these qualities of head and heart which were all
combined in his master.
Gokhale used to have a horse-carriage in those days. I did not know the circumstances that had
made a horse-carriage a necessity for him, and so I remonstrated with him: ‘Can’t you make use
of the tramcar in going about from place to place? is it derogatory to a leader’s dignity?’
Slightly pained he said, ‘So you also have failed to understand me! I do not use my Council
allowances for my own personal comforts. I envy your liberty to go about in tramcars, but I am
sorry I cannot do likewise. When you are the victim of as wide a publicity as I am, it will be
difficult, if not impossible, for you to go about in a tramcar. There is no reason to suppose that
everything that the leaders do is with a view to personal comfort. I love your simple habits. I live
as simply as I can, but some expense is almost inevitable for a man like myself.’
He thus satisfactorily disposed of one of my complaints, but there was another which he could not
dispose of to my satisfaction.
‘But you do not even go out for walks,’ said 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 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
Chapter 72
Whilst living under Gokhlae’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
acquint 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 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 readly gave me. When I went, I found that his wife was on her
death-bed. His house was simple. In the Congress I had seen him in a coat and trusers, but I was
glad to find him now wearing a Bengal #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 Gurdas 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
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 opinion as I held then. To my mind the life of a lamb is no less precious than that
of a human being. I should be unwilling to take the life of a lamb for the sake of the human body. I
hold that, the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it s to protection by man from the cruelty
of man. But he who has not qualified himself for such service is unable to afford to it any
protection. I must go through more self-purification and sacrifice. before I can hope to save these
lambs from this unholy sacrifice. Today I think I must die pining for this self-purifiacation and
sacrifice. It is my constant prayer that there may be born on earth some great that there may be
born on earth some great spirit, man or woman, fired with divine pity, who will deliver us from this
heinous sin, save the lives of the innocent creatures, and purify the temple. How is it that Bengal
with all its knowledge, intelligence, sacrifice, and emotion tolerates this slaughter?
Chapter 73
The terrible sacrifice offered to Kali in the name of religion enhanced my desire to know Bengali
life. I had read and heard a good deal about the Brahmo Samaj. I knew something about the life
of Pratap Chandra Mazumdar. I had attended some of the meetings addressed by him. I secured
his life of Keshav Chandra Sen, read it with great interest, and understood the distinction between
Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, and Adi Brahmo Samaj. I met Pandit Shivanath Shastri and in
company with Prof. Kathavate went to see Maharshi Devendranath Tagore, but as no interviews
with him were allowed then, we could not see him. We were, however, invited to a celebration of
the Brahmo Samaj held at his place, and there we had the privilege of listening to fine Bengali
music. Ever since I have been a lover of Bengali music.
Having seen enough of the Brahmo Samaj, it was impossible to be satisfied without seeing
Swami Vivekanand. So with great enthusiasm I went to Belur Math, mostly, or maybe all the way,
on foot. I loved the sequestered site of the Math. I was disappointed and sorry to be told that the
Swami was at 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 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# 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 Dayanand’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
commission agents.
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 of
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 sweetballs and #puris#. I purchased a canvas bag worth twelve
annas and a long coat made of Chhaya wool. The bag was to contain this coat, a #dhoti#, a towel
and a shirt. I had a blanket as well to cover myself with and a water jug. Thus equipped I set forth
on my travels, Gokhlae and Dr. Ray came to the station to see me off. I had asked them both not
to trouble to come, but they insisted. “I should not have come if you had gone first class, but now
I had to,’ said Gokhale.
No one stopped Gokhale from going on to the platform. He was in his silk turban, jacket and
#dhoti#. Dr. Ray was in his Bengali dress. He was stopped by the ticket collector, but on Gokhale
telling him that he was his friend, he was admitted.
Thus with their good wishes I started on my journey.
Chapter 74
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 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 this
In travelling third class I mostly preferred the ordinary to the mail trains, as I knew that the latter
were more crowded and the fares in them higher. The third class compartments are practically as dirty, and the closet arrangements as bad, today
as they were then, There may be a little improvement now, but the difference between the
facilities provided for the first and the third classes is out of all proportion to the difference
between the fares for the two classes. Third class passengers are treated like sheep and their
comforts are sheep’s comforts. In 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 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
The indifference of the railway authorities to the comforts of the third class passengers, combined
with the dirty and inconsiderate habits of the passengers themselves, makes third class travelling
a trial for a passenger of cleanly ways. These unpleasant habits commonly include throwing of
rubbish on the floor of the compartment, smoking at all hours and in all places, betel and tobacco
chewing, converting of the whole carriage into a spittoon, shouting and yelling, and using foul
language, regardless of the convenience or comfort of fellow passengers. I have noticed little
difference between my experience of the third class travelling in 1902 and that of my unbroken
third class tours from 1915 to 1919.
I can think of only one remedy for this awful state of things that educated men should make a
point of travelling third class and reforming the habits of the people, as also of never letting the
railway authorities rest in peace, sending in complaints wherever necessary, never resorting to
bribes or any unlawful means for obtaining their own comforts, and never putting up with
infringements of rules on the part of anyone concerned. This, I am sure, would bring about
considerable improvement.
My serious illness in 1918-19 has unfortunately compelled me practically to give up third class
travelling, and it has been a matter of constant pain and shame to me, especially because the
disability came at a time when the agitation for the removal of the hardships of third class
passengers was making fair headway. The hardship of poor railway and steamship passengers,
accentuated by their bad habits, the undue facilities allowed by Government to foreign trade, and
such other things, make an important group of subjects, worthy to be taken up by one or two
enterprising and persevering workers who could devote their full time to it.
But I shall leave the third class passengers at that, and come to my experience in Benares. I
arrived there in the morning. I had decided to put up with a panda. 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, and that he should therefore keep this in mind while making
the preparations.
The panda readily assented. ‘Be the pilgrim rich or poor,’ said he, ‘the service is the same in
every case. But the amount of dakshina we receive depends upon the will and the ability of the
pilgrim.’ I did not find that the panda at all abridged the usual formalities in my case. The puja was
over at twelve o’clock, and I went to the Kashi Vishvanath temple for darshan. I was deeply
pained by what I saw there. When practising as a barrister in Bombay in 1891. I had occasion to
attend a lecture in ‘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 in-sufferable.
Where one expected an atmosphere of meditation and communion it was conspicuous by its
absence. One had to seek that atmosphere in oneself. I did observe devout sisters, who were
absorbed in meditation, entirely unconscious of the environment. But for this the authorities of the
temple could scarcely claim any credit. The authorities should be responsible for creating and
maintaining about the temple a pure sweet and serene atmosphere, physical as well as moral.
Instead of this I found a bazar where cunning shopkeepers were selling sweets and toys of the
latest fashion.
When I reached the temple. I was greeted at the entrance by a stinking mass of rotten flowers.
The floor was paved with fine marble, which was however broken by some devotee innocent of
aesthetic taste who had set it with rupees serving as an excellent receptacle for dirt.
I went near the Janana-vapi (well of knowledge). I searched here for God but failed to find Him. I
was not therefore in a particularly good mood. The surroundings of the Jnana-vapi too I found to
be dirty. I had no mind to give any dakshina. So I offered a pie. The panda in charge got angry
and threw away the pie. He swore at me and said, ‘This insult will take you straight to hell.’
This did not perturb me. ‘Maharaj,’ said I, ‘whatever fate has in store for me, it does not behove
one of your class to indulge in such language. You may take this pie if you like, or you will lose
that too.’
‘Go away,’ he replied, ‘I don’t care for your pie.’ And then followed a further volley of abuse.
I took up the pie and went my way, flattering myself that the Brahman had lost a pie and I had
saved one. But the Maharaj was hardly the man to let the pie go. He called me back and said, ‘All
right, leave the pie here, I would rather not be as you are. If I refuse your pie, it will be bad for
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,
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.
Chapter 75
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 days 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 straightaway with three briefs.
Two of them were appeals before the Judicial 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 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 the clients to stay? If they were poor, they had simply to trust themselves to
God’s mercy. A friend who also had cases before the court had wired that I should put in an application for the
camp to be moved to some other station because of the plague at Veraval. On my submitting the
application, the sahib asked me. ‘Are you afraid?’
I answered: It is not a question of my being afraid. I think I can shift for myself, but what about the
‘The plague has come to stay in India,’ replied the sahib. ‘Why dear 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 inconvenient for the vakils or the clients.’
The sahib of course had honestly done what he thought was the right thing. But how could the
man have an idea of the hardships of poor 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 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.
Chapter 76
Though I had hired chambers in the fort and a house in Girgaum, God would not let me settle
down. Scarcely had I moved into my new house when my second son Manilal, who had already
been through an acute attack of smallpox some years back, had a severe attack of typhoid,
combined with pneumonia and signs of delirium at night. The doctor was called in. He said medicine would have little effect, but eggs and chicken broth
might be given with profit.
Manilal was only ten years old. To consult his wishes was out of the question. Being his guardian
I had to decide. The doctor was a very good Parsi. I told him that we were all vegetarians and that
I could not possibly give either of the two things to my son. Would he therefore recommend
something else?
‘Your son’s life is in danger,’ said the good doctor. ‘We could give him milk diluted with water, but
that will not give him enough nourishment. As you know, I am called in by many Hindu families,
and they do not object to anything I prescribe. I think you will be well advised not to be so hard on
your son.’
‘What you say is quite right,’ said 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 means of keeping
ourselves alive. Even for itself we may not so 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 you.’
The good doctor appreciated my difficulty and agreed to my request. Though Manilal could not
have made his choice, I told him what had passed between the doctor and myself and asked him
his opinion.
‘Do try your hydropathic treatment,’ he said. ‘I will not have eggs or chicken broth.’
This made me glad, though I realized that, if I had given him either of these, he would have taken
I knew Kuhne’s treatment and had tried it too. I knew as well that fasting also could be tried with
profit. So I began to give Manilal hip baths according to Kuhne, never keeping him in the tub for
more than three minutes, and kept him on orange juice mixed with water for three days.
But the temperature persisted, going up to 104. At night he would be delirious. I began to get
anxious. What would people say of me? What would my elder brother think of me? Could we not
call in another doctor? Why not have an Ayurvedic physician? What right had the parents to inflict
their fads on their children?
I was haunted by thoughts like these. Then a contrary current would start. God would surely be
pleased to see that I was giving the same treatment to my son as I would give myself. I had faith
in hydropathy, and little faith in allopathy. The doctors could not guarantee recovery. At best they
could experiment. The tread of life was in the hands of God. Why not trust it to Him and in His
name go on with what I thought was the right treatment?
My mind was torn between these conflicting thoughts. It was night. I was in Manilal’s bed lying by
his side. I decided to give him a wet sheet pack. I got up, wetted a sheet, wrung the water out of it
and wrapped it about Manilal, keeping only his head out and then covered him with two blankets.
To the head I applied a wet towel. The whole body was burning like hot iron, and quite parched.
There was absolutely no perspiration. I was sorely tired. I left Manilal in the charge of his mother, and went out for a walk on Chaupati to
refresh myself. It was about ten o’clock. Very few pedestrians were out. Plunged in deep thought,
I scarcely looked at them, ‘My honour is in Thy keeping oh Lord, in this hour of trial,’ I repeated to
myself. #Ramanama# was on my lips. After a short time I returned, my heart beating within my
No sooner had I entered the room than Manilal said, ‘You have returned, Bapu?’
‘Yes, darling.’
‘Do please pull me out. I am burning.’
‘Are you perspiring, my boy?’
‘I am simply soaked. Do please take me out.’
I felt his forehead. It was covered with beads of perspiration. The temperature was going down. I
thanked God.
‘Manilal, your fever is sure to go now. A little more perspiration and then I will take you out.’
‘Pray, no. Do deliver me from this furnace. Wrap me some other time if you like.’
I just managed to keep him under the pack for a few minutes more by diverting him. The
perspiration streamed down his forehead. I undid the pack and dried his body. Father and son fell
asleep in the same bed.
And each slept like a log. Next morning Manilal had much less fever. He went on thus for forty
days on diluted milk and fruit juices. I had no fear now. It was an obstinate type of fever, but it had
been got under control.
Today Manilal is the healthiest of my boys. Who can say whether his recovery was due to God’s
grace, or to hydropathy, or to careful dietary and nursing? Let everyone decide according to his
own faith. For my part I was sure that God had saved my honour, and that belief remains
unaltered to this day.
Chapter 77
Manilal was restored to health, but I saw that the Girgaum house was not habitable. It was
damp and ill-lighted. So in consultation with Shri Revashankar Jagjivan I decided to hire some
well-ventilated bungalow in a 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
Maganlal Gandhi.
The Gandhis were and are a big family. I wanted to find out all those who wished to leave the
trodden path and venture abroad. My father used to accommodate a number of them in some
state service. I wanted them to be free from this spell. I neither could nor would secure other
service for them; I wanted them to be self-reliant.
But as my ideals advanced, I tried to persuade these youths also to conform their ideals to mine,
and I had the greatest success in guiding Maganlal Gandhi. But about this later.
The separation from wife and children, the breaking up of a settled establishment, and the going
from the certain to the uncertain- all this was for a moment painful, but I had inured myself to an
uncertain life. I think it is wrong to expect certainties in this world, where all else but God that is
Truth is an uncertainty. All that appears and happens about and around us is uncertain transient.
But there is a Supreme Being hidden therein as a Certainty, and one would be blessed if one
could catch a glimpse of that Certainty and hitch one’s waggon to it. The quest for that Truth is
the summum bonum of life. 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.
Chapter 78
Mr. Chamberlain had come to get a gift of 35 million pounds from South Africa, and to win the
hearts of Englishmen and Boers. So he gave a cold shoulder to the Indian deputation.
‘You know,’ he said ‘that the Imperial Government has little control over self-governing Colonies.
Your grievances seem to be genuine. I shall do what I can, if you wish to live in their midst.’
The reply cast a chill over the members of the deputation. I was also disappointed. It was an eyeopener for us all, and I saw that we should start with our work de novo. I explained the situation to
my colleagues.
As a matter of fact there was nothing wrong about Mr. Chamberlain’s reply. It was well that he did
not mince matters. He had brought home to us in a rather gentle way the rule of might being right
or the law of the sword.
But sword we had none. We scarcely had the nerve and the muscle even to receive sword-cuts.
Mr. Chamberlain had given only a short time to the sub-continent. If Shrinagar to Cape Comorin
is 1,900 miles, Durban to Capetown is not less than 1,100 miles, and Mr. Chamberlain had to
cover the long distance at hurricane speed.
From Natal he hastened to the Transvaal. I had to prepare the case for the Indians there as well
and submit it to him. But how was I get to Pretoria? Our people there were not in a position to
procure the necessary legal facilities for my getting to them in time. The War had reduced the
Transvaal to a howling wilderness. There were neither provisions nor clothing available. Empty or
closed shops were there, waiting to be replenished or opened, but that was a matter of time.
Even refugees could not be allowed to return until the shops were ready with provisions. Every
Transvaller had therefore to obtain a permit. The European had no difficulty in getting one, but the
Indian found it very hard.
During the War many officers and soldiers had come to South Africa from India and Ceylon, and it
was considered to be the duty of the British authorities to provide for such of them as decided to
settle there. They had in any event to appoint new officers, and these experienced men came in
quite handy. The quick ingenuity of some of them created a new department. It showed their
resourcefulness. There was a special department for the Negroes. Why then should there not be
one for the Asiatics? The argument seemed to be quite plausible. When I reached the Transvaal,
this new department had already been opened and was gradually spreading its tentacles. The
officers who issued permits to the returning refugees might issue them to all, but how could they
do so in respect of the Asiatics without the intervention of the new department? And if the permits
were to be issued on the recommendation of the new department, some of the responsibility and
burden of the permit officers could thus be lessened. This was how they had argued. The fact,
however, was that the new department wanted some apology for work, and the men wanted money. If there had been no work , the department would have been unnecessary and would
have been discontinued. So they found this work for themselves.
The Indians had to apply to this department. A reply would be vouchsafed many days after. And
as there were large numbers wishing to return to the Transvaal, there grew up an army of
intermediaries or touts, who with the officers, looted the poor Indians to the tune of thousands. I
was told that no permit could be had without influence, pounds in spite of the influence which one
might bring to bear. Thus seemed to be no way open to me. I went to my old friend, the Police
Superintendent of Durban, and said to him: ‘Please introduce me to the Permit Officer and help
me to obtain a permit. You know that I have been a resident of the Transvaal.’ He immediately
put on his hat, came out and secured me a permit. There was hardly an hour left before my train
was to start. I had kept my luggage ready. I thanked Superintendent Alexander and started for
I now had a fair idea of the difficulties ahead. On reaching Pretoria I drafted the memorial. In
Durban I do not recollect the Indians having been asked to submit in advance the names of their
representatives, but here there was the new department and it asked to do so. The Pretoria
Indians had already come to know that the officers wanted to exclude me.
But another chapter is necessary for this painful though amusing incident.
Chapter 79
The officers at the head of the new department were at a loss to know how I had entered the
Transvaal. They inquired of the Indians who used to go to them, but these could say nothing
definite. The officers only ventured a guess that I might have succeeded in entering without a
permit on the strength of my old connections. If that was the case, I was liable to be arrested!
It is a general practice, on the termination of a big war, to invest the Government of the day with
special powers. This was the case in South Africa. The Government had passed a Peace
Preservation Ordinance, which provided that anyone entering the Transvaal without a permit
should be liable to arrest and imprisonment. The question of arresting me under this provision
was mooted, but no one could summon up courage enough to ask me to produce my permit.
The officers had of course sent telegrams to Durban, and when they found that I had entered with
a permit, they were disappointed. But they were not the men to be defeated by such
disappointment. Though I had succeeded in entering the Transvaal, they could still successfully
prevent me from waiting on Mr. Chamberlain.
So the community was asked to submit the names of the representives who were to form the
Deputation. Colour prejudice was of course in evidence everywhere in South Africa, but I was not
prepared to find here the dirty and underhand dealing among officials that I was familiar with in
India. In South Africa the public departments were maintained for the good of the people and
were responsible to public opinion. Hence officials in charge had a certain courtesy of manner
and humility about them, and coloured people also got the benefit of it more or less. With the
coming of the officers from Asia, came also its autocracy, and the habits that the autocrats had imbibed there. In South Africa there was a kind of responsible government or democracy,
whereas the commodity imported from Asia was autocracy pure and simple; for the Asiatics had
no responsible government, there being a foreign power governing them. In South Africa the
Europeans were settled emigrants. They had become South African citizens and had control over
the departmental officers. But the autocrats from Asia now appeared on the scene, and the
Indians in consequence found themselves between the devil and the deep sea.
I had a fair taste of this autocracy. I was first summoned to see the chief of the department, an
officer from Ceylon. Lest I should appear to exaggerate when I say that I was ‘summoned’ to see
the chief, I shall make myself clear. No written order was sent to me. Indian leaders often had to
visit the Asiatic officers. Among these was the late Sheth Tyeb Haji Khanmahomed. The chief of
the office asked him who I was and why I had come there.
‘He is our adviser,’ said Tyeb Sheth, ‘and he has come here at our request.’
‘Then what are we here for? Have we not been appointed to protect you? What can Gandhi know
of the conditions here?’ asked the autocrat.
Tyeb Sheth answered the charge as best he could: ‘Of course you are there. But Gandhi is our
man. He knows our language and understands us. You are after all officials.’
The Sahib ordered Tyeb Sheth to fetch me before him. I went to the Sahib in company with Tyeb
Sheth and others. No seats were offered, we were all kept standing.
‘What brings you here?’ said the Sahib addressing me.
‘I have come here at the request of my fellow countrymen to help them with my advice,’ I replied.
‘But don’t you know that you have no right to come here? The permit you hold was given you by
mistake. You must go back. You shall not wait on Mr. Chamberlain. It is for the protection of the
Indians here that the Asiatic Department had been especially created. Well, you may go.’ With
this he bade me good-bye, giving me no opportunity for a reply.
But he detained my companions. He gave them a sound scolding and advised them to send me
They returned chagrined. We were now confronted with an unexpected situation.
Chapter 80
I smarted under the insult, but as I had pocketed many such in the past I had become inured to
them. I therefore decided to forget this latest one and take what course a dispassionate view of
the case might suggest. We had a letter from the Chief of the Asiatic Department to the effect that, as I had been found
necessary to omit my name from the deputation which was to wait on him.
The letter was more than my co-workers could bear. They proposed to drop the idea of the
deputation altogether. I pointed out to them the awkward situation of the community.
If you do not represent your case before Mr. Chamberlain,’ said I, ‘it will be presumed that you
have no case at all. After all, the representation has to be made in writing, and we have got it
ready. It does not matter in the least whether I read it or someone else reads it. Mr. Chamberlain
is not going to argue the matter with us. I am afraid we must swallow the insult.’
I had scarcely finished speaking when Tyeb Sheth cried out, ‘Does not an insult to you amount to
an insult to the community? How can we forget that you are our representative?’
‘Too true.’ said I. ‘But even the community will have to pocket insults like these. Have we any
‘Come what may, why should we swallow a fresh insult? Nothing worse can possibly happen to
us. Have we many rights to lose?’ asked Tyeb Sheth.
It was a spirited reply, but of what avail was it? I was fully conscious of the limitations of the
community. I pacified my friends and advised them to have, in my place, Mr. George Godfrey, an
Indian barrister.
So Mr. Godfrey led the deputation. Mr. Chamberlain referred in his reply to my exclusion. ‘Rather
than hear the same representative over and over again, is it not better to have someone new?’ he
said, and tried to heal the wound.
But all this, far from ending the matter, only added to the work of the community and also to mine.
We had to start afresh.
‘It is at your instance that the community helped in the war, and you see the result now,’ were the
words with which some people taunted me. But the taunt had no effect. ‘I do not regret my
advice,’ said I. ‘I maintain that we did well in taking part in the war. In doing so we simply did our
duty. We may not look forward to any reward for our labours, but it is my firm conviction that all
good action is bound to bear fruit in the end. Let us forget the past and think of the task before
us.’ With which the rest agreed.
I added: ‘To tell you the truth the work for which you had called me is practically finished. But I
believe I ought not to leave the Transvaal, so far as it is possible, even if you permit me to return
home. Instead of carrying on my work from Natal, as before, I must now do so from here. I must
no longer think of returning to India within a year, but must get enrolled in the Transvaal Supreme
Court. I have confidence enough to deal with this new department. If we do not do this, the
community will be hounded out of the country, besides being thoroughly robbed out of the
country, besides being thoroughly robbed. Every day it will have fresh insults heaped upon it. The
facts that Mr. Chamberlain refused to see me and that the official insulted me, are nothing before
the humiliation of the whole community. It will become impossible to put up with the veritable
dog’s life that we shall be expected to lead.’
So I set the ball rolling, discussed things with Indians in Pretoria and Johannesburg and ultimately
decided to set up office in Johannesburg. It was indeed doubtful whether I would be enrolled in the Transvaal Supreme Court. But the Law
Society did not oppose my application, and the Court allowed it. It was difficult for an Indian to
secure rooms for office in a suitable locality. But I had come in fairly close contact with Mr. Ritch,
who was then one of the merchants there. Through the good offices of a house agent known to
him, I succeeded in securing suitable rooms for my office in the legal quarters of the city, and I
started on my professional work.
Chapter 81
Before I narrate the struggle for the Indian settlers rights in the Transvaal and their dealing with
the Asiatic Department, I must turn to some other aspects of my life.
Up to now there had been in me a mixed desire. The spirit of self- sacrifice was tempered by the
desire to lay by something for the future.
About the time I took up chambers in Bombay, an American insurance agent had come there a
man with a pleasing countenance and a sweet tongue. As though we were old friends he
discussed my future welfare. ‘All men of your status in America have their lives insured. Should
you not also insure yourself against the future? Life is uncertain. We in America regard it as a
religious obligation to get insured. Can I not tempt you to take out a small policy?’
Up to this time I had given the cold shoulder to all the agents I had met in South Africa and India,
for I had though that life assurance implied fear and want of faith in God. But now I succumbed to
the temptation of the American agent. As he proceeded with his argument, I had before my
mind’s eye a picture of my wife and children. ‘Man, you have sold almost all the ornaments of
your wife,’ I said to myself. ‘If something were to happen to you, the burden of supporting her and
the children would fall on your poor brother, who has so nobly filled the place of father. How
would that become you?’ With these and similar arguments I persuaded myself to take out a
policy for Rs. 10,000.
But when my mode of life changed in South Africa, my outlook changed too. All the steps I took at
this time of trial were taken in the name of God and for His service. I did not know how long I
should have to stay in South Africa. I had a fear that I might never be able to get back to India: so
I decided to keep my wife and children with me and earn enough to support them. This plan made
me deplore the life policy and feel ashamed of having been caught in the net of the insurance
agent. If, I said to myself, my brother is really in the position of my father, surely he would not
consider it too much of a burden to support my widow, if it came to that, And what reason had I to
assume that death would claim me earlier than the others? After all the real protector was neither
I nor my brother, but the Almighty. In getting my life insured I had robbed my wife and children of
their self- reliance. Why should they not be expected to take care of themselves? What happened
to the families of the numberless poor in the world? Why should I not count myself as one of
A multitude of such thoughts passed though my mind, but I did not immediately act upon them. I
recollect having paid at least one insurance premium in South Africa. Outward circumstances too supported this train of thought. During my first sojourn in South Africa
it was Christian influence that had kept alive in me the religious sense. Now it was theosophical
influence that added strength to it. Mr. Ritch was a theosophist and put me in touch with the
society at Johannesburg. I never became a member, as I had my differences, but I came in close
contact with almost every theosophist. I had religious discussions with them every day. There
used to be readings from theosophical books and sometimes I had occasion to address their
meetings. The chief thing about theosophy is to cultivate and promote the idea of brotherhood.
We had considerable discussion over this, and I criticized the members where their conduct did
not appear to me to square with their ideal. The criticism was not without its whole some effect on
me. It led to introspection.
Chapter 82
When, in 1893, I came in close contact with Christian friends. I was a mere novice. They tried
hard to bring home to me, and make me accept, the message of Jesus, and I was a humble and
respectful listener with an open mind. At that time I naturally studied Hinduism to the best of my
ability and endeavoured to understand other religions.
In 1903 the position was somewhat changed. Theosophist friends certainly intended to draw me
into their society, but that was with a view to getting something from me as a Hindu. Theosophical
literature is replete with Hindu influence, and so these friends expected that I should be helpful to
them. I explained that my Samskrit study was not much to speak of, that I had not read the Hindu
scriptures in the original, and that even my acquaintance with the translations was of the slightest.
But being believers in #samskara# (tendencies caused by previous births) and #punarjanma#
(rebirth), they assumed that I should be able to render at least some help. And so I felt like a
Triton among the minnows. I started reading Swami Vivekananda’s #Rajayoga# with some of
these friends and M. N. Dvivedi’s #Rajayoga# with others. I had to read Patanjali’s #Yoga Sutras#
with one friend and the #Bhagavadgita# with quite a number. We formed a sort of Seekers’ Club
where we had regular readings. I already had faith in the Gita, which had a fascination for me.
Now I realized the necessity of diving deeper into it. I had one or two translations, by means of
which I tried to understand the original Samskrit. I decided also to get by heart one or two verses
every day. For this purpose I employed the time of my morning ablutions. The operation took me
thirty-five minutes, fifteen minutes for the tooth brush and twenty for the bath. The first I used to
do standing in western fashion. So on the wall opposite I struck slips of paper on which were
written the Gita verses and referred to them now and then to help my memory. This time was
found sufficient for memorising the daily portion and recalling the verses already learnt. I
remember having thus committed to memory thirteen chapters. But the memorising of the Gita
had to give way to other work and the creation and nurture of Satyagraha, which absorbed all my
thinking time, as the latter may be said to be doing even now.
What effect this reading of the Gita had on my friends only they can say, but to me the Gita
became an infallible guide of conduct. It became my dictionary of daily reference. Just as I turned
to the English dictionary for the meanings of English words that I did not understand, I turned to
this dictionary of conduct for a ready solution of all my troubles and trials. Words like
#aparigraha# (non- possession) and #samabhava# (equability) gripped me. How to cultivate and
preserve that equability was the question. How was one to treat alike insulting, insolent and
corrupt officials, co-workers of yesterday raising meaningless opposition, and men who had
always been good to one? How was one to divest oneself of all possessions? Was not the body
itself possession enough? Were not wife and children possessions? Was I to destroy all the
cupboards of books I had? Was I to give up all I had and follow Him? Straight came the answer: I could not follow Him unless I gave up all I had. My study of English law came to my help. Snell’s
discussion of the maxims of Equity came to my memory. I understood more clearly in the light of
the Gita teaching the implication of the word ‘trustee’. My regard for jurisprudence increased, I
discovered in it religion. I understood the Gita teaching of non-possession to mean that those who
desired salvation should act like the trustee who, though having control over great possessions,
regards not an iota of them as his own. It became clear to me as daylight that non-possession
and equability presupposed a change of heart, a change of attitude. I then wrote to
Revashankarbhai to allow the insurance policy to lapse and get whatever could be recovered, or
else to regard the premiums already paid as lost, for I had become convinced that God, who
created my wife and children as well as myself, would take care of them. To my brother, who had
been as father to me, I wrote explaining that I had given him all that I had saved up to that
moment, but that henceforth he should expect nothing from me, for future savings, if any, would
be utilized for the benefit of the community.
I could not easily make my brother understand this. In stern language he explained to me my duty
towards him. I should not, he said, aspire to be wiser than our father. I must support the family as
he did. I pointed out to him that I was doing exactly what our father had done. The meaning of
‘family’ had but to be slightly widened and the wisdom of my step would become clear.
My brother gave me up and practically stopped all communication. I was deeply distressed, but it
would have been a greater distress to give up what I considered to be my duty, and I preferred
the lesser. But that did not affect my devotion to him, which remained as pure and great as ever.
His great love for me was at the root of his misery. He did not so much want my money as that I
should be well- behaved towards the family. Near the end of his life, however, he appreciated my
view-point. When almost on his death-bed, he realized that my step had been right and wrote me
a most pathetic letter. He apologized to me, if indeed a father may apologize to his son. He
commended his sons to my care, to be brought up as I thought fit, and expressed his impatience
to meet me. He cabled that he would like to come to South Africa and I cabled in reply that he
could. But that was not to be. Nor could his desire as regards his sons be fulfilled. He died before
he could start for South Africa. His sons had been brought up in the old atmosphere and could
not change their course of life. I could not draw them to me. It was not their fault. ‘Who can say
thus far, no further, to the tide of his own nature?’ Who can erase the impressions with which he
is born? It is idle to expect one’s children and wards necessarily to follow the same course of
evolution as oneself.
This instance to some extent serves to show what a terrible responsibility it is to be a parent.
Chapter 83
As the ideals of sacrifice and simplicity were becoming more and more realized, consciousness
was becoming more and more quickened in my daily life, the passion for vegetarianism as a
mission went on increasing. I have known only one way of carrying on missionary work, #viz#., by
personal example and discussion with searchers for knowledge.
There was in Johannesburg a vegetarian restaurant conducted by a German who believed in
Kuhan’s hydropathic treatment. I visited the restaurant myself and helped it by taking English
friends there. But I saw that it could not last as it was always in financial difficulties. I assisted it as much as I thought it deserved, and spent some money on it, but it had ultimately to be closed
Most theosophists are vegetarians more or less, and an enterprising lady belonging to that
society now came upon the scene with a vegetarian restaurant on a grand scale. She was fond of
art, extravagant and ignorant of accounts. Her circle of friends was fairly large. She had started in
a small way, but later decided to extend the venture by taking large rooms, and asked me for
help. I knew nothing of her finances when she thus approached me, but I took it that her estimate
must be fairly accurate. And I was in a position to accommodate her. My clients used to keep
large sums as deposits with me. Having received the consent of one of these clients, I lent about
a thousand pounds from the amount to his credit. This client was most large-hearted and trusting.
He had originally come to South Africa as an indentured labourer. He said: ‘Give away the
money, if you like. I know nothing in these matters. I only know you.’ His name was Badri. He
afterwards took a prominent part in Satyagraha, and suffered imprisonment as well. So I
advanced the loan assuming that this consent was enough.
In two or three months’ time I came to know that the amount would not be recovered. I could ill
afford to sustain such a loss. There were many other purposes to which I could have applied this
amount. The loan was never repaid. But how could trusting Badri be allowed to suffer? He had
known me only. I made good the loss.
A client friend to whom I spoke about this transaction sweetly chid me for my folly.
‘Bhai,’ – I had fortunately not yet become ‘Mahatma’, nor even ‘Bapu’ (father) friends used to call
me by the loving name of ‘Bhai’ (brother)- said he, ‘this was not for you to do. We depend upon
you in so many things. You are not going to get back this amount. I know you will never allow
Badri to come to grief, for you will pay him out of your pocket, but if you go on helping your reform
schemes by operating on your clients’ money, the poor fellows will be ruined, and you will soon
become a beggar. But you are our trustee and must know that, if you become a beggar, all our
public work will come to a stop.’
The friend I am thankful to say, is still alive. I have not yet come across a purer man than he, in
South Africa or anywhere else. I have known him to apologize to people and to cleanse himself,
when, having happened to suspect them, he had found his suspicion to be unfounded.
I saw that he had rightly warned me. For though I made good Badri’s loss, I should not have been
able to meet any similar loss and should have been driven to incur debt- a thing I have never
done in my life and always abhorred. I realized that even a man’s reforming zeal ought not to
make him exceed his limits. I also saw that in thus lending trust-money I had disobeyed the
cardinal teaching of the Gita, #viz#, the duty of a man of equipoise to act without desire for the
fruit. The error became for me a beaconlight of warning.
The sacrifice offered on the altar of vegetarianism was neither intentional nor expected. It was a
virtue of necessity. Chapter 84
With the growing simplicity of my life, my dislike for medicines steadily increased. While
practising in Durban, I suffered for some time from debility and rheumatic inflammation. Dr. P. J.
Mehta, who had come to see me, gave me treatment, and I got well. After that, up to the time
when I returned to India, I do not remember having suffered from any ailment to speak of.
But I used to be troubled with constipation and frequent headaches, while at Johannesburg. I kept
myself fit with occasional laxatives and a well-regulated diet. But I could hardly call myself
healthy, and always wondered when I should get free from incubus of these laxative medicines.
About this time I read of the formation of a ‘No Breakfast Association’ in Manchester. The
argument of the promoters was that Englishmen ate too often and too much, that their doctors’
bills were heavy because they ate until midnight, and that they should at least give up breakfast, if
they wanted to improve this state of affairs. Though all these things could not be said of me, I felt
that the argument did partly apply in my case. I used to have three square meals daily in addition
to afternoon tea. I was never a spare eater and enjoyed as many delicacies as could be had with
a vegetarian and spiceless diet. I scarcely ever got up before six or seven. I therefore argued
that, if I also dropped the morning breakfast, I might become free from headaches. So I tried the
experiment. For a few days it was rather hard, but the headaches entirely disappeared. This led
me to conclude that I was eating more than I needed.
But the change was far from relieving me of constipation. I tried Kuhne’s hipbaths, which gave
some relief but did not completely cure me. In the meantime the German who had a vegetarian
restaurant, or some other friend, I forget who, placed in my hands Just’s Return of Nature. In this
book I read about earth treatment. The author also advocated fresh fruit and nuts as the natural
diet of man. I did not at once take to the exclusive fruit diet, but immediately began experiments in
earth treatment, and with wonderful results. The treatment consisted in applying to the abdomen
a bandage of clean earth moistened with cold water and spread like a poultice on fine linen. This I
applied at bed time, removing it during the night or in the morning, whenever, I happened to wake
up. It proved a radical cure. Since then I have tried the treatment on myself and my friends and
never had reason to regret it. In India I have not been able to try this treatment with equal
confidence. For one thing. I have never had time to settle down in one place to conduct the
experiments. But my faith in the earth and water treatment remains practically the same as
before. Even today I give myself the earth treatment to a certain extent and recommend it to my
co-workers, whenever occasion arises.
Though I have had two serious illnesses in my life, I believe that man has little need to drug
himself. 999 cases out of a thousand can be brought round by means of a well-regulated diet,
water and earth treatment and similar household remedies. He who runs to the doctor, vaidya or
hakim for every little aliment, and swallows all kinds of vegetable and mineral drugs, not only
curtails his life, but, by becoming the slave of his body instead of remaining its master, loses selfcontrol, and ceases to be a man.
Let no one discount these observations because they are being written in a sickbed. I know the
reasons for my illnesses. I am fully conscious that I alone am responsible for them, and it is
because of that consciousnes that I have not lost patience. In fact I have thanked God for them
as lessons and successfully resisted the temptation of taking numerous drugs. I know my
obstinacy often tries my doctors, but they kindly bear with me and do not give me up. However, I must not digress. Before proceeding further, I should give the reader a word of
warning. Those who purchase Just’s book on the strength of this chapter should not take
everything in it to be gospel truth. A writer almost always presents one aspect of a case, whereas
every case can be seen from no less than seven points of view, all of which are probably correct
by themselves, but not correct at the same time and in the same circumstances. And then many
books are written with a view to gaining customers and earning name and fame. Let those,
therefore, who read such books as these do so with discernment, and take experiments set forth,
or let them read the books with patience and digest them thoroughly before acting upon them.
Chapter 85
I am afraid I must continue the digression until the next chapter. Along with my experiments in
earth treatment, those in dietetics were also being carried on, and it may not be out of place here
to make a few observations as regards the latter, though I shall have occasion to refer to them
again later.
I may not, now or hereafter, enter into a detailed account of the experiments in dietetics, for I did
so in a series of Gujarati articles which appeared years ago in Indian Opinion, and which were
afterwards published in the form of a book popularly known in English as A Guide to Health.
Among my little books this has been the most widely read alike in the East and in the West, a
thing that I have not yet been able to understand. It was written for the benefit of the readers of
Indian Opinion. But I know that the booklet has profoundly influenced the lives of many, both in
the East and in the West, who have never seen Indian Opinion. For they have been
corresponding with me on the subject. It has therefore appeared necessary to say something
here about the booklet, for though I see no reason to alter the views set forth in it, yet I have
made certain radical changes in my actual practice, of which all readers of the book do not know,
and of which, I think, they should be informed.
The booklet was written, like all my other writings, with a spiritual end, which has always inspired
every one of my actions, and therefore it is a matter for deep distress to me that I am unable
today to practise some of the theories propounded in the book.
It is my firm conviction that man need take no milk at all, beyond the mother’s milk that he takes
as a baby. His diet should consist of nothing but sunbaked fruits and nuts. He can secure enough
nourishment both for the tissues and the nerves from fruits like grapes and nuts like almonds.
Restraint of the sexual and other passions becomes easy for a man who lives on such food. My
co-workers and I have seen by experience that there is much truth in the Indian proverb that as a
man eats, so shall he become. These views have been set out elaborately in the book.
But unfortunately in India I have found myself obliged to deny some of my theories in practice.
Whilst I was engaged on the recruiting campaign in Kheda, an error in diet laid me low, and I was
at death’s door. I tried in vain to rebuild a shattered constitution without milk. I sought the help of
the doctors, vaidyas and scientists whom I knew, to recommend a substitute for milk. Some
suggested mung water, some mowhra oil, some almond-milk. I wore out my body in
experimenting on these, but nothing could help me to leave the sickbed. The vaidyas read verses
to me from Charaka to show that religious scruples about diet have no place in therapeutics. So they could not be expected to help me to continue to live without milk. And how could those who
recommended beef-tea and brandy without hesitation help me to persevere with a milkless diet?
I might not take cow’s or buffalo’s milk, as I was bound by a vow. The vow of course meant the
giving up of all milks, but as I had mother cow’s and mother buffalo’s only in mind when I took the
vow, and as I wanted to live, I somehow beguiled myself into emphasizing the letter of the vow
and decided to take goat’s milk. I was fully conscious, when I started taking mother goat’s milk,
that the spirit of my vow was destroyed.
But the idea of leading a campaign against the Rowlatt Act had possessed me. And with it grew
the desire to live. Consequently one of the greatest experiments in my life came to a stop.
I know it is argued that the soul has nothing to do with what one eats or drinks, as the soul neither
eats nor drinks; that it is not what you put inside from without, but what you express outwardly
from within, that matters. There is no doubt some force in this. But rather than examine this
reasoning. I shall content myself with merely declaring my firm conviction that, for the seeker who
would live in fear of God and who would see Him face to face, restraint in diet both as to quantity
and quality is as essential as restraint in thought and speech.
In a matter, however, where my theory has failed me, I should not only give the information, but
issue a grave warning against adopting it. I would therefore urge those who, on the strength of
the theory propounded by me, may have given up milk, not to persist in the experiment, unless
they find it beneficial in every way, or unless they are advised by experienced physicians. Up to
now my experience here has shown me that for those with a weak digestion and for those who
are confined to bed there is no light and nourishing diet equal to that of milk.
I should be greatly obliged if anyone with experience in this line, who happens to read this
chapter, would tell me, if he has known from experience, and not from reading, of a vegetable
substitute for milk, which is equally nourishing and digestible.
Chapter 86
To turn now to the Asiatic Department.
Johannesburg was the stronghold of the Asiatic officers. I had been observing that, far from
protecting the Indians, Chinese and others, these officers were grinding them down. Every day I
had complaints like this: ‘The rightful ones are not admitted, whilst those who have no right are
smuggled in on payment of 100. If you will not remedy this state of things, who will?’ I shared the
feeling. If I did not succeed in stamping out this evil, I should be living in the Transvaal in vain.
So I began to collect evidence, and as soon as I had gathered a fair Amount, I approached the
Police Commissioner. He appeared to be a just man. Far from giving me the cold shoulder, he
listened to me patiently and asked me to show him all the evidence in my possession. He
examined the witnesses himself and was satisfied, but he knew as well as I that it was difficult in
South Africa to get a white jury to convict a white offender against coloured men. ‘But,’ said he, ‘let us try at any rate. It is not proper either, to let such criminals go scot-free for fear of the jury
acquitting them, I must get them arrested. I assure you I shall leave no stone unturned.’
I did not need the assurance. I suspected quite a number of officers, but as I had no
unchallengeable evidence against them all, warrants of arrest were issued against the two about
whose guilt I had not the slightest doubt.
My movements could never be kept secret. Many knew that I was going to the Police
Commissioner practically daily. The two officers against whom warrants had been issued had
spies more or less efficient. They used to patrol my office and report my movements to the
officers. I must admit, however, that these officers were so bad that they could not have had
many spies. Had the Indians and the Chinese not helped me, they would never have been
One of these absconded. The Police Commissioner obtained an extradition warrant against him
and got him arrested and brought to the Transvaal. They were tried, and although there was
strong evidence against them, and in spite of the fact that the jury had evidence of one of them
having absconded, both were declared to be not guilty and acquitted.
I was sorely disappointed. The Police Commissioner also was very sorry. I got disgusted with the
legal profession. The very intellect became an abomination to me inasmuch as it could be
prostituted for screening crime.
However, the guilt of both these officers was so patent that in spite of their acquittal the
Government could not harbour them. Both were cashiered, and the Asiatic department became
comparatively clean, and the Indian community was somewhat reassured.
The event enhanced my prestige and brought me more business. The bulk, though not all, of the
hundreds of pounds that the community was monthly squandering in peculation, was saved. All
could not be saved, for the dishonest still plied their trade. But it was now possible for the honest
man to preserve his honesty.
I must say that, though these officers were so bad, I had nothing against them personally. They
were aware of this themselves, and when in their straits they approached me, I helped them too.
They had a chance of getting employed by the Johannesburg Municipality in case I did not
oppose the proposal. A friend of theirs saw me in this connection and I agreed not to thwart them,
and they succeeded.
This attitude of mine put the officials with whom I came in contact perfectly at ease, and though I
had often to fight with their department and use strong language, they remained quite friendly
with me. I was not then quite conscious that such behaviour was part of my nature. I learnt later
that it was an essential part of Satyagraha, and an attribute of ahimsa.
Man and his deed are two distinct things. Whereas a good deed should call forth approbation and
a wicked deed disapprobation, the doer of the deed, whether good or wicked always deserves
respect or pity as the case may be. ‘Hate the sin and not the sinner’ is a precept which, though
easy enough to understand, is rarely practised, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in
the world.
This ahimsa is the basis of the search for truth. I am realizing every day that the search is vain
unless it is founded on ahimsa as the basis. It is quite proper to resist and attack a system, but to
resist and attack its author is tantamount to resisting and attacking oneself. For we are all tarred
with the same brush, and are children of one and the same Creator, and as such the divine powers within us are infinite. To slight a single human being is to slight those divine powers, and
thus to harm not only that being but with him the whole world.
Chapter 87
A variety of incidents in my life have conspired to bring me in close contact with people of
many creeds and many communities, and my experience with all of them warrants the statement
that I have known no distinction between relatives and strangers, countrymen and foreigners,
white and coloured, Hindus and Indians of other faiths, whether Musalmans, Parsis, Christians or
Jews. I may say that my heart has been incapable of making any such distinctions. I cannot claim
this as a special virtue, as it is in my very nature. rather than a result of any effort on my part,
whereas in the case of ahimsa (non- violence), brahmacharya (celibacy), aparigraha (nonpossession) and other cardinal virtues, I am fully conscious of a continuous striving for their
When I was practising in Durban, my office clerks often stayed with me, and there were among
them Hindus and Christians, or to describe them by their provinces, Gujaratis and Tamilians. I do
not recollect having ever regarded them as anything but my kith and kin. I treated them as
members of my family, and had unpleasantness with my wife if ever she stood in the way of my
treating them as such. One of the clerks was a Christian, born of Panchama parents.
The house was built after the Western model and the rooms rightly had no outlets for dirty water.
Each room had therefore chamber-pots. Rather than have these cleaned by a servant or a
sweeper, my wife or I attended to them. The clerks who made themselves completely at home
would naturally clean their own pots, but the Christian clerk was a newcomer, and it was our duty
to attend to his bedroom. My wife managed the pots of the others, but to clean those used by one
who had been a Panchama seemed to her to be the limit, and we fell out. She could not bear the
pots being cleaned by me, neither did she like doing it herself. Even today I can recall the picture
of her chiding me, her eyes red with anger, and pearl drops streaming down her cheeks, as she
descended the ladder, pot in hand. But I was a cruelly kind husband. I regarded myself as her
teacher, and so harassed her out of my blind love for her.
I was far from being satisfied by her merely carrying the pot. I would have her do it cheerfully. So I
said, raising my voice: ‘I will not stand this nonsense in my house.’
The words pierced her like an arrow.
She shouted back: ‘Keep your house to yourself and let me go.’ I forgot myself, and the spring of
compassion dried up in me. I caught her by the hand, dragged the helpless woman to the gate,
which was just opposite the ladder, and proceeded to open it with the intention of pushing her out.
The tears were running down her cheeks in torrents, and she cried: ‘Have you no sense of
shame? Must you so far forget yourself? Where am I to go? I have no parents or relatives here to
harbour me. Being your wife, you think I must put up with your cuffs and kicks? For Heaven’s
sake behave yourself, and shut the gate. Let us not be found making scenes like this!’ I put on a brave face, but was really ashamed and shut the gate. If my wife could not leave me,
neither could I leave her. We have had numerous bickerings, but the end has always been peace
between us. The wife, with her matchless powers of endurance, has always been the victor.
Today I am in a position to narrate the incident with some detachment, as it belongs to a period
out of which I have fortunately emerged. I am no longer a blind, infatuated husband, I am no more
my wife’s teacher. Kasturba can, if she will, be as unpleasant to me today, as I used to be to her
before. We are tried friends, the one no longer regarding the other as the object of just. She has
been a faithful nurse throughout my illnesses, serving without any thought of reward.
The incident in question occurred in 1898, when I had no conception of brahmacharya. It was a
time when I thought that the wife was the object of her husband’s lust, born to do her husband’s
behest, rather than a helpmate, a comrade and a partner in the husband’s joys and sorrows.
It was in the year 1900 that these ideas underwent a radical transformation, and in 1906 they took
concrete shape. But of this I propose to speak in its proper place. Suffice it to say that with the
gradual disappearance in me of the carnal appetite, my domestic life became and is becoming
more and more peaceful, sweet and happy.
Let no one conclude from this narrative of a sacred recollection that we are by any means an
ideal couple, or that there is a complete identity of ideals between us. Kasturba herself does not
perhaps know whether she has any ideals independently of me. It is likely that many of my doings
have not her approval even today. We never discuss them, I see no good in discussing them. For
she was educated neither by her parents nor by me at the time when I ought to have done it. But
she is blessed with one great quality to a very considerable degree, a quality which most Hindu
wives possess in some measure. And it is this; willingly or unwillingly, consciously or
unconsciously, she has considered herself blessed in following in my footsteps, and has never
stood in the way of my endeavour to lead a life of restraint. Though, therefore, there is a wide
difference between us intellectually, I have always had the feeling that ours is a life of
contentment, happiness and progress.
Chapter 88
This chapter has brought me to a stage where it becomes necessary for me to explain to the
reader how this story is written from week to week.
When I began writing it, I had no definite plan before me. I have no diary or documents on which
to base the story of my experiments. I write just as the Spirit moves me at the time of writing. I do
not claim to know definitely that all conscious thought and action on my part is directted by the
Spirit. But on an examination of the greatest steps that I have taken in my life, as also of those
that may be regarded as the least, I think it will not be improper to say that all of them were
directed by the Spirit.
I have not seen Him, neither have I known Him. I have made the world’s faith in God my own, and
as my faith is ineffaceable , I regard that faith as amounting to experience. However, as it may be
said that to describe faith as experience is to tamper with truth, it may perhaps be more correct to
say that I have no word for characterizing my belief in God. It is perhaps now somewhat easy to understand why I believe that I am writing story as the Spirit
prompts me. When I began the last chapter I gave it the heading I have given to this, but as I was
writing it, I realized that before I narrated my experiences with Europeans, I must write something
by way of a preface. This I did not and altered the heading.
Now again, as I start on this chapter, I find myself confronted with a fresh problem. What things to
mention and what to omit regarding the English friends of whom I am about to write is a serious
problem. If things that are relevant are omitted, truth will be dimmed. And it is difficult to decide
straightway what is relevant, when I am not even sure about the relevancy of writing this story.
I understand more clearly today what I read long ago about the inadequacy of all autobiography
as history. I know that I do not set down in this story all that I remember. Who can say how much
I must give and how much omit in the interests of truth? And what would be the value in a court of
law of the inadequate ex parte evidence being tendered by me of certain events in my life? If
some busybody were to cross-examine me on the chapters already written, he could probably
shed much more light on them, and if it were a hostile critic’s cross-examination, he might even
flatter himself for having shown up ‘the hollowness of many of my pretensions.’
I, therefore, wonder for a moment whether it might not be proper to stop writing these chapters.
But so long as there is no prohibition from the voice within, I must continue the writing. I must
follow the sage maxim that nothing once begun should be abandoned unless it is proved to be
morally wrong.
I am not writing the autobiography to please critics. Writing it is itself one of the experiments with
truth. One of its objects is certainly to provide some comfort and food for reflection for my co-
workers. Indeed I started writing it in compliance with their wishes. It might not have been written,
if Jeramdas and Swami Anand had not persisted in their suggestion. If, therefore, I am wrong in
writing the autobiography, they must share the blame.
But to take up the subject indicated in the heading. Just as I had Indians living with me as
members of my family, so had I English friends living with me in Durban. Not that all who lived
with me liked it. But I persisted in having them. Nor was I wise in every case. I had some bitter
experiences, but these included both Indians and Europeans. And I do not regret the
experiences. In spite of them, and in spite of the inconvenience and worry that I have often
caused to friends, I have not altered my conduct and friends have kindly borne with me.
Whenever my contacts with strangers have been painful to friends,I have not hesitated to blame
them. I hold that believers who have to see the same God in others that they see in themselves,
must be able to live amongst all with sufficient detachment. And the ability to live thus can be
cultivated, not by fighting shy of unsought opportunities for such contacts, but by hailing them in a
spirit of service and withal keeping oneself unaffected by them.
Though, therefore, my house was full when the Boer War broke out, I received two Englishmen
who had come from Johannesburg. Both were theosophists, one of them being Mr. Kitchin, of
whom we shall have occasion to know more later. These friends often cost my wife bitter tears.
Unfortunately she has had many such trials on my account. This was the first time that I had
English friends to live with me as intimately as members of my family. I had stayed in English
houses during my days in England, but there I conformed to their ways of living, and it was more
or less like living in a boarding house. Here it was quite the contrary. The English friends became
members of the family. They adopted the Indian style in many matters. Though the appointments
in the house were in the Western fashion, the internal life was mostly Indian. I do remember
having had some difficulty in keeping them as members of the family, but I can certainly say that
they had no difficulty in making themselves perfectly at home under my roof. In Johannesburg
these contacts developed further than in Durban. Chapter 89
In Johannesburg I had at one time as many as four Indian clerks, who were perhaps more like
my sons than clerks. But even these were not enough for my work. It was impossible to do
without typewriting, which, among us, if at all, only I knew. I taught it to two of the clerks, but they
never came up to the mark because of their poor English. And then one of these I wanted to train
as an accountant. I could not get out anyone from Natal, for nobody could enter the Transvaal
without a permit, and for my own personal convenience I was not prepared to ask a favour of the
Permit Officer.
I was at my wits’ end. Arrears were fast mounting up, so much so that it seemed impossible for
me, however much I might try, to cope with professional and public work. I was quite willing to
engage a European clerk, but I was not sure to get a white man or woman to serve a coloured
man like myself. However I decided to try. I approached a typewriter’s agent whom I knew, and
asked him to get me a stenographer. There were girls available, and he promised to try to secure
the services of one. He came across a Scotch girl called Miss Dick, who had just come fresh from
Scotland. She had no objection to earning an honest livelihood, wherever available, and she was
in need. So the agent sent her on to me. She immediately prepossessed me.
‘Don’t you mind serving under an Indian?’ I asked her.
‘Not at all,’ was her firm reply.
‘What salary do you expect?’
‘Would £ 17/10 be too much?’
‘Not too much if you will give me the work I want from you. When can you join?’
‘This moment if you wish.’
I was very pleased and straightaway started dictating letters to her.
Before very long she became more a daughter or a sister to me than a mere stenotypist. I had
scarcely any reason to find fault with her work. She was often entrusted with the management of
funds amounting to thousands of pounds, and she was in charge of account books. She won my
complete confidence, but what was perhaps more, she confided to me her innermost thoughts
and feelings. She sought my advice in the final choice of her husband, and I had the privilege to
give her away in marriage. As soon as Miss Dick became Mrs. Macdonald, she had to leave me,
but even after her marriage she did not fail to respond, whenever under pressure I made a call
upon her.
But a permanent stenotypist was now needed in her place, and I was fortunate in getting another
girl. She was Miss Schlesin, introduced to me by Mr. Kallenbach, whom the reader will know in
due course. She is at present a teacher in one of the High School in the Transvaal. She was
about seventeen when she came to me. Some of her idiosyncrasies were at times too much for
Mr. Kallenbach and me. She had come less to work as a stenotypist than to gain experience.
Colour prejudice was foreign to her temperament. She seemed to mind neither age nor
experience. She would not hesitate even to the point of insulting a man and telling him to his face what she thought of him. Her impetuosity often landed me in difficulties, but her open and
guileless temperament removed them as soon as they were created. I have often signed without
revision letters typed by her, as I considered her English to be better than mine, and had the
fullest confidence in her loyalty.
Her sacrifice was great. For a considerable period she did not draw more than £ 6, and refused
ever to receive more than £ 10 a month. When I urged her to take more, she would give me a
scolding and say, ‘I am not here to draw a salary you. I am here because I like to work with you
and I like your ideals.’
She had once an occasion to take £ 40 from me, but she insisted on having it as a loan, and
repaid the full amount last year. Her courage was equal to her sacrifice. She is one of the few
women I have been privileged to come across, with a character as clear as crystal and courage
that would shame a warrior. She is a grown up woman now. I do not know her mind quite as well
as when she was with me, but my contact with this young lady will ever be for me a sacred
recollection. I would therefore be false to truth if I kept back what I know about her.
She knew neither night nor day in toiling for the cause. She ventured out on errands in the
darknes of the night all by herself, and angrily scouted any suggestion of an escort. Thousands of
stalwart Indians looked up to her for guidance. When during the Satyagraha days almost every
one of the leaders was in jail, she led the movement single- handed. She had the management of
thousands, a tremendous amount of correspondence, and Indian Opinion in her hands, but she
never wearied.
I could go on without end writing thus about Miss Schlesin, but I shall conclude this chapter with
citing Gokhale’s estimate of her. Gokhale knew every one of my co-workers. He was pleased with
many of them, and would often give his opinion of them. He gave the first place to Miss Schlesin
amongst all the Indian and European co-workers. ‘I have rarely met with the sacrifice, the purity
and the fearlessness I have seen in Miss Schlesin,’ said he. ‘Amongst your co-workers, she takes
the first place in my estimation.’
Chapter 90
Before I proceed with the other intimate European contacts, I must note two or three items of
importance. One of the contacts, however, should be mentioned at once. The appointment of
Miss Dick was not enough for my purpose. I needed more assistance. I have in the earlier
chapters referred to Mr. Ritch. I knew him well. He was manager in a commercial firm. He
approved my suggestion of leaving the firm and getting articled under me, and he considerably
lightened my burden.
About this time Sjt. Madanjit approached me with a proposal to start Indian Opinion and sought
my advice. He had already been conducting a press, and I approved of his proposal. The journal
was launched in 1904, and Sjt. Mansukhlal Naazar became the first editor. But I had to bear the
brunt of the work, having for most of the time to be practically in charge of the journal. Not that
Sjt. Mansukhlal could not carry it on. He had been doing a fair amount of journalism whilst in
India, but he would never venture to write on intricate South African problems so long as I was
there. He had the greatest confidence in my discernment, and therefore threw on me the responsibility of attending to the editorial columns. The journal has been until this day a weekly, In
the beginning it used to be issued in Gujarati, Hindi, Tamil and English. I saw, however, that the
Tamil and Hindi sections were a make-believe. They did not serve the purpose for which they
were intended, so I discontinued them as I even felt that there would be a certain amount of
deception involved in their continuance.
I had no notion that I should have to invest any money in this journal, but I soon discovered that it
could not go on without my financial help. The Indians and the Europeans both knew that, though
I was not avowedly the editor of Indian Opinion, I was virtually responsible for its conduct. It would
not have mattered if the journal had never been started, but to stop it after it had once been
launched would have been both a loss and a disgrace. So I kept on pouring out my money, until
ultimately I was practically sinking all my savings in it. I remember a time when I had to remit £ 75
each month.
But after all these years I feel that the journal has served the community well. It was never
intended to be a commercial concern. So long as it was under my control, the changes in the
journal were indicative of changes in my life. Indian Opinion in those days, like Young India and
Navajivan today, was a mirror of part of my life. Week after week I poured out my soul in its
columns, and expounded the principles and practice of Satyagraha as I understood it. During ten
years, that is, until 1914, excepting the intervals of my enforced rest in prison, there was hardly
an issue of Indian Opinion without an article from me. I cannot recall a word in those articles set
down without thought or deliberation, or a word of conscious exaggeration, or anything merely to
please. Indeed the journal became for me a training in self-restraint, and for friends a medium
through which to keep in touch with my thoughts. The critic found very little to which he could
object. In fact the tone of Indian Opinion compelled the critic to put a curb on his own pen.
Satyagraha would probably have been impossible without Indian Opinion. The readers looked
forward to it for a trustworthy account of the Satyagraha campaign as also of the real condition of
Indians in South Africa. For me it became a means for the study of human nature in all its casts
and shades, as I always aimed at establishing an intimate and clean bond between the editor and
the readers. I was inundated with letters containing the outpourings of my correspondents’ hearts.
They were friendly, critical or bitter, according to the temper of the writer. It was a fine eduction for
me to study, digest and answer all this correspondence. It was as though the community thought
audibly through this correspondence with me. It made me throughly understand the responsibility
of a journalist, and the hold I secured in this way over the community made the furure campaign
workable, dignified and irresistible.
In the very first month of Indian Opinion, I realized that the sole aim of journalism should be
service. The newspaper press is a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water
submerges whole countrysides and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to
destroy. If the control is from without, it proves more poisonous than want of control. It can be
profitable only when exercised from within. If this line of reasoning is correct, how many of the
journals in the world would stand the test? But who would stop those that are useless? And who
should be the judge? The useful and the useless must, like good and evil generally, go on
together, and man must make his choice. Chapter 91
Some of the classes which render us the greatest social service, but which we Hindus have
chosen to regard as ‘untouchables,’ are relegated to remote quarters of a town or a village, called
in Gujarati dhedvado, and the name has acquired a bad odour. Even so in Christian Europe the
Jews were once ‘untouchables’ and the quarters that were assigned to them had the offensive
name of ‘ghettoes.’ In a similar way today we have become the untouchables of South Africa. It
remains to be seen how far the sacrifice of Andrews and the magic wand of Sastri succeed in
rehabilitating us.
The ancient Jews regarded themselves as the chosen people of God, to the exclusion of all
others, with the result that their descendants were visited with a strange and even unjust
retribution. Almost in a similar way the Hindus have considered themselves Aryas or civilized, and
a section of their own kith and kin as Anaryas or untouchables, with the result that a strange, if
unjust, nemesis is being visited not only upon the Hindus in South Africa, but the Musalmans and
Parsis as well, inasmuch as they belong to the same country and have the same colour as their
Hindu brethren.
The reader will have now realized to some extent the meaning of the word ‘locations’ with which I
have headed this chapter. In South Africa we have acquired the odious name of ‘coolies’. The
word ‘coolie’ in India means only a porter or hired workman, but in South Africa it has a
contemptuous connotation. It means what a pariah or an untouchable means to us, and the
quarters assigned to the ‘coolies’ are known as ‘coolie locations’. Johannesburg had one such
location, but unlike other places with locations where the Indians had tenancy rights, in the
Johannesburg location the Indians had acquired their plots on a lease of 99 years. People were
densely packed in the location, the area of which never increased with the increase in population.
Beyond arranging to clean the latrines in the location in a haphazard way, the Municipality did
nothing to provide any sanitary facilities, much less good roads or lights. It was hardly likely that it
would safeguard its sanitation, when it was indifferent to the welfare of the residents. These were
too ignorant of the rules of municipal sanitation and hygiene to do without the help or supervision
of the Municipality. If those who went there had all been Robinson Crusoes, theirs would have
been a different story. But we do not know of a single emigrant colony of Robinson Crusoes in the
world. Usually people migrate abroad in search of wealth and trade, but the bulk of the Indians
who went to South Africa were ignorant, pauper agriculturists, who needed all the care and
protection that could be given them. The traders and educated Indians who followed them were
very few.
The criminal negligence of the Municipality and the ignorance of the Indian settlers thus conspired
to render the location thoroughly insanitary. The Municipality, far from doing anything to improve
the condition of the location, used the insanitation, caused by their own neglect, as a pretext for
destroying the location, and for that purpose obtained from the local legislature authority to
dispossess the settlers. This was the condition of things when I settled in Johannesburg.
The settlers, having proprietory rights in their land, were naturally entitled to compensation. A
special tribunal was appointed to try the land acquisition cases. If the tenant was not prepared to
accept the offer of the Municipality, he had a right to appeal to the tribunal, and if the latter’s
award exceeded the Municipality’s offer, the Municipality had to bear the costs.
Most of the tenants engaged me as their legal adviser. I had no desire to make money out of
these cases, so I told the tenants that I should be satisfied with whatever costs the tribunal awarded, in case they won, and a fee of £ 10 on every lease, irrespective of the result of the
case. I also told them that I proposed to set apart half of the money paid by them for the building
of a hospital or similar institution for the poor. This naturally pleased them all.
Out of about 70 cases only was lost. So the fees amounted to a fairly big figure. But Indian
Opinion was there with its persistent claim and devoured, so far as I can recollect, a sum of £
1,600. I had worked hard for these cases. The clients always surrounded me. Most of them were
originally indentured labourers from Bihar and its neighbourhood and from South India. For the
redress of their peculiar grievances they had formed an association of their own, separate from
that of the free Indian merchants and traders. Some of them were open- hearted, liberal men and
had high character. Their leaders were Sjt. Jairamsing, the president, and Sjt. Badri, who was as
good as the president. Both of them are now no more. They were exceedingly helpful to me. Sjt.
Badri came in very close contact with me and took a prominent part in Satyagraha. Through
these and other friends I came in intimate contact with numerous Indian settlers from North and
South India. I became more their brother than a mere legal adviser, and shared in all their private
and public sorrows and hardships.
It may be of some interest to know how the Indians used to name me. Abdulla Sheth refused to
address me as Gandhi. None, fortunately, ever insulted me by calling or regarding me as ‘saheb’.
Abdulla Sheth hit upon a fine appellation-‘bhai’, i.e., brother. Others followed him and continued to
address me as ‘bhai’ until the moment I left when it was used by the ex-indentured Indians.
Chapter 92
The Indians were not removed from the location as soon as the Municipality secured its
ownership. It was necessary to find the residents suitable new quarters before dislodging them,
but as the Municipality could not easily do this, the Indians were suffered to stay in the same
‘dirty’ location, with this difference that their condition became worse than before. Having ceased
to be proprietors they became tenants of the Municipality, with the result that their surroundings
became more insanitary than ever. When they were proprietors, they had to maintain some sort
of cleanliness, if only for fear of the law. The Municipality had no such fear! The number of
tenants increased, and with them the squalor and the disorder.
While the Indians were fretting over this state of things, there was a sudden outbreak of the black
plague, also called the pneumonic plague, more terrible and fatal than the bubonic.
Fortunately it was not the location but one of the gold mines in the vicinity of Johannesburg that
was responsible for the outbreak. The workers in this mine were for the most part negroes, for
whose cleanliness their white employers were solely responsible. There were a few Indians also
working in connection with the mine, twenty-three of whom suddenly caught the infection, and
returned one evening to their quarters in the location with an acute attack of the plague. Sjt.
Madanjit, who was then canvassing subscribers for Indian Opinion and realizing subscriptions,
happened to be in the location at this moment. He was a remarkably fearless man. His heart wept
to see these victims of the scourage, and he sent a pencil-note to me to the following effect:
‘There has been a sudden outbreak of the black plague. You must come immediately and take
prompt measures, otherwise we must be prepared for dire consequences. Please come
immediately.’ Sjt. Madanjit bravely broke open the lock of a vacant house, and put all the patients there. I
cycled to the location, and wrote to the Town Clerk to inform him of the circumstances in which
we had taken possession of the house.
Dr. William Godfrey, who was practising in Johannesburg, ran to the rescue as soon as he got
the news, and became both nurse and doctor to the patients. But twenty-three patients were
more than three of us could cope with.
It is my faith, based on experience, that if one’s heart is pure, calamity brings in its train men and
measures to fight it. I had at that time four Indians in my office Sjts. Kalyandas, Maneklal,
Gunvantrai Desai and another whose name I cannot recollect. Kalyandas had been entrusted to
me by his father. In South Africa I have rarely come across anyone more obliging and willing to
render implicit obedience than Kalyandas. Fortunately he was unmarried then, and I did not
hesitate to impose on him duties involving risks, however great Maneklal I had secured in
Johannesburg. He too, so far as I can remember, was unmarried. So I decided to sacrifice all four
– call them clerks, co-workers or sons. There was no need at all to consult Kalyandas. The others
expressed their readiness as soon as they were asked. ‘Where you are, we will also be’, was their
short and sweet reply.
Mr. Ritch had a large family. He was ready to take the plunge, but I prevented him. I had not the
heart to expose him to the risk. So he attended to the work outside the danger zone.
It was a terrible night – that night of vigil and nursing. I had nursed a number of patients before,
but never any attacked by the black plague. Dr. Godfrey’s pluck proved infectious. There was not
much nursing required. To give them their doses of medicine, to attend to their wants, to keep
them and their beds clean and tidy, and to cheer them up was all that we had to do.
The indefatigable zeal and fearlessness with which the youths worked rejoiced me beyond
measure. One could understand the bravery of Dr. Godfrey and of an experienced man like Sjt.
Madanjit. But the spirit of these callow youths!
So far as I can recollect, we pulled all the patients through that night.
But the whole incident, apart from its pathos, is of such absorbing interest and, for me, of such
religious value, that I must devote to it at least two more chapters.
Chapter 93
The Town Clerk expressed his gratitude to me for having taken charge of the vacant house and
the patients. He frankly confessed that the Town Council had no immediate means to cope with
such an emergency, but promised that they would render all the help in their power. Once
awakened to a sense of their duty, the Municipality made no delay in taking prompt measures.
The next day they placed a vacant godown at my disposal, and suggested that the patients be
removed there, but the Municipality did not undertake to clean the premises. The building was
unkempt and unclean. We cleaned it up ourselves, raised a few beds and other necessaries
through the offices of charitable Indians, and improvised a temporary hospital. The Municipality lent the services of a nurse, who came with brandy and other hospital equipment. Dr. Godfrey still
remained in charge.
The nurse was a kindly lady and would fain have attended to the patients, but we rarely allowed
her to touch them, lest she should catch the contagion.
We had instructions to give the patients frequent doses of brandy. The nurse even asked us to
take it for precaution, just as she was doing herself. But none of us would touch it. I had no faith
in its beneficial effect even for the patients. With the permission of Dr. Godfrey, I put three
patients, who were prepared to do without brandy, under the earth treatment, applying wet earth
bandages to their heads and chests. Two of these were saved. The other twenty died in the
Meanwhile the Municipality was busy taking other measures. There was a lazaretto for
contagious diseases about seven miles from Johannesburg. The two surviving patients were
removed to tents near the lazaretto, and arrangements were made for sending any fresh cases
there. We were thus relieved of our work.
In the course of a few days we learnt that the good nurse had an attack and immediately
succumbed. It is impossible to say how the two patients were saved and how we remained
immune, but the experience enhanced my faith in earth treatment, as also my scepticism of the
efficacy of brandy, even as a medicine. I know that neither this faith nor this scepticism is based
upon any solid grounds, but I still retain the impression which I then received, and have therefore
thought it necessary to mention it here.
On the outbreak of the plague, I had addressed a strong letter to the press, holding the
Municipality guilty of negligence after the location came into its possession and responsible for
the outbreak of the plague itself. This letter secured me Mr. Henry Polak, and was partly
responsible for the friendship of the late Rev. Joseph Doke.
I have said in an earlier chapter that I used to have my meals at a vegetarian restaurant. Here I
met Mr. Albert West. We used to meet in this restaurant every evening and go out walking after
dinner. Mr. West was a partner in a small printing concern. He read my letter in the press about
the outbreak of the plague and, not finding me in the restaurant, felt uneasy.
My co-workers and I had reduced our diet since the outbreak, as I had long made it a rule to go
on a light diet during epidemics. In these days I had therefore given up my evening dinner. Lunch
also I would finish before the other guests arrived. I knew the proprietor of the restaurant very
well, and I had informed him that, as I was engaged in nursing the plague patients, I wanted to
avoid the contact of friends as much as possible.
Not finding me in the restaurant for a day or two, Mr. West knocked at my door early one morning
just as I was getting ready to go out for a walk. As I opened the door Mr. West said: ‘I did not find
you in the restaurant and was really afraid lest something should have happened to you. So I
decided to come and see you in the morning in order to make sure of finding you at home. Well,
here I am at your disposal. I am ready to help in nursing the patients. You know that I have no
one depending on me.’
I expressed my gratitude, and without taking even a second to think, replied: ‘I will not have you
as a nurse. If there are no more cases, we shall be free in a day or two. There is one thing
‘Yes, what is it?’ ‘Could you take charge of the Indian Opinion press at Durban? Mr. Madanjit is likely to be
engaged here, and someone is needed at Durban. If you could go, I should feel quite relieved on
that score.’
‘You know that I have a press. Most probably I shall be able to go, but may I give my final reply in
the evening? We shall talk it over during our evening walk.
I was delighted. We had the talk. He agreed to go. Salary was no consideration to him, as money
was not his motive, But a salary £10 per month and a part of the profits, if any, was fixed up. The
very next day Mr. West left for Durban by the evening mail, entrusting me with the recovery of his
dues. From that day until the time I left the shores of South Africa, he remained a partner of my
joys and sorrows.
Mr. West belonged to a peasant family in Louth (Lincolnshire). He had an ordinary school
education, but had learnt a good deal in the school of experience and by dint of self-help. I have
always known him to be a pure, sober, god-fearing, humane Englishman.
We shall know more of him and his family in the chapters to follow.
Chapter 94
Though my co-workers and I were relieved of the charge of the patients, there remained many
things arising out of the black plague still to be dealt with.
I have referred to the negligence of the Municipality regarding the location. But it was wide awake
so far as the health of its white citizens was concerned. It had spent large amounts for the
preservation of their health and now it poured forth money like water in order to stamp out the
plague. In spite of the many sins of omission and commission against the Indians that I had laid
at the door of the Municipality, I could not help commending its solicitude for the white citizens,
and I rendered it as much help as I could in its laudable efforts. I have an impression that, if I had
withheld my co-operation, the task would have been more difficult for the Municipality, and that it
would not have hesitated to use armed force and do its worst.
But all that was averted. The Municipal authorities were pleased at the Indians’ behaviour, and
much of the future work regarding plague measures was simplified. I used all the influence I could
command with the Indians to make them submit to the requirements of the Municipality. It was far
from easy for the Indians to go all that length, but I do not remember anyone having resisted my
The location was put under a strong guard, passage in and out being made impossible without
permission. My co-workers and I had free permits of entry and exit. The decision was to make the
whole location population vacate, and live under canvas for three weeks in an open plain about
thirteen miles from Johannesburg, and then to set fire to the location. To settle down under
canvas with provisions and other necessaries was bound to take some time, and a guard became
necessary during the interval. The people were in a terrible fright, but my constant presence was a consolation to them. Many of
the poor people used to hoard their scanty savings underground. This had to be unearthed. They
had no bank, they knew none. I became their banker. Streams of money poured into my office. I
could not possibly charge any fees for my labours in such a crisis. I coped with the work
somehow. I knew my bank manager very well. I told him that I should have to deposit these
moneys with him. The banks were by no means anxious to accept large amounts of copper and
silver. There was also the fear of bank clerks refusing to touch money coming from a plagueaffected area. But the manager accommodated me in every way. It was decided to disinfect all
the money before sending it to the bank. So far as I can remember, nearly sixty thousand pounds
were thus deposited. I advised such of the people as had enough money to place it as fixed
deposit, and they accepted the advice. The result was some of them became accustomed to
invest their money in banks.
The location residents were removed by special train to Klipspruit Farm near Johannesburg,
where they were supplied with provisions by the Municipality at public expense. This city under
canvas looked like a military camp. The people who were unaccustomed to this camp life were
distressed and astonished over the arrangements; but they did not have to put up with any
particular inconvenience. I used to cycle out to them daily. Within twenty-four hours of their stay
they forgot all their misery and began to live merrily. Whenever I went there I found them enjoying
themselves with song and mirth. Three weeks’ stay in the open air evidently improved their
So far as I recollect, the location was put to the flames on the very next day after its evacuation.
The Municipality showed not the slightest inclination to save anything from the conflagration.
About this very time, and for the same reason, the Municipality burnt down all its timber in the
market, and sustained a loss of some ten thousand pounds. The reason for this drastic step was
the discovery of some dead rats in the market.
The Municipality had to incur heavy expenditure, but it successfully arrested the further progress
of the plague, and the city once more breathed freely.
Chapter 95
The black plague enhanced my influence with the poor Indians, and increased my business and
my responsibility. Some of the new contacts with Europeans became so close that they added
considerably to my moral obligations.
I made the acquaintance of Mr.Polak in the vegetarian resturant, just as I had made that of
Mr.West. One evening a young man dining at a table a little way off sent me his card expressing
a desire to see me. i invited him to come to my table, which he did.
‘I am sub-editor of the The Critic,’ he said ‘When I read your letter to the press about the plague. I
felt a strong desire to see you. I am glad to have this opportunity.’
Mr. Polak’s candour drew me to him. The same evening we got to know each other. We seemed
to hold closely similar views on the essential things of life. He liked simple life. He had a wonderful faculty of translating into practice anything that appealed to his intellect. Some of the
changes that he had made in his life were as prompt as they were radical.
Indian Opinion was getting more and more expensive every day. The very first report from Mr.
West was alarming. He wrote: ‘I do not expect the concern to yield the profit that you had thought
probable. I am afraid there may be even a loss. The books are not in order. There are heavy
arrears to be recovered, but one cannot make head or tail of them. Considerable overhauling will
have to be done. But all this need not alarm you. I shall try to put things right as best I can. I
remain on, whether there is profit or not.’
Mr. West might have left when he discovered that there was no profit, and I could not have
blamed him. In fact, he had a right to arraign me for having described the concern as profitable
without proper proof. But he never so much as uttered one word of complaint. I have, however,
an impression that this discovery led Mr. West to regard me as credulous. I had simply accepted
Sjt. Madanjit’s estimate without caring to examine it, and told Mr. West to expect a profit.
I now realize that a public worker should not make statements of which he has not made sure.
Above all, a votary of truth must exercise the greatest caution. To allow a man to believe a thing
which one has fully verified is to compromise truth. I am pained to have to confess that, in spite of
this knowledge, I have not quite conquered my credulous habit, for which my ambition to do more
work than I can manage is responsible. This ambition has often been a source of worry more to
my co-workers than to myself.
On receipt of Mr. West’s letter I left for Natal. I had taken Mr. Polak into my fullest confidence. He
came to see me off at the Station, and left with me a book to read during the journey, which he
said I was sure to like. It was Ruskin’s Unto This Last.
The book was impossible to lay aside, once I had begun it. It gripped me. Johannesburg to
Durban was a twenty-four hours’ journey. The train reached there in the evening. I could not get
any sleep that night. I determined to change my life in accordance with the ideals of the book.
This was the first book of Ruskin I had ever read. During the days of my education I had read
practically nothing outside text-books, and after I launched into active life I had very little time for
reading. I cannot therefore claim much book knowledge. However, I believe I have not lost much
because of this enforced restraint. On the contrary, the limited reading may be said to have
enabled me thoroughly to digest what I did read. Of these books, the one that brought about an
instantaneous and practical transformation in my life was Unto This Last. I translated it later into
Gujarati, entitling it Sarvodaya (the welfare of all).
I believe that I discovered some of my deepest convictions reflected in this great book of Ruskin,
and that is why it so captured me and made me transform my life. A poet is one who can call forth
the good latent in the human breast. Poets do not influence all alike, for everyone is not evolved
in a equal measure.
The teaching of Unto This Last I understood to be:
1. That the good of the individual is contained in the good of all.
2. That a lawyer’s work has the same value as the barber’s inasmuch as all have the same right
of earning their livehood from their work.
3. That a life of labour, i.e., the life of the tiller of the soil and the handicraftsman is the life worth
living. The first of these I knew. The second I had dimly realized. The third had never occured to me.
Unto This Last made it as clear as daylight for me that the second and the third were contained in
the first. I arose with the dawn, ready to reduce these principles to practice.
Chapter 96
I talked over the whole thing with Mr. West, described to him the effect Unto This Last had
produced on my mind, and proposed that Indian Opinion should be removed to a farm, on which
everyone should labour, drawing the same living wage, and attending to the press work in spare
time. Mr. West approved of the proposal, and £3 was laid down as the monthly allowance per
head, irrespective of colour or nationality.
But it was a question whether all the ten or more workers in the press would agree to go and
settle on an out-of-the-way farm, and be satisfied with bare maintenance. We therefore proposed
that those who could not fit in with the scheme should continue to draw their salaries and
gradually try to reach the ideal of becoming members of the settlement.
I talked to the workers in the terms of this proposal. It did not appeal to Sjt. Madanjit, who
considered my proposal to be foolish and held that it would ruin a venture on which he had staked
his all; that the workers would bolt, Indian Opinion would come to a stop, and the press would
have to be closed down.
Among the men working in the press was Chhaganlal Gandhi, one of my cousins. I had put the
proposal to him at the same time as to West. He had a wife and children, but he had from
childhood chosen to be trained and to work under me. He had full faith in me. So without any
argument he agreed to the scheme and has been with me ever since. The machinist
Govindaswami also fell in with the proposal. The rest did not join the scheme, but agreed to go
wherever I removed the press.
I do not think I took more than two days to fix up these matters with the men. Thereafter I at once
advertised for a piece of land situated near a railway station in the vicinity of Durban. An offer
came in respect of Phoenix. Mr. West and I went to inspect the estate. Within a week we
purchased twenty acres of land. It had a nice little spring and a few orange and mango trees.
Adjoining it was a piece of 80 acres which had many more fruit trees and a dilapidated cottage.
We purchased this too, the total cost being a thousand pounds.
The late Mr. Rustomji always supported me in such enterprises. He liked the project. He placed at
my disposal second-hand corrugated iron sheets of a big godown and other building material,
with which we started work. Some Indian carpenters and masons, who had worked with me in the
Boer War, helped me in erecting a shed for the press. This structure, which was 75 feet long and
50 feet broad, was ready in less than a month. Mr. West and others, at great personal risk, stayed
with the carpenters and masons. The place, uninhabited and thickly overgrown with grass, was
infested with snakes and obviously dangerous to live in. At first all lived under canvas. We carted
most of our things to Phoenix in about a week. It was fourteen miles from Durban, and two and a
half miles from Phoenix station. Only one issue of Indian Opinion had to be printed outside, in the Mercury press.
I now endeavoured to draw to Phoenix those relations and friends who had come with me from
India to try their fortune, and who were engaged in business of various kinds. They had come in
search of wealth, and it was therefore difficult to persuade them; but some agreed. Of these I can
single out here only Manganlal Gandhi’s name. The others went back to business. Manganlal
Gandhi left his business for good to cast in his lot with me, and by ability, sacrifice and devotion
stands foremost among my original co-workers in my ethical experiments. As a self-taught
handicraftsman his place among them is unique.
Thus the Phoenix Settlement was started in 1904, and there in spite of numerous odds Indian
Opinion continues to be published.
But the initial difficulties, the changes made, the hopes and the disappointments demand a
separate chapter.
Chapter 97
It was no easy thing to issue the first number of Indian Opinion from Phoenix. Had I not taken
two precautions, the first issue would have had to be dropped or delayed. The idea of having an
engine to work the press had not appealed to me. I had thought that hand-power would be more
in keeping with an atmosphere where agricultural work was also to be done by hand. But as the
idea had not appeared feasible, we had installed an oil-engine. I had, however, suggested to
West to have something handy to fall back upon in case the engine failed. He had therefore
arranged a wheel which could be worked by hand. The size of the paper, that of a daily, was
considered reduced to foolscap size, so that, in case of emergency, copies might be struck off
with the help of a treadle.
In the initial stages, we all had to keep late hours before the day of publication. Everyone, young
and old, had to help in folding the sheets. We usually finished our work between ten o’clock and
midnight. But the first night was unforgettable. We had got out an engineer from Durban to put up
the engine and set it going. He and West tried their hardest, but in vain. Everyone was anxious.
West, in despair, at last came to me, with tears in his eyes, and said, ‘The engine will not work, I
am afraid we cannot issue the paper in time.’
‘If that is the case, we cannot help it. No use shedding tears. Let us do whatever else is humanly
possible. What about the handwheel?’ I said, comforting him.
‘Where have we the men to work?’ he replied. ‘We are not enough to cope with the job. It requires
relays of four men each, and our own men are all tired.’
Building work had not yet been finished so the carpenters were still with us. They were sleeping
on the press floor. I said pointed to them, ‘But can’t we make use of these carpenters? And we
may have a whole night of work. I think this device is still open to us.’
‘I dare not wake up the carpenters. And our men are really too tired,’ said West. ‘Well, that’s for me to negotiate,’ said I.
‘Then it is possible that we may get through the work,’ West replied.
I woke up the carpenters and requested their co-operation. They needed no pressure. They said,
‘If we cannot be called upon in an emergency, what use are we? You rest yourselves and we will
work the wheel. For us it is easy work.’ Our own men were of course ready.
West was greatly delighted and started singing a hymn as we set to work. I partnered the
carpenters, all the rest joined turn by turn, and thus we went on until 7 a.m. There was still a good
deal to do. I therefore suggested to West that the engineer might now be asked to get up and try
again to start the engine, so that if we succeeded we might finish in time.
West woke him up, and he immediately went into the engine room. And lo and behold! the engine
worked almost as soon as he touched it. The whole press rang with peals of joy. ‘How can this
be? How is it that all our labours last night were of no avail, and this morning it has been set
going as though there were nothing wrong with it?’ I enquired.
‘It is difficult to say,’ said West or the engineer, I forget which. ‘Machines also sometimes seem to
behave as though they required rest like us.’
For me the failure of the engine had come as a test for us all, and its working in the nick of time
as the fruit of our honest and earnest labours.
The copies were despatched in time, and everyone was happy.
This initial insistence ensured the regularity of the paper, and created an atmosphere of selfreliance in Phoenix. There came a time we deliberately gave up the use of the engine and worked
with hand-power only. Those were, to my mind, the days of the highest moral uplift for Phoenix.
Chapter 98
It has always been my regret that, although I started the Settlement at Phoenix, I could stay
there only for brief periods. My original idea had been gradually to retire from practice, go and live
at the Settlement, earn my livelihood by manual work there, and find the joy of service in the
fulfilment of Phoenix. But it was not to be. I have found by experience that man makes his plans
to be often upset by God, but, at the same time where the ultimate goal is the search of truth, no
matter how a man’s plans are frustrated, the issue is never injurious and often better than
anticipated. The unexpected turn that Phoenix took and the unexpected happenings were
certainly not injurious, though it is difficult to say that they were better than our original
In order to enable every one of us to make a living by manual labour, we parcelled out the land
round the press in pieces of three acres each. One of these fell to my lot. On all these plots we,
much against our wish, built houses with corrugated iron. Our desire had been to have mud huts
thatched with straw or small brick houses such as would become ordinary peasants, but it could not be. They would have been more expensive and would have meant more time, and everyone
was eager to settle down as soon as possible.
The editor was still Mansukhlal Naazar. He had not accepted the new scheme and was directing
the paper from Durban where there was a branch office for #Indian Opinion# though we had paid
compositors, the idea was for every members of the Settlement to learn type-setting, the easiest,
if the most tedious, of the processes in a printing press. Those, therefore, who did not already
know the work learnt it. I remained a dunce to the last. Maganlal Gandhi surpassed us all.
Though he had never before worked in a press, he became an expert compositor and not only
achieved great speed but, to my agreeable surprise, quickly mastered all the other branches of
press work. I have always thought that he was not conscious of his own capacity.
We had hardly settled down, the buildings were hardly ready, when I had to leave the newly
constructed nest and go to Johannesburg. I was not in a position to allow the work there to
remain without attention for any length of time.
On return to Johannesburg, I informed Polak of the important changes I had made. His joy knew
no bounds when he learnt that the loan of his book had been so fruitful. ‘Is it not possible,’ he
asked, ‘for me to take part in the new venture?’ .’Certainly,’ said I. ‘You may if you like join the
Settlement.’ ‘I am quite ready,’ he replied, ‘If you will admit me.’
His determination captured me. He gave a month’s notice to his chief to be relieved from #The
Critic#, and reached Phoenix in due course. By his sociability he won the hearts of all and soon
became a member of the family. Simplicity was so much a part of his nature that, far from feeling
the life at Phoenix in any way strange or hard, he took to it like a duck takes to water. But I could
not keep him there long. Mr. Ritch had decided to finish his legal studies in England, and it was
impossible for me to bear the burden of the office single-handed, so I suggested to Polak that he
should join the office and qualify as an attorney. I had thought that ultimately both of us would
retire and settle at Phoenix, but that never came to pass. Polak’s was such a trustful nature that,
when he reposed his confidence in a friend, he would try to agree with him instead of arguing with
him. He wrote to me from Phoenix that though he loved the life there, was perfectly happy,and
had hopes of developing the Settlement, still he was ready to leave and join the office to qualify
as an attorney, if I thought that thereby we should more quickly realize our ideals. I heartily
welcomed the letter. Polak left Phoenix, came to Johannesburg and signed his articles with me.
About the same time a Scotch theosophist, whom I had been coaching for a local legal
examination, also joined as an articled clerk, on my inviting him to follow Polak’s example. His
name was Mr. MacIntyre.
Thus, with the laudable object of quickly realizing the ideals at Phoenix, I seemed to be going
deeper and deeper into a contrary current, and had God not willed otherwise, I should have found
myself entrapped in this net spread in the name of simple life.
It will be after a few more chapters that I shall describe how I and my ideals were saved in a way
no one had imagined or expected. Chapter 99
I had now given up all hope of returning to India in the near future. I had promised my wife that I
would return home within a year. The year was gone without any prospect of my return, so I
decided to send for her and the children.
On the boat bringing them to South Africa, Ramdas, my third son, broke his arm while playing
with the ship’s captain. The captain looked after him well and had him attended to by the ship’s
dector. Ramdas landed with his hand in a sling. The doctor had advised that, as soon as we
reached home, the wound should be dressed by a qualified doctor. But this was the time when I
was full of faith in my experiments in earth treatment. I had even succeeded in persuading some
of my clients who had faith in my quackery to try the earth and water treatment.
What then was I to do for Ramdas? He was just eight years old. I asked him if he would mind my
dressing his wound. With a smile he said he did not mind at all. It was not possible for him at that
age to decide what was the best thing for him, but he knew very well the distinction between
quackery and proper medical treatment. And he knew my habit of home treatment and had faith
enough to trust himself to me. In fear and trembling I undid the bandage, washed the wound,
applied a clean earth poultice and tied the arm up again. This sort of dressing went on daily for
about a month until the wound was completely healed. There was no hitch, and the wound took
no more time to heal than the ship’s doctor had said it would under the usual treatment.
This and other experiments enhanced my faith in such household remedies, and I now proceeded
with them with more self-confidence. I widened the sphere of their application, trying the earth
and water and fasting treatment in cases of wounds, fevers, dyspepsia, jaundice and other
complaints, with success on most occasions. But nowadays I have not the confidence I had in
South Africa and experience has even shown that these experiments involve obvious risks.
The reference here, therefore, to these experiments is not meant to demonstrate their success. I
cannot claim complete success for any experiment. Even medical men can make no such claim
for their experiments. My object is only to show that he who would go in for novel experiments
must begin with himself. That leads to a quicker discovery of truth, and God always protects the
honest experimenter.
The risks involved in experiments in cultivating intimate contacts with Europeans were as grave
as those in the nature cure experiments. Only those risks were of a different kind. But in
cultivating those contacts I never so much as thought of the risks.
I invited Polak to come and stay with me, and we began to live like blood brothers. The lady who
was soon to be Mrs. Polak and he had been engaged for some years, but the marriage had been
postponed for a propitious time. I have an impression that Polak wanted to put some money by
before he settled down to a married life. He knew Ruskin much better than I, but his Western
surroundings were a bar against his translating Ruskin’s teaching immediately into practice. But I
pleaded with him: ‘When there is a heart union, as in your case, it is hardly right to postpone
marriage merely for financial consideratons. If poverty is a bar, poor men can never marry. And
then you are now staying with me. There is no question of household expenses. I think you
should get married as soon as possible. As I have said in a previous chapter, I had never to
argue a thing twice with Polak. He appreciated the force of my argument, and immediately
opened correspondence on the subject with Mrs. Polak, who was then in England. She gladly
accepted the proposal and in a few months reached Johannesburg. Any expense over the wedding was out of the question, not even a special dress was thought necessary. They needed
no religious rites to seal the bond. Mrs. Polak was a Christian by birth and Polak a Jew. Their
common religion was the religion of ethics.
I may mention in passing an amusing incident in connection with this wedding. The Registrar of
European marriages in the Transvaal could not register between black or coloured people. In the
wedding in question, I acted as the best man. Not that we could not have got a European friend
for the purpose, but Polak would not brook the suggestion. So we three went to the Registrar of
marriages. How could he be sure that the parties to a marriage in which I acted as the best man
would be whites? He proposed to postpone registration pending inquiries. The next day was a
sunday. The day following was New Year’s Day, a public holiday. To postpone the date of a
solemnly arranged wedding on such a flimsy pretext was more than one could put up with. I knew
the Chief Magistrate, who was head of the Registration Department. So I appeared before him
with the couple. He laughed and gave me a note to the Registrar and the marriage was duly
Up to now the Europeans living with us had been more or less known to me before. But now an
English lady who was an utter stranger to us entered the family. I do not remember our ever
having had a difference with the newly married couple, but even if Mrs. Polak and my wife had
some unpleasant experience, they would have been no more than what happen in the bestregulated homogeneous familes. And let it be remembered that mine would be considered an
essentially heterogeneous family, where people of all kinds and temperaments were freely
admitted. When we come to think of it, the distinction between heterogeneous and homogeneous
is discovered to be merely imaginary. We are all one family.
I had better celebrate West’s wedding also in this chapter. At this stage of my life, my ideas about
#brahmacharya# had not fully matured, and so I was interesting myself in getting all my bachelor
friends married. When, in due course, West made a pilgrimage to Louth to see his parents, I
advised him to return married if possible. Phoenix was the common home, and as we were all
supposed to have become farmers, we were not afraid of marriage and its usual consequences.
West returned with Mrs. West, a beautiful young lady from Leicester. She came of a family of
shoemakers working in a Leicester factory. I have called her beautiful, because it was her moral
beauty that at once attracted me. True beauty after all consists in purity of heart. With Mr. West
had come his mother-in-law too. The old lady is still alive. She put us all to shame by her industry
and her buoyant, cheerful nature.
In the same way as I persuaded these European friends to marry, I encouraged the Indian friends
to send for their families from home. Phoenix thus developed into a little village, half a dozen
familes having come and settled and begun to increase there.
Chapter 100
It has already been seen that, though household expenses were heavy, the tendency towards
simplicity began in Durban. But the Johannesburg house came in for much severer overhauling in
the light of Ruskin’s teaching.
I introduced as much simplicity as was possible in a barrister’s house. It was impossible to do
without a certain amount of furniture. The change was more internal than external. The liking for doing personally all the physical labour increased. I therefore began to bring my children also
under that discipline.
Instead of buying baker’s bread, we began to prepare unleavened wholemeal bread at home
according to Kuhne’s recipe. Common mill flour was no good for this, and the use of handground
flour, it was thought, would ensure more simplicity, health and economy. So I purchased a handmill for £ 7. The iron wheel was too heavy to be tacked by one man, but easy for two. Polak and I
and the children usually worked it. My wife also occasionally lent a hand, though the grinding hour
was her usual time for commencing kitchen work. Mrs. Polak now joined us on her arrival. The
grinding proved a very beneficial exercise for the children. Neither this nor any other work was
ever imposed on them, but it was a pastime to them to come and lend a hand, and they were at
liberty to break off whenever tired. But the children, including those whom I shall have occasion to
introduce later, as a rule never failed me. Not that I had no laggarded at all, but most did their
work cheerfully enough. I can recall few youngsters in those days fighting shy of work or pleading
We had engaged a servant to look after the house. He lived with us as a member of the family,
and the children used to help him in his work. The municipal sweeper removed the night-soil, but
we personally attended to the cleaning of the closet instead of asking or expecting the servant to
do it. This proved a good training for the children. The result was that none of my sons developed
any aversion for scavenger’s work, and they naturally got a good grounding in general sanitation.
There was hardly any illness in the home at Johannesburg, but whenever there was any, the
nursing was willingly done by the children. I will not say that I was indifferent to their literary
education, but I certainly did not hesitate to sacrifice it. My sons have therefore some reason for a
grievance against me. Indeed they have occasionally given expression to it, and I must plead
guilty to a certain extent. The desire to give them a literary education was there. I even
endeavoured to give it to them myself, but every now and then there was some hitch or other. As
I had made no other arrangement for their private tuition, I used to get them to walk with me daily
to the office and back home a distance of about 5 miles in all. This gave them and me a fair
amount of exercise. I tried to instruct them by conversation during these walks, if there was no
one else claiming my attention. All my children, excepting the eldest, Harilal, who had stayed
away in India, were brought up in Johannesburg in this manner. Had I been able to devote at
least an hour to their literary education with strict regularity, I should have given them, in my
opinion, an ideal deucation. But it was been their, as also my, regret that I failed to ensure them
enough literary training. The eldest son has often given vent to his distress privately before me
and publicly in the press; the other sons have generously forgiven the failure as unavoidable. I
am not heart broken over it and the regret, if any, is that I did not prove an ideal father. But I hold
that I sacrificed their literary training to what I genuinely, though may be wrongly, believed to be
service to the community. I am quite clear that I have not been negligent in doing whatever was
needful for building up their character. I believe it is the bounden duty of every parent to provide
for this properly. Whenever, in spite of my endeavour, my sons have been found wanting, it is my
certain conviction that they have reflected, not want of care on my part, but the defects of both
their parents.
Children inherit the qualities of the parents, no less than their physical features. Environment
does play an important part, but the original capital on which a child starts in life is inherited from
its ancestors. I have also seen children successfully surmounting the effects of an evil
inheritance. That is due to purity being an inherent attribute of the soul.
Polak and I had often very heated discussions about the desirability or otherwise of giving the
children an English education. It has always been my conviction that Indian parents who train
their children to think and talk in English from their infancy betray their children and their country.
They deprive them of the spiritual and social heritage of the nation, and render them to that extent
unfit for the service of the country. Having these convictions, I made a point of always talking to
my children in Gujarati. Polak never liked this. He thought I was spoiling their future. He contended, with all the vigour and love at his conmand, that, if children were to learn a universal
language like English from thier infancy, they would easily gain considerable advantage over
others in the race of life. He failed to convince me. I do not now remember whether I convinced
him of the correctness of my attitude, or whether he gave me up as too obstinate. This happened
about twenty years ago, and my convictions have only deepened with experience. Though my
sons have suffered for want of full literary education, the knowledge of the mother-tounge that
they naturally acquired has been all to their and the country’s good, inasmuch as they do not
appear the foreigners they would otherwise have appeared. They naturally become bilingual,
speaking and writing English with fair ease, because of daily contact with a large cicle of English
friends, and because of their stay in a country where English was the chief language spoken.
Chapter 101
Even after I thought I had settled down in Johannesburg, there was to be no settled life for me.
Just when I felt that I should be breathing in peace, an unexpected event happened. The papers
brought the news of the out break of the Zulu ‘rebellion’ in Natal. I bore no grudge against the
Zulus, they had harmed no Indian. I had doubts about the ‘rebellion’ itself. But I then believed that
the British Empire existed for the welfare of the world. A genuine sense of loyalty prevented me
from even wishing ill to the Empire. The rightness or otherwise of the ‘rebellion’ was therefore not
likely to affect my decision. Natal had a Volunteer Defence Force, and it was open to it to recruit
more men. I read that this force had already been mobilized to quell the ‘rebellion’.
I considered myself a citizen of Natal, being intimately connected with it. So I wrote to the
Governor, expressing my readiness, if necessary, to form an Indian Ambulance Corps. He replied
immediately accepting the offer.
I had not expected such prompt acceptance. Fortunately I had made all the necessary
arrangements even before writing the letter. If my offer was accepted, I had decided to break up
the Johannesburg home. Polak was to have a smaller house, and my wife was to go and settle at
Phoenix. I had her full consent to this decision. I do not remember her having ever stood in my
way in matters like this. As soon, therefore, as I got the reply from the Governor, I gave the
landlord the usual month’s notice of vacating the house, sent some of the things to Phoenix and
left some with Polak.
I went to Durban and appealed for men. A big contingent was not necessary. We were a party of
twenty-four, of whom, besides me, four were Gujaratis. The rest were ex-indentured men from
South India, excepting one who was a free Pathan.
In order to give me a status and to facilitate work, as also in accordance with the existing
convention, the Chief Medical Officer appointed me to the temporary rank of Sergeant Major and
three men selected by me to the rank of sergeants and one to that of corporal. We also received
our uniforms from the Government. Our Corps was on active service for nearly six weeks. On
reaching the scene of the ‘rebellion’, I saw that there was nothing there to justify the name of
‘rebellion’. There was no resistance that one could see. The reason why the disturbance had
been magnified into a rebellion was that a Zulu chief had advised non-payment of a new tax imposed on his people, and had assagaied a sergeant who had gone to collect the tax. At any
rate my heart was with the Zulus, and I was delighted, on reaching headquarters, to hear that our
main work was to be the nursing of the wounded Zulus. The Medical Officer in charge welcomed
us. He said the white people were not willing nurses for the wounded Zulus, that their wounds
were festering, and that he was at his wits’ end. He hailed our arrival as a godsend for those
innocent people, and he equipped us with bandages, disinfectants, etc., and took us to the
improvised hospital. The Zulus were delighted to see us. The white soldiers used to peep through
the railing that separated us from them and tried to dissuade us from attending to the wounds.
And as we would not heed them, they became enraged and poured unspeakable abuse on the
Gradually I came into closer touch with these soldiers, and they ceased to interfere. Among the
commanding officers were Col. Sparks and Col. Wylie, who had bitterly opposed me in 1896.
They were surprised at my attitude and specially called and thanked me. They introduced me to
General Mackenzie. Let not the reader think that these were professional soldiers. Col. Wylie was
a well-known Durban lawyer. Col. Sparks was well known as the owner of a butcher’s shop in
Durban. Gereral Mackenzie was a noted Natal farmer. All these gentlemen were volunteers, and
as such had received military training and experience.
The wounded in our charge were not wounded in battle. A section of them had been taken
prisoners as suspects. The General had sentenced them to be flogged. The flogging had caused
severe sores. These, being unattended to, were festering. The others were Zulu friendlies.
Although these had badges given them to distinguish them from the ‘enemy’, they had been shot
at by the soldiers by mistake.
Besides this work I had to compound and dispense prescriptions for the white soldiers. This was
easy enough for me as I had received a year’s training in Dr. Booth’s little hospital. This work
brought me in close contact with many Europeans.
We were attached to a swift-moving column. It had orders to march wherever danger was
reported. It was for the most part mounted infantry. As soon as our camp was moved, we had to
follow on foot with our stretchers on our shoulders. Twice or thrice we had to march forty miles a
day. But wherever we went, I am thankful that we had God’s good work to do, having to carry to
the camp on our stretchers those Zulu friendlies who had been inadvertently wounded, and to
attend upon them as nurses.
Chapter 102
The Zulu ‘rebellion’ was full of new experiences and gave me much food for thought. The Boer
War had not brought home to me the horrors of war with anything like the vividness that the
‘rebellion’ did. This was no war but a man-hunt, not only in my opinion, but also in that of many
Englishmen with whom I had occasion to talk. To hear every morning reports of the soldiers’ rifles
exploding like crackers in innocent hamlets, and to live in the midst of them was a trial. But I
swallowed the bitter draught, especially as the work of my Corps consisted only in nursing the
wounded Zulus. I could see that but for us the Zulus would have been uncared for. This work,
therefore, eased my conscience. But there was much else to set one thinking. It was a sparsely populated part of the country. Few
and far between in hills and dales were the scattered Kraals of the simple and so-called
‘uncivilized’ Zulus. Marching, with or without the wounded, through these solemn solitudes, I often
fell into deep thought.
I pondered over brahmacharya and its implications, and my convictions took deep root. I
discussed it with my co-workers. I had not realized then how indispensable it was for selfrealization. But I clearly saw that one aspiring to serve humanity with his whole soul could not do
without it. It was borne in upon me that I should have more and more occasions for service of the
kind I was rendering, and that I should find myself unequal to my task if I were engaged in the
pleasures of family life and in the propagation and rearing of children.
In a word, I could not live both after the flesh and the spirit. On the present occasion, for instance,
I should not have been able to throw myself into the fray, had my wife been expecting a baby.
Without the observance of brahmacharya service of the family would be inconsistent with service
of the community. With brahmacharya they would be perfectly consistent.
So thinking, I became somewhat impatient to take a final vow. The prospect of the vow brought a
certain kind of exultation. Imagination also found free play and opened out limitless vistas of
Whilst I was thus in the midst of strenuous physical and mental work, a report came to the effect
that the work of suppressing the ‘rebellion’ was nearly over, and that we should soon be
discharged. A day or two after this our discharge came and in a few days we got back to our
After a short while I got a letter from the Governor specially thanking the Ambulance Corps for its
On my arrival at Phoenix I eagerly broached the subject of Brahmacharya with Chhaganlal,
Maganlal, West and others. They liked the idea and accepted the necessity of taking the vow, but
they also represented the difficulties of the task. Some of them set themselves bravely to observe
it, and some, I know, succeeded also.
I too took the plunge the vow to observe brahmacharya for life. I must confess that I had not then
fully realized the magnitude and immensity of the task I undertook. The difficulties are even today
staring me in the face. The importance of the vow is being more and more borne in upon me. Life
without brahmacharya appears to me to be insipid and animal-like. The brute by nature knows no
self-restraint. Man is man because he is capable of, and only in so far as he exercises, selfrestraint. What formerly appeared to me to be extravagant praise of brahmacharya in our
religious books seems now, with increasing clearness every day, to be absolutely proper and
founded on experience.
I saw that brahmacharya, which is so full of wounderful potency, is by no means an easy affair,
and certainly not a mere matter of the body. It begins with bodily restraint, but does not end there.
The perfection of it precludes even an impure thought. A true brahmachari will not even dream of
satisfying the fleshly appetite, and until he is in that condition, he has a great deal of ground to
For me the observance of even bodily brahmacharya has been full of difficulties. Today I may say
that I feel myself fairly safe, but I had yet to achieve complete mastery over thought, which is so
essential. Not that the will or effort is lacking, but it is yet a problem to me wherefrom undersirable
thoughts spring their insidious invasions. I have no doubt that there is a key to lock out
undersirable thoughts, but every one has to find it out for himself. Saints and seers have left their experiences for us, but they have given us no infallible and universal prescription. For perfection
or freedom from error comes only from grace, and so seekers after God have left us mantras,
such as Ramanama, hallowed by their own austerities and charged with their purity. Without an
unreserved surrender to His grace, complete mastery over thought is impossible. This is the
teaching of every great book of religion, and I am realizing the truth of it every moment of my
striving after that perfect brahmacharya .
But part of the history of that striving and struggle will be told in chapters to follow. I shall
conclude this chapter with an indication of how I set about the task. In the first flush of inthusiasm,
I found the observance quite easy. The very first change I made in my mode of life was to stop
sparing the same bed with my wife or seeking privacy with her.
Thus brahmacharya which I had been observing willynilly since 1900, was sealed with a vow in
the middle of 1906.
Chapter 103
Events were so shaping themselves in Johannesburg as to make this self-purfication on my
part a preliminary as it were to Satyagraha. I can now see that all the principal events of my life,
culminating in the vow of brahmacharya, were secretly preparing me for it. The principle called
Satyagraha came into being before that name was invented. Indeed when it was born, I myself
could not say what it was. In Gujarati also we used the English pharse ‘passive resistance’ to
describe it. When in a meeting of Europeans I found that the term ‘passive resistance’ was too
narrowly construed, that it was supposed to be a weapon of the weak, that it could be
characterized by hatred, and that it could finally manifest itself as violence, I had to damur to all
these statements and explain the real nature of the Indian movement. It was clear that a new
word must be coined by the Indians to designate their struggle.
But I could not for the life of me find out a new name, and therefore offered a nominal prize
through Indian Opinion to the reader who made the best suggestion on the subject. As a result
Maganlal Gandhi coined the word ‘Sadagraha’ (Sat=truth, Agraha=firmness) and won the prize.
But in order to make it clearer I changed the word to ‘Satyagraha’ which has since become
current in Gujarati as a designation for the struggle.
The history of this strugle is for all practical purposes a histroy of the remainder of my life in South
Africa and especially of my expriments with truth in that sub-continent. I wrote the major portion of
this history in Yeravda jail and finished it after I was released. It was published in Navajivan and
subsequently issued in book form. Sjt. Valji Govindji Desai has been translating it into English for
Current Thought, but I am now arranging to have the English translation published in book form at
an early date, so that those who will may be able to familiarize themselves with my most
important experiments in South Africa. I would recommend a perusal of my history of Satyagraha
in South Africa to such readers as have not seen it already. I will not repeat what I have put down
there, but in the next few chapters will deal only with a few personal incidents of my life in South
Africa which have not been covered by that history. And when I have done with these, I will at
once proceed to give the reader some idea of my experiments in India. Therefore, anyone who
wishes to consider these experiments in their strict chronological order will now do well to keep
the history of Satyagraha in South Africa bfore him. Chapter 104
I was anxious to observe brahmacharya in thought, word and deed, and equally anxious to
devote the maximum of time to the Satyagraha struggle and fit myself for it by cultivating purity. I
was therefore led to make further changes and to impose greater restraints upon myself in the
matter of food. The motive for the previous changes had been largely hygienic, but the new
experiments were made from a religious standpoint.
Fasting and restriction in diet now played a more important part in my life. Passion in man is
generally co-existent with a hankering after the pleasures of the palate. And so it was with me. I
have encountered many difficulties in trying to control passion as well as taste, and I cannot claim
even now to have brought them under complete subjection. I have considered myself to be a
heavy eater. What friends have thought to be my restraint has never appeared to me in that light.
If I had failed to develop restraint to the extent that I have, I should have descended lower than
the beasts and met my doom long ago. However, as I had adequately realized my shortcomings,
I made great efforts to get rid of them, and thanks to this endeavour I have all these years pulled
on with my body and put in with it my share of work.
Being conscious of my weakness and unexpectedly coming in contact with congenial company, I
began to take an exclusive fruit diet or to fast on the Ekadashi day, and also to observe
Janmashtami and similar holidays.
I began with a fruit diet, but from the standpoint of restraint I did not find much to choose between
a fruit diet and a diet of food grains. I observed that the same indulgence of taste was possible
with the former as with the latter, and even more, when one got accustomed to it. I therefore
came to attach greater importance to fasting or having only one meal a day on holidays. And if
there was some occasion for penance or the like, I gladly utilized it too for the purpose of fasting.
But I also saw that, the body now being drained more effectively, the food yielded greater relish
and the appetite grew keener. It dawned upon me that fasting could be made as powerful a
weapon of indulgence as of restraint. Many similar later experiences of mine as well as of others
can be adduced as evidence of this starting fact. I wanted to improve and train my body, but as
my chief object now was to achieve restraint and a conquest of the palate, I selected first one
food and then another, and at the same time restricted the amount. But the relish was after me,
as it were. As I gave up one thing and took up another, this latter afforded me a fresher and
greater relish than its predecessor.
In making these experiments I had several companions, the chief of whom was Hermann
Kallenbach. I have already written about this friend in the history of Satyagraha in South Africa,
and will not go over the same ground here. Mr. Kallenbach was always with me whether in fasting
or in dietetic changes. I lived with him at his own place when the Satyagraha struggle was at its
height. We discussed our changes in food and derived more pleasure from the new diet than from
the old. Talk of this nature sounded quite pleasant in those days, and did not strike me as at all
improper. Experience has taught me, however, that it was wrong to have dwelt upon the relish of
food. One should eat not in order to please the palate, but just to keep the body going. When
each organ of sense subserves the body and through the body the soul. Its special relish
disappears, and then alone does it begin to function in the way nature intended it to do.
Any number of experiments is too small and no sacrifice is too great for attaining this symphony
with nature. But unfortunately the current is now-a-days flowing strongly in the opposite direction. We are not ashamed to sacrifice a multitude of other lives in decorating the perishable body and
trying to prolong it existence for a few fleeting moments, with the result that we kill ourselves, both
body and soul. In trying to cure one old disease. We give rise to a hundred new ones: in trying to
enjoy the pleasures of sense, we lose in the end even our capacity for enjoyment. All this is
passing before our very eyes, but there are none so blind as those who will not see.
Having thus set forth their object and the train of ideas which led up to them, I now propose to
describe the dietetic experiments at some length.
Chapter 105
Thrice in her life my wife narrowly escaped death through serious illness. The cures were due
to household remedies. At the time of her first attack Satyagraha was going on or was about to
commence. She had frequent haemorrhage. A medical friend advised a surgical operation, to
which she agreed after some hesitation. She was extremely emaciated, and the doctor had to
perform the operation without chloroform. It was successful, but she had to suffer much pain, she,
however, went through it with wonderful bravery. The doctor and his wife who nursed her were all
attention. This was in Durban. The doctor gave me leave to go to Johannesburg, and told me not
to have any anxiety about the patient.
In a few days, however, I received a letter to the effect that Kasturbai was worse, too weak to sit
up in bed, and had once become unconscious. The doctor knew that he might not, without my
consent, give her wines or meat. So he telephoned to me at Johannesburg for permission to give
her beef tea. I replied saying I could not grant the permission, but that, if she was in a condition to
express her wish in the matter she might be consulted and she was free to do as she liked. ‘But,’
said the doctor, ‘I refuse to consult the patient’s wishes in the matter. You must come yourself. If
you do not leave me free to prescribe whatever diet I like, I will not hold myself responsible for
your wife’s life.’
I took the train for Durban the same day, and met the doctor who quietly broke this news to me: ‘I
had already given Mrs. Gandhi beef tea when I telephoned to you.’
‘Now, doctor, I call this a fraud,’ said I.
‘No question of fraud in prescribing medicine or diet for a patient. In fact we doctors consider it a
virtue to deceive patients or their relatives, if thereby we can save our patients, said the doctor
with determination.
I was deeply pained, but kept cool. The doctor was a good man and a personal friend. He and his
wife had laid me under a debt of gratitude, but I was not prepared to put up with his medical
‘Doctor, tell me what you propose to do now. I would never allow my wife to be given meat or
beef, even if the denial meant her death, unless of course she desired to take it.’ ‘You are welcome to your philosophy. I tell you that, so long as you keep your wife under my
treatment, I must have the option to give her anything I wish. If you don’t like this, I must
regretfully ask you to remove her. I can’t see her die under my roof.’
‘Do you mean to say that I must remove her at once?’
‘Whenever did I ask you to remove her? I only want to be left entirely free. If you do so, my wife
and I will do all that is possible for her, and you may go back without the least anxiety on her
score. But if you will not understand this simple thing, you will compel me to ask you to remove
your wife from my place.’
I think one of my sons was with me. He entirely agreed with me, and said his mother should not
be given beef tea. I next spoke to Kasturbai herself. She was really too weak to be consulted in
this matter. But I thought it my painful duty to do so. I told her what had passed between the
doctor and myself. She gave a resolute reply: ‘I will not take beef tea. It is a rare thing in this
world to be born as a human being, and I would far rather die in your arms than pollute my body
with such abominations.’
I pleaded with her. I told her that she was not bound to follow me. I cited to her the instances of
Hindu friends and acquaintances who had no scruples about taking meat or wine as medicine.
But she was adamant. ‘No,’ said she, ‘pray remove me at once.’
I was delighted. Not without some agitation I decided to take her away. I informed the doctor of
her resolve. He exclaimed in a rage: ‘What a callous man you are! You should have been
ashamed to broach the matter to her in her present condition. I tell you your wife is not least little
hustling. I shouldn’t surprised if she were to die on the way. But if you must persist, you are free
to do so. If you will not give her beef tea, I will not take the risk of keeping her under my roof even
for a single day.’
So we decided to leave the place at once. It was drizzling and the station was some distance. We
had to take the train from Durban for Phoenix, whence our Settlement was reached by a road of
two miles and a half, I was undoubtedly taking a very great risk, but I trusted in God, and
proceeded with my task. I sent a messenger to Phoenix in advance, with a message to West to
receive us at the station with a hammock, a bottle of hot milk and one of hot water, and six men to
carry kasturbai in the hammock. I got a rickshaw to enable me to take her by the next available
train, put her into it in that dangerous condition, and marched away.
Kasturbai needed no cheering up. On the contrary, she comforted me, saying: ‘Nothing will
happen to me. Don’t worry.’
She was mere skin and bone, having had no nourishment for days. The station platform was very
large, and as the rickshaw could not be taken inside, one had to walk some distance before one
could reach the train. So I carried her in my arms and put her into the compartment. From
Phoenix we carried her in the hammock, and there she slowly picked up strength under
hydropathic treatment.
In two or three days of our arrival at Phoenix a Swami came to our place. He had heard of the
resolute way in which we had rejected the doctor’s advice, and he had, out of sympathy, come to
plead with us. My second and third sons Manilal and Ramdas were, so far as I can recollect,
present when the Swami came. He held forth on the religious harmlessness of taking meat, citing
authorities from Manu. I did not like his carrying on this disputation in the presence of my wife, but
I suffered him to do so out of courtesy. I knew the verses from the Manusmriti, I did not need
them for my conviction. I knew also that there was a school which regarded these verses as
interpolations: but even if they were not, I held my views on vegetarianism independently of religious texts, and Kasturbai’s faith was unshakable. To her the scriptural texts were a sealed
book, but the traditional religion of her forefathers was enough for her. The children swore by their
father’s creed and so they made light of the Swami’s discourse. But Kasturbai put an end to the
dialogue at once. ‘Swamiji,’ she said,’Whatever you may say, I do not want to recover by means
of beef tea. Pray don’t worry me any more. You may discuss the thing with my husband and
children if you like. But my mind is made up.
Chapter 106
My first experience of jail life was in 1908. I saw that some of the regulations that the prisoners
had to observe were such as should be voluntarily observed by a brahmachari, that is, one
desiring to practise self-restraint. Such, for instance, was the regulation requiring the last meal to
be finished before sunset. Neither the Indian nor the African prisoners were allowed tea or coffee.
They could add salt to the cooked food if they wished, but they might not have anything for the
mere satisfaction of the palate. When I asked the jail medical officer to give us curry powder, and
to let us add salt to the food whilst it was cooking, he said: ‘You are not here for satisfying your
palate. From the point of view of health, curry powder is not necessary, and it makes no
difference whether you add salt during or after cooking.’
Ultimeately these restrictions were modified, though not without much difficulty, but both were
wholesome rules of self-restraint. Inhabitions imposed from without rarely suceed, but when they
are self-imposed, they have a decidedly salutary effect. So, immediately after release from jail, I
imposed on myself the two rules. As far as was then possible, I stopped taking tea, and finished
my last meal before sunset. Both these now require no effort in the observance.
There came, however, an occasion which compelled me to give up salt altogether, and this
restriction I continued for an unbroken period of ten years. I had read in some books on
vegetarianism that salt was not a necessary article of diet for man, that on the contrary saltless
diet was better for the health. I had deduced that a brahmachari benefited by a saltless diet, I had
read and realized that the weak- bodied should avoid pulses. I was very fond of them.
Now it happened that Kasturbai, who had a brief respite after her operation, had again begun
getting haemorrhage, and the malady seemed to be obstinate. Hydropathic treatment by itself did
not answer. She had not much faith in my remedies, though she did not resist them. She certainly
did not ask for outside help. So when all my remedies had failed. I entreated her to give up salt
and pulses. She would not agree, however much I pleaded with her, supporting myself with
authorities. At last she challenged me, saying that even I could not give up these articles if I was
advised to do so, I was pained and equally delighted, delighted in that I got an opportunity to
shower my love on her. I said to her: ‘You are mistaken. If I was ailing and the doctor advised me
to give up these or any other articles, I should unhesitatingly do so. But there! Without any
medical advice, I give up salt and pulses for one year, whether you do so or not.’
She was rudely shocked and exclaimed in deep sorrow: ‘Pray forgive me. Knowing you, I should
not have provoked you. I promise to abstain from these things, but for heaven’s sake take back
your vow. This is too hard on me.’
‘It is very good for you to forego these articles. I have not the slightst doubt that you will be all the
better without them. As for me, I cannot retract a vow seriously taken. And it is sure to benefit me, for all restraint, whatever prompts it, is wholesome for men. You will therefore leave me alone. It
will be a test for me, and a moral support to you in carrying out your resolve.’
So she gave me up. ‘You are too obstinate. You will listen to none,’ she said, and sought relief in
I would like to count this incident as an instance of Satyagraha, and it is one of the sweetest
recollections of my life.
After this Kasturbai began to pick up quickly whether as a result of the saltless and pulseless diet
or of the other consequent changes in her food, whether as a result of my strict vigilance in
exacting observance of the other rules of life, or as an effect of the mental exhilaration produced
by the incident, and if so to what extent, I cannot say. But she rallied quickly, haemorrhage
completely stopped, and I added somewhat to my reputation as a quack.
As for me, I was all the better for the new denials. I never craved for the things I had left, the year
sped away, and I found the senses to be more subdued than ever. The experiment stimulated the
inclination for self-restraint, and I returned to India. Only once I happened to take both the articles
whilst I was in London in 1914. But of that occasion, and as to how I resumed both, I shall speak
in a later chapter.
I have tried the experiment of a saltles and pulseless diet on many of my co-workers, and with
good results in South Africa. Medically there may be two opinions as to the value of this diet, but
morally I have no doubt that all self-denial is good for the soul. The diet of a man of self-restraint
must be different from that of a man of pleasure, just as their ways of life must be different.
Aspirants after brahmacharya often defeat their own end by adopting courses suited to a life of
Chapter 107
I have described in the last chapter how Kasturbai’s illness was instrumental in bringing about
some changes in my diet. At a later stage more changes were introduced for the sake of
supporting brahmacharya.
The first of these was the giving up of milk. It was from Raychandbhai that I first learnt that milk
stimulated animal passion. Books on vegetarianism strengthened the idea, but so long as I had
not taken the brahmacharya vow I could not make up my mind to forego milk. I had long realized
that milk was not necessary for supporting the body, but it was not easy to give it up. While the
necessity for avoiding milk in the interests of self-restraint was growing upon me, I happened to
come across some literature from Calcutta, describing the tortures to which cows and buffaloes
were subjected by their keepers. This had a wonderful effect on me. I discussed it with Mr.
Though I have introduced Mr. Kallenbach to the readers of the history of Satyagraha in South
Africa, and referred to him in a previous chapter, I think it necessary to say something more about
him here. We met quite by accident. He was a friend of Mr. Khan’s, and as the latter had
discovered deep down in him a vein of other-worldliness he introduced him to me. When I came to know him I was startled at his love of luxury and extravagance. But at our very
first meeting, he asked searching questions concerning matters of religion. We incidentally talked
of Gautam Buddha’s renunciation. Our acquaintance soon ripened into very close friendship, so
much so that we thought alike, and he was convinced that he must carry out in his life the
changes I was making in mine.
At that time he was single, and was expending Rs. 1,200 monthly on himself, over and above
house rent. Now he reduced himself to such simplicity that his expenses came to Rs. 120 per
month. After the breaking up of my household and my first release from jail, we began to live
together. It was a fairly hard life that we led.
It was during this time that we had the discussion about milk. Mr. Kallenbach said, ‘We constantly
talk about the harmful effects of milk. Why then do not we give it up? It is certainly not necessary.’
I was agreeably surprised at the suggestion, which I warmly welcomed, and both of us pledged
ourselves to abjure milk there and then. This was at Tolstoy Farm in the year 1912.
But this denial was not enough to satisfy me. Soon after this I decided to live on a pure fruit diet,
and that too composed of the cheapest fruit possible, Our ambition was to live the life of the
poorest people.
The fruit diet turned out to be very convenient also. Cooking was practically done away with. Raw
groundnuts, bananas, dates, lemons, and olive oil composed our usual diet.
I must here utter a warning for the aspirants of brahmacharya. Though I have made out an
intimate connection between diet and brahmacharya, it is certain that mind is the principal thing.
A mind consciously unclean cannot be cleansed by fasting. Modifications in diet have no effect on
it. The concupiscence of the mind cannot be rooted out except by intense self-examination,
surrender to God and lastly, grace. But there is an intimate connection between the mind and the
body, and carnal mind always lusts for delicacies and luxuries. To obviate this tendency dietetic
restrictions and fasting would appear to be necessary. The carnal mind, instead of controlling the
senses, becomes their slave, and therefore the body always needs clean non-stimulating foods
and periodical fasting.
Those who make light of dietetic restrictions and fasting are as much in error as those who stake
their all on them. My experience teaches me that, for those whose minds are working towards
self-restraint, dietetic restrictions and fasting are very helpful. In fact without their help
concupiscence cannot be completely rooted out the mind.
Chapter 108
Just about the time when I gave up milk and cereals, and started on the experiment of a fruit
diet, I commenced fasting as a means of self-restraint. In this Mr. Kallenbach also joined me. I
had been used to fasting now and again, but for purely health reasons. That fasting was
necessary for self-restraint I learnt from a friend.
Having been born in a Vaishnava family and of a mother who was given to keeping all sorts of
hard vows, I had observed, while in India, the Ekadashi and other fasts, but in doing so I had
merely copied my mother and sought to please my parents. At that time I did not understand, nor did I believe in, the efficacy of fasting. But seeing that the
friend I have mentioned was observing it with benefit, and with the hope of supporting the
brahmacharya vow, I followed his example and began keeping the Ekadashi fast. As a rule
Hindus allow themselves milk and fruit on a fasting day, but such fast I had been keeping daily.
So now I began complete fasting, allowing myself only water.
When I started on this experiment, the Hindu month of Shravan and the Islamic month of Ramzan
happened to coincide. The Gandhis used to observe not only the Vaishnava but also the Shaivite
vows, and visited the Shaivite as also the Vaishnava temples. Some of the members of the family
used to observe pradosha in the whole of the month of Shravan. I decided to do likewise.
These important experiments were undertaken while we were at Tolstoy Farm, where Mr.
Kallenbach and I were staying with a few Satyagrahi families, including young people and
children. For these last we had a school. Among them were four or five Musalmans. I always
helped and encouraged them in keeping all their religious observances. I took care to see that
they offered their daily namaz. There were Christians and Parsi youngsters too, whom I
considered it my duty to encourage to follow their respective religious observances.
During this month, therefore, I persuaded the Musalman youngsters to observe the ramzan fast. I
had of course decided to observe pradosha myself, but I now asked the Hindu, Parsi and
Christian youngsters to join me. I explained to them that it was always a good thing to join with
others in any matter of self-denial. Many of the Farm inmates welcomed my proposal. The Hindu
and the Parsi youngsters did not copy the Musalman ones in every details; it was not necessary.
The Musalman youngsters had to wait for their breakfast until sunset, whereas the others did not
do so, and were thus able to prepare delicacies for the Musalman friends and serve them. Nor
had the Hindu and other youngsters to keep the Musalmans company when they had their last
meal before sunrise next morning, and of course all except the Musalmans allowed themselves
The result of these experiments was that all were convinced of the value of fasting, and a
splendid esprit de corps grew up among them.
We were all vegetarians on Tolstoy Farm, thanks, I must gratefully confess, to the readiness of all
to respect my feelings. The Musalman youngsters must have missed their meat during ramzan,
but none of them ever let me know that they did so. They delighted in and relished the vegetarian
diet, and the Hindu youngsters often prepared vegetarian delicacies for them, in keeping with the
simplicity of the Farm.
I have purposely digressed in the midst of this chapter on fasting, as I could not have given these
pleasant reminiscences anywhere else, and I have indirectly described a characteristic of mine,
namely that I have always loved to have my co-workers with me in anything that has appealed to
me as being good. They were quite new to fasting, but thanks to the pradosha and ramzan fasts,
it was easy for me to interest them in fasting as a means of self-restraint.
Thus an atmosphere of self-restraint naturally sprang up on the Farm. All the Farm inmates now
began to join us in keeping partial and complete fasts, which, I am sure, was entirely to the good.
I cannot definitely say how far this self-denial touched their hearts and helped them in their
striving to conquer the flesh. For my part, however, I am convinced that I greatly benefited by it
both physically and morally. But I know that it does not necessarily follow that fasting and similar
disciplines would have the same effect for all.
Fasting can help to curb animal passion, only if it is undertaken with a view to self-restraint. Some
of my friends have actually found their animal passion and palate stimulated as an after-effect of
fasts. That is to say, fasting is futile unless it is accompanied by an incessant longing for self-restraint. The famous verse from the second chapter of the Bhagavadgita is worth noting in this
‘For a man who is fasting his senses Outwardly, the sense-objects disappear, Leaving the
yearning behind; but when He has seen the Highest, Even the yearning disappears.’
Fasting and similar discipline is, therefore, one of the means to the end of self-restraint, but it is
not all, and if physical fasting is not accompanied by mental fasting, it is bound to end in
hypocrisy and disaster.
Chapter 109
The reader will, I hope, bear in mind the fact that I am, in these chapters, describing things not
mentioned, or only cursorily mentioned, in the history of Satyagraha in South Africa. If he does
so, he will easily see the connection between the recent chapters.
As the Farm grew, it was found necessary to make some provision for the education of its boys
and girls. There were, among these, Hindu, Musalman, Parsi and Christian boys and some Hindu
girls. It was not possible, and I did not think it necessary, to engage special teachers for them. It
was not possible, for qualified Indian teachers were scarce, and even when available, none would
be ready to go to a place 21 miles distant from Johannesburg on a small salary. Also we were
certainly not overflowing with money. And I did not think it necessary to import teachers from
outside the Farm. I did not believe in the existing system of education, and I had a mind to find
out by experience and experiment the true system. Only this much I knew-that, under ideal
conditions, true education could be imparted only by the parents, and that then there should be
the minimum of outside help, that Tolstoy Farm was a family, in which I occupied the place of the
father, and that I should so far as possible shoulder the responsibility for the training of the young.
The conception no doubt was not without its flaws. All the young people had not been with me
since their childhood, they had been brought up in different conditions and environments, and
they did not belong to the same religion. How could I do full justice to the young people, thus
circumstanced, even if I assumed the place of paterfamilias?
But I had always given the first place to the culture of the heart or the building of character, and
as I felt confident that moral training could be given to all alike, no matter how different their ages
and their upbringing, I decided to live amongst them all the twenty-four hours of the day as their
father. I regarded character building as the proper foundation for their education and, if the
foundation was firmly laid, I was sure that the children could learn all the other things themselves
or with the assistance of friends.
But as I fully appreciated the necessity of a literary training in addition, I started some classes
with the help of Mr. Kallenbach and Sjt. Pragji Desai. Nor did I underrate the building up of the
body. This they got in the course of their daily routine. For there were no servants on the Farm,
and all the work, from cooking down to scavenging, was done by the immates. There were many
fruit trees to be looked after, and enough gardening to be done as well. Mr. Kallenbach was fond
of gardening and had gained some experience of this work in one of the Governmental model
gardens. It was obligatory on all, young and old, who were not engaged in the kitchen, to give some time to gardening. The children had the lion’s share of this work, which included digging
pits, felling timber and lifting loads. This gave them ample exercise. They took delight in the work,
and so they did not generally need any other exercise or games. Of course some of them, and
sometimes all them, malingered and shirked. Sometimes I connived at their pranks, but often I
was strict with them, I dare say they did not like the strictness, but I do not recollect their having
resisted it. Whenever I was strict, I would, by argument, convince them that it was not right to play
with one’s work. The conviction would, however, be short-lived, the next moment they would
again leave their work and go to play. All the same we got along, and at any rate they built up fine
physiques. There was scarcely any illness on the Farm, though it must be said that good air and
water and regular hours of food were not a little responsible for this.
A word about vocational training. It was my intention to teach every one of the youngsters some
useful manual vocation. For this purpose Mr. Kallenbach went to a Trappist monastery and
returned having learnt shoemaking. I learnt it from him and taught the art to such as were ready
to take it up. Mr. Kallenbach had some experience of carpentry, and there was another inmate
who knew it; so we had a small class in carpentry. Cooking almost all the youngsters knew.
All this was new to them. They had never even dreamt that they would have to learn these things
some day. For generally the only training that Indian children received in South Africa was in the
three R’s.
On Tolstoy Farm we made it a rule that the youngsters should not be asked to do what the
teachers did not do, and therefore, when they were asked to do any work, there was always a
teacher co-operating and actually working with them. Hence whatever the youngsters learnt, they
learnt cheerfully.
Literary training and character building must be dealt with in the following chapters.
Chapter 110
It was seen in the last chapter how we provided for the physical training on Tolstoy Farm, and
incidentally for the vocational. Though this was hardly done in a way to satisfy me, it may be
claimed to have been more or less successful.
Literary training, however, was a more difficult matter. I had neither the resources nor the literary
equipment necessary; and I had not the time I would have wished to devote to the subject. The
physical work that I was doing used to leave me thoroughly exhausted at the end of the day, and I
used to have the classes just when I was most in need of some rest. Instead, therefore, of my
being fresh for the class, I could with the greatest difficulty keep myself awake. The mornings had
to be devoted to work on the farm and domestic duties, so the school hours had to be kept after
the midday meal. There was no other time suitable for the school.
We gave three periods at the most to literary training. Hindi, Tamil, Gujarati and Urdu were all
taught, and tuition was given through the vernaculars of the boys. English was taught as well, it
was also necessary to acquaint the Gujarati Hindu children with a little Samskrit, and to teach all
the children elementary history, geography and arithmetic. I had undertaken to teach Tamil and Urdu. The little Tamil I knew was acquired during voyages
and in jail. I had not got beyond Pope’s excellent Tamil handbook. My knowledge of the Urdu
script was all that I had acquired on a single voyage, and my knowledge of the language was
confined to the familiar Persian and Arabic words that I had learnt from contact with Musalman
friends. Of Samskrit I knew no more than I had learnt at the high school, even my Gujarati was no
better than that which one acquires at the school.
Such was the capital with which I had to carry on. In poverty of literary equipment my colleagues
went one better than I. But my love for the languages of my country, my confidence in my pupils,
and more than that, their generosity, stood me in good stead.
The Tamil boys were all born in South Africa, and therefore knew very little Tamil, and did not
know the script at all. So I had to teach them the script and the rudiments of grammar. That was
easy enough. My pupils knew that they could any day beat me in Tamil conversation, and when
Tamilians, not knowing English, came to see me, they became my interpreters. I got along
merrily, because I never attempted to disguise my ignorance from my pupils. In all respects I
showed myself to them exactly as I really was. Therefore in spite of my colossal ignorance of the
language I never lost their love and respect. It was comparatively easier to teach the Musalman
boys Urdu. They knew the script. I had simply to stimulate in them an interest in reading and to
improve their handwriting.
These youngsters were for the most part unlettered and unschooled. But I found in the course of
my work that I had very little to teach them, beyond weaning them from their laziness, and
supervising their studies. As I was content with this, I could pull on with boys of different ages and
learning different subjects in one and the same class room.
Of text-books, about which we hear so much, I never felt the want. I do not even remember
having made much use of the books that were available. I did not find it at all necessary to load
the boys with quantities of books. I have always felt that the true text-book for the pupil is his
teacher. I remember very little that my teachers taught me from books, but I have even now a
clear recollection of the things they taught me independently of books.
Children take in much more and with less labour through their ears than through their eyes. I do
not remember having read any book from cover to cover with my boys. But I gave them, in my
own language, all that I had digested from my reading of various books, and I dare say they are
still carrying a recollection of it in their minds. It was laborious for them to remember what they
learnt from books, but what I imparted to them by word of mouth, they could repeat with the
greatest ease. Reading was a task for them, but listening to me was a pleasure, when I did not
bore them by failure to make my subject interesting. And from the questions that my talks
prompted them to put, I had a measure of their power of understanding.
Chapter 111
The spiritual training of the boys was a much more difficult matter than their physical and
mental training. I relied little on religious books for the training of the spirit. Of course, I believed
that every student should be acquainted with the elements of his own religion and have a general
knowledge of his own scriptures, and therefore I provided for such knowledge as best I could. But that, to my mind, was part of the intellectual training. Long before I undertook the education of the
youngsters of the Tolstoy Farm I had realized that the training of the spirit was a thing by itself. To
develop the spirit is to build character and to enable one to work towards a knowledge of God and
self-realization. And I held that this was an essential part of the training of the young, and that all
training without culture of the spirit was of no use, and might be even harmful.
I am familiar with the superstition that self-realization is possible only in the fourth stage of life,
i.e., sannyasa (renunciation). But it is a matter of common knowledge that those who defer
preparation for this invaluable experience until the last stage of life attain not self-realization but
old age amounting to a second and pitiable childhood, living as a burden on this earth. I have a
full recollection that I held these views even whilst I was teaching i. e., in 1911-12, though I might
not then have expressed them in identical language.
How then was this spiritual training to be given? I made the children memorize and recite hymns,
and read to them from books on moral training. But that was far from satisfying me. As I came
into closer contact with them I saw that it was not through books that one could impart training of
the spirit. Just as physical training was to be imparted through physical exercise even so the
training of the spirit was possible only through the exercise of the spirit. And the exercise of the
spirit entirely depended on the life and character of the teacher. The teacher had always to be
mindful of his p’s and q’s, whether he was in the midst of his boys or not.
It is possible for a teacher situated miles away to affect the spirit of the pupils by his way of living.
It would be idle for me, if I were a liar, to teach boys to tell the truth. A cowardly teacher would
never succeed in making his boys valiant, and a stranger to self- restraint could never teach his
pupils the value os self-restraint. I saw therefore that I must be an eternal object-lesson to the
boys and girls living with me. They thus became my teachers, and I learnt I must be good and live
straight, if only for their sakes. I may say that the increasing discipline and restraint I imposed on
myself at Tolstoy Farm was mostly due to those wards of mine.
One of them was wild, unruly, given to lying, and quarrelsome. On one occasion he broke out
most violently. I was exasperated. I never punished my boys, but this time I was very angry. I
tried to reason with him. But he was adamant and even tried to overreach me. At last I picked up
a ruler lying at hand and delivered a blow on his arm. I trembled as I struck him. I dare say he
noticed it. This was an entirely novel experience for them all. The boy cried out and begged to be
forgiven. He cried not because the beating was painful to him; he could, if he had been so
minded, have paid me back in the same coin, being a stoutly built youth of seventeen; but he
realized my pain in being driven to this violent resource. Never again after this incident did he
disobey me. But I still repent that violence. I am afraid I exhibited before him that day not the
spirit, but the brute, in me.
I have always been opposed to corporal punishment. I remember only one occasion on which I
physically punished one of my sons. I have therefore never until this day been able to decide
whether I was right or wrong in using the ruler. Probably it was improper, for it was prompted by
anger and a desire to punish. Had it been an expression only of my distress, I should have
considered it justified. But the motive in this case was mixed.
This incident set me thinking and taught me a better method of correcting students. I do not know
whether that method would have availed on the occasion in question. The youngster soon forgot
the incident, and I do not think he ever showed great improvement,. But the incident made me
understand better the duty of a teacher towards his pupils.
Cases of misconduct on the part of the boys often occurred after this, but I never resorted to
corporal punishment. Thus in my endeavour to impart spiritual training to the boys and girls under
me, I came to understand better and better the power of the spirit. Chapter 112
It was at Tolstoy Farm that Mr. Kallenbach drew my attention to a problem that had never before
struck me. As I have already said, some of the boys at the Farm were bad and unruly. There
were loafers, too, amongst them. With these my three boys came in daily contact, as also did
other children of the same type as my own sons. This troubled Mr. Kallenbach, but his attention
was centred on the impropriety of keeping my# boys with these unruly youngsters.
One day he spoke out: ‘Your way of mixing your own boys with the bad ones does not appeal to
me. It can have only one result. They will become demoralized through this bad company.’
I do not remember whether the question puzzled me at the moment, but I recollect what I said to
‘How can I distinguish between my boys and the loafers? I am equally responsible for both. The
youngsters have come because I invited them. If I were to dismiss them with some money, they
would immediately run off to Johannesburg and fall back into their old ways. To tell you the truth,
it is quite likely that they and their guardians believe that, by having come here, they have laid me
under an obligation. That they have to put up with a good deal of inconvenience here, you and I
know very well. But my duty is clear. I must have them here, and therefore my boys also must
needs live with them. And surely you do not want me to teach my boys to feel from today that
they are superior to other boys. To put that sense of superiority into their heads would be to lead
them astray. This association with other boys will be a good discipline for them. They will, of their
own accord, learn to discriminate between good and evil. Why should we not believe that, if there
is really anything good in them, it is bound to react on their companions? However that may be, I
cannot help keeping them here, and if that means some risk, we must run it.’
Mr. Kallenbach shook his head.
The result, I think, cannot be said to have been bad. I do not consider my sons were any the
worse for the experiment. On the contrary I can see that they gained something. If there was the
slightest trace of superiority in them, it was destroyed and they learnt to mix with all kinds of
children. They were tested and disciplined.
This and similar experiments have shown me that, if good children are taught together with bad
ones and thrown into their company, they will lose nothing, provided the experiment is conducted
under the watchful care of their parents and guardians.
Children wrapped up in cottonwool are not always proof against all temptation or contamination. It
is true, however, that when boys and girls of all kinds of upbringing are kept and taught together,
the parents and the teachers are put to the severest test. They have constantly to be on the alert. Chapter 113
Day by day it became increasingly clear to me how very difficult it was to bring up and educate
boys and girls in the right way. If I was to be their real teacher and guardian, I must touch their
hearts. I must share their joys and sorrows, I must help them to solve the problems that faced
them, and I must take along the right channel the surging aspirations of their youth.
On the release of some of the Satyagrahis from jail, Tolstoy Farm was almost denuded of its
inmates. The few that remained mostly belonged to Phoenix. So I removed them there. Here I
had to pass through a fiery ordeal.
In those days I had to move between Johannesburg and Phoenix. Once when I was in
Johannesburg I received tidings of the moral fall of two of the inmates of the Ashram. News of an
apparent failure or reverse in the Satyagraha struggle would not have shocked me, but this news
came upon me like a thunderbolt. The same day I took the train for Phoenix. Mr. Kallenbach
insisted on accompanying me. He had noticed the state I was in. He would not brook the thought
of my going alone, for he happened to be the bearer of the tidings which had so upset me.
During the journey my duty seemed clear to me. I felt that the guardian or teacher was
responsible, to some extent at least, for the lapse of his ward or pupil. So my responsibility
regarding the incident in question became clear to me as daylight. My wife had already warned
me in the matter, but being of a trusting nature, I had ignored her caution. I felt that the only way
the guilty parties could be made to realize my distress and the depth of their own fall would be for
me to do some penance. So I imposed upon myself a fast for seven days and a vow to have only
one meal a day for a period of four months and a half. Mr. Kallenbach tried to dissuade me, but in
vain. He finally conceded the propriety of the penance, and insisted on joining me. I could not
resist his transparent affection.
I felt greatly relieved, for the decision meant a heavy load off my mind. The anger against the
guilty parties subsided and gave place to the purest pity for them. Thus considerably eased, I
reached Phoenix. I made further investigation and acquainted myself with some more details I
needed to know.
My penance pained everybody, but it cleared the atmosphere. Everyone came to realize what a
terrible thing it was to be sinful, and the bond that bound me to the boys and girls became
stronger and truer.
A circumstance arising out of this incident compelled me, a little while after, to go into a fast for
fourteen days, the results of which exceeded even my expectations.
It is not my purpose to make out from these incidents that it is the duty of a teacher to resort to
fasting whenever there is a delinquency on the part of his pupils. I hold, however, that some
occasions do call for this drastic remedy. But it presupposes clearness of vision and spiritual
fitness. Where there is no true love between the teacher and the pupil, where the pupil’s
delinquency has not touched the very being of the teacher and where the pupil has no respect for
the teacher, fasting is out of place and may even be harmful. Though there is thus room for
doubting the propriety of fasts in such cases, there is no question about the teacher’s
responsibility for the errors of his pupil. The first penance did not prove difficult for any of us. I had to suspend or stop none of my normal
activities. It may be recalled that during the whole of this period of penance I was a strict
fruitarian. The latter part of the second fast went fairly hard with me. I had not then completely
understood the wonderful efficacy of Ramanama , and my capacity for suffering was to that
extent less. Besides, I did not know the technique of fasting, especially the necessity of drinking
plenty of water, however nauseating or distasteful it might be. Then the fact that the first fast had
been an easy affair had made me rather careless as to the second. Thus during the first I took
Kuhne baths every day, but during the second I gave them up after two or three days, and drank
very little water, as it was distasteful and produced nausea. The throat became parched and
weak and during the last days I could speak only in a very low voice. In spite of this, however, my
work was carried on through dictation where writing was necessary. I regularly listened to
readings from the Ramayana and other sacred books. I had also sufficient strength to discuss
and advise in all urgent matters.
Chapter 114
I must skip many of the recollections of South Africa. At the conclusion of the Satyagraha
struggle in 1914, I received Gokhale’s instruction to return home via London. So in July Kasturbai,
Kallenbach and I sailed for England.
During Satyagraha I had begun travelling third class. I therefore took third class passages for this
voyage. But there was a good deal of difference between third class accommodation on the boat
on this route and that provided on Indian coastal boats or railway trains. There is hardly sufficient
sitting, much less sleeping, accommodation in the Indian service, and little cleanliness. During the
voyage to London, on the other hand, there was enough room and cleanliness, and the
steamship company had provided special facilities for us. The company had provided reserved
closet accommodation for us, and as we were fruitarians, the steward had orders to supply us
with fruits and nuts. As a rule third class passengers get little fruit or nuts. These facilities made
our eighteen days on the boat quite comfortable.
Some of the incidents during the voyage are well worth recording. Mr. Kallenbach was very fond
of binoculars, and had one or two costly pairs. We had daily discussion over one of these. I tried
to impress on him that this possession was not in keeping with the ideal of simplicity that we
aspired to reach. Our discussions came to a head one day, as we were standing near the
porthole of our cabin.
‘Rather than allow these to be a bone of contention between us, why not throw them into the sea
and be done with them?’ said I.
‘Certainly throw the wretched things away.’ said Mr. Kallenbach.
‘I mean it,’ said I.
‘So do I,’ quickly came the reply. And forthwith I flung them into the sea. They were worth some £7, but their value lay less in their
price than in Mr. Kallenbach’s infatuation for them. However, having got rid of them, he never
regretted it.
This is out one out of the many incidents that happened between Mr. Kallenbach and me.
Every day we had to learn something new in this way, for both of us were trying to tread the path
of Truth. In the march towards Truth, anger, selfishness, hatred, etc., naturally give way, for
otherwise Truth would be impossible to attain. A man who is swayed by passions may have good
enough intentions, may be truthful in word, but he will never find the Truth. A successful search
for Truth means complete deliverance from the dual throng such as of love and hate, happiness
and misery.
Not much time had elapsed since my fast when we started on our voyage. I had not regained my
normal strength. I used to stroll on duck to get a little exercise, so as to revive my appetite and
digest what I ate. But even this exercise was beyond me, causing pain in the calves, so much so
that on reaching London I found that I was worse rather than better. There I came to know Dr.
Jivraj Mehta. I gave him the history of my fast and subsequent pain, and he said, ‘If you do not
take complete rest for a few days, there is a fear of your legs going out of use.’
It was then that I learned that a man emerging from a long fast should not be in a hurry to regain
lost strength, and should also put a curb on his appetite. More caution and perhaps more restraint
are necessary in breaking a fast than in keeping it.
In Madeira we heard that the great War might break out at any moment. As we entered the
English Channel, we received the news of its actual outbreak. We were stopped for some time. It
was a difficult business to tow the boat through the submarine mines which had been laid
throughout the Channel, and it took about two days to reach Southampton.
War was declared on the 4th of August. We reached London on the 6th.
Chapter 115
On arrival in England I learned that Gokhale had been stranded in Paris where he had gone for
reasons of health, and as communication between Paris and London had been cut off, there was
no knowing when he would return. I did not want to go home without having seen him, but no one
could say definitely when he would arrive.
What then was I to do in the meanwhile? What was my duty as regards the war? Sorabji
Adajania, my comrade in jail and a Satyagrahi, was then reading for the bar in London. As one of
the best Satyagrahis he had been sent to England to qualify himself as a barrister, so that he
might take my place on return to South Africa. Dr. Pranjivandas Mehta was paying his expenses.
With him, and through him, I had conferences with Dr. Jivraj Mehta and others who were
prosecuting their studies in England. In consultation with them, a meeting of the Indian residents
in Great Britain and Ireland was called. I placed my views before them. I felt that Indians residing in England ought to do their bit in the war. English students had
volunteered to serve in the army, and Indians might do no less. A number of objections were
taken to this line of argument. There was, it was contended, a world of difference between the
Indians and the English. We were salves and they were masters. How could a slave co-operate
with the master in the hour of the latter’s need? Was it not the duty of the slave, seeking to be
free, to make the master’s need his opportunity? This argument failed to appeal to me then. I
knew the difference of status between an Indian and an Englishman, but I did not believe that we
had been quite reduced to slavery. I felt then that it was more the fault of individual British officials
than of the British system, and that we could convert them by love. If we would improve our status
through the help and co-operation of the British, it was our duty to win their help by standing by
them in their hour of need. Though the system was faulty, it did not seem to me to be intolerable,
as it does today. But if, having lost my faith in the system, I refuse to co-operate with the British
Government today, how could those friends then do so, having lost their faith not only in the
system but in the officials as well?
The opposing friends felt that was the hour for making a bold declaration of Indian demands and
for improving the status of Indians.
I thought that England’s need should not be turned into our opportunity, and that it was more
becoming and far-sighted not to press our demands while the war lasted. I therefore adhered to
my advice and invited those who would to enlist as volunteers. There was a good response,
practically all the provinces and all the religions being represented among the volunteers.
I wrote a letter to Lord Crewe, acquainting him with these facts, and expressing our readiness to
be trained for ambulance work, if that should be considered a condition precedent to the
acceptance of our offer.
Lord Crewe accepted the offer after some hesitation, and thanked us for having tendered our
services to the Empire at that critical hour.
The volunteers began their preliminary training in first aid to the wounded under the well-known
Dr.Cantlie. It was a short course of six weeks, but it covered the whole course of first aid.
We were a class of about 80. In six weeks we were examined, and all except one passed. For
these the Government now provided military drill and other training. Colonel Baker was placed in
charge of this work.
London in these days was a sight worth seeing. There was no panic, but all were busy helping to
the best of their ability. Able-bodied adults began training as combatants, but what were the old,
the infirm and the women to do? There was enough work for them, if they wanted. So they
employed themselves in cutting and making clothes and dressings for the wounded.
The Lyceum, a ladies’ club, undertook to make as many clothes for the soldiers as they could.
Shrimati Sarojini Naidu was a member of this club, and threw herself whole-heartedly into the
work. This was my first acquaintance with her. She placed before me a heap of clothes which had
been cut to pattern, and asked me to get them all sewn up and return them to her. I welcomed
her demand and with the assistance of friends got as many clothes made as I could manage
during my training for first aid. Chapter 116
As soon as the news reached South Africa that I along with other Indians had offered my
services in the war, I received two cables. One of these was from Mr. Polak who questioned the
consistency of my action with my profession of ahimsa .
I had to a certain extent anticipated this objection, for I had discussed the question in my Hind
Swaraj or Indian Home Rule , and used to discuss it day in and day out with friends in South
Africa. All of us recognized the immorality of war.If I was not prepared to prosecute my assailant,
much less should I be willing to participate in a war, especially when I knew nothing of the justice
or otherwise of the cause of the combatants. Friends of course knew that I had previously served
in the Boer War, but they assumed that my views had since undergone a change.
As a matter of fact the very same line of argument that persuaded me to take part in the Boer
War had weighed with me on this occasion. It was quite clear to me that participation in war could
never be consistent with ahimsa . But it is not always given to one to be equally clear about one’s
duty. A votary of truth is often obliged to grope in the dark.
Ahimsa is a comprehensive principle. We are helpless mortals caught in the conflagration of
himsa . The saying that life lives on life has a deep meaning in it. Man cannot for a moment live
without consciously or unconsciously committing outward himsa . The very fact of his living
eating, drinking and moving about necessarily involves some himsa , destruction of life, be it ever
so minute. A votary of ahimsa therefore remains true to his faith if the spring of all his actions is
compassion, if he shuns to the best of his ability the destruction of the tiniest creature, tries to
save it, and thus incessantly strives to be free from the deadly coil of himsa . He will be constantly
growing in self-restraint and compassion, but he can never become entirely free from outward
himsa .
Then again, because underlying ahimsa is the unity of all life, the error of one cannot but affect
all, and hence man cannot be wholly free from himsa . So long as he continues to be a social
being, he cannot but participate in the himsa that the very existence of society involves. When
two nations are fighting, the duty of a votary of ahimsa is to stop the war. He who is not equal to
that duty, he who has no power of resisting war, he who is not qualified to resist war, may take
part in war, and yet whole-heartedly try to free himself, his nation and the world from war.
I had hoped to improve status and that of my people through the British Empire. Whilst in England
I was enjoying the protection of the British Fleet, and taking shelter as I did under its armed might,
I was directly participating in its potential violence. Therefore if I desired to retain my connection
with the Empire and to live under its banner, one of three courses was open to me: I could
declare open resistance to the war and, in accordance with the law of Satyagraha, boycott the
Empire until it changed its military policy; or I could seek imprisonment by civil disobedience of
such of its laws as were fit to be disobeyed; or I could participate in the war on the side of the
Empire and thereby acquire the capacity and fitness for resisting the violence of war. I lacked this
capacity and fitness, as I thought there was nothing for it but to serve in the war.
I make no distinction, from the point of view of ahimsa , between combatants and noncombatants. He who volunteers to serve a band of dacoits, by working as their carrier, or their
watchman while they are about their business, or their nurse when they are wounded, is as much
guilty of dacoity as the dacoits themselves. In the same way those who confine themselves to
attending to the wounded in battle cannot be absolved from the guilt of war. I had argued the whole thing out to myself in this manner, before I received Polak’s cable, and
soon after its receipt, I discussed these views with several friends and concluded that it was my
duty to offer to serve in the war. Even today I see no flaw in that line of argument, nor am I sorry
for my action, holding, as I then did, views favourable to the British connection.
I know that even then I could not carry conviction with all my friends about the correctness of my
position. The question is subtle. It admits of differences of opinion, and therefore I have submitted
my argument as clearly as possible to those who believe in ahimsa and who are making serious
efforts to practise it in every walk of life. A devotee of Truth may not do anything in deference to
convention. He must always hold himself open to correction, and whenever he discovers himself
to be wrong he must confess it at all costs and atone for it.
Chapter 117
Though I thus took part in the war as a matter of duty, it chanced that I was not only unable
directly to participate in it, but actually compelled to offer what may be called miniature
Satyagraha even at that critical juncture.
I have already said that an officer was appointed in charge of our training, as soon as our names
were approved and enlisted. We were all under the impression that this Commanding Officer was
to be our chief only so far as technical matters were concerned, and that in all other matters I was
the head of our Corps, which was directly responsible to me in matters of internal discipline; that
is to say, the Commanding Officer had to deal with the Corps through me. But from the first the
Officer left us under no much delusion.
Mr. Sorabji Adajania was a shrewd man. He warned me. ‘Beware of this man,’ he said. ‘He
seems inclined to lord it over us. We will have none of his orders. We are prepared to look upon
him as our instructor. But the youngsters he has appointed to instruct us also feel as though they
had come as our masters.’
These youngsters were Oxford students who had come to instruct us and whom the
Commanding Officer had appointed to be our section leaders.
I also had not failed to notice the high-handedness of the Commanding Officer, but I asked
Sorabji not to be anxious and tried to pacify him. But he was not the man to be easily convinced.
‘You are too trusting. Those people will deceive you with wretched words, and when at last you
see through them, you will ask us to resort to Satyagraha, and so come to grief, and bring us all
to grief along with you,’ said he with a smile.
‘What else but grief can you hope to come to after having cast in your lot with me?’ said I. ‘A
Satyagrahi is born to be deceived. Let the Commanding Officer deceive us. Have I not told you
times without number that ultimately a deceiver only deceives himself?’
Sorabji gave a loud laugh. ‘Well, then,’ said he, ‘continue to be deceived. You will some day meet
your death in Satyagraha and drag poor mortals like me behind you.’ These words put me in mind of what the late Miss Emily Hobhouse wrote to me with regard to
non-co-operation: ‘I should not be surprised if one of these days you have to go to the gallows for
the sake of truth. May God show you the right path and protect you.’
The talk with Sorabji took place just after the appointment of the Commanding Officer. In a very
few days our relations with him reached the breaking point. I had hardly regained my strength
after the fourteen days’ fast, when I began to take part in the drill, often walking to the appointed
place about two miles from home. This gave me pleurisy and laid me low. In this condition I had
to go week-end camping. Whilst the others stayed there, I returned home. It was here that an
occasion arose for Satyagraha.
The Commanding Officer began to exercise his authority somewhat freely. He gave us clearly to
understand that he was our head in all matters, military and non-military, giving us at the same
time a taste of his authority. Sorabji hurried to me. He was not at all prepared to put up with this
high-handedness. He said: ‘We must have all orders through you. We are still in the training
camp and all sorts of absurd orders are being issued. Invidious distinctions are made between
ourselves and those youths who have been appointed to instruct us. We must have it out with the
Commanding Officer, otherwise we shall not be able to go on any longer. The Indian students
and others who have joined our Corps are not going to abide by any absurd orders. In a cause
which has been taken up for the sake of self-respect, it is unthinkable to put up with loss of it.’
I approached the Commanding Officer and drew his attention to the complaints I had received.
He wrote asking me to set out the complaints in writing, at the same time asking me ‘to impress
upon those who complain that the proper direction in which to make complaints is to me through
their section commanders, now appointed, who will inform me through the instructors.’
To this I replied saying that I claimed no authority, that in the military sense I was no more than
any other private, but that I had believed that as Chairman of the Volunteer Corps, I should be
allowed unofficially to act as their representative. I also set out the grievances and requests that
had been brought to my notice, namely, that grievous dissatisfaction had been caused by the
appointment of section leaders without reference to the feeling of the members of the Corps; that
they be recalled, and the Corps be invited to elect section leaders, subject to the Commander’s
This did not appeal to the Commanding Officer, who said it was repugnant to all military discipline
that the section leaders should be elected by the Corps, and that the recall of appointments
already made would be subversive of all discipline.
So we held a meeting and decided upon withdrawal. I brought home to the members the serious
consequences of Satyagraha. But a very large majority voted for the resolution, which was to the
effect that, unless the appointments of Corporals already made were recalled and the members
of the Corps given an opportunity of electing their own Corporals, the members would be obliged
to abstain from further drilling and week-end camping.
I then addressed a letter to the Commanding Officer telling him what a severe disappointment his
letter rejecting my suggestion had been. I assured him that I was most anxious to serve. I also
drew his attention to a precedent. I pointed out that, although I occupied no official rank in the
South African Indian Ambulance Corps at the time of the Boer War, there was never a hitch
between Colonel Gallwey and the Corps, and the Colonel never took a step without reference to
me with a view to ascertain the wishes of the Corps. I also enclosed a copy of the resolution we
had passed the previous evening.
This had no good effect on the Officer, who felt that the meeting and the resolution were a grave
breach of discipline. Hereupon I addressed a letter to the Secretary of State for India, acquainting him with all the facts
and enclosing a copy of the resolution. He replied explaining that conditions in South Africa were
different, and drawing my attentions to the fact that under the rules the section commanders were
appointed by the Commanding Officer, but assuring me that in future, when appointing section
commanders, the Commanding Officer would consider my recommendations.
A good deal of correspondence passed between us after this, but I do not want to prolong the
bitter tale. Suffice it to say that my experience was of a piece with the experiences we daily have
in India. What with threats and what with adroitness the Commanding Officer succeeded in
creating a division in our Corps. Some of those who had voted for the resolution yielded to the
Commander’s threats or persuasions and wen back on their promise.
About this time an unexpectedly large contingent of wounded soldiers arrived at the Netley
Hospital, and the services of our Corps were requisitioned. Those whom the Commanding Officer
could persuade went to Netley. The others refused to go. I was on my back, but was in
communication with the members of the Corps. Mr. Roberts, the Under- Secretary of State,
honoured me with many calls during those days. He insisted on my persuading the others to
serve. He suggested that they should form a separate Corps and that at the Netley Hospital they
could be responsible only to the Commanding Officer there, so that there would be no question of
loss of self-respect, Government would be placated, and at same time helpful service would be
rendered to the large number of wounded received at the hospital. This suggestion appealed both
to my companions and to me, with the result that those who had stayed away also went to Netley.
Only I remained away, lying on my back and making the best of a bad job.
Chapter 118
I have already referred to the attack of pleurisy I had in England. Gokhale returned to London
soon after. Kallenbach and I used regularly to go to him. Our talks were mostly about the war,
and as Kallenbach had the geography of Germany at his finger tips, and had travelled much in
Europe, he used to show him on the map the various places in connection with the war.
When I got pleurisy this also became a topic of daily discussion. My dietetic experiments were
going on even then. My diet consisted, among other things, of groundnuts, ripe and unripe
bananas, lemon, olive oil, tomatoes and grapes. I completely eschewed milk, cereals, pulses and
other things.
Dr. Jivraj Mehta treated me. He pressed me hard to resume milk and cereals, but I was obdurate.
The matter reached Gokhale’s ears. He had not much regard for my reasoning in favour of a
fruitarian diet, and he wanted me to take whatever the doctor prescribed for my health.
It was no easy thing for me not a yield to Gokhale’s pressure. When he would not take a refusal, I
begged him to give me twenty-four hours for thinking over the question. As Kallenbach and I
returned home that evening, we discussed where my duty lay. He had been with me in my
experiment. He liked it, but I saw that he was agreeable to my giving it up if my health demanded
it. So I had to decide for myself according to the dictates of the inner voice. I spent the whole night thinking over the matter. To give up the experiment would mean
renouncing all my ideas in that direction, and yet I found no flaw in them. The question was how
far I should yield to Gokhale’s loving pressure, and how far I might modify my experiment in the
so-called interests of health. I finally decided to adhere to the experiment in so far as the motive
behind was chiefly religious, and to yield to the doctor’s advice where the motive was mixed.
Religious considerations had been predominant in the giving up of milk. I had before me a picture
of the wicked processes the govals in Calcutta adopted to extract the last drop of milk from their
cows and buffaloes. I also had the feeling that, just as meat was not man’s food, even so animal’s
milk could not be man’s food. So I got up in the morning with the determination to adhere to my
resolve to abstain from milk. This greatly relieved me. I dreaded to approach Gokhale, but I
trusted him to respect my decision.
In the evening Kallenbach and I called on Gokhale at the National Liberal Club. The first question
he asked me was: ‘Well, have you decided to accept the doctor’s advice?’
I gently but firmly replied: ‘I am willing to yield on all points except one about which I beg you not
to press me. I will not take milk, milk-products or meat. If not to take these things should mean my
death, I feel I had better face it.’
‘Is this your final decision?’ asked Gokhlae.
‘I am afraid I cannot decide otherwise,’ said I. ‘I know that my decision will pain you, but I beg
your forgiveness.’
With a certain amount of pain but with deep affection, Gokhale said: ‘I do not approve of your
decision. I do not see any religion in it. But I won’t press you any more.’ With these words he
turned to Dr. Jivraj Mehta and said: ‘Please don’t worry him any more. Prescribe anything you like
within the limit he has set for himself.’
The doctor expressed dissent, but was helpless. He advised me to take mung soup., with a dash
of asafoetida in it. To this I agreed. I took it for a day or two, but it increased my pain. As I did not
find it suitable, I went back to fruits and nuts. The doctor of course went on with his external
treatment. The latter somewhat relieved my pain, but my restrictions were to him a sore handicap.
Meanwhile Gokhale left for home, as he could not stand the October fogs of London.
Chapter 119
The persistence of the pleurisy caused some anxiety, but I knew that the cure lay not in taking
medicine internally but in dietetic changes assisted by external remedies.
I called in Dr. Allinson of vegetarian fame, who treated diseases by dietetic modifications and
whom I had met in 1890. He thoroughly overhauled me. I explained to him how I had pledged
myself not to take milk. He cheered me up and said: ‘You need not take milk. In fact I want you to
do without any fat for some days.’ He then advised me to live on plain brown bread, raw
vegetables such as beet, radish, onion and other tubers and greens, and also fresh fruit, mainly oranges. The vegetables were not to be cooked but merely grated fine, if I could not masticate
I adopted this for about three days, but raw vegetables did not quite suit me. My body was not in
a condition to enable me to do full justice to the experiment. I was nervous about taking raw
Dr. Allinson also advised me to keep all the windows of my room open for the whole twenty-four
hours, bathe in tepid water, have an oil massage on the affected parts and a walk in the open for
fifteen to thirty minutes. I liked all these suggestions.
My room had French windows which, if kept wide open, would let in the rain. The fanlight could
not be opened. I therefore got the glass broken, so as to let in fresh air, and I partially opened the
windows in a manner not to let in rain.
All these measures somewhat improved my health, but did not completely cure me.
Lady Cecilia Roberts occasionally called on me. We became friends. She wanted very much to
persuade me to take milk. But as I was unyielding, she hunted about for a substitute for milk.
Some friend suggested to her malted milk, assuring her quite unknowingly that it was absolutely
free from milk, and that it was a chemical preparation with all the properties of milk. Lady Cecilia, I
knew, had a great regard for my religious scruples, and so I implicitly trusted her. I dissolved the
powder in water and took it only to find that it tasted just like milk. I read the label on the bottle, to
find, only too late, that it was a preparation of milk. So I gave it up.
I informed Lady Cecilia about the discovery, asking her not to worry over it. She came post haste
to me to say how sorry she was. Her friend had not read the label at all. I begged her not to be
anxious and expressed my regret that I could not avail myself of the thing she had procured with
so much trouble. I also assured her that I did not at all feel upset or guilty over having taken milk
under a misapprehension.
I must skip over many other sweet reminiscences of my contact with Lady Cecilia. I could think of
many friends who have been a source of great comfort to me in the midst of trials and
disappointments. One who has faith reads in them the merciful providence of God, who thus
sweetens sorrow itself.
Dr. Allinson, when he next called, relaxed his restrictions and permitted me to have groundnut
butter or olive oil for the sake of fat, and to take the vegetables cooked, if I chose, with rice.
These changes were quite welcome, but they were far from giving me a complete cure. Very
careful nursing was still necessary, and I was obliged to keep mostly in bed.
Dr. Mehta occasionally looked in to examine me and held out a standing offer to cure me if only I
would listen to his advice.
Whilst things were going on in this way, Mr, Roberts one day came to see me and urged me very
strongly to go home. ‘You cannot possibly go to Netley in this condition. There is still severer cold
ahead of us. I would strongly advise you to get back to India, for it is only there that you can be
completely cured. If, after your recovery, you should find the war still going on, you will have
many opportunities there of rendering help. As it is, I do not regard what you have already done
as by any means a mean contribution.’
I accepted his advice and began to make preparations for returning to India. Chapter 120
Mr. Kallenbach had accompained me to England with a view to going to India. We were
staying together and of course wanted to sail by the same boat. Germans, however, were under
such strict surveillance that we had our doubts about Mr. Kallenbach getting a passport. I did my
best to get it, and Mr. Roberts, who was in favour of his getting his passport, sent a cable to the
Viceroy in this behalf. But straight came Lord Hardinge’s reply: ‘Regret Government of India not
prepared to take any such risk.’ All of us understood the force of the reply.
It was a great wrench for me to part from Mr. Kallenbach, but I could see that his pang was
greater. Could he have come to India, he would have been leading today the simple happy life of
a farmer and weaver. Now he is in South Africa, leading his old life and doing brisk business as
an architect.
We wanted a third class passage, but as there was none available on P. and O. boats, we had to
go second.
We took with us the dried fruit we had carried from South Africa, as most of it would not be
procurable on the boat, where fresh fruit was easily available.
Dr. Jivraj Mehta had bandaged my ribs with ‘Mede’s Plaster’ and had asked me not to remove it
till we reached the Red Sea. For two days I put up with the discomfort, but finally it became too
much for me. It was with considerable difficulty that I managed to undo the plaster and regain the
liberty of having a proper wash and bath.
My diet consisted mostly of nuts and fruits. I found that I was improving every day and felt very
much better by the time we entered the Suez Canal. I was weak, but felt entirely out of danger,
and I gradually went on increasing my exercise. The improvement I attributed largely to the pure
air of the temperate zone.
Whether it was due to past experience or to any other reason, I do not know, but the kind of
distance I noticed between the English and Indian passengers on the boat was something I had
not observed even on my voyage from South Africa. I did talk to a few Englishmen, but the talk
was mostly formal. There were hardly any cordial conversations such as had certainly taken
place on the South African boats. The reason for this was, I think, to be found in the conscious or
unconscious feeling at the back of the Englishman’s mind that he belonged to the ruling race, and
the feeling at the back of the Indian’s mind that he belonged to the subject race.
I was eager to reach home and get free from this atmosphere.
On arriving at Aden we already began to feel somewhat at home. We knew the Adenwallas very
well, having met Mr. Kekobad Kavasji Dinshaw in Durban and come in close contact with him and
his wife.
A few days more and we reached Bombay. It was such a joy to get back to the homeland after an
exile of ten years. Gokhale had inspired a reception for me in Bombay, where he had come in spite of his delicate
health. I had approached India in the ardent hope of merging myself in him, and thereby feeling
free. But fate had willed it otherwise.
Chapter 121
Before coming to a narrative of the course my life took in India, it seems necessary to recall a
few of the South African experiences which I have deliberately left out.
Some lawyer friends have asked me to give my reminiscences of the bar. The number of these is
so large that, if I were to describe them all, they would occupy a volume by themselves and take
me out of my scope. But it may not perhaps be improper to recall some of those which bear upon
the practice of truth.
So far as I can recollect, I have already said that I never resorted to untruth in my profession, and
that a large part of my legal practice was in the interest of public work, for which I charged nothing
beyond out-of-pocket expenses, and these too I sometimes met myself. I had thought that in
saying this I had said all that was necessary as regards my legal practice. But friends want me to
do more. They seem to think that, if I described however slightly, some of the occasions when I
refused to swerve from the truth, the legal profession might profit by it.
As a student I had heard that the lawyer’s profession was a liar’s profession. But this did not
influence me, as I had no intention of earning either position or money by lying.
My principle was put to the test many a time in South Africa. Often I knew that my opponents had
tutored their witnesses, and if I only encouraged my client or his witnesses to lie, we could win the
case. But I always resisted the temptation. I remember only one occasion when, after having won
a case, I suspected that my client had deceived me. In my heart of hearts I always wished that I
should win only if my client’s case was right. In fixing my fees I do not recall ever having made
them conditional on my winning the case. Whether my client won or lost, I expected nothing more
nor less than my fees.
I warned every new client at the outset that he should not expect me to take up a false case or to
coach the witnesses, with the result that I built up such a reputation that no false cases used to
come to me. Indeed some of my clients would keep their clean cases for me, and take the
doubtful ones elsewhere.
There was one case which proved a severe trial. It was brought to me by one of my best clients. It
was a case of highly complicated accounts and had been a prolonged one. It had been heard in
parts before several courts. Ultimately the book-keeping portion of it was entrusted by the court to
the arbitration of some qualified accountants. The award was entirely in favour of my client, but
the arbitrators had inadvertently committed an error in calculation which, however small, was
serious, inasmuch as an entry which ought to have been on the debit side was made on the credit
side. The opponents had opposed the award on other grounds. I was junior counsel for my client.
When the senior counsel became aware of the error, he was of opinion that our client was not
bound to admit it. He was clearly of opinion that no counsel was bound to admit anything that
went against his client’s interest. I said we ought to admit the error. But the senior counsel contended: ‘In that case there is every likelihood of the court cancelling the
whole award, and no sane counsel would imperil his client’s case to that extent. At any rate I
would be the last man to take any such risk. If the case were to be sent up for a fresh hearing,
one could never tell what expenses our client might have to incur, and what the ultimate result
might be!’
The client was present when this conversation took place.
I said : ‘I feel that both our client and we ought to run the risk. Where is the certainty of the court
upholding a wrong award simply because we do not admit the error? And supposing the
admission were to bring the client to grief, what harm is there?’
‘But why should we make the admission at all?’ said the senior counsel.
‘Where is the surety of the court not detecting the error or our opponent not discovering it?’ said I.
‘Well then, will you argue the case? I am not prepared to argue it on your terms,’ replied the
senior counsel with decision.
I humbly answered: ‘If you will not argue, then I am prepared to do so, if our client so desires. I
shall have nothing to do with the case if the error is not admitted.’
With this I looked at my client. He was a little embarrassed. I had been in the case from the very
first. The client fully trusted me, and knew me through and through. He said: ‘Well, then, you will
argue the case and admit the error. Let us lose, if that is to be our lot. God defend the right.’
I was delighted. I had expected nothing less from him. The senior counsel again warned me,
pitied me for my obduracy, but congratulated me all the same. What happened in the court we
shall see in the next chapter.
Chapter 122
I had no doubt about the soundness of my advice, but I doubted very much my fitness for doing
full justice to the case. I felt it would be a most hazardous undertaking to argue such a difficult
case before the Supreme Court, and I appeared before the Bench in fear and trembling.
As soon as I referred to the error in the accounts, one of the judges said:
‘Is not this sharp practice, Mr. Gandhi?’
I boiled within to hear this charge. It was intolerable to be accused of sharp practice when there
was not the slightest warrant for it.
‘With a judge prejudiced from the start like this, there is little chance of success in this difficult
case,’ I said to myself. But I composed my thoughts and answered: ‘I am surprised that your Lordship should suspect sharp practice without hearing me out.’
‘No question of a charge,’ said the judge. ‘It is a mere suggestion.’
‘The suggestion here seems to me to amount to a charge. I would ask your Lordship to hear me
out and then arraign me if there is any occasion for it.’
‘I am sorry to have interrupted you,’ replied the judge. ‘Pray do go on with your explanation of the
I had enough material in support of my explanation. Thanks to the judge having raised this
question, I was able to rivet the Court’s attention on my argument from the very start. I felt much
encouraged and took the opportunity of entering into a detailed explanation. The Court gave me a
patient hearing, and I was able to convince the judges that the discrepancy was due entirely to
inadvertence. They therefore did not feel disposed to cancel the whole award, which had involved
considerable labour.
The opposing counsel seemed to feel secure in the belief that not much argument would be
needed after the error had been admitted. But the judges continued to interrupt him, as they were
convinced that the error was a slip which could be easily rectified. The counsel laboured hard to
attack the award, but the judge who had originally started with the suspicion had now come round
definitely to my side.
‘Supposing Mr. Gandhi had not admitted the error, what would you have done?’ he asked.
‘It was impossible for us to secure the services of a more competent and honest expert
accountant than the one appointed by us.’
‘The Court must presume that you know your case best. If you cannot point out anything beyond
the slip which any expert accountant is liable to commit, the Court will be loath to compel the
parties to go in for fresh litigation and fresh expenses because of a patent mistake. We may not
order a fresh hearing when such an error can be easily corrected continued the judge.
And so the counsel’s objection was overruled. The Court either confirmed the award, with the
error rectified, or ordered the arbitrator to rectify the error, I forget which.
I was delighted. So were my client and senior counsel; and I was confirmed in my conviction that
it was not impossible to practise law without compromising truth.
Let the reader, however, remember that even truthfulness in the practice of the profession cannot
cure it of the fundamental defect that vitiates it.
Chapter 123
The distinction between the legal practice in Natal and that in the Transvaal was that in Natal
there was a joint bar; a barrister, whilst he was admitted to the rank of advocate, could also practise as an attorney; whereas in the Transvaal, as in Bombay, the spheres of attorneys and
advocates were distinct. A barrister had the right of election whether he would practise as an
advocate or as an attorney. So whilst in Natal I was admitted as an advocate, in the Transvaal I
sought admission as an attorney. For as an advocate I could not have come in direct contact with
the Indians and the white attorneys in South Africa would not have briefed me.
But even in the Transvaal it was open to attorneys to appear before magistrates. On one
occasion, whilst I was conducting a case before a magistrate in Johannesburg, I discovered that
my client had deceived me. I saw him completely break down in the witness box. So without any
argument I asked the magistrate to dismiss the case. The opposing counsel was astonished, and
the magistrate was pleased. I rebuked my client for bringing a false case to me. He knew that I
never accepted false cases, and when I brought the thing home to him, he admitted his mistake,
and I have an impression that he was not angry with me for having asked the magistrate to
decide against him. At any rate my conduct in this case did not affect my practice for the worse,
indeed it made my work easier. I also saw that my devotion to truth enhanced my reputation
amongst the members of the profession, and in spite of the handicap of colour I was able in some
cases to win even their affection.
During my professional work it was also my habit never to conceal my ignorance from my clients
or my colleagues. Wherever I felt myself at sea, I would advise my client to consult some other
counsel, or if he preferred to stick to me, I would ask him to let me seek the assistance of senior
counsel. This frankness earned me the unbounded affection and trust of my clients. They were
always willing to pay the fee whenever consultation with senior counsel was necessary. This
affection and trust served me in good stead in my public work.
I have indicated in the foregoing chapters that my object in practising in South Africa was service
of the community. Even for this purpose, winning the confidence of the people was an
indispensable condition. The large hearted Indian magnified into service professional work done
for money, and when I advised them to suffer the hardships of imprisonment for the sake of their
rights, many of them cheerfully accepted the advice, not so much because they had reasoned out
the correctness of the course, as because of their confidence in, and affection for, me.
As I write this, many a sweet reminiscence comes to my mind. Hundreds of clients became
friends and real co-workers in public service, and their association sweetened a life that was
otherwise full of difficulties and dangers.
Chapter 124
The reader, by now, will be quite familiar with Parsi Rustomji’s name. He was one who became
at once my client and co-worker, or perhaps it would be truer to say that he first became coworker and then client. I won his confidence to such an extent that he sought and followed my
advice also in private domestic matters. Even when he was ill, he would seek my aid, and though
there was much difference between our ways of living, he did not hesitate to accept my quack
This friend once got into a very bad scrape. Though he kept me informed of most of his affairs, he
had studiously kept back one thing. He was a large importer of goods from Bombay and Calcutta, and not infrequently he resorted to smuggling. But as he was on the best terms with customs
officials, no one was inclined to suspect him. In charging duty, they used to take his invoices on
trust. Some might even have connived at the smuggling.
But to use the telling simile of the Gujarati poet Akho, theft like quicksilver won’t be suppressed,
and Parsi Rustomji’s proved no exception. The good friend ran post haste to me, the tears rolling
down his cheeks as he said: ‘Bhai, I have deceived you. My guilt has been discovered today. I
have smuggled and I am doomed. I must go to jail and be ruined. You alone may be able to save
me from this predicament. I have kept back nothing else from you, but I thought I ought not to
bother you with such tricks of the trade, and so I never told you about this smuggling. But now,
how much I repent it!’
I calmed him and said: ‘To save or not to save you is in His hands. As to me you know my way. I
can but try to save you by means of confession.’
The good Parsi felt deeply mortified.
‘But is not my confession before you enough?’ he asked.
‘You have wronged not me but Government. How will the confession made before me avail you?’
I replied gently.
‘Of course I will do just as you advise, but will you not consult with my old counsel Mr.—? He is a
friend too,’ said Parsi Rustomji.
Inquiry revealed that the smuggling had been going on for a long time, but the actual offence
detected involved a trifling sum. We went to his counsel. He perused the papers, and said: ‘The
case will be tried by a jury, and a Natal jury will be the last to acquit an Indian. But I will not give
up hope.’
I did not know this counsel intimately. Parsi Rustomji intercepted: ‘I thank you, but I should like to
be guided by Mr. Gandhi’s advice in this case. He knows me intimately. Of course you will advise
him whenever necessary.’
Having thus shelved the counsel’s question, we went to Parsi Rustomji’s shop.
And now explaining my view I said to him: ‘I don’t think this case should be taken to court at all. It
rests with the Customs Officer to prosecute you or to let you go, and he in turn will have to be
guided by the Attorney General. I am prepared to meet both. I propose that you should offer to
pay the penalty that fix, and the odds are that they will be agreeable. But if they are not, you must
be prepared to go to jail. I am of opinion that the shame lies not so much in going to jail as in
committing the offence. The deed of shame has already been done. Imprisonment you should
regard as a penance. The real penance lies in resolving never to smuggle again.’
I cannot say that Parsi Rustomji took all this quite well. He was a brave man, but his courage
failed him for the moment. His name and fame were at stake, and where would he be if the
edifice he had reared with such care and labour should go to pieces?
‘Well, I have told you,’ he said, ‘that I am entirely in your hands. You may do just as you like.’
I brought to bear on this case all my powers of persuasion. I met the Customs Officer and
fearlessly apprised him of the whole affair. I also promised to place all the books at his disposal
and told him how penitent Parsi Rustomji was feeling The Customs Officer said: ‘I like the old Parsi. I am sorry he has made a fool of himself. You
know where my duty lies. I must be guided by the Attorney General and so I would advise you to
use all your persuasion with him.’
‘I shall be thankful,’ said I, ‘if you do not insist on dragging him into court.’
Having got him to promise this, I entered into correspondence with the Attorney General and also
met him. I am glad to say that he appreciated my complete frankness and was convinced that I
had kept back nothing.
I now forget whether it was in connection with this or with some other case that my persistence
and frankness extorted from him the remark: ‘I see you will never take a no for an answer.’
The case against Parsi Rustomji was compromised.He was to pay a penalty equal to twice the
amount he had confessed to having smuggled. Rustomji reduced to writing the facts of the whole
case, got the paper framed and hung it up in his office to serve as a perpetual reminder to his
heirs and fellow merchants.
These friends Rustomji warned me not to be taken in by this transitory contrition. When I told
Rustomji about this warning he said: ‘What would be my fate if I deceived you?’
Chapter 125
Before I reached home, the party which had started from Phoenix had already arrived.
According to our original plan I was to have preceded them, but my preoccupation in England
with the war had upset all our calculations, and when I saw that I had to be detained in England
indefinitely, I was faced with the question of finding them all to stay together the Phoenix party. I
wanted them all to stay together in India, if possible, and to live the life they had led at Phoenix. I
did not know of any Ashram to which I could recommend them to go, and therefore cabled to
them to meet Mr. Andrews and do as he advised.
So they were first put in the Gurukul, Kangri, where the late Swami Shraddhanandji treated them
as his own children. After this they were put in the Shantiniketan Ashram, where the Poet and his
people showered similar love upon them. The experiences they gathered at both these places too
stood them and me in good stead.
The Poet, Shraddhanandji and Principal Sushil Rudra, as I used to say to Andrews, composed
his trinity. When in South Africa he was never tired of speaking of them, and of my many sweet
memories of South Africa, Mr. Andrews’ talks, day in and day out, of this great trinity, are
amongst the sweetest and most vivid. Mr. Andrews naturally put the Phoenix party in touch also
with Sushil Rudra. Principal Rudra had no Ashram, but he had a home which he placed
completely at the disposal of the Phoenix family. Within a day of their arrival, his people made
them deal so thoroughly at home that they did not seem to miss Phoenix at all.
It was only when I landed in Bombay that I learnt that the Phoenix party was at Shantiniketan. I
was therefore impatient to meet them as soon as I could after my meeting with Gokhale. The receptions in Bombay gave me an occasion for offering what might be called a little
At the party given in my honour at Mr. Jehangir Petit’s place, I did not dare to speak in Gujarati. In
those palatial surroundings of dazzling splendour I, who had lived my best life among indentured
labourers, felt myself a complete rustic. With my Kathiawadi cloak, turban and dhoti, I looked
somewhat more civilized than I do today, but the pomp and splendour of Mr. Petit’s mansion
made me feel absolutely out of my element. However, I acquitted myself tolerably well, having
taken shelter under Sir Pherozeshah’s protecting wing.
Then there was the Gujarati function. The Gujaratis would not let me go without a reception,
which was organized by the late Uttamlal Trivedi. I had acquainted myself with the programme
beforehand. Mr. Jinnah was present, being a Gujarati, I forget whether as president or as the
principal speaker. He made a short and sweet little speech in English. As far as I remember most
of the other speeches were also in English. When my turn came, I expressed my thanks in
Gujarati explaining my partiality for Gujarati and Hindustani, and entering my humble protest
against the use of English in a Gujarati gathering. This I did, not without some hesitation, for I was
afraid lest it should be considered discourteous for an inexperienced man, returned home after a
long exile, to enter his protest against established practices. But no one seemed to
misunderstand my insistence on replying in Gujarati. In fact I was glad to note that everyone
seemed reconciled to my protest.
The meeting thus emboldened me to think that I should not find it difficult to place my newfangled notions before my countrymen.
After a brief stay in Bombay, full of these preliminary experiences, I went to Poona whither
Gokhale had summoned me.
Chapter 126
The moment I reached Bombay Gokhale sent me word that the Governor was desirous of
seeing me, and that it might be proper for me to respond before I left for Poona. Accordingly I
called on His Excellency. After the usual inquiries, he said:
‘I ask one thing of you. I would like you to come and see me whenever you propose to take any
steps concerning Government.’
I replied:
‘I can very easily give the promise, inasmuch as it is my rule, as a Satyagrahi, to understand the
viewpoint of the party I propose to deal with, and to try to agree with him as far as may be
possible. I strictly observed the rule in South Africa and I mean to do the same here.’
Lord Willingdon thanked me and said: ‘You may come to me whenever you like, and you will see that my Government do not wilfully do
anything wrong.’
To which I replied: ‘It is that faith which sustains me.’
After this I went to Poona. It is impossible for me to set down all the reminiscences of this
precious time. Gokhale and the members of the Servants of India Society overwhelmed me with
affection. So far as I recollect, Gokhale had summoned all of them to meet me. I had a frank talk
with them all on every sort of subject.
Gokhale was very keen that I should join the Society and so was I. But the members felt that, as
there was a great difference between my ideals and methods of work and theirs, it might not be
proper for me to join the Society. Gokhale believed that, in spite of my insistence on my own
principles, I was equally ready and able to tolerate theirs.
‘But,’ he said, ‘the members of the Society have not yet undersrtood your readiness for
compromise. They are tenacious of their principles, and quite independent. I am hoping that they
will accept you, but if they don’t you will not for a moment think that they are lacking in respect or
love for you. They are hesitating to take any risk lest their high regard for you should be
jeopardized. But whether you are formally admitted as a member or not, I am going to look upon
you as one.’
I informed Gokhale of my intentions. Whether I was admitted as a member or not, I wanted to
have an Ashram where I could settle down with my Phoenix family, preferably somewhere in
Gujarat, as, being a Gujarati, I thought I was best fitted to serve the country through serving
Gujarat. Gokhale liked the idea. He said: ‘You should certainly do so. Whatever may be the result
of your talks with the members, you must look to me for the expenses of the Ashram, which I will
regard as my own.’
My heart overflowed with joy. It was a pleasure to feel free from the responsibility of raising funds,
and to realize that I should not be obliged to set about the work all on my own, but that I should
be able to count on a sure guide whenever I was in difficulty. This took a great load off my mind.
So the late Dr. Dev was summoned and told to open an account for me in the Society’s books
and to give me whatever I might require for the Ashram and for public expenses.
I now prepared to go to Shantiniketan. On the eve of my departure Gokhale arranged a party of
selected friends, taking good care to order refreshments of my liking, i.e., fruits and nuts. The
party was held just a few paces from his room, and yet he was hardly in a condition to walk
across and attend it. But his affection for me got the better of him and he insisted on coming. He
came, but fainted and had to be carried away. Such fainting was not a new thing with him and so
when he came to, he sent word that we must go on with the party.
This party was of course no more than a conversazione in the open space opposite the Society’s
guesthouse, during which friends had heart-to-heart chats over light refreshments of groundnuts,
dates and fresh fruits of the season.
But the fainting fit was to be no common event in my life. Chapter 127
From Poona I went to Rajkot and Porbandar, where I had to meet my brother’s widow and other
During the Satyagraha in South Africa I had altered my style of dress so as to make it more in
keeping with that of the indentured labourers, and in England also I had adhered to the same
style for indoor use. For landing in Bombay I had a Kathiawadi suit of clothes consisting of a shirt,
a dhoti, a cloak and a white scarf, all made of Indian mill cloth. But as I was to travel third from
Bombay, I regarded the scarf and the cloak as too much of an incumbrance, so I shed them, and
invested in an eight-to-ten-annas Kashmiri cap. One dressed in that fashion was sure to pass
muster as a poor man.
On account of the plague prevailing at that time third class passengers were being medically
inspected at Viramgam or Wadhwan I forget which. I had slight fever. The inspector on finding
that I had a temperature asked me to report myself to the Medical Officer at Rajkot and noted
down my name.
Someone had perhaps sent the information that I was passing through Wadhwan, for the tailor
Motilal, a noted public worker of the place, met me at the station. He told me about the Viramgam
customs, and the hardships railway passengers had to suffer on account of it. I had little
inclination to talk bacause of my fever, and tried to finish with a brief reply which took the form of
a question:
‘Are you prepared to go to jail?’
I had taken Motilal to be one of those impetuous youths who do not think before speaking. But not
so Motilal. He replied with firm deliberation:
‘We will certainly go to jail, provided you lead us. As kathiawadis, we have the first right on you.
Of course we do not mean to detain you now, but you must promise to halt here on your return.
You will be delighted to see the work and the spirit of our youths, and you may trust us to respond
as soon as you summon us.’
Motilal captivated me. His comrade eulogizing him, said:
‘Our friend is but a tailor. But he is such a master of his profession that he easily earns Rs. 15 a
month which is just what he needs working an hour a day, and gives the rest of his time to public
work. He leads us all, putting our education to shame.
Later I came in close contact with Motilal, and I saw that there was no exaggeration in the eulogy.
He made a point of spending some days in the then newly started Ashram every month to teach
the children tailoring and to do some of the tailoring of the Ashram himself. He would talk to me
every day of Viramgam, and the hardships of the passengers, which had become absolutely
unbearable for him. He was cut off in the prime of youth by a sudden illness, and public life at
Wadhwan suffered without him.
On reaching Rajkot, I reported myself to the Medical officer the next morning. I was not unknown
there. The Doctor felt ashamed and was angry with the inspector. This was unnecessary, for the inspector had only done his duty. He did not know me, and even if he had known me, he should
done have otherwise. The Medical Officer would not let me go to him again insisted on sending
an inspector to me instead.
Inspection of third class passangers for sanitary reasons is essential on such occasions. If big
men choose to travel third, whatever their position in life, they must voluntarily submit themselves
to all the regulations that the poor are subject to, and the officials ought to be impartial. My
experience is that the officials, instead of looking upon third class passengers as fellowmen,
regard them as so many sheep. They talk to them contemptuously, and brook no reply or
argument. The third class passenger has to obey the official as though he were his servant, and
the letter may with impunity belabour and blackmail him, and book him his ticket only putting him
to the greatest possible inconvenience, including often missing the train. All this I have seen with
my own eyes. No reform is possible unless some of the educated and the rich voluntarily accept
the status of the poor, travel third, refuse to enjoy the amenities denied to the poor and, instead of
taking avoidable hardships, discourtesies and injustice as a matter of course, fight for their
Wherever I went in Kathiawad I heard complaints about the Viramgam customs hardships. I
therefore decided immediately to make use of Lord Willingdon’s offer. I collected and read all the
literature available on the subject, convinced myself that the complaints were well founded, and
opened correspondence with the Bombay Government. I called on the Private Secretary to Lord
Willingdon and waited on His Excellency also. The latter expressed his sympathy but shifted the
blame on Delhi. ‘If it had been in our hands, we should have removed the cordon long ago. You
should approach the Government of India,’ said the secretary.
I communicated with the Government of India, but got no reply beyond an acknowledgment. It
was only when I had an occasion to meet Lord Chelmsford later that redress could be had. When
I placed the facts before him, he expressed his astonishment. He had known nothing of the
matter. He gave me a patient hearing, telephoned that very moment for papers about Viramgam,
and promised to remove the cordon if the authorities had no explanation or defence to offer.
Within a few days of this interview I read in the papers that the Viramgam customs cordon had
been removed.
I regarded this event as the advent of Satyagraha in India. For during my interview with the
Bombay Government the Secretary had expressed his disapproval of a reference to Satyagraha
in a speech which I had delivered in Bagasra (in Kathiawad).
‘Is not this a threat?’ he had asked. ‘And do you think a powerful Government will yield to
‘This was no threat’, I had replied. ‘It was educating the people. It is my duty to place before the
people all the legitimate remedies for grievances. A nation that wants to come into its own ought
to know all the ways and means to freedom. Usually they include violence as the last remedy.
Satyagraha, on the other hand, is an absolutely non- violent weapon. I regard it as my duty to
explain its practice and its limitations. I have no doubt that the British Government is a powerful
Government, but I have no doubt also that Satyagraha is a sovereign remedy.’
The clever Secretary sceptically nodded his head and said: ‘We shall see.’ Chapter 128
From Rajkot I proceeded to Shantiniketan. The teachers and students overwhelmed me with
affection. The reception was a beautiful combination of simplicity, art and love. It was here I met
Kakasaheb Kalelkar for the first time.
I did not know then why Kalelkar was called ‘Kakasaheb’. But I learnt later on that Sjt. Keshavrao
Deshpande, who was a contemporary and a close friend of mine in England, and who had
conducted a school in the Baroda State called ‘Ganganath Vidyalaya’, had given the teachers
family names with a view to investing the Vidyalaya with a family atmosphere. Sjt. Kalelkar who
was a teacher there came to be called, ‘Kaka’ (lit. paternal uncle). Phadke was called ‘Mama’ (lit.
maternal uncle), and Harihar Sharma received the name ‘Anna’ (lit. brother). Others also got
similar names. Anandanand (Swami) as Kaka’s friend and Patwardhan (Appa) as Mama’s friend
later joined the family, and all in course of time became my co-workers one after another. Sjt.
Deshpande himself used to be called ‘Saheb’. When the Vidyalaya had to be dissolved, the family
also broke up, but they never gave up their spiritual relationship or their assumed names.
Kakasaheb went out to gain experience of different institutions, and at the time I went to
Shantiniketan, he happened to be there. Chintaman Shastri, belonging to the same fraternity, was
there also. Both helped in teaching Samskrit.
The Phoenix family had been assigned separate quarters at Shantiniketan. Maganlal Gandhi was
at their head, and he had made it his business to see that all the rules of the Phoenix Ashram
should be scrupulously observed. I saw that, by dint his fragrance felt in the whole of
Andrews was there, and also Pearson. Amongst the Bengali teachers with whom we came in
fairly close contact were Jagadanandbabu, Nepalbabu, Santoshbabu, Kshitimohanbabu,
Nagenbabu, Sharadbabu and Kalibabu.
As is my wont, I quickly mixed with the teachers and students, and engaged them in a discussion
on self-help. I put it to the teachers that, if they and the boys dispensed with the services of paid
cooks and cooked their food themselves, it would enable the teachers to control the kitchen from
the point of view of the boy’s physical and moral health, and it would afford to the students an
object-lesson in self-help. One or two of them were inclined to shake their heads. Some of them
strongly approved of the proposal. The boys welcomed it, if only because of their instinctive taste
for novelty. So we launched the experiment. When I invited the Poet to express his opinion, he
said that he did not mind it provided the teachers were favourable. To the boys he said, ‘The
experiment contains the key to Swaraj.’
Pearson began to wear away his body in making the experiment a success. He threw himself into
it with zest. A batch was formed to cut vegetables, another to clean the grain, and so on.
Nagenbabu and others undertook to see to the sanitary cleaning of the kitchen and its
surroundings. It was a delight to me to see them working spade in hand.
But it was too much to expect the hundred and twenty-five boys with their teachers to take to this
work of physical labour like ducks to water. There used to be daily discussion. Some began early
to show fatigue. But Pearson was not the man to be tired. One would always find him with his
smiling face doing something or other in or about the kitchen. He had taken upon himself the
cleaning of the bigger utensils. A party of students played on their sitar before this cleaning party in order to beguile the tedium of the operation. All alike took the thing up with zest and
Shantiniketan became a busy hive.
Changes like these when once begun always develop. Not only was the Phoenix party’s kitchen
self-conducted, but the food cooked in it was of the simplest. Condiments were eschewed. Rice,
dal, vegetables and even wheat flour were all cooked at one and the same time in a kitchen with
a view to introducing reform in the Bengali kitchen. One or two teachers and some students ran
this kitchen.
The experiment was, however, dropped after some time. I am opinion that the famous institution
lost nothing by having conducted the experiment for a brief interval, and some of the experiences
gained could not but be of help to the teachers.
I had intended to stay at Shantiniketan for some time but fate willed otherwise. I had hardly been
there a week when I received from Poona a telegram announcing Gokhale’s death. Shantiniketan
was immersed in grief. All the members came over to me to express their condolences. A special
meeting was called in the Ashram temple to mourn the national loss. It was a solemn function.
The same day I left for Poona with my wife and Maganlal. All the rest stayed at Shantiniketan.
Andrews accompanied me up to Burdwan. ‘Do you think,’ he asked me, ‘that a time will come for
Satyagraha in India? And if so, have you any idea when it will come?’
‘It is difficult to say,’ said I. ‘For one year I am to do nothing. For Gokhale took from me a promise
that I should travel in India for gaining experience, and express no opinion on public question until
I have finished the period of probation. Even after the year is over, I will be in no hurry to speak
and pronounce opinions. And so I do not suppose there will be any occasion for Satyagraha for
five years or so.’
I may note in this connection that Gokhale used to laugh at some of my ideas in Hind Swaraj or
Indian Home Rule and say: ‘After you have stayed a year in India, your views will correct
Chapter 129
At Burdwan we came face to face with the hardships that a third class passenger has to go
through even in securing his ticket.’Third class tickets are not booked so early,’ we were told. I
went to the Station Master, though that too was a difficult business. Someone kindly directly me
to where he was, and I represented to him our difficulty. He also made the same reply. As soon
as the booking window opened, I went to purchase the tickets. But it was no easy thing to get
them. Might was right, and passengers, who were forward and indifferent to others, coming one
after another, continued to push me out. I was therefore about the last of the first crowd to get a
The train arrived, and getting into it was another trial. There was a free exchange of abuse and
pushes between passengers already in the train and those trying to get in. We ran up and down the platform, but were everywhere met with the same reply: ‘No room here.’ I went to the guard.
He said, ‘You must try to get in where you can or take the next train.’
‘But I have urgent business,’ I respectfully replied. He had no time to listen to me. I was
disconcerted. I told Maganlal to get in wherever possible, and I got into an inter-class
compartment with my wife. The guard saw us getting in. At Asansol station he came to charge us
excess fares. I said to him:
‘It was your duty to find us room. We could not get any, and so we are sitting here. If you can
accommodate us in a third class compartment, we shall be only too glad to go there.’
‘You may not argue with me,’ said the guard. ‘I cannot accommodate you. You must pay the
excess fare, or get out.’
I wanted to reach Poona somehow. I was not therefore prepared to fight the guard. so I paid the
excess fare he demanded, i.e., up to Poona. But I resented the injustice.
In the morning we reached Mogalsarai. Maganlal had managed to get a seat in the third class, to
which I now and asked him to give me a certificate to the effect that I had shifted to a third class
compartment at Mogalsarai. This he declined to do. I applied to the railway authorities for redress,
and got a reply to this effect: ‘It is not our practice to refund excess fares without the production of
a certificate, but we make an exception in your case. It is not possible, however, to refund the
excess fare from Burdwan to Mogalsarai.’
Since this I have had experiences of third class travelling which, if I wrote them all down, would
easily fill a volume. But I can only touch on them causally in these chapters. It has been and
always will be my profound regret that physical incapacity should have compelled me to give up
third class travelling.
The woes of third class passengers are undoubtedly due to the high- handedness of railway
authorities. But the rudeness, dirty habits, selfishness and ignorance of the passengers
themselves are no less to blame. The pity is that they often do not realize that they are behaving
ill, dirtily or salfishly. They believe that everything they do is in the natural way. All this may be
traced to the indifference towards them of us ‘educated’ people.
We reached Kalyan dead tried. Maganlal and I got some water from the station water-pipe and
had our bath. As I was proceeding to arrange for my wife’s bath, Sjt Kaul of the Servants of India
Society recognizing us came up. He too was going to Poona. He offered to take my wife to the
second class bath room. I hesitated to accept the courteous offer. I knew that my wife had no
right to avail herself of the second class bathroom, But I ultimately connived at the impropreity.
This, I know, does not become a votary of truth. Not that my wife was eager to use the bath room,
but a husband’s partiality for his wife got the better of his partiality for truth. The face of truth is
hidden behind the golden veil of #maya#, says the Upanishad. Chapter 130
On arrival in Poona, we found ourselves, after the performance of the #shradha# ceremonies,
discussing the future of the Society, and the question as to whether I should join it or not. This
question of membership proved a very delicate matter for me to handle. Whlist Gokhale was
there I did not have to seek admission as a member. I had simply to obey his wish, a position I
loved to be in. Launching on the stormy sea of Indian public life, I was in need of a sure pilot. I
had one in Gokhale and had felt secure in his keeping. Now that he was gone, I was thrown on
my own resources, and I felt that it was my duty to seek admission. That, I thought, would please
Gokhale’s spirit. So, without hesitation and with firmness, I began the wooing.
Most of the members of the Society were in Poona at this juncture. I set about pleading with them
and tried to dispel their fears about me. But I saw that they were divided. One section favoured
my admission, the other was strongly against it. I knew that neither yielded to the other in its
affection for me, but possibly their loyalty to the Society was greater, at any rate not less than
their love for me. All our discussions were therefore free from bitterness, and strictly confined to
matters of principle. The section that was opposed to me held that they and I were as the poles
asunder in various vital matters, and they felt my membership was likely to imperil the very
objects for which the Society was founded. This naturally was more than they could bear.
We dispersed after prolonged discussions, the final decision being postponed to a later date.
I was considerably agitated as I returned home. Was it right for me to be admitted by a majority
vote? Would it be consonant with my loyalty to Gokhale? I saw clearly that, when there was such
a sharp division amongst the members of the Society over admitting me, by far the best course
for me was to withdraw my application for admission and save those opposed to me from a
delicate situation. Therein I thought lay my loyalty to the Society and Gokhale. The decision came
to me in a flash, and immediately I wrote to Mr. Shastri asking him not to have the adjourned
meeting at all. Those who had opposed my application fully appreciated the decision. It saved
them from an awkward position and bound us in closer bonds of friendship. The withdrawal of my
application made me truly a member of the Society.
Experience now tell me that it was well that I did not formally become a member, and that the
opposition of those who had been against me was justified. Experience has shown too that our
views on matters of principle were widly divergent. But the recognition of the differences has
meant to estrangement or bitterness between us. We have remained as brothers, and the
Society’s Poona home has always been for me a place of pilgrimage.
It is true that I did not officially become a member of the Society, but I have ever been a member
in spirit. Spiritual relationship is far more precious than Physical relationship divorced from
spiritual is body without soul. Chapter 131
I next went to Rangoon to meet Dr. Mehta, and on my way I halted at Calcutta. I was the guest
of the late Babu Bhupendranath Basu. Bengali hospitality reached its climax here. In those days I
was a strict fruitarian, so all the fruits and nuts available in Calcutta were ordered for me. The
ladies of the house kept awake all night skinning various nuts. Every possible care was taken in
dressing fresh fruit in the Indian style. Numerous delicacies were prepared for my companions,
amongst whom was my son Ramdas. Much as I could appreciate this affectionate hospitality, I
could not bear the thought of a whole household being occupied in enteraining two or three
guests. But as yet I saw no escape from such embarrassing attentions.
On the boat going to Rangoon I was a deck passenger. If excess of attention embarrassed us in
Sjt. Basu’s house, grossest inattention, even to the elementary comforts of deck passengers, was
our lot on the boat. What was an apology for a bath room was unbearably dirty, the latrines were
stinking sinks. To use the latrine one had to wade through urine and excreta or jump over them.
This was more than flesh and blood could bear. I approached the Chief Officer without avail. If
anything was lacking to complete the picture of stink and filth, the passengers furnished it by their
thoughtless habits. They spat where they sat, dirtied the surroundings with the leavings of their
food, tobacco and betel leaves. There was no end to the noise, and everyone tried to monopolize
as much room as possible. Their luggage took up more room than they. We had thus two days of
the severest trial.
On reaching Rangoon I wrote to the Agent of the Steamship Company, acquainting him with all
the facts. Thanks to this letter and to Dr. Mehta’s efforts in the matter, the return journey though
on deck was less unbearable.
In Rangoon my fruitarian diet was again a source of additional trouble to the host. But since Dr.
Mehta’s home was as good as my own, I could control somewhat the lavishness of the menu.
However, as I had not set any limit to the number of articles I might eat, the palate and the eyes
refused to put an effective check on the supply of varieties ordered. There were no regular hours
for meals. Personally I preferred having the last meal before night fall. Nevertheless as a rule it
could not be had before eight or nine.
This year 1915 was the year of the Kumbha fair, which is held at Hardvar once every 12 years. I
was by no means eager to attend the fair, but I was anxious to meet Mahatma Munshiramji who
was in his Gurukul. Gokhale’s Society had sent a big volunteer corps for service at the Kumbha.
Pandit Hridayanath Kunzru was at the head, and the late Dr. Dev was the medical officer. I was
invited to send the Phoenix party to assist them, and so Maganlal Gandhi had already preceded
me. On my return from Rangoon, I joined the band.
The journey from Calcutta to Hardvar was particularly trying. Sometimes the compartments had
no lights. From Saharanpur we were huddled into carriages for goods or cattle. These had no
roofs, and what with the blazing midday sun overhead and the scorching iron floor beneath, we
were all but roasted. The pangs of thirst, caused by even such a journey as this, could not
persuade orthodox Hindus to take water, if it was ‘Musalmani.’ They waited until they could get
the ‘Hindu’ water. These very Hindus, let it be noted, do not so much as hesitate or inquire when
during illness the doctor administers them wine or prescribes beef tea or a Musalman or Christian
compounder gives them water. Our stay in Shantiniketan had taught us that the scavenger’s work would be our special function
in India. Now for the volunteers in Hardvar tents had been pitched in a #dharmashala#, and Dr.
Dev had dug some pits to be used as latrines. He had to depend on paid scavengers for looking
after these. Here was work for the Phoenix party. We offered to cover up the excreta with earth
and to see to their disposal, and Dr. Dev gladly accepted our offer. The offer was naturally made
by me, but it was Maganlal Gandhi who had to execute it. My business was mostly to keep sitting
in the tent giving #darshan# and holding religious and other discussions with numerous pilgrims
who called on me. This left me not a minute which I could call my own. I was followed even to the
bathing #ghat# by these #darshan-seekers#, nor did they leave me alone whilst I was having my
meals. Thus it was in Hardvar that I realized what a deep impression my humble services in
South Africa had made throughout the whole of India.
But this was no enviable position to be in. I felt as though I was between the devil and the deep
sea. Where no one recognized me, I had to put up with the hardships that fall to the lot of the
millions in this land, e.g., in railway travelling. Where I was surrounded by people who had heard
of me I was the victim of their craze for #darshan#. Which of the two conditions was more pitiable,
I have often been at a loss to determine. That at least I know that the #darshanvalas’# blind love
has often made me angry, and more often sore at heart. Whereas travelling, though often trying,
has been uplifting and has hardly ever roused me to anger.
I was in those days strong enough to roam about a lot, and was fortunately not so known as not
to be able to go in the streets without creating much fuss. During these roamings I came to
observe more of the pilgrims’ absent mindedness, hypocrisy and slovenliness, than of their piety.
The swarm of sadhus, who had descended there, seemed to have been born but to enjoy the
good things of life.
Here I saw a cow with five feet! I was astonished, but knowing men soon disillusioned me. The
poor five-footed cow was a sacrifice to the greed of the wicked. I learnt that the fifth foot was
nothing else but a foot cut off from a live calf and grafted upon the shoulder of the cow! The result
of this double cruelty was exploited to fleece the ignorant of their money. There was no Hindu but
would be attracted by a five-footed cow, and no Hindu but would lavish his charity on such a
miraculous cow.
The day of the fair was now upon us. It proved a redletter day for me. I had not gone to Hardvar
with the sentiments of a pilgrim. I have never thought of frequenting places of pilgrimage in
search of piety. But the seventeen lakhs of men that were reported to be there could not all be
hypocrites or mere sight-seers. I had no doubt that countless people amongst them had gone
there to earn merit and for self-purification. It is difficult, if not impossible, to say to what extent
this kind of faith uplifts the soul.
I therefore passed the whole night immersed in deep thought. There were those pious souls in
the midst of the hypocrisy that surrounded them. They would be free of guilt before their Maker. If
the visit to Hardvar was in itself a sin, I must publicly protest against it, and leave Hardvar on the
day Kumbha. If the pilgrimage to Hardvar and to the Kumbha fair was not sinful, I must impose
some act of self-denial on myself in atonement for the iniquity prevailing there and purify myself.
This was quite natural for me. My life is based on disciplinary resolutions. I thought of the
unnecessary trouble I had caused to my hosts at Calcutta and Rangoon, who had so lavishly
entertained me. I therefore decided to limit the articles of my daily diet and to have my final meal
before sunset. I was convinced that, if I did not impose these restrictions on myself, I should put
my future hosts to considerable inconvenience and should engage them in serving me rather than
engage myself in service. So I pledged myself never whilst in India to take more than five articles
in twenty-four hours, and never to eat after dark. I gave the fullest thought to the difficulties I
might have to face. But I wanted to leave no loophole. I rehearsed to myself what would happen
during an illness, if I counted medicine among the five articles, and made no exception in favour of special articles of diet. I finally decided that there should be no exception on any account
I have been under these vows for now thirteen years. They have subjected me to a severe test,
but I am able to testify that they have also served as my shield. I am of opinion that they have
added a few years to my life and saved me from many an illness.
Chapter 132
It was a positive relief to reach the Gurukul and meet Mahatma Munshiramji with his giant frame.
I at once felt the wonderful contrast between the peace of the Gurukul and the din and noise of
The Mahatma overwhelmed me with affection. The Brahmacharis were all attention. It was here
that I was first introduced to Acharya Ramadevji, and I could immediately see what a force and a
power he must be. We had different viewpoints in several matters, nevertheless our acquaintance
soon ripened into friendship.
I had long discussions with Acharya Ramadevji and other professors about the necessity of
introducing industrial training into the Gurukul. When the time came for going away it was a
wrench to leave the place.
I had heard much in praise of the Lakshman Jhula (a hanging bridge over the Ganges) some
distance from Hrishikesh, and many friends pressed me not to leave Hardvar without having gone
as far as the bridge. I wanted to do this pilgrimage on foot and so I did it in two stages.
Many #sannyasis# called on me at Hrishikesh. One of them was particularly attracted towards
me. The Phoenix party was there and their presence drew from the Swami many questions.
We had discussions about religion and he realized that I felt deeply about matters of religion. He
saw me bareheaded and shirtless as I had returned from my bath in the Ganges. He was pained
to miss the shikha (tuft of hair) on my head and the sacred thread about my neck and said:
‘It pains me to see you, a believing Hindu, going without a sacred thread and the shikha. These
are the two external symbols of Hinduism and every Hindu ought to wear them.’
Now there is a history as to how I came to dispense with both. When I was an urchin of ten, I
envied the Brahman lads sporting bunches of keys tied to their sacred threads, and I wished I
could do likewise. The practice of wearing the sacred thread was not then common among the
vaishya families in Kathiawad. But a movement had just been started for making it obilgatory for
the first three varnas. As a result several members of the Gandhi clan adopted the sacred thread.
The Brahman who was teaching two or three of us boys Ram Raksha invested us with the thread,
and although I had no occasion to possess a bunch of keys, I got one and began to sport it. Later,
when the thread gave way, I do not remember whether I missed it very much. But I know that I
did not go in for a fresh one. As I grew up several well-meaning attempts were made both in India and South Africa to re-invest
me with the sacred thread, but with little success. If the shudras may not wear it, I argued, what
right have the other varnas to do so? And I saw no adequate reason for adopting what was to me
an unnecessary custom. I had no objection to the thread as such, but the reasons for wearing it
were lacking.
As a vaishnava I had naturally worn round my neck the kanthi, and the shikha was considered
obligatory by leders. On the eve of my going to England, however, I got rid of the shikha, lest
when I was bareheaded it should expose me to ridicule and make me look, as I then thought, a
barbarian in the eyes of the Englishmen. In fact this cowardly feeling carried me so far that in
South Africa I got my cousin Chhaganlal Gandhi, who was religiously wearing the shikha, to do
away with it. I feared that it might come in the way of his public work and so, even at the risk of
paining him, I made him get rid of it.
I therefore made a clean breast of the whole matter to the Swami and said:
‘I will not wear the sacred thread, for I see no necessity for it, when countless Hindus can go
without it and yet remain Hindus, Moreover, the sacred thread should be a symbol of spiritual
regeneration, presupposing a deliberate attempt on the part of the wearer at a higher and purer
life. I doubt whether in the present state of Hinduism and of India, Hindus can vindicate the right
can come only after Hinduism has purged itself of untouchability, has removed all distinctions of
superiority and inferiority, and shed a host of other evils and shams that have become rampant in
it. My mind therefore rebels against the idea of wearing the sacred thread. But I am sure your
suggestion about the #shikha# is worth considering. I once used to have it, and I discarded it from
a false sense of shame. And so I feel that I should start growing it again. I shall discuss the matter
with my comrades.’
The Swami did not appreciate my position with regard to the sacred thread. The very reasons that
seemed to me to point to not wearing it appeared to him to favour its wearing. Even today my
position remains about the same as it was Hrishikesh. So long as there are different religions,
every one of them may need some outward distinctive symbol. But when the symbol is made into
a fetish and an instrument of proving the superiority of one’s religion over others’, it is fit only to be
discarded. The sacred thread does not appear to me today to be a means of uplifting Hinduism. I
am therefore indifferent to it.
As for the shikha, cowardice having been the reason for discarding it, after consultation with
friends I decided to re-grow it.
But to return to Lakshman Jhula. I was charmed with the natural scenery about Hrishikesh and
the Lakshman Jhula, and bowed my head in reverence to our ancestors for their sense of the
beautiful in Nature, and for their forsight in investing beautiful manifestations of Nature with a
religious significance.
But the way in which men were using these beauty spots was far from giving me peace. As at
Hardvar, so at Hrishikesh, people dirted the roads and the fair banks of the Ganges. They did not
even hesitate to desecrate the sacred water of the Ganges. It filled me with agony to see people
performing natural functions on the throughfares and river banks, when they could easily have
gone a little farther away from public haunts.
Lakshman Jhula was, I saw, nothing but an iron suspension bridge over the Ganges. I was told
that originally there had been a fine rope- bridge. But a philanthrpic Marwadi got it into his head to
destroy the rope-bridge and erect an iron one at a heavy cost and then entrusted the keys to the
Government! I am at a loss to say anything about the rope-bridge as I have never seen it, but the iron bridge is entirely out of place in such surroundings and mars their beauty. the making over of
the keys of this pilgrims’ bridge to Government was too much even for my loyalty of those days.
The Svargashram which one reaches after crossing the bridge was a wretched place, being
nothing but a number of shabby-looking sheds of galvanized iron sheets. These, I was told, were
made for sadhakas (aspirants). There were hardly any living there at the moment. Those who
were in the main building gave one an unfavourable impression.
But the Hardvar experiences proved for me to be of inestimable value. They helped me in no
small way to decide where I was to live and what I was to do.
Chapter 133
The pilgrimage to the Kumbha fair was my second visit to Hardvar.
The Satyagraha Ashram was founded on the 25th of May, 1915. Sharddhanandji wanted me to
settle in Hardvar. Some of my Calcutta friends recommended Vaidyanathadham. Others strongly
urged me to choose Rajkot. But when I happened to pass through Ahmedabad, many friends
pressed me to settle down there, and they volunteered to find the expenses of the Ashram, as
well as a house for us to live in.
I had a predilection for Ahmedabad. Being a Gujarati I thought I should be able to render the
greatest service to the country through the Gujarati language. And then, as Ahmedabad was an
ancient centre of handloom weaving, it was likely to be the most favourable field for the revival of
the cottage industry of hand-spinning. There was also the hope that, the city being the capital of
Gujarat, monetary help from its wealthy citizens would be more available here than elsewhere.
The question of untouchability was naturally among the subjects discussed with the Ahmedabad
friends. I made it clear to them that I should take the first opportunity of admitting an untouchable
candidate to the Ashram if he was otherwise worthy.
‘Where is the untouchable who satisfy your condition?’ said a vaishnava friend self-complacently.
I finally decided to found the Ashram at Ahmedabad.
So far as accommodation was concerned, Sjt. Jivanlal Desai, a barrister in Ahmedabad, was the
principal man to help me. He offered to let, and we decided to hire, his Kochrab bungalow.
The first thing we had to settle was the name of the Ashram. I consulted friends. Amongst the
names suggested were ‘Sevashram’ (the abode of service), ‘Tapovan’ (the abode of austrities),
etc. I liked the name ‘Sevashram’ but for the absence of emphasis on the method of service.
‘Tapovan’ seemed to be a pretentious title, because though tapas was dear to us we would not
presume to be tapasvins (men of austerity). Our creed was devotion to truth, and our business
was the search for and insistence on truth. I wanted to acquaint India with the method I had tried
in South Africa, and I desired to test in India the extent to which its application might be possible. So my companions and I selected the name ‘Satyagraha Ashram,’ as conveying both goal and
our method of service.
For the conduct of the Ashram a code of rules and observances was necessary. A draft was
therefore prepared, and friends were invited to express their opinions on it. Amongst the many
opinions that were received, that of Sir Gurudas Banerji is still in my memory. He liked the rules,
but suggested that humility should be added as one of the observances, as he believed that the
younger generation sadly lacked humility. Though I noticed this fault, I feared humility would
cease to be humility the moment it became a matter of vow. The true connotation of humility is
self-effacement. Self-effacement is moksha (salvation), and whilst it cannot, by itself, be an
observance, there may be other observances necessary for its attainment. If the acts of an
aspirant after moksha or a servant have no humility or selflessness about them, there is no
longing for moksha or service. Service without humility is selfishness and egotism.
There were at this time about thirteen Tamilians in our party. Five Tamil youngsters had
accompanied me from South Africa, and the rest came from different parts of the country. We
were in all about twenty- five men and women.
This is how the Ashram started. All had their meals in a common kitchen and strove to live as one
Chapter 134
The Ashram had been in existence only a few months when we were put to a test such as I had
scarcely expected. I received a letter from Amritlal Thakkar to this effect: ‘A humble and honest
untouchable family is desirous of joining your Ashram. Will you accept them?’
I was perturbed. I had never expected that an untouchable family with an introduction from no
less a man than Thakkar Bapa would so soon be seeking admission to the Ashram. I shared the
letter with my companions. They welcomed it.
I wrote to Amritlal Thakkar expressing our willingness to accept the family, provided all the
members were ready to abide by the rules of the Ashram.
The family consisted of Dadabhai, his wife Danibehn and their daughter Lakshmi, then a mere
toddling babe. Dudabhai had been a teacher in Bombay. They all argeed to abide by the rules
and were accepted.
But their admission created a flutter amongst the friends who had been helping the Ashram. The
very first difficulty was found with regard to the use of the well, which was partly controlled by the
owner of the bungalows. The man in charge of the water-lift objected that drops of water from our
bucket would pollute him. So he took to swearing at us and molesting Dudabhai. I told everyone
to put up with the abuse and continue drawing water at any cost. When he saw that we did not
return his abuse, the man became ashamed and ceased to bother us.
All monetary help, however was stopped. The friend who had asked that question about an
untouchable being able to follow the rules of the Ashram had never expected that any such would
be forthcoming. With the stopping of monetary help came rumours of proposed social boycott. We were prepared
for all this. I had told my companions that, if we were boycotted and denied the usual faclities, we
would not leave Ahmedabad. We would rather go and stay in the untouchables’ quarter and live
on whatever we could get by manual labour.
Matters came to such a pass that Maganlal Gandhi one day gave me this notice: ‘We are out of
funds and there is nothing for the next month.’
I quietly replied: ‘Then we shall go to the untouchables’ quarter.’
This was not the first time I had been faced with such a trial. On all such occasions God has sent
help at the last moment,. One morning, shortly after Maganlal had given me warning of our
monetary plight, one of the children came and said that a Sheth who was waiting in a car outside
wanted to see me. I went out to him. ‘I want to give the Ashram some help,’ said I. ‘And I confess
I am at the present moment at the end of my resources.’
‘I shall come tomorrow at this time,’ he said. ‘Will you be here?’
‘Yes,’ said I, and he left.
Next day, exactly at the appointed hour, the car drew up near our quarters, and the horn was
blown. The children came with the news. The Sheth did not come in. I went out to see him. He
placed in my hands currency notes of the value of Rs. 13,000, and drove away.
I had never expected this help, and what a novel way of rendering it! The gentleman had never
before visited the Ashram. So far as I can remember, I had met him only once. No visit, no
enquiries, simply rendering help and going away! This was a unique experience for me. The help
deferred the exodus to the untouchables’ quarter. We now felt quite safe for a year.
Just as there was a storm outside so was there a storm in the Ashram itself. Though in South
Africa untouchable friends used to come to my place and live and feed with me, my wife and
other women did not seem quite to relish the admission into the Ashram of the untouchable
friends. My eyes and ears easily detected their indifference, if not their dislike, towards Danibehn.
The monetary difficulty had caused me no anxiety, but this internal storm was more than I could
bear. Danibehn was an ordinary woman. Dudabhai was a man with slight education but of good
understanding. I liked his patience. Sometimes he did flare up, but on the whole I was well
impressed with his forbearance. I pleaded with him to swallow minor insults. He not only agreed,
but prevailed upon his wife to do likewise.
The admission of this family proved a valuable lesson to the Ashram. In the very beginning we
proclaimed to the world that the Ashram would not countenance untouchability. Those who
wanted to help the Ashram were thus put on their guard, and the work of the Ashram in this
direction was considerably simplified. The fact that it is mostly the real orthodox Hindus who have
met the daily growing expenses of the Ashram is perhaps a clear indication that untouchability is
shaken to its foundation. There are indeed many other proofs of this, but the fact that good
Hindus do not scruple to help an Ashram where we go the length of dining with the untouchables
is no small proof.
I am sorry that I should have to skip over quite a number of things pertaining to this subject, how
we tackled delicate questions arising out of the main question, how we had to overcome some
unexpected difficulties, and various other matters which are quite relevant to a description of
experiments with Truth. The chapters that follow will also suffer from the same drawback. I shall
have to omit important details, because most of the characters in the drama are still alive, and it is
not proper without permission to use their names in connection with events with which they are concerned. It is hardly practicable to obtain their consent or to get them every now and then to
revise the chapters concerning themselves. Besides such procedure is outside the limit of this
autobiography. I therefore fear that the rest of the story, valuable as it in my opinion to seekers
after Truth, will be told with inevitable omissions. Nevertheless, it is my desire and hope, God
willing, to bring this narrative down to the days of non-co-opeartion.
Chapter 135
We shall, for a moment, take leave of the Ashram, which in the very beginning had to weather
internal and external storms, and briefly advert to a matter that engaged my attention.
Indentured labourers were those who had emigrated from India to labour under an indenture for
five years or less. Under the Smuts-Gandhi settlement of 1914, the £3 tax in respect of the
indentured emigrants to Natal had been abolished, but the general emigration from India still
needed treatment.
In March 1916 Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviyaji moved a resolution in the Imperial Legislative
Council for the abolition of the indenture system. In accepting the motion Lord Hardinge
announced that he had ‘obtained from His Majesty’s Government the promise of the abolition in
due course’ of the system. I felt however, that India could not be satisfied with so very vague an
assurance, but ought to agitate for immediate abolition. India had tolerated the system through
her sheer negligence, and I believed the time had come when people could successfully agitate
for this redress. I met some of the leaders, wrote in the press, and saw that public opinion was
solidly in favour of immediate abolition. Might this be a fit subject for Satyagraha? I had no doubt
that it was, but I did not know the modus operandi.
In the meantime the Viceroy had made no secret of the meaning of ‘the eventual abolition’, which,
as he said, was abolition ‘within such reasonable time as will allow of alternative arrangements
So in February 1917, Pandit Malaviyaji asked for leave to introduce a bill for the immediate
abolition of the system. Lord Chelmsford refused permission. It was time for me to tour the
country for an all- India agitation.
Before I started the agitation I thought it proper to wait upon the Viceroy. So I applied for an
interview. He immediately granted it. Mr. Maffey, now Sir John Maffey, was his private secretary. I
came in close contact with him. I had a satisfactory talk with Lord Chelmsford who, without being
definite, promised to be a helpful.
I began my tour from Bombay. Mr. Jehangir Petit undertook to convene the meeting under the
auspices of the Imperial Citizenship Association. the Executive Committee of the Association met
first for framing the resolutions to be moved at the meeting. Dr. Stanley Reed, Sjt. (now Sir)
Lallubhai Samaldas, Sjt. Natarajan and Mr. Petit were present at the Committee meeting. The
discussion centred round the fixing of the period within which the Government was to be asked to
abolish the system. There were three proposals, viz, for abolition ‘as soon as possible,’ abolition
‘by the 31st July,’ and ‘immediate abolition.’ I was for a definite date, as we could then decide
what to do if the Government failed to accede to our request within the time limit. Sjt. Lallubhai was for ‘immediate’ abolition. He said ‘immediate’ indicated a shorter period than the 31st July. I
explained that the people would not understand the word ‘immediate’. If we wanted to get them to
do something, they must have a more definite word. Everyone would interpret ‘immediate’ in his
own way, Government one way, the people another way. There was no question of
misunderstanding ‘the 31st of July,’ and if nothing was done by that date, we could proceed
further. Dr.Reed saw the force of the argument, and ultimately Sjt. Lallubhai also agreed. We
adopted the 31st July as the latest date by which the abolition should be announced, a resolution
to that effect was passed at the public meeting, and meetings throughout India resolved
Mrs. Jaiji Petit put all her energies into the organization of a ladies’ deputation to the Viceroy.
Amongst the ladies from Bombay who formed the deputation, I remember the names of Lady
Tata and the late Dilshad Begam. The deputation had a great effect. The Viceroy gave an
encouraging reply.
I visited Karachi, Calcutta and various other places. There were fine meetings everywhere, and
there was unbounded enthusiasm. I had not expected anything like it when the agitation was
In those days I used to travel alone, and had therefore wonderful experiences. C. I. D. men were
always after me. But as I had nothing to conceal, they did not molest me, nor did I cause them
any trouble. Fortunately I had not then received the stamp of Mahatmaship, though the shout of
that name was quite common where people knew me.
On one occasion the detectives disturbed me at several stations, asked for my ticket and took
down the number. I, of course, readily replied to all questions they asked. My fellow passengers
had taken me to be a ‘sadhu’ or a ‘fakir’. When they saw that I was being molested at every
station, they were exasperated and swore at the detectives. ‘Why are you worrying the poor
sadhu for nothing?’ they protested. ‘Don’t you show these scoundrels your ticket,’ they said,
addressing me.
I said to them gently: ‘It is no trouble to show them my ticket. They are doing their duty.’ The
passengers were not satisfied, they evinced more and more sympathy, and strongly objected to
this sort of ill- treatment of innocent men.
But the detectives were nothing. The real hardship was the third class travelling. My bitterest
experience was from Lahore to Delhi. I was going to Calcutta from Karachi via Lahore where I
had to change trains. It was full, and those who could get in did so by sheer force, often sneaking
through windows if the doors were locked. I had to reach Calcutta on the date fixed for the
meeting, and if I missed this train I could not arrive in time. I had almost given up hope of getting
in. No one was willing to accept me, when porter discovering my plight came to me and said,
‘Give me twelve annas and I’ll get you a seat.’ ‘Yes,’ said I, ‘you shall have twelve annas if you do
procure me a seat.’ The young man went from carriage to carriage entreating passengers but no
one heeded him. As the train was about to start, some passengers said, ‘There is no room here,
but you can shove him in if you like. He will have to stand.’ ‘Well?’ asked the young porter. I
readily agreede, and he shoved me in bodily through the window. Thus I got in and the porter
earned his twelve annas.
The night was a trial. The other passengers were sitting somehow. I stood two hours, holding the
chain of the upper bunk. Meanwhile some of the passengers kept worrying me incessantly. ‘Why
will you not sit down?’ they asked. I tried to reason with them saying there was no room, but they
could not tolerate my standing, though they were lying full length on the upper bunks. They did
not tire of worrying me neither did I tire of gently replying to them. This at last mollified them. Some of them asked me my name, and made room for me. Patience was thus rewarded. I was
dead tired, and my head was reeling. God sent help just when it was most needed.
In that way I somehow reached Delhi and thence Calcutta. The Maharaja of Cassimbazar, the
president of the Calcutta meeting, was my host. Just as in Karachi, here also there was
unbounded enthusiasm. The meeting was attended by several Englishmen.
Before the 31st July the Government announced that indentured emigration from India was
It was in 1894 that I drafted the first petition protesting against the system, and I had then hoped
that this ‘semi-slavery,’ as Sir W. W. Hunter used to call the system, would some day be brought
to an end.
There were many who aided in the agitation which was started in 1894, but I cannot help saying
that potential Satyagraha hastened the end.
For further details of that agitation and of those who took part in it, I refer the reader to my
Satyagraha in South Africa.
Chapter 136
Champaran is the land of King Janaka. Just as it abounds in mango groves, so used it to be full
of indigo plantations until the year 1917. The Champaran tenant was bound by law to plant three
out of every twenty parts of his land with indigo for his landlord. This system was known as the
#tinkathis# system, as three #kathas# out of twenty (which make one acre) had to be planted with
I must confess that I did not then know even the name, much less the geographical position, of
Champaran, and I had hardly any notion of indigo plantations. I had seen packets of indigo, but
little dreamed that it was grown and manufactured in Champaran at great hardship to thousands
of agriculturists.
Rajkumar Shukla was one of the agriculturists who had been under this harrow, and he was filled
with a passion to wash away the stain of indigo for the thousands who were suffering as he had
This man caught hold of me at Lucknow, where I had gone for the Congress of 1918. ‘Vakil Babu
will tell you everything about our distress,’ he said, and urged me to go to Champaran. ‘Vakil
Babu’ was none other than Babu Brajkishore Prasad, who became my esteemed co- worker in
Champaran, and who is the soul of public work in Bihar. Rajkumar Shukla brought him to my tent.
He was dressed in a black alpaca #achkan# and trousers. Brijkishore Babu failed then to make
an impression on me. I took it that he must be some vakil exploiting the simple agriculturists.
Having heard from him something of Champaran, I replied as was my wont: ‘I can give no opinion
without seeing the condition with my own eyes. You will please move the resolution in the
Congress, but leave me free for the present.’ Rajkumar Shukla of course wanted some help from the Congress. Babu Brajkishore Prasad moved the resolution, expressing sympathy for the
people of Champaran, and it was unanimously passed.
Rajkumar Shukla was glad, but far from satisfied. He wanted me personally to visit Champaran
and witness the miseries of the ryots there. I told him that I would include Champaran in the tour
which I had contemplated and give it a day or two. ‘One day will be enough,’ said he, ‘and you will
see things with your own eyes.’
From Lucknow I went to Cawnpore Rajkumar Shukla followed me there. ‘Champaran is very near
here. Please give a day,’ he insisted.’ Pray excuse me this time. But I promise that I will come,’
said I, further committing myself.
I returned to the Ashram. The ubiquitous Rajkumar was there too. ‘Pray fix the day now,’ he said.
‘Well,’ said I, ‘I have to be in Calcutta on such and such a date, come and meet me then, and take
me from there.’ I did not know where I was to go, what to do, what things to see.
Before I reached Bhupen Babu’s place in Calcutta, Rajkumar Shukla had gone and established
himself there. Thus this ignorant, unsophisticated but resolute agriculturist captured me.
So early in 1917, we left Calcutta for Champaran, looking just like fellow rustics. I did not even
know the train. He took me to it, and we travelled together, reaching Patna in the morning.
This was my first visit to Patna. I had no friend or acquaintance with whom I could think of putting
up. I had an idea that Rajkumar Shukla, simple agriculturist as he was, must have some influence
in Patna. I had come to know him a little more on the journey, and on reaching Patna I had no
illusions left concerning him. He was perfectly innocent of every thing. The vakils that he had
taken to be his friends were really nothing of the sort. Poor Rajkumar was more or less as a
menial to them. Between such agriculturist clients and their vakils there is a gulf as wide as the
Ganges in flood.
Rajkumar Shukla took me to Rajendra Babu’s place in Patna. Rajendra Babu had gone to Puri or
some other place, I now forget which. There were one or two servants at the bungalow who paid
us no attention. I had with me something to eat. I wanted dates which my companion procured for
me from the bazaar.
There was strict untouchability in Bihar. I might not draw water at the well whilst the servants
were using it, lest drops of water from my bucket might pollute them, the servants not knowing to
what caste I belonged. Rajkumar directed me to the indoor latrine, the servant promptly directed
me to the outdoor one. All this was far from surprising or irritating to me, for I was inured to such
things. The servants were doing the duty, which they thought Rajendra Babu would wish them to
These entertaining experiences enhanced my regard for Rajkumar Shukla, if they also enabled
me to know him better. I saw now that Rajkumar Shukla could not guide me, and that I must take
the reins in my own hands. Chapter 137
I knew Maulana Mazharul Haq in London when he was studying for the bar, and when I met him
at the Bombay Congress in 1915 the year in which he was President of the Muslim League he
had renewed the acquaintance, and extended me an invitation to stay with him whenever I
happened to go to Patna. I bethought myself of this invitation and sent him a note indicating the
purpose of my visit. He immediately came in his car, and pressed me to accept his hospitality. I
thanked him and requested him to guide me to my destination by the first available train, the
railway guide being useless to an utter stranger like me. He had a talk with Rajkumar Shukla and
suggested that I should first go to Muzaffarpur. There was a train for that place the same evening
and he sent me off by it.
Principal Kripalani was then in Muzaffarpur. I had known of him ever since my visit to Hyderabad.
Dr. Choithram had told me of his great sacrifice, of his simple life, and of the Ashram that Dr.
Choithram was running out of funds provided by Prof. Kripalani. He used to be a professor in the
Government College, Muzaffarpur, and had just resigned the post when I went there. I had sent a
telegram informing him of my arrival, and he met me at the station with a crowd of students,
though the train reached there at midnight. He had no rooms of his own, and was staying with
Professor Malkani who therefore virtually became my host. It was an extraordinary thing in those
days for a Government professor to harbour a man like me.
Professor Kripalani spoke to me about the desperate condition of Bihar, particularly of the Tirhut
division and gave me an idea of the difficulty of my task. He had established very close contact
with the Biharis, and had already spoken to them about the mission that took me to Bihar.
In the morning a small group of vakils called on me. I still remember Ramnavmi Prasad among
them, as his earnestness specially appealed to me.
‘It is not possible,’ he said, ‘for you to do the kind of work you have come for, if you stay here
(meaning Prof. Malkani’s quarters). You must come and stay with one of us. Gaya Babu is a wellknown vakil here. I have come on his behalf in invite you to stay with him. I confess we are all
afraid of Government, but we shall render what help we can. Most of the things Rajkumar Shukla
has told you are true. It is a pity our leaders are not here today. I have, however, wired to them
both, Bapu Brajkishore Prasad and Babu Rajendra Prasad. I expect them to arrive shortly, and
they are sure to be able to give you all the information you want and to help you considerably.
Pray come over to Gaya Babu’s place.’
This was a request that I could not resist, though I hesitated for fear of embarrassing Gaya Babu.
But he put me at ease, and so I went over to stay with him. He and his people showered all their
affection on me.
Brajkishorebabu now arrived from Darbhanga and Rajendra Babu from Puri. Brajkishorebabu
was not the Babu Brajkishore prasad I had met in Lucknow. He impressed me this time with his
humility, simplicity, goodness and extraordinary faith, so characteristic of the Biharis, and my
heart was joyous over it. The Bihar vakils’ regard for him was an agreeable surprise to me.
Soon I felt myself becoming bound to this circle of friends in lifelong friendship. Brajkishorebabu
acquainted me with the facts of the case. He used to be in the habit of taking up the cases of the
poor tenants. There were two such cases pending when I went there. When he won any such
case, he consoled himself that he did not charge fees from these simple peasants. Lawyers labour under the belief that, if they do not charge fees, they will have no wherewithal to run their
households, and will not be able to render effective help to the poor people. The figures of the
fees they charged and the standard of a barrister’s fees in Bengal and Bihar staggered me.
‘We gave Rs. 10,000 to so and so for his opinion,’ I was told. Nothing less than four figures in any
The friends listened to my kindly reproach and did not misunderstand me.
‘Having studied these cases,’ said I, ‘I have come to the conclusion that we should stop going to
law courts. Taking such cases to the courts does little good. Where the ryots are so crushed and
fear- stricken, law courts are useless. The real relief for them is to be free from fear. We cannot
sit still until we have driven #tinkathia# out of Bihar. I had thought that I should be able to leave
here in two days, but I now realize that the work might take even two years. I am prepared to give
that time, if necessary. I am now feeling my ground, but I want your help.’
I found Brajkishorebabu exceptionally coolheaded. ‘We shall render all the help we can,’ he said
quietly, ‘but pray tell us what kind of help you will need.’
And thus we sat talking until midnight.
‘I shall have little use for your legal knowledge,’ I said to them. ‘I want clerical assistance and help
in interpretation. It may be necessary to face imprisonment, but, much so far as you feel
yourselves capable of going. Even turning yourselves into clerks and giving up your profession for
an indefinite period is no small thing. I find it difficult to understand the local dialect of Hindi, and I
shall not be able to read papers written in Kaithi or Urdu. I shall want you to translate them for
me. We cannot afford to pay for this work. It should all be done for love and out of a spirit of
Brajkishorebabu understood this immediately, and he now cross-examined me and his
companions by turns. He tried to ascertain the implications of all that I had said how long their
service would be required, how many of them would be needed, whether they might serve by
turns and so on. Then he asked the vakils the capacity of their sacrifice.
Ultimately they gave me this assurance. ‘Such and such a number of us will do whatever you may
ask. Some of us will be with you for so much time as you may require. The idea of
accommodating oneself to imprisonment is a novel thing for us. We will try to assimilate it.’
Chapter 138
My object was to inquire into the condition of the Champaran agriculturists and understand
their grievances against the indigo planters. For this purpose it was necessary that I should meet
thousands of the ryots. But I deemed it essential, before starting on my inquiry, to know the
planters’ side of the case and see the Commissioner of the Division. I sought and was granted
appointments with both. The Secretary of the Planters’ Association told me plainly that I was an outsider and that I had no
business to come between the planters and their tenants, but if I had any representation to make,
I might submit it in writing. I politely told him that I did not regard myself as an outsider, and that I
had every right to inquire into the condition of the tenants if they desired me to do so.
The acquainted my co-workers with all this, and told them that there was a likelihood of
Government stopping me from proceeding further, and that I might have to go to jail earlier than I
had expected, and that , if I was to be arrested, it would be best that the arrest should take place
in Motihari or if possible in Bettiah. It was advisable, therefore, that I should go to those place as
early as possible.
Champaran is a district of the Tirhut division and Motihari is its headquarters. Rajkumar Shukla’s
place was in the vicinity of Bettiah, and the tenants belonging to the #kothis# in its neighbourhood
were the poorest in the district. Rajkumar Shukla wanted me to see them and I was equally
anxious to do so.
So I started with my co-workers for Motihari the same day. Babu Gorakh Prasad harboured us in
his home, which became a caravanserai. It could hardly contain us all. The very same day we
heard that about five miles from Motihari a tenant had been ill-treated. It was decided that, in
company with Babu Dharanidhar Prasad, I should go and see him the next morning, and we
accordingly set off for the place on elephant’s back. An elephant, by the way, is about as common
in Champaran as a bullock-cart in Gujarat. We had scarcely gone half when a messenger from
the Police Superintendent overtook us and said that the latter had sent his compliments. I saw
what he meant. Having left Dharanidharbabu to proceed to the original destination, I got into the
hired carriage which the messenger had brought. He then served on me a notice to leave
Champaran, and drove me to my place. On his asking me to acknowledge the service of the
notice, I wrote to the effect that I did not propose to comply with it and leave Champaran till my
inquiry was finished. Thereupon I received a summons to take my trial the next day for disobeying
the order to leave Champaran.
I kept awake that whole night writing letters and giving necessary instructions to Babu Brajkishore
The news of the notice and the summons spread like wildfire, and I was told that Motihari that day
witnessed unprecedented scenes. Gorakhbabu’s house and the court house overflowed with
men. Fortunately I had finished all my work during the night and so was able to cope with the
crows. My companions proved the greatest help. They occupied themselves with regulating the
crowds, for the latter followed me wherever I went.
A sort of friendliness sprang up between the officials Collector, Magistrate, Police Superintendent
and myself. I might have legally resisted the notices served on me. Instead I accepted them all,
and my conduct towards the officials was correct. They thus saw that I did not want to offend
them personally, but that I wanted to offer civil resistance to their orders. In this way they were put
at ease, and instead of harassing me they gladly availed themselves of my and my co-workers’
co-operation in regulating the crowds. But it was an ocular demonstration to them of the fact that
their authority was shaken. The people had for the moment lost all fear of punishment and yielded
obedience to the power of love which their new friend exercised.
It should be remembered that no one knew me in Champaran. The peasants were all ignorant.
Champaran, being far up north of the Ganges, and right at the foot of the Himalayas in close
proximity to Nepal, was cut off from the rest of India. The Congress was practically unknown in
those parts. Even those who had heard the name of the Congress shrank from joining it or even
mentioning it. And now the Congress and its members had entered this land, though not in the
name of the Congress, yet in a far more real sense. In consultation with my co-workers I had decided that nothing should be done in the name of the
Congress. What we wanted was work and not name, substance and not shadow. For the name of
the Congress was the #bete noire# of the Government and their controllers the planters. To them
the Congress was a byword for lawyers’ wrangles, evasion of law through legal loopholes, a
byword for bomb and anarchical crime and for diplomacy and hypocrisy. We had to disillusion
them both. Therefore we had decided not to mention the name of the organization called the
Congress. It was enough, we thought, if they understood and followed the spirit of the Congress
instead of its letter.
No emissaries had therefore been sent there, openly or secretly, on behalf of the Congress to
prepare the ground for our arrival. Rajkumar Shukla was incapable of reaching the thousands of
peasants. No political work had yet been done amongst them. The world outside Champaran was
not known to them. And yet they received me as though we had been age-long friends. It is no
exaggeration, but the literal truth, to say that in this meeting with the peasants I was face to face
with God, Ahimsa and Truth.
When I come to examine my title to this realization, I find nothing but my love for the people. And
this in turn is nothing but an expression of my unshakable faith in Ahimsa.
That day in Champaran was an unforgettable event in my life and a red- letter day for the
peasants and for me.
According to the law, I was to be on my trial, but truly speaking Government was to be on its trial.
The Commissioner only succeeded in trapping Government in the net which he had spread for
Chapter 139
The trial began, The Government pleader, the Magistrate and other officials were on
tenterhooks. They were at a loss to know what to do. The Government pleader was pressing the
Magistrate to postpone the case. But I interfered and requested the Magistrate not to postpone
the case, as I wanted to plead guilty to having disobeyed the order to leave Champaran and read
a brief statement as follows:
‘With the permission of the Court I would like to make a brief statement showing why I have taken
the very serious step of seemingly disobeying the order passed under section 144 of Cr. P.C. In
my humble opinion it is a question of difference of opinion between the Local Administration and
myself. I have entered the country with motives of rendering humanitarian and national service. I
have done so in response to a pressing invitation to come and help the ryots. Who urge they are
not being fairly treated by the indigo planters. I could not render any help without studying the
problem. I have, therefore, come to study it with the assistance, if possible, of the Administration
and the planters. I have no other motive, and cannot believe that my coming can in any way
disturb public peace and cause loss of life. I claim to have considerable experience in such
matters. The Administration, however, have thought differently. I fully appreciate their difficulty,
and I admit too that they can only proceed upon information they received. As a law-abiding
citizen my first instinct would be, as it was, to obey the order served upon me. But I could not do
so without doing violence to my sense of duty to those for whom I have come. I feel that I could
just now serve them only by remaining in their midst. I could not, therefore, voluntarily retire. Amid this conflict of duties I could only throw the responsibility of removing me from them on the
Administration. I am fully conscious of the fact that a person, holding, in the public life of India, a
position such as I do, has to be most careful in setting an example. It is my firm belief that in the
complex constitution under which we are living, the only safe and honourable course for a selfrespecting man is, in the circumstances such as face me, to do what I have decided to do, that is,
to submit without protest to the penalty of disobedience.
‘I venture to make this statement not in any way in extenuation of the penalty to be awarded
against me, but to show that I have disregarded the order served upon me not for want of respect
for lawful authority, but in obedience to the higher law of our being, the voice of conscience.’
There was now no occasion to postpone the hearing, but as both the Magistrate and the
Government pleader had been taken by surprise, the Migistrate postponed judgment. Meanwhile
I had wired full details to the Viceroy, to Patna friends, as also to Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya
and others.
Before I could appear before the Court to receive the sentence, the Magistrate sent a written
message that the Lieutenant Governor had ordered the case against me to be withdrawn, and the
Collector wrote to me saying that I was at liberty to conduct the proposed inquiry, and that I might
at liberty to conduct the proposed inquiry, and that I might count on whatever help I needed from
the officials. None of us was prepared for this prompt and happy issue.
I called on the Collector Mr. Heycock. He seemed to be a good man, anxious to do justice. He
told me that I might ask for whatever papers I desired to see, and that I was at liberty to see him
whenever I liked.
The country thus had its first direct object-lesson in Civil Disobedience. The affair was freely
discussed both locally and in the press, and my inquiry got unexpected publicity.
It was necessary for my inquiry that the Government should remain netural. But the inquiry did
not need support from press reporters or leading articles in the press. Indeed the situation in
Champaran was so delicate and difficult that over-energetic criticism or highly coloured reports
might damage the cause which I was seeking to espouse. So I wrote to the editors of the principal
papers requesting them not to trouble to send any reporters, as I should send them whatever
might be necessary for publication and keep them informed.
I knew that the Government attitude countenancing my presence had displeased the Champaran
planters, and I know that even the officials, though they could say nothing openly, could hardly
have liked it. Incorrect or misleading reports, therefore, were likely to incense them all the more,
and their ire, instead of descending on me, would be sure to descend on the poor fear-stricken
ryots and seriously hinder my search for the truth about the case.
In spite of these precautions the planters engineered against me a poisonous agitation. All sorts
of falsehoods appeared in the press about my co-workers and myself. But my extreme
cautiousness and my insistence on truth, even to the minutest detail, turned the edge of their
The planters left no stone unturned in maligning Brajkishorebabu, but the more they maligned
him, the more he rose in the estimation of the people.
In such a delicate situation as this I did not think it proper to invite any leaders from other
provinces. Pandit Malaviyaji had sent me an assurance that, whenever I wanted him, I had only to
send him word, but I did not trouble him. I thus prevented the struggle from assuming a political
aspect. But I sent to the leaders and the principal papers occasional reports, not for publication, but merely for their information. I had seen that, even where the end might be political, but where
the cause was non-political, one damaged it by giving it a political aspect and helped it by
keeping it within its non-political limit. The Champaran struggle was a proof of the fact that
disinterested service of the people in any sphere ultimately helps the country politically.
Chapter 140
To give a full account of the Champaran inquiry would be to narrate the histroy, for the period,
of the Champaran ryot, which is out of the question in these chapters. The Champaran inquiry
was a bold experiment with Truth and Ahimsa, and I am giving week by week only what occurs to
me as worth giving from that point of view. For more details the reader must turn to Sjt. Rajendra
Prasad’s history of the Champaran Satyagraha in Hindi, of which, I am told, an English edition is
now in the press.
But to return to the subject matter of this chapter. The inquiry could not be conducted in
Gorakhbabu’s house, without practically asking poor Gorakhbabu to vacate it. And the people of
Motihari had not yet shed their fear to the extent of renting a house to us. However,
Brajkishorebabu tactfully secured one with considerable open space about it, and we now
removed there.
It was not quite possible to carry on the work without money. It had not been the practice hitherto
to appeal to the public for money for work of this kind. Brajkishorebabu and his friends were
mainly vakils who either contributed funds themselves, or found it from friends whenever there
was an occasion. How could they ask the people to pay when they and their kind could well afford
to do so? That seemed to be the argument. I had made up my mind not to accept anything from
the Champaran ryots. It would be bound to be misinterpreted. I was equally determined not to
appeal to the country at large for funds to conduct this inquiry. For that was likely to give it an allIndia and political aspect. Friends from Bombay offered Rs. 15,000, but I declined the offer with
thanks. I decided to get as much as was possible, with Brajkishorebabu’s help, from well-to-do
Biharis living outside Champaran and, if more was needed, to approach my friend Dr. P.J. Mehta
of Rangoon. Dr. Mehta readily agreed to send me whatever might be needed. We were thus free
from all anxiety on this score. We were not likely to require large funds, as we were bent on
exercising the greatest economy in consonance with the poverty of need any large amount. I
have an impression that we expended in all not more than three thousand rupees, and, as far as I
remember, we saved a few hundered rupees from what we had collected.
The curious ways of living of my companions in the early days were a constant theme of raillery
at their expense. Each of the vakils had a servant and a cook, and therefore a separate kitchen,
and they often had their dinner as late as midnight. Though they paid their own expenses, their
irregularity worried me, but as we had become close friends there was no possibility of a
misunderstanding between us, and they received my ridicule in good part. Ultimately it was
agreed that the servants should be dispensed with, that all the kitchens should be amalgamated,
and that regular hours should be observed. As all were not vegetarians, and as two kitchens
would have been expensive, a common vegetarian kitchen was decided upon. It was also felt
necessary to insist on simple meals.
These arrangements considerably reduced the expenses and saved us a lot of time and energy,
and both these were badly needed. Crowds of peasants came to make their statements, and they were followed by an army of companions who filled the compound and garden to overflowing.
The efforts of my companions to save me from #darshan# seekers were often of no avail, and I
had to be exhibited for #darshan# at particular hours. At least five to seven volunteers were
required to take down statements, and even then some people had to go away in the evening
without being able to make their statements. All these statements were not essential, many of
them being repetitions, but the people could not be satisfied otherwise, and I appreciated their
feeling in the matter.
Those who took down the statements had to observe certain rules. Each peasant had to be
closely cross-examined, and whoever failed to satisfy the test was rejected. This entailed a lot of
extra time but most of the statements were thus rendered incontrovertible.
An officer from the C.I.D. would always be present when these statements were recorded. We
might have prevented him, but we had decided from the very beginning not only not to mind the
presence of C.I.D. officers, but to treat them with courtesy and to give them all the information
that it was possible to give them. This was far from doing us any harm. On the contrary the very
fact that the statements were taken down in the presence of the C.I.D. officers made the
peasants more fearless. Whilst on the one hand excessive fear of the C.I.D. was driven out of the
peasants’ minds, on the other, their presence exercised a natural restraint on exaggeration. It
was the business of C.I.D. friends to entrap people and so the peasants had necessarily to be
As I did not want to irritate the planters, but to win them over by gentleness, I made a point of
writing to and meeting such of them against whom allegations of a serious nature were made. I
met the Planters’ Association as well, placed the ryots’ grievances before them and acquainted
myself with their point of view. Some of the planters hated me, some were indifferent and a few
treated me with courtesy.
Chapter 141
Brajkishorebabu and Rajendrababu were a matchless pair. Their devotion made it impossible
for me to take a single step without their help. Their disciples, or their companions
Shambhaubabu, Anugrahababu, Dharanibabu, Ramnavmibabu and other vakils were always with
us. Vindhyababu and Janakdharibabu also came and helped us now and then. All these were
Biharis. Their principal work was to take down the ryots’ statements.
Professor Kripalani could not but cast in his lot with us. Though a Sindhi he was more Bihari than
a born Bihari. I have seen only a few workers capable of merging themselves in the province of
their adoption. Kripalani is one of those few. He made it impossible for anyone to feel that he
belonged to a different province. He was my gatekeper in chief. For the time being he made it the
end and aim of his life to save me from darshan seekers. He warded off people, calling to his aid
now his unfailing humour, now his non-violent threats. At nightfall he would take up his
occupation of a teacher and regale his companions with his historical studies and observations,
and quicken any timid visitor into bravery.
Maulana Mazharul Haq had registered his name on the standing list of helpers whom I might
count upon whenever necessary, and he made a point of looking in once or twice a month. The
pomp and splendour in which he then lived was in sharp contrast to his simple life of today. The way in which he associated with us made us feel that he was one of us, though his fashionable
habit gave a stranger a different impression.
As I gained more experience of Bihar, I became convinced that work of a permanent nature was
impossible without proper village education. The ryots’ ignorance was pathetic. They either
allowed their children to roam about, or made them toil on indigo plantations from morning to
night for a couple of coppers a day. In those days a male labourer’s wage did not exceed ten
pice, a female’s did not exceed six, and a child’s three. He who succeeded in earning four annas
a day was considered most fortunate.
In consultation with my companions I decided to open primary schools in six villages. One of our
conditions with the villagers was that they should provide the teachers with board and lodging
while we would see to the other expenses. The village folk had hardly any cash in their hands, but
they could well afford to provide foodstuffs. Indeed they had already expressed their readiness to
contribute grain and other raw materials.
From where to get the teachers was a great problem. It was difficult to find local teachers who
would work for a bare allowance or without remuneration. My idea was never to entrust children
to commonplace teachers. Their literary qualification was not so essential as their moral fibre.
So I issued a public appeal for voluntary teachers. It received a ready response. Sjt.
Gangadharrao Deshpande sent Babasaheb Soman and Pundalik Shrimati Avantikabai Gokhale
came from Bombay and Mrs. Anandibai Vaishampayan from Poona. I sent to the Ashram for
Chhotalal, Surendranath and my son Devdas. About this time Mahadev Desai and Narahari
Parikh with their wives cast in their lot with me. Kasturbai was also summoned for the work. This
was a fairly strong contingent. Shrimati Avantikabai and Shrimati Anandibai were educated
enough, but Shrimati Durga Desai and Shrimati Manibehn Parikh had nothing more than a bare
knowledge of Gujarati, and Kasturbai not even that. How were these ladies to instruct the children
in Hindi?
I explained to them they were expected to teach the children not grammar and the three R’s so
much as cleanliness and good manners. I further explained that even as regards letters there was
not so great a difference between Gujarati, Hindi and Marathi as they imagined, and in the
primary classes, at any rate, the teaching of the rudiments of the alphabet and numerals was not
a difficult matter. The result was that the classes taken by these ladies were found to be most
successful. The experience inspired them with confidence and interest in their work. Avantikabai’s
became a model school. She threw herself heart and soul into her work. She brought her
exceptional gifts to bear on it. Through these ladies we could, to some extent, reach the village
But I did not want to stop at providing for primary education. The villages were insanitary, the
lanes full of filth, the wells surrounded by mud and stink and the courtyards unbearably untidy.
The elder people badly needed education in cleanliness. They were all suffering from various skin
diseases. They were all suffering from sanitary work as possible and to penetrate every
department of their lives.
Doctors were needed for this work. I requested the Servants of India Society to lend us the
services of the late Dr. Dev. We had been great friends, and he readily offered his services for six
months. The teachers men and women had all to work under him.
All of them had express instructions not to concern themselves with grievances against planters
or with politics. People who had any complaints to make were to be referred to me. No one was
to venture out of his beat. The friends carried out these instructions with wonderful fidelity. I do
not remember a single occasion of indiscipline. Chapter 142
As far as was possible we placed each school in charge of one man and one woman. These
volunteers had to look after medical relief and sanitation. The womenfolk had to be approached
through women.
Medical relief was a very simple affair. Castor oil, quinine and sulphur ointment were the only
drugs provided to the volunteers. If the patient showed a furred tongue or complained of
constipation, castor oil was administered, in case of fever quinine was given after an opening
dose of castor oil, and the sulphur ointment was applied in case of boils and itch after thoroughly
washing the affected parts. No patient was permitted to take home any medicine. Wherever there
was some complication Dr. Dev used to visit each centre on certain fixed days in the week.
Quite a number of people availed themselves of this simple relief. This plan of work will not seem
strange when it is remembered that the prevailing ailments were few and amenable to simple
treatment, by no means requiring expert help. As for the people the arrangement answered
Sanitation was a difficult affair. The people were not prepared to do anything themselves. Even
the field labourers were not ready to do their own scavenging. But Dr. Dev was not a man easily
to lose heart. He and the volunteers concentrated their energies on making a village ideally clean.
They swept the roads and the courtyards, cleaned out the wells, filled up the pools near by, and
lovingly persuaded the villagers to raise volunteers from amongest themselves. In some villages
they shamed people into taking up the work, and in others the people were so enthusiastic that
they even prepared roads to enable my car to go from place to place. These sweet experiences
were not unmixed with bitter ones of people’s apathy. I remember some villagers frankly
expressing their dislike for this work.
It may not be out of place here to narrate an experience that I have described before now at
many meetings. Bhitiharva was a small village in which was one of our schools. I happened to
visit a smaller village in its vicinity and found some of the women dressed very dirtly. So I told my
wife to ask them why they did not wash their clothes. She spoke to them. One of the women took
her into her hut and said: ‘Look now, there is no box or cupboard here containing other clothes.
The #sari# I am wearing is the only one I have. How am I to wash it? Tell Mahatmaji to get me
another #sari#, and I shall then promise to bathe and put on clean clothes every day.’
This cottage was not an exception, but a type to be found in many Indian villages. In countless
cottages in India people live without any furniture, and without a change of clothes, merely with a
rag to cover their shame.
One more experience I will note. In Champaran there is no lack of bamboo and grass. The school
hut they had put up at Bhitiharva was made of these materials. Someone possibly some of the
neighbouring planters’ men set fire to it one night. It was not thought advisable to build another
hut of bamboo and grass. The school was in charge of Sjt. Soman and Kasturbai. Sjt. Soman
decided to build a #pukka# house, and thanks to his infectious labour, many co-operated with
him, and a brick house was soon made ready. There was no fear now of this building being burnt
Thus the volunteers with their schools, sanitation work and medical relief gained the confidence
and respect of the village folk, and were able to bring good influence to bear upon them. But I must confess with regret that my hope of putting this constructive work on a permanent
footing was not fulfilled. The volunteers had come for temporary periods, I could not secure any
more from outside, and permanent honorary workers from Bihar were not available. As soon as
my work in Champaran was finished, work outside, which had been preparing in the meantime,
drew me away. The few months’ work in Champaran, however, took such deep root that its
influence in one form or another is to be observed there even today.
Chapter 143
Whilst on the one hand social service work of the kind I have described in the foregoing
chapters was being carried out, on the other the work of recording statements of the ryots’
grievances was progressing apace. Thousands of such statements were taken, and they could
not but have their effect. The ever growing number of ryots coming to make their statements
increased the planters’ wrath, and they moved heaven and earth to counteract my inquiry.
One day I received a letter from the Bihar Government to the following effect: ‘Your inquiry had
been sufficiently prolonged; should you not now bring it to an end and leave Bihar?’ The letter
was couched in polite language, but its meaning was obvious.
I wrote in reply that the inquiry was bound to be prolonged, and unless and until it resulted in
bringing relief to the people, I had no intention of leaving Bihar, I pointed out that it was open to
Government to terminate my inquiry by accepting the ryots’ grievances as genuine and
redressing them, or by recognizing that the ryots had made out a #prima facie# case for an offical
inquiry which should be immediately instituted.
Sir Edward Gait, the Lieutenant Governor, asked me to see him, expressed his willingness to
appoint an inquiry and invited me to be a member of the Committee. I ascertained the names of
the other members, and after consultation with my co-workers agreed to serve on the Committee,
on condition that I should be free to confer with my co- workers during the progress of the inquiry,
that Government should recognize that, by being a member of the Committee, I did not cease to
be the ryots’ advocate, and that in case the result of the inquiry failed to give me satisfaction, I
should be free to guide and advise the ryots as to what line of action they should take.
Sir Edward Gait accepted the condition as just and proper and announced the inquiry. The late
Sir Frank Sly was appointed Chairman of the Commitee.
The Committee found in favour of the ryots, and recommended that the planters should refund a
portion of the exactions made by them which the Committee had found to be unlawful, and that
the #tinkathia# system should be abolished by law.
Sir Edward Gait had a large share in getting the Committee to make unanimous report and in
getting the agrarain bill passed in accordance with the Committee’s recommendations. Had he
not adopted a firm attitude, and had he not brought all his tact to bear on the subject, the report
would not have been unanimous, and the Agrarian Act would not have been passed. The planters
wielded extraodinary power. They offered strenuous opposition to the bill in spite of the report, but
Sir Edwin Gait remained firm up to the last and fully carried out the recommendations of the
Committee. The #tinkathia# system which had been in existence for about a century was thus abolished and
with it the planters’ #raj# came to an end. The ryots, who had all along remained crushed, now
somewhat came to their own, and the superstition that the stain of indigo could never be washed
out was exploded.
It was my desire to continue the constructive work for some years, to establish more schools and
to penetrate the villages more effectively. The ground had been prepared, but it did not please
God, as often before, to allow my plans to be fulfilled. Fate decided otherwise and drove me to
take up work elsewhere.
Chapter 144
Whilst I was yet winding up my work on the Committee, I received a letter from Sjts. Mohanlal
Pandya and Shankarlal Parikh telling me of the failure of crops in the Kheda district, and asking
me to guide the peasants, who were unable to pay the assessment. I had not the inclination, the
ability or the courage to advise without an inquiry on the spot.
At the same time there came a letter from Shrimati Anasuyabai about the condition of labour in
Ahmedabad, Wages were low, the labourers had long been agitating for an increment, and I had
a desire to guide them if I could. But I had not the confidence to direct even this comparatively
small affair from that long distance. So I seized the first opportunity to go to Ahmedabad. I had
hoped that I should be able to finish both these matters quickly and get back to Champaran to
supervise the constructive work that had been inaugurated there.
But things did not move as swiftly as I had wished, and I was unable to return to Champaran, with
the result that the schools closed down one by one. My co-workers and I had built many castles
in the air, but they all vanished for the time being.
One of these was cow protection work in Champaran, besides rural sanitation and education. I
had seen, in the course of my travels, that cow protcation and Hindi propaganda had become the
exclusive concern of the Marwadis. A Marwadi friend had sheltered me in his #dharmashala#
whilst at Bettiah. Other Marwadis of the place had interested me in their #goshala# (dairy). My
ideas about cow protection had been definitely formed then, and my conception of the work was
the same as it is today. Cow protection, in my opinion, included cattle-breeding, improvement of
the stock, humane treatment of bullocks, formation of model dairies, etc. The Marwadi friends had
promised full co-operation in this work, but as I could not fix myself up in Champaran, the scheme
could not be carried out.
The #goshala# in Bettiah is still there, but it was not become a model dairy, the Champaran
gullock is still made to work beyond his capacity, and the so-called Hindu still cruelly belabours
the poor animal and disgraces his religion.
That this work should have remained unrealized has been, to me, a continual regret, and
whenever I go to Champaran and hear the gentle reproaches of the Marwadi and Bihari friends, I
recall with a heavy sigh all those plans which I had to drop so abruptly.
The educational work in one way or another is going on in many places. But the cow protection
work had not taken firm root, and has not, therefore, progressed in the direction intended.Whilst the Kheda peasants’ question was still being discussed, I had already taken up the
question of the mill-hands in Ahmedabad.
I was in a most delicate situation. The mill-hands’ case was strong. Shrimati Anasuyabai had to
battle against her own brother, Sjt. Ambalal Sarabhai, who led the fray on behalf of the millowners. My relations with them were friendly, and that made fighting with them the more difficult. I
held consultations with them, and requested them to refer the dispute to arbitration.
I had therefore to advise the labourers to go on strike. Before I did so, I came in very close
contact with them and their leaders, and explained to them the conditions of a successful strike:
1. never o resort to violence, 2. never to molest blacklegs, 3. never to depend upon alms, and 4.
to remain firm, no matter how long the strike continued, and to earn bread, during the strike, by
any other honest labour.
The leaders of the strike understood and accepted the conditions, and the labourers pledged
themselves at a general meeting not to resume work until either their terms were accepted or the
mill-owners agreed to refer the dispute to arbitration.
It was during this strike that I came to know intimately Sjts. Vallabhbhai Patel and Shankarlal
Banker. Shrimati Anasuyabai I knew well before this.
We had daily meetings of the strikers under the shade of a tree on the bank of the Sabarmati.
They attended the meeting in their thousands, and I reminded them in my speeches of their
pledge and of the duty to maintain peace and self-respect. They daily paraded the streets of the
city in peaceful procession, carrying their banner bearing the inscription ‘#Ek Tek#’ (keep the
The strike went on for twenty-one days. During the continuance of the strike I consulted the millowners from time to time and entreated them to do justice to the labourers. ‘We have our pledge
too,’ they used to say. ‘Our relations with the labourers are those of parents and children….How
can we brook the interference of a third party? Where is the room for arbitration?’.
Chapter 145
Before I proceed to describe the progress of the labour dispute it is essential to have a peep
into the Ashram. All the while I was in Champaran the Ashram was never out of my mind, and
occasionally I paid it flying visits.
At that time the Ashram was in Kochrab, a small village near Ahmedabad. Plague broke out in
this village, and I saw evident danger to the safety of the Ashram children. It was impossible to
keep ourselves immune from the effects of the surrounding insanitation, however scrupulously we
might observe the rules of cleanliness within the Ashram walls. We were not then equal either to
getting the Kochrab people to observe these rules nor to serving the village otherwise.
Our ideal was to have the Ashram at a safe distance both from town and village, and yet at a
manageable distance from either. And we were determined, some day, to settle on ground of our
own. The plague, I felt, was sufficient notice to quit Kochrab. Sjt. Punjabhai Hirachand, a merchant in
Ahmedabad, had come in close contact with the Ashram, and used to serve us in a number of
matters in a pure and selfless spirit. He had a wide experience of things in Ahmedabad, and he
volunteered to procure us suitable land. I went about with him north and south of Kochrab in
search of land, and then suggested to him to find out a piece of land three or four miles to the
north. He hit upon the present site. Its vicinity to the Sabarmati Central Jail was for me a special
attraction. As jail-going was understood to be the normal lot of Satyagrahis, I liked this position.
And I knew that the sites selected for jails have generally clean surroundings.
In about eight days the sale was executed. There was no building on the land and no tree. But its
situation on the bank f the river and its solitude were great advantages.
We decided to start by living under canvas, and having a tin shed for a kitchen, till permanent
houses were built.
The Ashram had been slowly growing. We were now over forty souls, men, women and children,
having our meals at a common kitchen. The whole conception about the removal was mine, the
execution was as usual left to Maganlal.
Our difficulties, before we had permanent living accommodation, were great. The rains were
impending, and provisions had to be got from the city four miles away. The ground, which had
been a waste, was infested with snakes, and it was no small risk to live with little children under
such conditions. The general rule was not to kill the snakes, though I confess none of us had
shed the fear of these reptiles, nor have we even now.
The rule of not killing venomous reptiles had been practised for the most part at Phoenix, Tolstoy
Farm and Sabarmati. At each of these places we had to settle on waste lands. We have had,
however, no loss of life occasioned by snakebite. I see, with the eye of faith, in this circumstance
the hand of the God of Mercy. Let no one cavil at this, saying that God can never be partial, and
that He has no time to meddle with the humdrum affairs of men. I have no other language to
express the fact of the matter, to describe this uniform experience of mine. Human language can
but imperfectly describe God’s ways. I am sensible of the fact that they are indescribable and
inscrutable. But if mortal man will dare to describe them, he has no better medium than his own
inarticulate speech. Even if it be a superstition to believe that complete immunity from harm for
twenty-five years in spite of a fairly regular practice of non-killing is not a fortuitous accident but a
grace of God, I should still hug that superstition.
During the strike of the mill-hands in Ahmedabad the foundation of the Ashram weaving shed was
being laid. For the principal activity of the Ashram was then weaving. Spinning had not so far
been possible for us.
Chapter 146
For the first two weeks the mill-hands exhibited great courage and self-restraint and daily held
monster meetings. On these occasions I used to remind them of their pledge, and they would
shout back to me the assurance that they would rather die than break their word. But at last they began to show signs of flagging. Just as physical weakness in men manifests
itself in irascibility, their attitude towards the blacklegs became more and more menacing as the
strike seemed to weaken, and I began to fear an outbreak of rowdyism on their part. The
attendance at their daily meetings also began to dwindle by degrees, and despondency and
despair were writ large on the faces of those who did attend. Finally the information was brought
to me that the strikers had begun to totter. I felt deeply troubled and set to thinking furiously as to
what my duty was in the circumstances. I had had experience of a gigantic strike in South Africa,
but the situation that confronted me here was different. The mill-hands had taken the pledge at
me suggestion. They had repeated it before me day after day, and the very idea that they might
now go back upon it was to me inconceivable. Was it pride or was it my love for the labourers and
my passionate regard for truth that was at the back of this feeling who can say?
One morning it was at a mill-hands’ meeting while I was still groping and unable to see my way
clearly, the light came to me. Unbidden and all by themselves the words came to my lips: ‘Unless
the strikers rally,’ I declared to the meeting, ‘and continue the strike till a settlement is reached, or
till they leave the mills altogether, I will not touch any food.’
The labourers were thunderstruck. Tears began to course down Anasuyabehn’s cheeks. The
labourers broke out, ‘Not you but we shall fast. It would be monstrous if you were to fast. Please
forgive us for our lapse, we will now remain faithful to our pledge to the end.’
‘There is no need for you to fast,’ I replied. ‘It would be enough if you could remain true to your
pledge. As you know we are without funds, and we do not want to continue our strike by living on
public charity. You should therefore try to eke out a bare existence by some kind of labour, so
that you may be able to remain unconcerned, no matter how long the strike may continue. As for
my fast, it will be broken only after the strike is settled.’
In the meantime Vallabhbhai was trying to find some employment for the strikers under the
Municipality, but there was not much hope of success there. Maganlal Gandhi suggested that, as
we needed sand for filling the foundation of our weaving school in the Ashram, a number of them
might be employed for that purpose. The labourers welcomed the proposal. Anasuyabehn led the
way with a basket on her head and soon an endless stream of labourers carrying baskets of sand
on their heads could be seen issuing out of the hollow of the river-bed. It was a sight worth
seeing. The labourers felt themselves infused with a new strength, and it became difficult to cope
with the task of paying out wages to them.
My fast was not free from a grave defect. For as I have already mentioned in a previous chapter. I
enjoyed very close and cordial relations with the mill-owners, and my fast could not but affect
their decision. As a Satyagrahi I knew that I might not fast against them, but ought to leave them
free to be influenced by the mill-hands’ strike alone. My fast was undertaken not on account of
lapse of which, as their representative, I felt I had a share. With the mill-owners, I could only
plead; to fast against them would amount to coercion. Yet in spite of my knowledge that my fast
was bound to put pressure upon them, as in fact it did, I felt I could not help it. The duty to
undertake it seemed to me to be clear.
I tried to set the mill-owners at ease. ‘There is not the slightest necessity for you to withdraw from
your position,’ I said to them. But they received my words coldly and even flung keen, delicate
bits of sarcasm at me, as indeed they had a perfect right to do.
The principal man at the back of the mill-owners’ unbending attitude towards the strike was Sheth
Ambalal. His resolute will and transparent sincerity were wonderful and captured my heart. It was
a pleasure to be pitched against him. The strain produced by my fast upon the opposition, of
which he was the head, cut me, therefore, to the quick. And then, Sarladevi, his wife, was attached to me with the affection of a blood-sister, and I could not bear to see her anguish on
account of my action.
Anasuyabhen and a number of other friends and labourers shared the fast with me on the first
day. But after some difficulty I was able to dissuade them from continuing it further.
The net result of it was that an atmosphere of goodwill was created all round. The hearts of the
mill-owners were touched, and they set about discovering some means for a settlement.
Anasuyabehn’s house became the venue of their discussions. Sjt. Anandshankar Dhruva
intervened and was in the end appointed arbitrator, and the strike was called off after I had fasted
only for three days. The mill-owners commemorated the event by distributing sweets among the
labourers, and thus a settlement was reached after 21 days’ strike.
At the meeting held to celebrate the settlement, both the mill-owners and the Commissioner were
present. The advice which the latter gave to the mill-hands on this occasion was: ‘You should
always act as Mr. Gandhi advises you.’ Almost immediately after these events I had to engage in
a tussle with this very gentleman. But circumstances were changed, and he had changed with the
circumstances. He then set about warning the Patidars of Kheda against following my advice!
I must not close this chapter without noting here an incident, as amusing as it was pathetic. It
happened in connection with the distribution of sweets. The mill-owners had ordered a very large
quantity, and it was a problem how to distribute it among the thousands of labourers. It was
decided that it would be the fittest thing to distribute it in the open, beneath the very tree under
which the pledge had been taken, especially as it would have been extremely inconvenient to
assemble them all together in any other place.
I had taken it for granted that the men who had observed strict discipline for full 21 days would
without any difficulty be able to remain standing in an orderly manner while the sweets were
being distributed, and not make an impatient scramble for them. But when it came to the test, all
the methods that were tried for making the distribution failed. Again and again their ranks would
break into confusion after distribution had proceeded for a couple of minutes. The leaders of the
mill-hands tried their best to restore order, but in vain. The confusion, the crush and the scramble
at last became so great that quite an amount of the sweets was spoiled by being trampled under
foot, and the attempt to distribute them in the open had finally to be given up. With difficulty we
succeeded in taking away the remaining sweets to Sheth Ambalal’s bungalow in Mirzapur.
Sweets were distributed comfortably the next day within the compound of that bungalow.
The comic side of this incident is obvious, but the pathetic side bears mention. Subsequent
inquiry revealed the fact that the beggar population of Ahmedabad, having got scent of the fact
that sweets were to be distributed under the #Ek-Tek# tree, had gone there in large numbers, and
it was their hungry scramble for the sweets that had created all the confusion and disorder.
The grinding poverty and starvation with which our country is afflicted is such that it drives more
and more men every year into the ranks of the beggars, whose desperate struggle for bread
renders them insensible to all feelings of decency and self-respect. And our philanthropists,
instead of providing work for them and insisting on their working for bread, give them alms. Chapter 147
No breathing time was, however, in store for me. Hardly was the Ahmedabad mill-hands’ strike
over, when I had to plunge into the Kheda Satyagraha struggle.
A condition approaching famine had arisen in the Kheda district owing to a widespread failure of
crops, and the Patidars of Kheda were considering the question of getting the revenue
assessment for the year suspended.
Sjt. Amritlal Thakkar had already inquired into and reported on the situation and personally
discussed the question with the Commissioner, before I gave definite advice to the cultivators.
Sjts. Mohanlal Pandya and Shankarlal Parikh had also thrown themselves into the fight, and had
set up an agitation in the Bombay Legislative Council through Sjt. Vithalbhai Patel and the late Sir
Gokuldas Kahandas Parekh. More than one deputation had waited upon the Governor in that
I was at this President of the Gujarat Sabha. The Sabha sent petitions and telegrams to the
Government and even patiently swallowed the insults and threats of the Commissioner. The
conduct of the officials on this occasion was so ridiculous and undignified as to be almost
incredible now.
The cultivators’ demand was as clear as daylight, and so moderate as to make out a strong case
for its acceptance. Under the Land Revenue Rules, if the crop was four annas or under, the
cultivators could claim full suspension of the revenue assessment for the year. According to the
official figures the crop was said to be over four annas. The contention of the cultivators, on the
other hand, was that it was less than four annas. But the Government was in on mood to listen,
and regarded the popular demand for arbitration as #lese majeste#. At last all petitioning and
prayer having failed, after taking counsel with co-workers, I advised the Patidars ro resort to
Besides the volunteers of Kheda, my principal comrades in this struggle were Sjts. Vallabhbhai
Patel, Shankarlal Banker, Shrimati Anasuyabehn, Sjts. Indulal Yajnik, Mahadev Desai and others.
Sjt. Vallabhbhai, in joining the struggle, had to suspend a splendid and growing practice at the
bar, which for all practical purposes he was never able to resume.
We fixed up our headquarters at the Nadiad Anathashram, no other place being available which
would have been large enough to accommodate all of us.
The following pledge was signed by the Satyagrahis:
‘Knowing that the crops of our villages are less than four annas, we requested the Government to
suspend the collection of revenue assessment till the ensuing year, but the Government had not
acceded to our prayer. Therefore, we, the undersigned, hereby solemnly declare that we shall
not, of our own accord, pay to the Government the full or the remaining revenue for the year. We
shall let the Government take whatever legal steps it may think fit and gladly suffer the
consequences of our non-payment. We shall rather let our lands be forfeited than that by
voluntary payment we should allow our case to be considered flase or should compromise our
self-respect. Should the Government, however, agree to suspend collection of the second
instalment of the assessment throughout the district, such amongst us as are in a position to pay
will pay up the whole or the balance of the revenue that may be due. The reason why those who are able to pay still withhold payment is that, if they pay up, the poorer ryots may in a panic sell
their chattels or incur debts to pay their dues, and thereby bring suffering upon themselves. In
these circumstances we feel that, for the sake of the poor, it is the duty even of those who can
afford to pay to withhold payment of their assessment.’
I cannot devote many chapters to this struggle. So a number of sweet recollections in this
connection will have to be crowded out. Those who want to make a fuller and deeper study of this
important fight would do well to read the full and authentic history of the Kheda Satyagraha by Sjt.
Shankarlal Parikh of Kathlal, Kheda.
Chapter 148
Champaran being in a far away corner of India, and the press having been kept out of the
campaign, it did not attract visitors from outside. Not so with the Kheda campaign, of which the
happenings were reported in the press from day to day.
The Gujaratis were deeply interested in the fight, which was to them a novel experiment. They
were ready to pour forth their riches for the success of the cause. It was not easy for them to see
that Satyagraha could not be conducted simply by means of money. Money is the thing that it
least needs. In spite of my remonstrance, the Bombay merchants sent us more money than
necessary, so that we had some balance left at the end of the campaign.
At the same time the Satyagrahi volunteers had to learn the new lesson of simplicity. I cannot say
that they imbibed it fully, but they considerably changed their ways of life.
For the Patidar farmers, too, the fight was quite a new thing. We had, therefore, to go about from
village to village explaining the principles of the Satyagraha.
The main thing was to rid the agriculturists of their fear by making them realize that the officials
were not the masters but the servants of the people, inasmuch as they received their salaries
from the taxpayer. And then it seemed well nigh impossible to make them realize the duty of
combining civility with fearlessness. Once they had shed the fear of the officials, how could they
be stopped from returning their insults? And yet if they resorted to incivility it would spoil their
Satyagraha, like a drop of arsenic in milk. I realized later that they had less fully learnt the lesson
of civility than I had expected. Experience has taught me that civility is the most difficult part of
Satyagraha. Civility does not here mean the mere outward gentleness and desire to do the
opponent good. These should show themselves in every act of a Satyagrahi.
In the initial stages, though the people exhibited much courage, the Government did not seem
inclined to take strong action. But as the people’s firmness showed no signs of wavering, the
Government began coercion. The attachment officers sold people’s cattle and seized whatever
movables they could lay hands on. Penalty notices were served, and in some cases standing
crops were attached. This unnerved the peasants, some of whom paid up their dues, while others
desired to place safe movables in the way of the officials so that they might attach them to realize
the dues. On the other hand some were prepared to fight to the bitter end. While these things were going on, one of Sjt. Shankarlal Parikh’s tenants paid up the assessment
in respect of his land. This created a sensation. Sjt. Shankarlal Parikh immediately made amends
for his tenant’s mistake by giving away for charitable purposes the land for which the assessment
had been paid. He thus saved his honour and set a good example to others.
With a view to steeling the hearts of those who were frightened, I advised the people, under the
leadership of Sjt. Mohanlal Pandya, to remove the crop of onion, from a field which had been, in
my opinion wrongly attached. I did not regard this as civil disobedience, but even if it was, I
suggested that this attachment of standing crops, though it might be in accordance with law, was
morally wrong, and was nothing be in accordance with law, was morally wrong, and was nothing
short of looting, and that therefore it was the people’s duty to remove the onion in spite of the
order of attachment. This was a good opportunity for the people to learn a lesson in courting fines
or imprisonment, which was the necessary consequence of such disobedience. For Sjt. Mohanlal
Pandya it was a thing after his heart. He did not like the campaign to end without someone
undergoing suffering in the shape of imprisonment for something done consistently with the
principles fof Satyagraha. So he volunteered to remove the onion crop from the field, and in this
seven or eight friends joined him.
It was impossible for the Government to leave them free. The arrest of Sjt. Mohanlal and his
companions added to the people’s enthusiasm. When the fear of jail disappears, repression puts
heart into the people. Crowds of them besieged the court-house on the day of the hearing.
Pandya and his companions were convicted and sentenced to a brief term of imprisonment. I was
of opinion that the conviction was wrong, because the act of removing the onion crop could not
come under the definition of ‘theft’ in the Penal Code. But no appeal was filed as the policy was to
avoid the law courts.
A procession escorted the ‘convicts’ to jail, and on that day Sjt. Mohanlal Pandya earned from the
people the honoured title of dungli Chor (onion thief) which he enjoys to this day.
The conclusion of the Kheda Satyagraha I will leave to the next chapter.
Chapter 149
The campaign came to an unexpected end. It was clear that the people were exhausted, and I
hesitated to let the unbending be driven to utter ruin. I was casting about for some graceful way of
terminating the struggle which would be acceptable to a Satyagrahi. Such a one appeared quite
unexpectedly. The Mamlatdar of the Nadiad Taluka sent me word that, if well-to-do Patidars paid
up, the poorer ones would be granted suspension. I asked for a written undertaking to that effect,
which was given. But as a Mamlatdar could be responsible only for his Taluka, I inquired of the
Collector, who alone could give an undertaking in respect of the whole district, whether the
Mamlatdar’s undertaking was true for the whole district. He replied that orders declaring
suspension in terms of the Mamlatdar’s letter had been already issued. I was not aware of it, but
if it was a fact, the people’s pledge had been fulfilled. The pledge, it will be remembered, had the
same things for its object, and so we expressed ourselves satisfied with the orders.
However, the end was far from making me feel happy, inasmuch as it lacked the grace with which
the termination of every Satyagraha campaign ought to be accompanied. The Collector carried on
as though he had done nothing by way of a settlement. The poor were to be granted suspension, but hardly any got the benefit of it. It was the people’s right to determine who was poor, but they
could not exercise it. I was sad that they had not the strength to exercise the right. Although,
therefore, the termination was celebrated as a triumph of Satyagraha, I could not enthuse over it,
as it lacked the essentials of a complete triumph.
The end of a Satyagraha campaign can be described as worthy, only when, it leaves the
Satyagrahis stronger and more spirited than they are in the beginning.
The campaign was not, however, without its indirect results which we can see today and the
benefit of which we are reaping. The Kheda Satyagraha marks the beginning of an awakening
among the peasants of Gujarat, the beginning of their true political education.
Dr. Besant’s brilliant Home Rule agitation had certainly touched the peasants, but it was the
Kheda campaign that compelled the educated public workers to establish contact with the actual
life of the peasants. They learnt to identify themselves with the latter. They found their proper
sphere of work, their capacity for sacrifice increased. That Vallabhbhai found himself during this
campaign was by itself no small achievement. We could realize its measure during the flood relief
operations last year and the Bardoli Satyagraha this year. Public life in Gujarat became instinct
with a new energy and a new vigour. The Patidar peasant came to an unforgettable conciousness
of his strength. The lesson was indelibly imprinted on the public mind that the salvation of the
people depends upon themselves, upon their capacity for suffering and sacrifice. Through the
Kheda campaign Satyagraha took firm root in the soil of Gujarat.
Although, therefore, I found nothing to enthuse over in the termination of the Satyagraha, the
Kheda peasants were jubilant, because they knew that what they had found the true and infallible
method for a redress of their grievances. This knowledge was enough justification for their
Nevertheless the Kheda peasants had not fully understood the inner meaning of Satyagraha, and
they saw it to their cost, as we shall see in the chapters to follow.
Chapter 150
The Kheda campaign was launched while the deadly war in Europe was still going on. Now a
crisis had arrived, and the Viceroy had invited various leaders to a war conference in Delhi. I had
also been urged to attend the conference. I have already referred to the cordial relations between
Lord Chelmsford, the Viceroy, and myself.
In response to the invitation I went to Delhi. I had, however, objections to taking part in the
conference, the principal one being the exclusion from it of leaders like the Ali Brothers. They
were then in jail. I had met them. Everyone had spoken highly of their much services and their
courage. I had not then come in close touch with Hakim Saheb, but Principal Rudra and
Dinabandhu Andrews had told me a deal in his praise. I had met Mr. Shuaib Qureshi and Mr.
Khwaja at the Muslim League in Calcutta. I had also come in contact with Drs. Ansari and Abdur
Rahman. I was seeking the friendship of good Musalmans. and was eager to understand the
Musalman mind through contact with their purest and most patriotic representatives. I therefore never needed any pressure to go with them, wherever they took me, in order to get into intimate
touch with them.
I had realized early enough in South Africa that there was no genuine friendship between the
Hindus and the Musalmans. I never missed a single opportunity to remove obstacles in the way
of unity. It was not in my nature to placate anyone by adulation, or at the cost of self- respect. But
my South African experiences had convinced me that it would be on the question of HinduMuslim unity that my Ahimsa would be put to its severest test, and that the question presented
the widest field for my experiments in Ahimsa. The conviction is still there. Every moment of my
life I realize that God is putting me on my trial.
Having such strong convictions on the question when I returned from South Africa, I prized the
contact with the Brothers. But before closer touch could be established they were isolated.
Maulana Mahomed Ali used to write long letters to me from Betul and Chhindwada whenever his
jailers allowed him to do so. I applied for permission to visit the Brothers but to no purpose.
It was after the imprisonment of the Ali Brothers that I was invited by Muslim friends to attend the
session of the Muslim League at Calcutta. Being requested to speak, I addressed them on the
duty of the Muslims to secure the Brother’s release. A little while after this I was taken by these
friends to the Muslim College at Aligarh. There I invited the young men to be fakirs for the service
of the motherland.
Next I opened correspondence with the Government for the release of the Brothers. In that
connection I studied the Brothers’ views and activities about the Khilafat. I had discussions with
Musalman friends. I felt that, if I would become a true friend of the Muslims, I must render all
possible help in securing the release of the Brothers, and a just settlement of the Khilafat
question. It was not for me to enter into the absolute merits of the question, provided there was
nothing immoral in their demands. In matters of religion beliefs differ, and each one’s is supreme
for himself. If all had the same belief about all matters of religion, there would be only one religion
in the world, As time progressed I found that the Muslim demand about the Khilafat was not only
not against any ethical principle, but that the British Prime Minister had admitted the justice of the
Muslim demand. I felt, therefore, bound to render what help I could in securing a due fulfilment of
the prime Minister’s pledge. The pledge had been given in such clear terms that the examination
of the Muslim demand on the merits was needed only to satisfy my own concience.
Friends and critics have criticized my attitude regarding the Khilafat question. In spite of the
criticism I feel that I have no reason to revise it or to regret my co-operation with the Muslims. I
should adopt the same attitude, should a similar occasion arise.
When, therefore, I went to Delhi, I had fully intended to submit the MUslim case to the Viceroy.
The Khilafat question had not then assumed the shape it did subsequently.
But on my reaching Delhi another difficulty in the way of my attending the conference arose.
Dinabandhu Andrews raised a question about the morality of my participation in the war
conference. He told me of the controversy in the British press regarding secret treaties between
England and Italy. How could I participate in the conference, if England had entered into secret
treaties with another European power? asked Mr. Andrews. I knew nothing of the treaties.
Dinabandhu Andrews’ word was enough for me. I therefore addressed a letter to Lord Chelmsford
explaining my hesitation to take part in the conference. He invited me to discuss the question with
him. I had a prolonged discussion with him and his Private Secretary Mr. Maffey. As a result I
agreed to take part in the conference. This was in effect the Viceroy’s argument: ‘Surely you do
not believe that the Viceroy knows everything done by the British Cabinet. I do not claim, no one
claims, that the British Government is infallible. But if you agree that the Empire has been, on the
whole, a power for good, if you believe that India has, on the whole, benefited by the British connection, would you not admit that it is the duty of every Indian citizen to help the Empire in the
hour of its need? I too have read what the British papers say about the secret treaties. I can
assure you that I know nothing beyond what the papers say, and you know the canards that
these papers frequently start, Can you, acting on a mere newpapers report, refuse help to the
Empire at such a critical juncture? You may raise whatever moral issues you like and challenge
us as much as you please after the conclusion of the war, not today.’
The argument was not new. It appealed to me as new because of the manner in which, and the
hour at which, it was presented, and I agreed to attend the conference. As regards the Muslim
demands I was to address a letter to the Viceroy.
Chapter 151
So I attended the conference. The Viceroy was very keen on my supporting the resolution about
recruiting. I asked for permission to speak in Hindi-Hindustani. The Viceroy acceded to my
request, but suggested that I should speak also in English. I had no speech to make. I spoke but
one sentence to this effect: ‘With a full sense of my responsibility I beg to support the resolution.’
Many congratulated me on my having spoken in Hindustani. That was, they said, the first
instance within living memory of anyone having spoken in Hindustani at such a meeting. The
congratulations and the discovery that I was the first to speak in Hindustani at a Viceregal
meeting hurt my national pride. I felt like shrinking into myself. What a tragedy that the language
of the country should be taboo in meeting held in the country, for work relating to the country, and
that a speech there in Hindustani by a stray individual like myself should be a matter for
congratulation? Incidents like these are reminders of the low state to which we have been
The one sentence that I uttered at the conference had for me considerable significance. It was
impossible for me to forget either the conference or the resolution I supported. There was one
undertaking that I had to fulfil while yet in Delhi. I had to write a letter to the Viceroy. This was no
easy thing for me. I felt it my duty both in the interests of the Government and of the people to
explain therein how and why I attended the conference, and to state clearly what the people
expected from Government.
In the letter I expressed my regret for the exclusion from the conference of leaders like
Lokamanya Tilak and the Ali Brothers, and stated the people’s minimum political demand as also
the demands of the Muslims on account of the situation created by the war. I asked for
permission to publish the letter, and the Viceroy gladly gave it.
The letter had to be sent to Simla, where the Viceroy had gone immediately after the conference.
The letter had for me considerable importance, and sending it by post would have meant delay. I
wanted to save time, and yet I was not inclined to send it by any messenger I came across. I
wanted some pure man to carry it and hand it personally at the Viceregal Lodge. Dinabandhu
Andrews and Principal Rudra suggested the name of the good Rev. Ireland of the Cambridge
Mission. He agreed to carry the letter if he might read it and if it appealed to him as good. I had
no objection as the letter was by no means private. He read it, liked it and expressed his
willingness to carry out the mission. I offered him the second class fare, but he declined it saying he was accustomed to travelling intermediate. This he did though it was a night journey. His
simplicity and his straight and plainspoken manner captivated me. The letter thus delivered at the
hands of a pureminded man had, as I thought, the desired result. It eased my mind and cleared
my way.
The other part of my obligation consisted in raising recruits. Where could I make a beginning
except in Kheda? And whom could I invite to be the first recruits except my own co-workers? So
as soon as I reached Nadiad, I had a conference with Vallabhbhai and other friends. Some of
them could not easily take to the proposal. Those who liked the proposal had misgivings about its
success. There was no love lost between the Government and the classes to which I wanted to
make my appeal. The bitter experience they had had of the Government officials was still fresh in
their memory.
And yet they were in favour of starting work. As soon as I set about my task, my eyes were
opened. My optimism received a rude shock. Whereas during the revenue campaign the people
readily offered their carts free of charge, and two volunteers came forth when one was needed, it
was difficult now to get a cart even on hire, to say nothing of volunteers. But we would not be
dismayed. We decided to dispense with the use of carts and to do our journeys on foot. At this
rate we had to trudge about 20 miles a day. If carts were not forthcoming, it was idle to expect
people to feed us. It was hardly proper to ask for food. So it was decided that every volunteer
must carry his food in his satchel. No bedding or sheet was necessary as it was summer.
We had meetings wherever we went. People did attend, but hardly one or two would offer
themselves as recruits. ‘You are a votary of Ahimsa, how can you ask us to take up arms?’ ‘What
good has Government done for India to deserve our co-operation?’ These and similar questions
used to be put to us.
However, our steady work began to tell. Quite a number of names were registered, and we hoped
that we should be able to have a regular supple as soon as the first batch was sent. I had already
begun to confer with the Commissioner as to where the recruits were to be accommodated.
The Commissioners in every division were holding conferences on the Delhi model. One such
was held in Gujarat. My co-workers and I were invited to it. We attended, but I felt there was even
less place for me here than at Delhi. In this atmosphere of servile submission I felt ill at ease. I
spoke somewhat at length. I could say nothing to please the officials, and had certainly one or
two hard things to say.
I used to issue leaflets asking people to enlist as recruits. One of the arguments I had used was
distasteful to the Commissioner: ‘Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history
will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest. If we want the Arms Act to
be repealed, if we want to learn the use of arms, here is a golden opportunity. If the middle
classes render voluntary help to Government in the hour of its trial, distrust will disappear, and the
ban on possessing arms will be withdrawn.’ The Commissioner referred to this and said that he
appreciated my presence in the conference in spite of the differences between us. And I had to
justify my standpoint as courteously as I could.
Here is the letter to the Viceroy referred to above:
(** smaller font)
‘As you are aware, after careful consideration, I felt constrained to convey to Your Excellency that
I could not attend the Conference for reasons stated in the letter of the 26th instant (April), but
after the interview you were good enough to grant me, I persuaded myself to join it, if for no other
cause, then certainly out of my great regard for yourself. One of my reasons for abstention and perhaps the strongest was that Lokamanya Tilak, Mrs. Besant and the Ali Brothers, whom I
regard as among the most powerful leaders or public opinion, were not invited to the Conference.
I still feel that it was a grave blunder not to have asked them, and I respectfully suggest that
blunder might be possibly repaired if these leaders were invited to assist the Government by
giving it the benefit of their advice at the Provincial Conferences, which I understand are to follow.
I venture to submit that no Government can afford to disregard the leaders, who represent the
large masses of the people as these do, even though they may hold views fundamentally
different. At the same time it gives me pleasure to be able to say that the views of all parties were
permitted to be freely expressed at the Committees of the Conference. For my part, I purposely
refrained from stating my views at the Committee at which I had the honour of serving, or at the
Conference itself. I felt that I could best serve the objects of the Conference by simply tendering
my support to the resolutions submitted to it, and this I have done without any reservation. I hope
to translate the spoken word into action as early as the Government can see its way to accept my
offer, which I am submitting simultaneously herewith in a separate letter.
‘I recognize that in the hour of its danger we must give, as we have decided to give, ungrudging
and unequivocal support to the Empire of which we aspire in the near future to be partners in the
same sense as the Dominions overseas. But it is the simple truth that our response is due to the
expectation that our goal will be reached all the more speedily. On that account, even as
performance of duty automatically confers a corresponding right, people are entitled to believe
that the imminent reforms alluded to in your speech will embody the main general principles of
the Congress-League Scheme, and I am sure that it is this faith which has enabied many
members of the Conference to tender to the Government their full-hearted co-operation.
‘If I could make my countrymen retrace their steps. I would make them withdraw all the Congress
resolutions, and not whisper “Home Rule” or “Responsible Government” during the pendency of
the War. I would make India offer all her able-bodied sons as a sacrifice to the Empire at its
critical moment, and I know that India, by this very act, would become the most favoured partner
in the Empire, and racial distinctions would become a thing of the past. But practically the whole
of educated India has decided to take a less effective course, and it is no longer possible to say
that educated India does not exercise any influence on the masses. I have been coming into most
intimate touch with the ryots ever since my return from South Africa to India, and I wish to assure
you that the desire for Home Rule has widely penetrated them. I was present at the session that
full Responsible Government should be granted to British India within a period to be fixed
definitely by a parliamentary Statute. I admit that it is a bold step to take, but I feel sure that
nothing less than a definite vision of Home Rule to be realized in the shortest possible time will
satisfy the Indian people. I know that there are many in India who consider no sacrifice as too
great in order to achieve the end, and they are wakeful enough to realize that they must be
equally prepared to sacrifice themselves for the Empire in which they hope and desire to reach
their final status. It follows then that we can but accelerate our journey to the goal by silently and
simply devoting ourselves heart and soul to the work of delivering the Empire from the
threatening danger. It will be national suicide not to recognize this elementary truth. We must
perceive that, if we serve to save the Empire, we have in that very act secured Home Rule.
‘Whilst, therefore, it is clear to me that we should give to the Empire every available man for its
defence, I fear that I cannot say the same thing about financial assistance. My intimate
intercourse with the ryots convinces me that India has already donated to the Imperial Exchequer
beyond her capacity. I know that in making this statement I am voicing the opinion of the majority
of my countrymen.
‘The Conference means for me, and I believe for many of us, a definite step in the consecration of
our lives to the common cause, but ours is a peculiar position. We are today outside the
partnership. Ours is a consecration based on hope of better future. I should be untrue to you and
to my country if I did not clearly and unequivocally tell you what that hope is. I do not bargain for
its fulfilment, but you should know that disappointment of hope means disillusion. ‘There is one thing I may not omit. You have appealed to us to sink domestic differences. If the
appeal involves the toleration of tyranny and wrongdoing on the part of officials, I am powerless to
respond. I shall resist organized tyranny to the uttermost. The appeal must be to the officials that
they do not ill-treat a single soul, and that they consult and respect an age-long tyranny I have
shown the ultimate sovereignty of British justice. In Kheda a population that was cursing the
Government now feels that it, and not the Government, is the power when it is prepared to suffer
for the truth it represents. It is, therefore, losing its bitterness and is saying to itself that the
Government must be a Government for people, for it tolerates orderly and respectful
disobedience where injustice is felt. Thus Champaran and Kheda affairs are my direct, definite
and special contribution to the War. Ask me to suspend my activities in that direction and you ask
me to suspend my life. If I could popularize the use of soul-force, which is but another name for
love-force, in place of brute force, I know that I could present you with an India that could defy the
whole world to do its worst. In season and out of season, therefore, I shall discipline myself to
express in my life this eternal law of suffering, and present it for acceptance to those who care,
and if I take part in any other activity, the motive is to show the matchless superiority of that law.
‘Lastly, I would like you to ask His Majesty’s Ministers to give definite assurance about
Mohammedan States. I am sure you know that every Mohammedan is deeply interested in them.
As a Hindu. I cannot be indifferent to their cause. Their sorrows must be our sorrows. In the most
scrupulous regard for the rights of those States and for the Muslim sentiment as to their places of
workship, and your just and timely treatment of India’s claim to Home Rule lies the safety of the
Empire. I write this, because I love the English nation, and I wish to evoke in every Indian the
loyalty of Englishmen.’
Chapter 152
I very nearly ruined my constitution during the recruiting campaign. In those days my food
principally consisted of groundnut butter and lemons. I knew that it was possible to eat too much
butter and injure one’s health, and yet I allowed myself to do so. This gave me a slight attack of
dysentery. I did not take serious notice of this, and went that evening to the Ashram, as was my
wont every now and then. I scarcely took any medicine in those days. I thought I should get well if
I skipped a meal, and indeed I felt fairly free from trouble as I omitted the morning meal next day.
I knew, however, that to be entirely free I must prolong my fast and, if I ate anything at all, I
should have nothing but fruit juices.
There was some festival that day, and although I had told Kasturbai that I should have nothing for
my midday meal, she tempted me and I succumbed. As I was under a vow of taking no milk or
milk products, she had specially prepared for me a sweet wheaten porridge with oil added to it
instead of #ghi#. She had reserved too a bowlful of #mung# for me. I was fond of these things,
and I readily took them, hoping that without coming to grief I should eat just enough to please
Kasturbai and to satisfy my palate. But the devil had been only waiting for an opportunity. Instead
of eating very little I had my fill of the meal. This was sufficient invitation to the angel of death.
Within an hour the dysentery appeared in acute form.
The same evening I had to go back to Nadiad. I walked with very great difficulty to the Sabarmati
station, a distance of only ten furlongs. Sjt. Vallabhbhai, who joined me at Ahmedabad, saw that I
was unwell, but I did not allow him to guess how unbearable the pain was.We reached Nadiad at about ten o’clock. The Hindu Anathashram where we had our
headquarters was only half a mile from the station; but it was as good as ten for me. I somehow
managed to reach the quarters, but the griping pain was steadily increasing. Instead of using the
usual latrine which was a long way off, I asked for a commode to be placed in the adjoining room.
I was ashamed to have to ask for this, but there was no escape. Sjt. Fulchand immediately
procured a commode. All the friends surrounded me deeply concerned. They were all love and
attention, but they could not relieve my pain. And my obstinacy added to their helpessness. I
refused all medical aid. I would take no medicine, but preferred to suffer the penalty for my folly.
So they looked on in helpless dismay. I must have had thrity to forty motions in twenty-four hours.
I fasted, not taking even fruit juices in the beginning. The appetite had all gone. I had thought all
along that I had an iron frame, but I found that my body had now become a lump of clay. It had
lost all power of resistance. Dr.Kanuga came and pleaded with me to take medicine. I declined.
He offered to give me an injection. I declined that too. My ignorance about injections was in those
days quite ridiculous. I believed that an injection must be some kind of serum. Later I discovered
that the injection that the doctor suggested was a vegetable substance, but the discovery was too
late to be of use. The motions still continued, leaving me completely exhausted. The exhaustion
brought on a delirious fever. The friends got more nervous, and called in more doctors. But what
could they do with a patient who would not listen to them?
Sheth Ambalal with his good wife came down to Nadiad, conferred with my co-workers and
removed me with the greatest care to his Mirzapur bungalow in Ahmedabad. It was impossible for
anyone to receive more loving and selfless service than I had the privelege of having during this
illness. But a sort of low fever persisted, wearing away my body from day to day, I felt that the
illness was bound to be prolonged and possibly fatal. Surrounded as I was with all the love and
attention that could be showered on me under Sheth Ambalal’s roof, I began to get restless and
urged him to remove me to the Ashram. He had to yield to my importunity.
Whilst I was thus tossing on the bed of pain in the Ashram, Sjt. Vallabhbhai brought the news that
Germany had been completely defeated, and that the Commissioner had sent word that recruiting
was no longer necessary. The news that I had no longer to worry myself about recruiting came as
a very great relief.
I had now been trying hydropathy which gave some relief, but it was a hard job to build up the
body. The many medical advisers overwhelmed me with advice, but I could not persuade myself
to take anything. Two or three suggested meat broth as a way out of the milk vow, and cited
authorities from Ayurveda in support of their advice. One of them strongly recommended eggs.
But for all of them I had but one answer-no.
For me the question of diet was not one to be determined on the authority of the Shastras. It was
one interwoven with my course of life which is guided by principles no longer depending upon
outside authority. I had no desire to live at the cost of them. How could I relinquish a principle in
respect of myself, when I had enforced it relentlessly in respect of my wife, children and friends?
This protracted and first long illness in my life thus afforded me a unique opportunity to examine
my principles and to test them. One night I gave myself up to despair. I felt that I was at death’s
door. I sent word to Anasuyabehn. She ran down to the Ashram. Vallabhbhai came up with Dr.
Kanuga, who felt my pulse and said ‘Your pulse is quite good. I see absolutely no danger. This is
a nervous breakdown due to extreme weakness.’ But I was far from being reassured. I passed
the night without sleep.
The morning broke without death coming. But I could not get rid of the feeling that the end was
near, and so I began to devote all my waking hours to listening to the Gita being read to me by
the inmates of the Ashram. I was incapable of reading. I was hardly inclined to talk. The slightest
talk meant a strain on the brain. All interest in living had ceased, as I have never liked to live for the sake of living. It was such an agony to live on in that helpless state, doing nothing, receiving
the service of friends and co-workers, and watching the body slowly wearing away.
Whilst I lay thus ever expectant of death, Dr. Talvalkar came one day with a strange creature. He
hailed from Maharashtra. He was not known to fame, but the moment I saw him I found that he
was a crank like myself. He had come to try his treatment on me. He had almost finished his
course of studies in the Grant Medical College without taking the degree. Later I came to know
that he was a member of the Brahmo Samaj. Sjt. Kelkar, for that is his name, is a man of an
independent and obstinate temperament. He swears by the ice treatment, which he wanted to try
on me. We gave him the name of ‘Ice Doctor’. He is quite confident that he has discovered certain
things which have escaped qualified doctors. It is a pity both for him and me that he has not been
able to infect me with his faith in his system. I believe in his system up to a certain point, but I am
afraid he has been hasty in arriving at certain conclusions.
But whatever may be the merits of his discoveries, I allowed him to experiment on my body. I did
not mind external treatment. The treatment consisted in the application of ice all over the body.
Whilst I am unable to endorse his claim about the effect his treatment had on me, it certainly
infused in me a new hope and a new energy, and the mind naturally reacted on the body. I began
to have an appetite, and to have a gentle walk for five to ten minutes. He now suggested a reform
in my diet. Said he: ‘I assure you that you will have more energy and regain your strength quicker
if you take raw eggs. Eggs are as harmless as milk. They certainly cannot come under the
category of meat. And do you know that all eggs are not fertilized? There are sterilized eggs on
the markket.’ I was not, however, prepared to take even the sterilized eggs. But the improvement
was enough to give me interest in public activities.
Chapter 153
Friends and doctors assured me that I should recuperate quicker by a change to Matheran, so I
went there. But the water at Matheran being very hard, it made my stay there extremely difficult.
As a result of the attack of the dysentery that I had, my anal tract had become extremely tender,
and owing to fissures, I felt an excruciating pain at the time of evacuation, so that the very idea of
eating filled me with dread. Before the week was over, I had to flee from Matheran. Shankarlal
Banker now constituted himself the guardian of my health, and pressed me to consult Dr. Dalal.
Dr. Dalal was called accordingly. His capacity for taking instantaneous decisions captured me.
He said: ‘I cannot rebuild your body unless you take milk. If in addition you would take iron and
arsenic injections, I would guarantee fully to renovate your constitution.’
‘You can give me the injections,’ I replied, ‘but milk is a different question; I have a vow against it.’
‘What exactly is the nature of your vow?’ the doctor inquired.
I told him the whole history and the reasons behind my vow, how, since I had come to know that
the cow and the buffalo were subjected to the process of #phooka#, I had conceived a strong
disgust for milk. Moreover, I had always held that milk is not the natural diet of man. I had
therefore abjured its use altogether. Kasturbai was standing near my bed listening all the time to
this conversation. ‘But surely you cannot have any objection to goat’s milk then,’ she interposed.
The doctor too took up the strain. ‘If you will take goat’s milk, it will be enough for me,’ he said.
I succumbed. My intense eagerness to take up the Satyagraha fight had created in me a strong
desire to live, and so I contented myself with adhering to the letter of my vow only, and sacrificed
its spirit. For although I had only the milk of the cow and the she buffalo in mind when I took the
vow, by natural implication it covered the milk of all animals. Nor could it be right for me to use
milk at all, so long as I held that milk is not the natural diet of man. Yet knowing all this i agreed to
take goat’s milk. The will to live proved stronger than the devotion to truth, and for once the votary
of truth compromised his sacred ideal by his eagerness to take up the Satyagraha fight. The
memory of this action even now rankles in my breast and fills me with remorse, and I am
constantly thinking how to give up goat’s milk. But I cannot yet free myself from that subtlest of
temptations, the desire to serve, which still holds me.
My experience in dietetics are dear to me as a part of my researches in Ahimsa. They give me
recreation and joy. But my use of goat’s milk today troubles me not from the view-point of dietetic
Ahimsa so much as from that of truth, being no less than a breach of pledge. It seems to me that I
understand the ideal of truth better than that of a Ahimsa, and my experience tells me that, if I let
go my hold of truth, I shall never be able to solve the riddle of Ahimsa. The ideal of truth requires
that vows taken should be fulfilled in the spirit as well as in the letter. In the present case I killed
the spirit the soul of my vow by adhering to its outer form only, and that is what galls me. But in
spite of this clear knowledge I cannot see my way straight before me. In other words, perhaps, I
have not the courage to follow the straight course. Both at bottom mean one and the same thing,
for doubt is invariably the result of want or weakness of faith. ‘Lord, give me faith’ is, therefore, my
prayer day and night.
Soon after I began taking goat’s milk, Dr. Dalal performed on me a successful operation for
fissures. As I recuperated, my desire to live revived, especially because God had kept work in
store for me.
I had hardly begun to feel my way towards recovery, when I happened casually to read in the
papers the Rowlatt Committee’s report which had just been published. Its recommendations
startled me. Shankarlal Banker and Umar Sobani approached me with the suggestion that I
should take some prompt action in the matter. In about a month I went to Ahmedabad. I
mentioned my apprehensions to Vallabhbhai, who used to come to see me almost daily.
‘Something must be done,’ said I to him. ‘But what can we do in the circumstances?’ he asked in
reply. I answered, ‘If even a handful of men can be found to sign the pledge of resistance, and the
proposed measure is passed into law in defiance of it, we ought to offer Satyagraha at once. If I
was not laid up like this, I should give battle against it all alone, and expect others to follow suit.
But in my present helpless condition I feel myself to be altogether unequal to the task.’
As a result of this talk, it was decided to call a small meeting of such persons as were in touch
with me. The recommendations of the Rowlatt Committee seemed to me to be altogether
unwarranted by the evidence published in its report, and were, I felt, such that no self- respecting
people could submit to them.
The proposed conference was at last held at the Ashram. Hardly a score of persons had been
invited to it. So far as I remember, among those who attended were, besides Vallabhbhai,
Shrimati Sarojini Naidu, Mr. Horniman, the late Mr. Umar Sobani, Sjt. Shankarlal Banker and
Shrimati Anasuyabehn. The Satyagraha pledge was drafted at this meeting, and, as far as I
recollect, was signed by all present. I was not editing any journal at that time, but I used
occasionally to ventilate my views through the daily press. I followed the practice on this occasion. Shankarlal Banker took up the agitation in right earnest, and for the first time I got an
idea of his wonderful capacity for organization and sustained work.
As all hope of any of the existing institutions adopting a novel weapon like Satyagraha seemed to
me to be in vain, a separate body called the Satyagraha Sabha was established at my instance.
Its principal members were drawn from Bombay where, therefore, its headquarters were fixed.
The intending covenanters began to sign the Satyagraha pledge in large numbers, bulletins were
issued, and popular meetings began to be held everywhere recalling all the familiar features of
the Kheda campaign.
I became the president of the Satyagraha Sabha. I soon found that there was not likely to be
much chance of agreement between myself and the intelligentsia composing this Sabha. My
insistence on the use of Gujarati in the Sabha, as also some of my other methods of work that
would appear to be peculiar, caused them no small worry and embarrassment. I must say to their
credit, however, that most of them generously put up with my idiosyncrasies.
But from the very beginning it seemed clear to me that the Sabha was not likely to live long. I
could see that already my emphasis on truth and Ahimsa had begun to be disliked by some of its
members. Nevertheless in its early stages our new activity went on at full blast, and the
movement gathered head rapidly.
Chapter 154
Thus, while on the one hand the agitation against the Rowlatt Committee’s report gathered
volume and intensity, on the other the Government grew more and more determined to give effect
to its recommendations, and the Rowlatt Bill was published. I have attended the proceeding of
India’s legislative chamber only once in my life, and that was on the occasion of the debate on
this Bill. Shastriji delivered an impassioned speech, in which he uttered a solemn note of warning
to the Government. The Viceroy seemed to be listening spell-bound, his eyes riveted on Shastriji
as the latter poured forth the hot stream of his eloquence. For the moment it seemed to me as if
the Viceroy could not but be deeply moved by it, it was so true and so full of feeling.
But you can wake a man only if he is really asleep; no effort that you may make will produce any
effect upon him if he is merely pretending sleep. That was precisely the Government’s position. It
was anxious only to go through the farce of legal formality. Its decision had already been made.
Shastriji’s solemn warning was, therefore, entirely lost upon the Government.
In these circumstances mine could only be a cry in the wilderness. I earnestly pleaded with the
Viceroy. I addressed him private letters as also public letters, in the course of which I clearly told
him that the Government’s action left me no other course except to resort to Sayagraha. But it
was all in vain.
The Bill had not yet been gazetted as an Act. I was in a very weak condition, but when I received
an invitation from Madras I decided to take the risk of the long journey. I could not at that time
sufficiently raise my voice at meetings. The incapacity to address meetings standing still abides.
My entire frame would shake, and heavy throbbing would start on an attempt to speak standing
for any length of time.I have ever felt at home in the south. Thanks to my South African work I felt I had some sort of
special right over the Tamils and Telugus and the good people of the south have never belied my
belief. The invitation had come over the signature of the late Sjt. Kasturi Ranga Iyengar. But the
man behind the invitation, as I subsequently learnt on my way to Madras, was Rajagopalachari.
This might be said to be my first acquaintance with him; at any rate this was the first time that we
came to know each other personally.
Rajaagopalachari had then only recently left Salem to settle down for legal practice in Madras at
the pressing invitation of friends like the late Sjt. Kasturi Ranga Iyengar, and that with a view to
taking a more active part in public life. It was with him that we had put up in Madras. This
discovery I made only after we had stayed with him for a couple of days. For, since the bungalow
that we were staying in belonged to Sjt. Kasturi Ranga Iyengar. I was under the impression that
we were his guests. Mahadev Desai, however, corrected me. He very soon formed a close
acquaintance with Rajagopalachari, who, from his innate shyness, kept himself constantly in the
background. But Mahadev put me on my guard. ‘you should cultivate this man’ he said to me one
And so I did. We daily discussed together plans of the fight, but beyond the holding of public
meetings I could not then think of any other programme. I felt myself at a loss to discover how to
offer civil disobedience against the Rowlatt Bill if it was finally passed into law. One could disobey
it only if the Government gave one the opportunity for it. Failing that, could we civilly disobey
other laws? And if so, where was the line to be drawn? These and a host of similar questions
formed the theme of these discussions of ours.
Sjt. Kasturi Ranga Iyengar called together a small conference of leaders to thrash out the matter.
Among those who took a conspicuous part in it was Sjt. Vijayaraghavachari. He suggested that I
should draw up a comprehensive manual of the science of Satyagraha, embodying even minute
details. I felt the task to be beyond my capacity, and I confessed as much to him.While these
cogitations were still going on, news was received that the Rowlatt Bill had been published as an
Act. That night I fell asleep while thinking over the question. Towards the small hours of the
morning I woke up somewhat earlier than usual. I was still in that twilight condition between sleep
and consciousness when suddenly the idea broke upon me—it was as if in a dream. Early in the
morning I related the whole story to Rajagopalachari.
‘The idea came to me last night in a dream that we should call upon the country to observe a
general hartal. Satyagraha is a process of self-purification, and ours is a sacred fight, and it
seems to me to be in the fitness of things that it should be commenced with an act of selfpurification. Let all the people of India, therefore, suspend their business on that day and observe
the day as one of fasting and prayer. The Musalmans may not fast for more than one day; so the
duration of the fast should be twenty-four hours. It is very difficult to say whether all the provinces
would respond to this appeal of ours or not, but I feel fairly sure of Bombay, Madras, Bihar and
Sindh. I think we should have every reason to feel satisfied even if all these places observe the
hartal fittingly.’
Rajagopalachari was at once taken up with my suggestion. Other friends too welcomed it when it
was communicated to them later. I drafted a brief appeal. The date of the hartal was first fixed on
the 30th March 1919, but was subsequently changed to 6th April. The people thus had only a
short notice of the hartal. As the work had to be started at once, it was hardly possible to give
longer notice.
But who knows how it all came about? The whole of India from one end to the other, towns as
well as villages, observed a complete hartal on that day. It was a most wonderful spectacle.Chapter 155
After a short tour in South India I reached Bombay, I think on the 4th April, having received a
wire from Sjt. Shankarlal Banker asking me to be present there for the 6th of April celebrations.
But in the meanwhile Delhi had already observed the hartal on the 30th March. The word of the
late Swami Shraddhanandji and Hakim Ajmal Khan Saheb was law there. The wire about the
postponement of the hartal till the 6th of April had reached there too late. Delhi had never
withnessed a hartal like that before. Hindus and Musalmans seemed united like one man. Swami
Shraddhanandji was invited to deliver a speech in the Jumma Masjid which he did. All this was
more than the authorities could bear. The police checked the hartal procession as it was
proceeding towards the railway station, and opened fire, causing a number of casualties, and the
reign of repression commenced in Delhi. Shraddhanandji urgently summoned me to Delhi. I wired
back, saying I would start for Delhi immediately after the 6th of April celebrations were over in
The story of happenings in Delhi was repeated with variations in Lahore and Amritsar. From
Amritsar Drs. Satyapal and Kitchlu had sent me a pressing invitation to go there. I was altogether
unacquainted with them at at that time, but I communicated to them my intention to visit Amritsar
after Delhi.
On the morning of the 6th the citizens of Bombay flocked in their thousands to the Chowpati for a
bath in the sea, after which they moved on in a procession to Thakurdvar. The procession
included a fair sprinkling of women and children, while the Musalmans joined it in large numbers.
From Thakurdvar some of us who were in the procession were taken by the Musalman friends to
a mosque near by, where Mrs. Naidu and myself were persuaded to deliver speeches. Sjt.
Vithaldas Jerajani proposed that we should then and there administer the Swadeshi and HinduMuslim unity pledges to the people, but I resisted the proposal on the ground that pledges should
not be administered or taken in precipitate hurry, and that we should be satisfied with what was
already being done by the people. A pledge once taken, I argued, must not be broken afterwards;
therefore it was necessary that the implications of the Swadeshi pledge should be clearly
understood, and the grave responsibility entailed by the pledge regarding Hindu-Muslim unity fully
realized by all concerned. In the end I suggested that those who wanted to take the pledges
should again assemble on the following morning for the purpose.
Needless to say the hartal in Bombay was a complete success. Full preparation had been made
for starting civil disobedience. Two or three things had been discussed in this connection. It was
decided that civil disobedience might be offered in respect of such laws only as easily lent
themselves to being disobeyed by the masses. The salt tax was extremely unpopular and a
powerful movement had been for some time past going on to secure its repeal. I therefore
suggested that the people might prepare salt from sea-water in their own houses in disregard of
the salt laws. My other suggestion was about the sale of proscribed literature. Two of my books,
viz.,Hind Swaraj and Sarvodaya (Gujarati adaptation of Ruskin’s Unto This Last), which had been
already proscribed, came handy for this purpose. To print and sell them openly seemed to be the
easiest way of offering civil disobedience. A sufficient number of copies of the books was
therefore printed, and it was arranged to sell them at the end of the monster meeting that was to
be held that evening after the breaking of the fast.
On the evening of the 6th an army of volunteers issued forth accordingly with this prohibited
literature to sell it among the people. Both Shrimati Sarojini Devi and I went out in cars. All the copies were soon sold out. The proceeds of the sale were to utilized for furthering the civil
disobedience campaign. Both these books were priced at four annas per copy, but I hardly
remember anybody having purchased them from me at their face value merely. Quite a large
number of people simply poured out all the cash that was in their pockets to purchase their copy.
Five and ten rupee notes just flew out to cover the price of a single copy, while in one case I
remember having sold a copy for fifty rupees! It was duly explained to the people that they were
liable to be arrested and imprisoned for purchasing the proscribed literature. But for the moment
they had shed all fear of jail-going.
It was subsequently learnt that the Government had conveniently taken the view that the books
that had been proscribed by it had not in fact been sold, and that what we had sold was not held
as coming under the definition of proscribed literature. The reprint was held by the Government to
be a new edition of the books that had been proscribed, and to sell them did not constitute an
offence under the law. This news caused general disappointment.
The next morning another meeting was held for the administration of the pledges with regard to
Swadeshi and Hindu-Muslim unity. Vithaldas Jerajani for the first time realized that all is not gold
that glitters. Only a handful of persons came. I distinctly remember some of the sisters who were
present on that occasion. The men who attended were also very few. I had already drafted the
pledge and brought it with me. I thoroughly explained its meaning to those present before I
administered it to them. The paucity of the attendance neither pained nor surprised me, for I have
noticed this characteristic difference in the popular attitude partiality for exciting work, dislike for
quiet constructive effort. The difference has persisted to this day.
But I shall have to devote to this subject a chapter by itself. To return to the story. On the night of
the 7th I started for Delhi and Amritsar. On reaching Mathura on the 8th I first heard rumours
about my probable arrest. At the next stoppage after Mathura, Acharya Gidvani came to meet
me, and gave me definite news that I was to be arrested, and offered his services to me if I
should need them. I thanked him for the offer, assuring him that I would not fail to avail myself of
it, if and when I felt it necessary.
Before the train had reached Palwal railway station, I was served with a written order to the effect
that I was prohibited from entering the boundary of the Punjab, as my presence there was likely
to result in a disturbance of the peace. I was asked by the police to get down from the train. I
refused to do so saying, ‘I want to go to the Punjab in response to a pressing invitation not to
foment unrest, but to allay it. I am therefore sorry that it is not possible for me to comply with this
At last the train reached Palwal. Mahadev was with me. I asked him to proceed to Delhi to convey
to Swami Shraddhanandji the news about what had happened and to ask the people to remain
clam. He was to explain why I had decided to disobey the order served upon me and suffer the
penalty for disobeying it, and also why it would spell victory for our side if we could maintain
perfect peace in spite of any punishment that might be inflicted upon me.
At Palwal railway station I was taken out of the train and put under police custody. A train from
Delhi came in a short time. I was made to enter a third class carriage, the police party
accompanying. On reaching Mathura, I was taken to the police barracks, but no police official
could tell me as to what they proposed to do with me or where I was to be taken next. Early at 4
o’clock the next morning I was waked up and put in a goods train that was going towards
Bombay. At noon I was again made to get down at Sawai Madhopur. Mr. Bowring, Inspector of
Police, who arrived by the mail train from Lahore, now took charge of me. I was put in a first class
compartment with him. And from an ordinary prisoner I became a ‘gentleman’ prisoner. The
officer commenced a long panegyric of Sir Michael O’Dwyr. Sir Michael had nothing against me
personally, he went on, only he apprehended a disturbance of the peace if I entered the Punjab
and so on. In the end he requested me to return to Bombay of my own accord and agree not to cross the frontier of the Punjab. I replied that I could not possibly comply with the order, and that I
was not prepared of my own accord to go back. Whereupon the officer, seeing no other course,
told me that he would have to enforce law against me. ‘But what do you want to do with me?’ I
asked him. He replied that he himself did not know, but was awaiting further orders. ‘For the
present,’ he said, I am taking you to Bombay.’
We reached Surat. Here I was made over to the charge of another police officer. ‘You are now
free,’ the officer told me when we had reached Bombay. ‘It would however be better,’ he added, ‘if
you get down near the Marine Lines where I shall get the train stopped for you. At Colaba there is
likely to be a big crowd.’ I told him that I would be glad to follow his wish. He was pleased and
thanked me for it. Accordingly I alighted at the Marine Lines. The carriage of a friend just
happened to be passing by. It took me and left me at Revashankar Jhaveri’s place. The friend
told me that the news of my arrest had incensed the people and roused them to a pitch of mad
frenzy. ‘An outbreak is apprehended every minute near Pydhuni, the Magistrate and the police
have already arrived there,’ he added.
Scarcely had I reached my destination, when Umar Sobani and Anasuyabehn arrived and asked
me to motor to Pydhuni at once. ‘The people have become impatient, and are very much excited,’
they said, ‘we cannot pacify them. Your presence alone can do it.’
I got into car. Near Pydhuni I saw that a huge crowd had gathered. On seeing me the people
went mad with joy. A procession was immediately formed, and the sky was rent with the shouts of
Vande mataram and Allaho akbar. At Pydhuni we sighted a body of mounted police. Brickbats
were raining down from above. I besought the crowd to be calm, but it seemed as if we should
not be able to escape the shower of brickbats. As the procession issued out of Abdur Rahman
Street and was about to proceed towards the Crawford Market, it suddenly found itself confronted
by a body of the mounted police, who had arrived there to prevent it from proceeding further in
the direction of the Fort. The crowd was densely packed. It had almost broken through the police
cordon. There was hardly any chance of my voice being heard in that vast concourse. Just then
the officer in charge of the mounted police gave the order to disperse the crowd, and at once the
mounted party charged upon the crowd brandishing their lances as they went. For a moment I felt
that I would be hurt. But my apprehension was groundless, the lances just grazed the car as the
lancers swiftly passed by. The ranks of the people were soon broken, and they were thrown into
utter confusion, which was soon converted into a rout. Some got trampled under foot, others were
badly mauled and crushed. In that seething mass of humanity there was hardly any room for the
horses to pass, nor was there an exit by which the people could disperse. So the lancers blindly
cut their way through the crowd. I hardly imagine they could see what they were doing. The whole
thing presented a most dreadful spectacle. The horsemen and the people were mixed together in
mad confusion.
Thus the crowd was dispersed and its progress checked. Our motor was allowed to proceed. I
had it stopped before the Commissioner’s office, and got down to complain to him about the
conduct of the police. Chapter 156
So I went to the Commissioner Mr. Griffith’s office. All about the staircase leading to the office I
saw soldiers armed from top to toe, as though for military action. The verandah was all astir.
When I was admitted to the office, I saw Mr. Bowring sitting with Mr. Griffith.
I described to the Commissioner the scenes I had witnessed. He replied briefly: ‘I did not want the
procession to proceed to the Fort, as a disturbance was inevitable there. And as I saw that the
people would not listen to persuasion, I could not help ordering the mounted police to charge
through the crowd.’
‘But,’ said I, ‘you knew what the consequences must be. The horses were bound to trample on
the people. I think it was quite unnecessary to send that contingent of mounted men.’
‘You cannot judge that,’ said Mr. Griffith. ‘We police officers know better than you the effect of
your teaching on the people. If we did not start with drastic measures, the situation would pass
out of our hands. I tell you that the people are sure to go out of your control. Disobedience of law
will quickly appeal to them; it is beyond them to understand the duty of keeping peaceful. I have
no doubt about your intentions, but the people will not understand them. They will follow their
natural instinct.’
‘It is there that I join issue with you,’ I replied. ‘The people are not by nature violent but peaceful.’
And thus we argued at length. Ultimately Mr. Griffith said, ‘But suppose you were convinced that
your teaching had been lost on the people, what would you do?’
‘I should suspend civil disobedience if I were so convinced.’
‘What do you mean? You told Mr. Bowring that you would proceed to the Punjab the moment you
were released.’
‘Yes, I wanted to do so by the next available train. But it is out of the question today.’
‘If you will be patient, the conviction is sure to grow on you. Do you know what is happening in
Ahmedabad? And what has happened in Amritsar? People have everywhere gone nearly mad. I
am not yet in possession of all the facts. The telegraph wires have been cut in some places. I put
it to you that the responsibility for all these disturbances lies on you.’
‘I assure you I should readily take it upon myself wherever I discovered it. But I should be deeply
pained and surprised, if I found that there were disturbances in Ahmedabad. I cannot answer for
Amritsar. I have never been there, no one knows me there. But even about the Punjab I am
certain of this much that, had not the Punjab Government prevented my entry into the Punjab, I
should have been considerably helpful in keeping the peace there. By preventing me they gave
the people unnecessary provocation.’
And so we argued on and on. It was impossible for us to agree. I told him that I intended to
address a meeting on Chaupati and to ask the people to keep the peace, and took leave of him.
The meeting was held on the Chaupati sands. I spoke at length on the duty of non-violence and
on the limitations of Satyagraha, and said: ‘Satyagraha is essentially a weapon of the truthful. A Satyagrahi is pledged to non- violence, and, unless people observe it in thought, word and deed, I
cannot offer mass Satyagraha.’
Anasuyabehn, too, had received news of disturbances in Ahmedabad. Some one had spread a
rumour that she also had been arrested. The mill- hands had gone mad over her rumoured arrest,
struck work and committed acts of violence, and a sergeant had been done to death.
I proceeded to Ahmedabad. I learnt that an attempt had been made to pull up the rails near the
Nadiad railway station, that a Government officer had been murdered in Viramgam, and that
Ahmedabad was under martial law. The people were terror-striken. They had indulged in acts of
violence and were being made to pay for them with interest.
A police officer was waiting at the station to escort me to Mr. Pratt, the Commissioner. I found him
in a state of rage. I spoke to him gently, and expressed my regret for the disturbances. I
suggested that martial law was unnecessary, and declared my readiness to co-operate in all
efforts to restore peace. I asked for permission to hold a public meeting on the grounds of the
Sabarmati Ashram. The proposal appealed to him, and the meeting was held, I think, on Sunday,
the 13th of April, and martial law was withdrawn the same day or the day after. Addressing the
meeting, I tried to bring home to the people the sense of their wrong, declared a penitential fast of
three days for myself, appealed to the people to go on a similar fast for a day, and suggested to
those who had been guilty of acts of violence to confess their guilt.
I saw my duty as clear as daylight. It was unbearable for me to find that the labourers, amongst
whom I had spent a good deal of my time, whom I had served, and from whom I had expected
better things, had taken part in the riots, and I felt I was a sharer in their guilt.
Just as I suggested to the people to confess their guilt, I suggested to the Government to
condone the crimes. Neither accepted my suggestion.
The late Sir Ramanbhai and other citizens of Ahmedabad came to me with an appeal to suspend
Satyagraha. The appeal was needless, for I had already made up my mind to suspend
Satyagraha so long as people had not learnt the lesson of peace. The friends went away happy.
There were, however, others who were unhappy over the decision. They felt that, if I expected
peace everywhere and regarded it as a condition precedent to launching Satyagraha, mass
Satyagraha would be an impossibility. I was sorry to disagree with them. If those amongst whom I
worked, and whom I expected to be prepared for non-violence and self-suffering, could not be
non-violent, Satyagraha was certainly impossible. I was firmly of opinion that those who wanted to
lead the people to Satyagraha ought to be able to keep the people within the limited non-violence
expected of them. I hold the same opinion even today.
Chapter 157
Almost immediately after the Ahmedabad meeting I went to Nadiad. It was here that I first used
the expression ‘Himalayan miscalculation’ which obtained such a wide currency afterwards. Even
at Ahmedabad I had begun to have a dim perception of my mistake. But when I reached Nadiad and saw the actual state of things there and heard reports about a large number of people from
Kheda district having been arrested, it suddenly dawned upon me that I had committed a grave
error in calling upon the people in the Kheda district and elsewhere to launch upon civil
disobedience prematurely, as it now seemed to me. I was addressing a public meeting. My
confession brought down upon me no small amount of ridicule. But I have never regretted having
made that confession. For I have always held that it is only when one sees one’s own mistakes
with a convex lens, and does just the reverse in the case of others, that one is able to arrive at a
just relative estimate of the two. I further believe that a scrupulous and conscientious observance
of this rule is necessary for one who wants to be a Satyagrahi.
Let us now see what that Himalayan miscalculation was. Before one can be fit for the practice of
civil disobedience one must have rendered a willing and respectful obedience to the state laws.
For the most part we obey such laws out of fear of the penalty for their breach, and this holds
good particularly in respect of such laws as do not involve a moral principle. For instance, an
honest, respectable man will not suddenly take to stealing, whether there is a law against stealing
or not, but this very man will not feel any remorse for failure to observe the rule about carrying
head-lights on bicycles after dark. Indeed it is doubtful whether he would even accept advice
kindly about being more careful in this respect. But he would observe any obligatory rule of this
kind, if only to escape the inconvenience of facing a prosecution for a breach of the rule. Such
compliance is not, however, the willing and spontaneous obedience that is required of a
Satyagrahi. A Satyagrahi obeys the laws of society intelligently and of his own free will, because
he considers it to be his sacred duty to do so. It is only when a person has thus obeyed the laws
of society scrupulously that he is in a position to judge as to which particular rules are good and
just and which injust and iniquitous. Only then does the right accrue to him of the civil
disobedience of certain laws in well-defined circumstances. My error lay in my failure to observe
this necessary limitation. I had called on the people to launch upon civil disobedience before they
had thus qualified themselves for it, and this mistake seemed to me of Himalayan magnitude. As
soon as I entered the Kheda district, all the old recollections of the Kheda Satyagraha struggle
came back to me, and I wondered how I could have failed to perceive what was so obvious. I
realized that before a people could could be fit for offering civil disobedience, they should
thoroughly understand its deeper implications. That being so, before restarting civil disobedience
on a mass scale, if would be necessary to create a band of well-tried, pure-hearted volunteers
who thoroughly understood the strict conditions of Satyagraha. They could explain these to the
people, and by sleepless vigilance keep them on the right path.
With these thoughts filling my mind I reached Bombay, raised a corps of Satyagrahi volunteers
through the Satyagraha Sabha there, and with their help commenced the work of educating the
people with regard to the meaning and inner significance of Satyagraha. This was principally
done by issuing leaflets of an educative character bearing on the subject.
But whilst this work was going on, I could see that it was a difficult task to interest the people in
the peaceful side of Satyagraha. The volunteers too failed to enlist themselves in large numbers.
Nor did all those who actually enlisted take anything like a regular systematic training, and as the
days passed by, the number of fresh recruits began gradually to dwindle instead of to grow. I
realized that the progress of the training in civil disobedience was not going to be as rapid as I
had at first expected. Chapter 158
Thus, whilst this movement for the preservation of non-violence was making steady though
slow progress on the one hand, Government’s policy of lawless repression was in full career on
the other, and was manifesting itself in the Punjab in all its nakedness. Leaders were put under
arrest, martial law, which in other words meant no law, was proclaimed, special tribunals were set
up. These tribunals were not courts of justice but instruments for carrying out the arbitrary will of
an autocrat. Sentences were passed unwarranted by evidence and in flagrant violation of justice.
In Amritsar innocent men and women were made to crawl like worms on their bellies. Before this
outrage the Jalianwala Bagh tragedy paled into insignificance in my eyes, though it was this
massacre principally that attracted the attention of the people of India and of the world.
I was pressed to proceed to the Punjab immediately in disregard of consequences. I wrote and
also telegraphed to the Viceroy asking for permission to go there, but in vain. If I proceeded
without the necessary permission, I should not be allowed to cross the boundary of the Punjab,
but left to find what satisfaction I could from civil disobedience. I was thus confronted by a serious
dilemma. As things stood, to break the order against my entry into the Punjab could, it seemed to
me, hardly be classed as civil disobedience, for I did not see around me the kind of peaceful
atmosphere that I wanted, and the unbridled repression in the Punjab had further served to
aggravate and deepen the feelings of resentment. For me, therefore, to offer cicil disobedience at
such a time, even if it were possible, would have been like fanning the flame. I therefore decided
not to proceed to the Punjab in spite of the suggestion of friends. It was a bitter pill for me to
swallow. Tales of rank injustice and oppression came pouring in daily from the Punjab, but all I
could do was to sit helplessly by and gnash my teeth.
Just then Mr. Horniman, in whose hands The Bombay Chronicle had became a formidable
force, was suddenly spirited away by the authorities. This act of the Government seemed to me to
be surrounded by a foulness which still stinks in my nostrils. I know that Mr. Horniman never
desired lawlessness. He had not liked my breaking the prohibitory order of the Punjab
Government without the permission of the Satyagraha Committee, and had fully endorsed the
decision to suspend civil disobedience. I had even announced my decision to that effect. Only
owing to the distance between Bombay and Ahmedabad I got the letter after the announcement.
His sudden deportation therefore caused me as much pain as surprise.
As a result of these developments I was asked by the directors of The Bombay Chronicle to take
up the responsibility of conducting that paper. Mr. Brelvi was already there on the staff, so not
much remained to be done by me, but as usual with my nature, the responsibility would have
become an additional tax.
But the Government came as it were to my rescue, for by its order the publication of The
Chronicle had to be suspended.
The friends who were directing the management of The Chronicle, Viz, Messrs. Umar Sobani
and Shankarlal Banker, were at this also controlling Young India. They suggested that, in view
of the suppression of The Chronicle , I should now take up the editorship of Young India, and
that, in order to fill the gap left by the former, Young India should be converted from a weekly
into a biweekly organ. This was what I felt also. I was anxious to expound the inner meaning of
Satyagraha to the public, and also hoped that through this effort I should at least be able to do
justice to the Punjab situation. For, behind all I wrote, there was potential Satyagraha, and the
Government knew as much. I therefore readily accepted the suggestion made by these friends. But how could the general public be trained in Satyagraha through the medium of English? My
principal field of work lay in Gujarat. Sjt. Indulal Yajnik was at that time associated with the group
of Messrs. Sobani and Banker. He was conducting the Gujarati monthly Navajivan which had
the financial backing of these friends. They placed the monthly at my disposal, and further Sjt.
Indulal offered to work on it. This monthly was converted into a weekly.
In the meantime The Chronicle was resuscitated. Young India was therefore restored to its
original weekly form. To have published the two weeklies from two different places would have
been very inconvenient to me and involved more expenditure. As Navajivan was already being
published from Ahmedabad Young India was also removed there at my suggestion.
There were other reasons besides for this change. I had already learnt from my experience of
Indian Opinion that such journals needed a press of their own. Moreover the press laws in force
in India at that time were such that, if I wanted to express my views untrammelled, the existing
printing presses, which were naturally run for business, would have hesitated to publish them.
The need for setting up a press of our own, therefore, became all the more imperative, and since
this could be conveniently done only at Ahmedabad, Young India too had to be taken there.
Through these journals I now commenced to the best of my ability the work of educating the
reading public in Satyagraha. Both of them had reached a very wide circulation, which at one time
rose to the neighbourhood of forty thousand each. But while the circulation of Navajivan went
up at a bound, that of Young India increased only by slow degrees. After my incarceration the
circulation of both these journals fell to a low ebb, and today stands below eight thousand.
From the very start I set my face against taking advertisements in these journals. I do not think
that they have lost anything thereby. On the contrary, it is my belief that it was in no small
measure helped them to maintain their independence.
Incidentally these journals helped me also to some extent to remain at peace with myself for,
whilst immediate resort to civil disobedience was out of the question, they enabled me freely to
ventilate my views and to put heart into the people. Thus I feel that both the journals rendered
good service to the people in this hour of trial, and did their humble bit towards lightening the
tyranny of the martial law.
Chapter 159
Sir Michael O’Dwyer held me responsible for all that had happened in the Punjab, and some
irate young Punjabis held me responsible for the martial law. They asserted that, if only I had not
suspended civil disobedience, there would have been no Jalianwala Bagh massacre. Some of
them even went the length of threatening me with assassination if I went to the Punjab.
But I felt that my position was so correct and above question that no intelligent person could
misunderstand it.
I was impatient to go to the Punjab. I had never been there before, and that made me all the more
anxious to see things for myself. Dr. Satyapal, Dr. Kitchly and Pandit Rambhaj Dutt Chowdhari, who had invited me to the Punjab, were at this time in jail. But I felt sure that the Government
could not dare to keep them and the other prisoners in prison for long. A large number of
Punjabis used to come and see me whenever I was in Bombay. I ministered to them a word of
cheer on these occasions, and that would comfort them. My self- confidence of that time was
But my going to the Punjab had to be postponed again and again. The Viceroy would say, ‘not
yet,’ every time I asked for permission to go there, and so the thing dragged on.
In the meantime the Hunter Committee was announced to hold an inquiry in connection with the
Punjab Government’s doings under the martial law. Mr. C. F. Andrews had now reached the
Punjab. His letters gave a heart-rending description that the martial law atrocities were in fact
even worse than the press reports had showed. He pressed me urgently to come and join him. At
the same time Malaviyaji sent telegrams asking me to proceed to the Punjab at once. I once more
telegraphed to the Viceroy asking whether I could now go to the Punjab. He wired back in reply
that I could go there after a certain date. I cannot exactly recollect now, but I think it was 17th of
The scene that I witnessed on my arrival at Lahore can never be effaced from my memory. The
railway station was from end to end one seething mass of humanity. The entire populace had
turned out of doors in eager expectation, as if to meet a dear relation after a long separation, and
was delirious with joy. I was put up at the late Pandit Rambhaj Dutt’s bungalow, and the burden of
entertining me fell on the shoulders of Shrimati Sarala Devi. A burden it truly was, for even then,
as now, the place where I was accommodated became a veritable caravanserai.
Owing to the principal Punjab leaders being in jail, their place, I found, had been properly taken
up by Pandit Malaviyaji, Pandit Motilalji and the late Swami Sharddhanandji. Malaviyaji and
Shraddhanandji I had known intimately before, but this was the first occasion on which I came in
close personal contact with Motilalji. All these leaders, as also such local leaders as had escaped
the privilege of going to jail, at once made me feel perfectly at home amongst them, so that I
never felt like a stranger in their midst.
How we unanimously decided not to lead evidence before the Hunter Committee is now a matter
of history. The reasons for that decision were published at that time, and need not be
recapitulated here. Suffice it to say that, looking back upon these events from this distance of
time, I still feel that our decision to boycott the Committee was absolutely correct and proper.
As a logical consequence of the boycott of the Hunter Committee, it was decided to appoint a
non-official Inquiry Committee, to hold almost a parallel inquiry on behalf of the Congress. Pandit
Motilal Nehru, the late Deshbandhu C. R. Das, Sjt. Abbas Tyabji, Sjt. M.R.Jayakar and myself
were appointed to this Committee, virtually by Pandit Malaviyaji. We distributed ourselves over
various places for purposes of inquiry. The responsibility for organizing the work of the Committee
devolved on me, and as the privilege of conducting the inquiry in the largest number of places fell
to my lot, I got a rare opportunity of observing at close quarters the people of the Punjab and the
Punjab villages.
In the course of my inquiry I made acquaintance with the women of the Punjab also. It was as if
we had known one another for ages. Wherever I went they came flocking, and laid before me
their heaps of yarn. My work in connection with the inquiry brought home to me the fact that the
Punjab could become a great field for Khadi work.
As I proceeded further and further with my inquiry into the atrocities that had been committed on
the people, I came across tales of Government’s tyranny and the arbitrary despotism of its
officers such as I was hardly prepared for, and they filled me with deep pain. What surprised me then, and what still continues to fill me with surprise, was the fact that a province that had
furnished the largest number of soldiers to the British Government during the war, should have
taken all these brutal excesses lying down.
The task of drafting the report of this Committee was also entrusted to me. I would recommend a
perusal of this report to any one who wants to have an idea of the kind of atrocities that were
perpetrated on the Punjab people. All that I wish to say here about it is that there is not a single
conscious exaggeration in it anywhere, and every statement made in it is substantiated by
evidence. Moreover, the evidence published was only a fraction of what was in the Committee’s
possession. Not a single statement, regarding the validity of which there was the report. This
report, prepared as it was solely with a view to bringing out the truth and nothing but the truth, will
enable the reader to see to what lengths the British Government is capable of going, and what
inhumanities and barbarities it is capable of perpetrating in order to maintain its power. So far as I
am aware, not a single statement made in this report has ever been disproved.
Chapter 160
We must now leave, for the time being these dark happening in the Punjab.
The Congress inquiry into Dyerism in the Punjab had just commenced, when I received a letter of
invitation to be present at a joint conference of Hindus and Musalmans that was to meet at Delhi
to deliberate on the Khilafat question. Among the signatories to it were the late Hakim Ajmal Khan
Sahab and Mr. Asaf Ali. The late Swami Shraddhanandji, it was stated, would be attending and, if
I remember aright, he was to be the vice-president of the conference, which, so far as I can
recollect, was to be held in the November of that year. The Conference was to deliberate on the
situation arising out of the Khilafat betrayal, and on the question as to whether the Hindus and
Musalmans should take any part in the peace celebrations. The letter of invitation went on to say,
among other things, that not only the Khilafat question but the question of cow protection as well
would be discussed at the conference, and it would, therefore, afford a golden opportunity for a
settlement of the question. I did not like this reference to the cow question. In my letter in reply to
the invitation, therefore, whilst promising to do my best to attend, I suggested that the two
questions should not be mixed up together or considered in the spirit of a bargain, but should be
decided on their own merits and treated separately.
With these thoughts filling my mind, I went to the conference. It was a very well attended
gathering, though it did not present the spectacle of later gatherings that were attended by tens of
thousands. I discussed the question referred to above with the late Swami Shraddhanandji, who
was present at the conference. He appreciated my argument and left it to me to place it before
the conference. I likewise discussed it with the late Hakim Saheb. Before the conference I
contended that, if the Khilafat question had a just and legitimate basis, as I believe it had, and if
the Government had really committed a gross injustice, the Hindus were bound to stand by the
Musalmans in their demand for the redress of the Khilafat wrong. It would ill become them to
bring in the cow question in this connection, or to use the occasion to make terms with the
Musalmans, just as it would ill become the Musalmans to offer to stop cow slaughter as a price
for the Hindus’ support on the Khilafat question. But it would be another matter and quite graceful,
and reflect great credit on them, if the Musalmans of their own free will stopped cow slaughter out
of regard for the religious sentiments of the Hindus, and from a sense of duty towards them as
neighbours and children of the same soil. To take up such an independent attitude was, I contended, their duty, and would enhance the dignity of their conduct. But if the Musalmans
considered it as their neighbourly duty to stop cow slaughter, they should do so regardless of
whether the Hindus helped them in the Khilafat or not. ‘That being so,’ I argued, ‘the two
questions should be discussed independently of each other, and the deliberations of the
conference should be confined to the question of the Khilafat only.’ My argument appealed to
those present and, as a result, the question of cow protection was not discussed at this
But in spite of my warning Maulana Abdul Bari Saheb said: ‘No matter whether the Hindus help
us or not, the Musalmans ought, as the countrymen of the Hindus, out of regard for the latter’s
susceptibilities, to give up cow slaughter.’ And at one time it almost looked as if they would really
put an end to it.
There was a suggestion from some quarters that the Punjab question should be tacked on to that
of the Khilafat wrong. I opposed the proposal. The Punjab question, I said, was a local affair and
could not therefore weigh with us in our decision to participate or not in the peace celebrations. If
we mixed up the local question with the Khilafat question, which arose directly out of the peace
terms, we should be guilty of a serious indiscretion. My argument easily carried conviction.
Maulana Hasrat Mohani was present in this meeting. I had known him even before, but it was
only here that I discovered what a fighter he was. We differed from each other almost from the
very beginning, and in several matters the differences have persisted.
Among the numerous resolutions that were passed at this conference, one called upon both
Hindus and Musalmans to take the Swadeshi vow, and as a natural corollary to it, to boycott
foreign goods. Khadi had not as yet found its proper place. This was not a resolution that Hasrat
Saheb would accept. His object was to wreak vengeance on the British Empire, in case justice
was denied in a counter proposal for the boycott purely of British goods so far as practicable. I
opposed it on the score of principle, as also of practicability, adducing for it those arguments that
have now become pretty familiar. I also put before the conference my view-point of non-violence.
I noticed that my arguments made a deep impression on the audience. Before me, Hasrat
Mohani’s speech had been received with such loud acclamations that I was afraid that mine
would only be a cry in the wilderness. I had made bold to speak only because I felt it would be a
dereliction of duty not to lay my views before the conference. But, to my agreeable surprise, my
speech was followed with the closest attention by those present, and evoked a full measure of
support among those on the platform, and speaker after speaker rose to deliver speeches in
support of my views. The leaders were able to see that not only would the boycott of British
goods fail of its purpose, but would, if adopted, make of them a laughing stock. There was hardly
a man present in that assembly but had some article of British manufacture on his person. Many
of the audience therefore realized that nothing but harm could result from adopting a resolution
that even those who voted for it were unable to carry out.
‘Mere boycott of foreign cloth cannot satisfy us, for who knows long it will be, before we shall be
able to manufacture Swadeshi cloth in sufficient quantity for our needs, and before we can bring
about effective boycott of foreign cloth? We want something that will produce an immediate effect
on the British. Let your boycott of foreign cloth stand, we do not mind it, but give us something
quicker, and speedier in addition’- so spoke in effect Maulana Hasrat Mohani. Even as I was
listening to him, I felt that something new, over and above boycott of foreign cloth, would be
necessary. An immediate boycott of foreign cloth seemed to me also to be a clear impossibility at
that time. I did not then know that we could, if we liked, produce enough Khadi for all our clothing
requirements; this was only a later discovery. On the other hand, I knew even then that, if we
depended on the mills alone for effecting the boycott of foreign cloth, we should be betrayed. I
was still in the middle of this dilemma when the Maulana concluded his speech. I was handicapped for want of suitable Hind or Urdu words. This was my first occasion for
delivering an argumentative speech before an audience especially composed of Musalmans of
the North. I had spoken in Urdu at the Muslim League at Calcutta, but it was only for a few
minutes, and the speech was intended only to be a feeling appeal to the audience. Here, on the
contrary, I was faced with a critical, if not hostile, audience, to whom I had to explain and bring
home my view-point. But I had cast aside all shyness. I was not there to deliver an address in the
faultless, polished Urdu of the Delhi Muslims, but to place before the gathering my views in such
broken Hindi as I could command. And in this I was successful. This meeting afforded me a direct
proof of the fact that Hindi-Urdu alone could become the #lingua franca# of India. Had I spoken in
English, I could not have produced the impression that I did on the audience, and the Maulana
might not have felt called upon to deliver his challenge. Nor, if he had delivered it, could I have
taken it up effectively.
I could not hit upon a suitable Hindi or Urdu word for the new idea, and that put me out
somewhat. At last I described it by the word ‘non- op-operation,’ an expression that I used for the
first time at this meeting. As the Maulana was delivering his speech, it seemed to me that it was
vain for him to talk about effective resistance to a Government with which he was co-operating in
more than one thing, if resort to arms was impossible or undesirable. The only true resistance to
the Government, it therefore seemed to me, was to cease to co- operate with it. Thus I arrived at
the word non-co-operation. I had not then a clear idea of all its manifold implications. I therefore
did not enter into details. I simply said:
‘ The Musalmans have adopted a very important resolution. If the peace terms are unfavourable
to them – which may God forbid – they will stop all co-operation with Government. It is an
inalienable right of the people thus to withhold co-operation. We are not bound to retain
Government titles and honours, or to continue in Government service. If Government should
betray us in a great cause like the Khilafat, we could not do otherwise than non-co-operate. We
are therefore entitled to non-co-operate with Government in case of a betrayal.’
But months elapsed before the word non-co-operation became current coin. For the time being it
was lost in the proceedings of the conference. Indeed when I supported the co-operation
resolution at the Congress which met at Amritsar a month later, I did so in the hope that the
betrayal would never come.
Chapter 161
The Punjab Government could not keep in confinement the hundreds of Punjabis who, under
the martial law regime, had been clapped into jail on the strength of the most meagre evidence by
tribunals that were courts only in name. There was such an outcry all round against this flagrant
piece of injustice that their further incarceration became impossible. Most of the prisoners were
released before the Congress opened. Lala Harkishanlal and the other leaders were all released,
while the session of the Congress was still in progress. The Ali Brothers too arrived there straight
from jail. The people’s joy knew no bounds. Pandit Motilal Nehru, who, at the sacrifice of his
splendid practice, had made the Punjab his headquarters and had done great service, was the
President of the Congress; the late Swami Shraddhanandji was the Chairman of the Reception
Committee. Up to this time my share in the annual proceedings of the Congress was confined only to the
constructive advocacy of Hindi by making my speech in the natinal language, and to presenting in
that speech the case of the Indians overseas. Nor did I expect to be called upon to do anything
more this year. But, as had happened on many a previous occasion, responsible work came to
me all of a sudden.
The King’s announcement on the new reforms had just been issued. It was not wholly satisfactory
even to me, and was unsatisfactory to everyone else. But I felt at that time that the reforms,
though defective, could still be accepted. I felt in the King’s announcement and its language the
hand of Lord Sinha, and it lent a ray of hope. But experienced stalwarts like the late Lokamanya
and Deshabandhu Chittaranjan Das shook their heads. Pandit Malaviyaji was neutral.
Pandit Malaviyaji had harboured me in his own room. I had a glimpse of the simplicity of his life
on the occasion of the foundation ceremony of the Hindu University; but on this occasion, being in
the same room with him, I was able to observe his daily routine in the closest detail, and what I
saw filled me with joyful surprise. His room presented the appearance of a free inn for all the
poor. You could hardly cross from one end to the other. It was so crowded. It was accessible at
all odd hours to chance visitors who had the licence to take as much of his time as they liked. In a
corner of this crib lay my charpai in all its dignity.
But I may not occupy this chapter with a description of Malaviyaji’s mode of living, and must
return to my subject. I was thus enabled to hold daily discussions with Malaviyaji, who used
lovingly to explain to me, like an elder brother, the various view-points of the different parties. I
saw that my participation in the deliberations on the resolution on the reforms was inevitable.
Having had my share of responsibility in the drawing up of the Congress report on the Punjab
wrongs, I felt that all that still remained to be done in that connection must claim my attention.
There had to be dealings with Government in that matter. Then similarly there was the Khilafat
question. I further believed at that time that Mr. Montagu would not betray or allow India’s cause
to be betrayed. The release of the Ali Brothers and other prisoners too seemed to me to be an
auspicious sign. In these circumstances I felt that a resolution not rejecting but accepting the
reforms was the correct thing. Deshabandhu Chittaranjan Das, on the other hand, held firmly to
the view that the reforms ought to be rejected as wholly inadequate and unsatisfactory. The late
Lokamanya was more or less neutral, but had decided to throw in his weight on the side of any
resolution that the Deshabandhu might approve.
The idea of having to differ from such seasoned, well tried and universally revered leaders was
unbearable to me. But on the other hand the voice of conscience was clear. I tried to run away
from the Congress and suggested to Pandit Malaviyaji and Motilalji that it would be in the general
interest if I absented myself from the Congress for the rest of the session. It would save me from
having to make an exhibition of my difference with such esteemed leaders.
But my suggestion found no favour with these two seniors. The news of my proposal was
somehow whispered to Lala Harkishanlal. ‘This will never do. It will very much hurt the feelings of
the Punjabis,’ he said. I discussed the matter with Lokamanya, Deshabandhu and Mr. Jinnah, but
no way out could be found. Finally I laid bare my distress to Malaviyaji. ‘I see no prospect of a
compromise,’ I told him, ‘and if I am to move my resolution, a division will have to be called and
votes taken. But I do not find here any arrangements for it. The practice in the open session of
the Congress so far has been to take votes by a show of hands with the result that all distinction
between visitors and delegates is lost, while, as for taking a count of votes in such vast
assemblies, we have no means at all. So it comes to this that, even if I want to call a division,
there will be no facility for it, nor meaning in it.’ But Lala Harkishanlal came to the rescue and
undertook to make the necessary arrangements. ‘We will not,’ he said, ‘permit visitors in the
Congress pandal on the day on which voting is to take place. And as for taking the count, well, I
shall see to that. But you must not absent yourself from the Congress.’ I capitulated; I framed my
resolution, and in heart trembling undertook to move it. Pandit Malaviyaji and Mr. Jinnah were to support it. I could notice that, although our difference of opinion was free from any trace of
bitterness, and although our speeches too contained nothing but cold reasoning, the people could
not stand the very fact of a difference; it pained them. They wanted unanimity.
Even while speeches were being delivered, efforts to settle the difference were being made on
the platform, and notes were being freely exchanged among the leaders for that purpose.
Malaviyaji was leaving no stone unturned to bridge the gulf. Just then Jeramdas handed over his
amendment to me and pleaded in his own sweet manner to save the delegates from the dilemma
of a division. His amendment appealed to me. Malaviyaji’s eye was already scanning every
quarter for a ray of hope. I told him that Jeramdas’s amendment seemed to me to be likely to be
acceptable to both the parties. The Lokamanya, to whom it was next shown, said, “If C.R.Das
approves, I will have no objection.’ Deshabandhu at last thawed, and cast a look towards Sjt.
Bepin Chandra Pal for endorsement. Malaviyaji was filled with hope. He snatched away the slip of
paper containing the amendment, and before Deshabandhu had even pronounced a definite
‘yes’, shouted out, ‘Brother delegates, you will be glad to learn that a compromise had been
reached.’ What followed beggars description. The pandal was rent with the clapping of hands,
and the erstwhile gloomy faces of the audience lit up with joy.
It is hardly necessary to deal with the text of the amendment. My object here is only to describe
how this resolution was undertaken as part of my experiments with which these chapters deal.
The compromise further increased my responsibility.
Chapter 162
I must regard my participation in Congress proceedings at Amritsar as my real entrance into the
Congress politics. My attendance at the previous Congress was nothing more perhaps than an
annual renewal of allegiance to the Congress. I never felt on these occasions that I had any other
work cut out for me except that of a mere private, nor did I desire more.
My experience of Amritsar had shown that there were one or two things for which perhaps I had
some aptitude and which could be useful to the Congress. I could already see that the late
Lokamanya, the Deshabandhu, Pandit Motilalji and other leaders were pleased with my work in
connection with the Punjab inquiry. They used to invite me to their informal gatherings where, as I
found resolutions for the Subjects Committee were conceived. At these gatherings only those
persons were invited who enjoyed the special confidence of the leaders and whose services were
needed by them. Interlopers also sometimes found their way to these meetings.
There were, for the coming year, two things which interested me, as I had some aptitude for
them. One of these was the memorial of the Jalianwala Bagh Massacre. The Congress had
passed a resolution for it amid great enthusiasm. A fund of about five lakhs had to be collected for
it. I was appointed one of the trustees. Pandit Malaviyaji enjoyed the reputation of being the
prince among beggars for the public cause. But I knew that I was not far behind him in that
respect. It was whilst I was in South Africa that I discovered my capacity in this direction. I had not
the unrivalled magic of Malaviyaji for commanding princely donations from the potentates of India.
But I knew that there was no question of approaching the Rajas and Maharajas for donations for
the Jalianwala Bagh memorial. The main responsibility for the collection thus fell, as I had
expected, on my shoulders. The generous citizens of Bombay subscribed most liberally, and the memorial trust has at present a handsome credit balance in the bank. But the problem that faces
the country today is what kind of memorial to erect on the ground, to sanctify which, Hindus,
Musalmans and Sikhs mingled their blood. The three communities, instead of being bound in a
bond of amity and love, are, to all appearance, at war with one another, and the nation is at a loss
as to how to utilize the memorial fund.
My other aptitude which the Congress could utilize was as a draftsman. The Congress leaders
had found that I had a faculty for condensed expression, which I had acquired by long practice.
The then existing constitution of the Congress was Gokhale’s legacy. He had framed a few rules
which served as a basis of running the Congress machinery. The interesting history of the
framing of these rules I had learnt form Gokhale’s own lips. But everybody had now come to feel
that these rules were no longer adequate for the ever increasing business of the Congress. The
question had been coming up year after year. The Congress at that time had practically no
machinery functioning during the interval between session and session, or for dealing of the year.
The existing rules provided for three secretaries, but as a matter of fact only one of them was a
functioning secretary, and even he was not a whole-timer. How was he, single-handed, to run the
Congress office, to think of the future, or to discharge during the current year the obilgations
contracted by the Congress in the past? During that year, therefore, everybody felt that this
question would assume all the more importance. The Congress was too unwieldy a body for the
discussion of public affairs. There was no limit set to the number of delegates in the Congress or
to number of delegates that each province could return, Some improvement upon the existing
chaotic condition was thus felt by everybody to be an imperative necessity. I undertook the
responsibility of framing a constitution on one condition. I saw that there were two leaders,#viz#.,
the Lokamanya and the Deshabandhu who had the greatest hold on the public. I requested that
they, as the representatives of the people, should be associated with me on the Committee for
framing the constitution. But since it was obvious that they would not have the time personally t
participate in the constitution-making work, I suggested that two persons enjoying their
confidence should be a appointed along with me on the Constitution Committee, and that the
number of its personnel should be limited to and the late Deshabandhu, who suggested the
names of Sjts. Kelkar and I.B. Sen respectively as their proxies. The Constitution Committee
could not even once come together, but we were able to consult with each other by
correspondence, and in the end presented a unanimous report. I regard this constitution with a
certain measure of pride. I hold that, if we could fully work out this constitution, the mere fact of
working it out would bring us Swaraj. With the assumption of this responsibility I may be said to
have made my real entrance into the Congress politics.
Chapter 163
I do not remember to have seen a handloom or a spinning wheel when in 1908 I described it in
Hind Swaraj as the panacea for the growing pauperism of India. In that book I took it as
understood that anything that helped India to get rid of the grinding poverty of her masses would
in the same process also establish Swaraj. Even in 1915, when I returned to India from South
Africa, I had not actually seen a spinning wheel. When the Satyagraha Ashram was founded at
Sabarmati, we introduced a few handlooms there. But no sooner had we done this than we found
ourselves up against a difficulty. All of us belonged either to the liberal professions or to business;
not one of us was an artisan. We needed a weaving expert to teach us to weave before we could
work the looms. One was at last procured from Palanpur, but Maganlal Gandhi was not to be easily baffled. Possessed of a natural talent for mechanics, he was able fully to master the art
before long, and one after another several new weavers were trained up in the Ashram.
The object that we set before ourselves was to be able to clothe ourselves entirely in cloth
manufactured by our own hands. We therefore forthwith discarded the use of mill-woven cloth,
and all the members of the Ashram resolved to wear hand-woven cloth made from Indian yarn
only. The adoption of this practice brought us a world of experience. It enabled us to know, from
direct contact, the conditions of life among the weavers, the extent of their production, the
handicaps in the way of their obtaining their yarn supply, the way in which they were being made
victims of fraud, and, lastly, their ever growing indebtedness. We were not in a position
immediately to manufacture all the cloth for our needs. The alternative therefore was to get our
cloth supply from handloom weavers. But ready-made cloth from Indian mill-yarn was not easily
obtainable either from the cloth- dealers or from the weavers themselves. All the fine cloth woven
by the weavers was from foreign yarn, since Indian mills did not spin fine counts. Even today the
outturn of higher counts by Indian mills is very limited, whilst highest counts they cannot spin at
all. It was after the greatest effort that we were at last able to find some weavers who
condescended to weave Swadeshi yarn for us, and only on condition that the Ashram would take
up all the cloth that they might produce. By thus adopting cloth woven from mill-yarn as our wear,
and propagating it among our friends, we made ourselves voluntary agents of the Indian spinning
mills. This in its turn brought us into contact with the mills, and enabled us to know something
about their management and their handicaps. We saw that the aim of the mills was more and
more to weave the yarn spun by them: their co-operation with the handloom weaver was not
willing, but unavoidable and temporary. We became impatient to be able to spin our own yarn. It
was clear that, until we could do this ourselves, dependence on the mills would remain. We did
not feel that we could render any service to the country by continuing as agents of Indian spinning
No end of difficulties again faced us. We could get neither spinning wheel nor a spinner to teach
us how to spin. We were employing some wheel for filling pearns and bobbins for weaving in the
Ashram. But we had no idea that these could be used as spinning wheels. Once Kalidas Jhaveri
discovered a woman who, he said, would demonstrate to us how spinning was done. We sent to
her a member of the Ashram who was known for his great versatility in learning new things. But
even he returned without wresting the secret of the art.
So the time passed on, and my impatience grew with the time. I plied every chance visitor to the
Ashram who was likely to possess some information about handspinning with questions about the
art. But the art being confined to women and having been all but exterminated, if there was some
stray spinner still surviving in some obscure corner, only a member of that sex was likely to find
out her whereabouts.
In the year 1917 I was taken by my Gujarati friends to preside at the Broach Educational
Conference. It was here that I discovered that remarkable lady Gangabehn Majmundar. She was
a widow, but her enterprising spirit knew no bounds. Her education, in the accepted sense of the
term, was not much. But in courage and commonsense she easily surpassed the general run of
our educated women. She had already got rid of the curse of untouchability, and fearlessly
moved among and served the suppressed classes. She had means of her own, and her needs
were few. She had a well seasoned constitution, and went about everywhere without an escort.
She felt quite at home on horseback. I came to know her more intimately at the Godhra
Conference. To her I poured out my grief about the charkha, and she lightened my burden by a
promise to prosecute an earnest and incessant search for the spinning wheel. Chapter 164
At last, after no end of wandering in Gujarat, Gangabehn found the spinning wheel in Vijapur in
the Baroda State. Quite a number of people there had spinning wheels in their homes, but had
long since consigned them to the lofts as useless lumber. They expressed to Gangabehn their
readiness to resume spinning, if someone provide them with a regular supply of slivers, and to
buy the yarn spun by them. Gangabehn communicated the joyful news to me. The providing of
slivers was founded to be a difficult task. On my mentioning the thing to the late Umar Sobani, he
solved the difficulty by immediately undertaking to send a sufficient supply of slivers from his mill.
I sent to Gangabehn the slivers received from Umar Sobani, and soon yarn began to pour in at
such a rate that it became quite a problem how to cope with it.
Mr. Umar Sobani’s generosity was great, but still one could not go on taking advantage of it for
ever. I felt ill at ease, continuously receiving slivers from him. Moreover, it seemed to me to be
fundamentally wrong to use mill-slivers. If one could use mill- slivers, why not use mill-yarn as
well ? Surely no mills supplied slivers to the ancients ? How did they make their slivers then ?
With these thoughts in my mind I suggested to Gangabehn to find carders who could supply
slivers. She confidently undertook the task. She engaged a carder who was prepared to card
cotton. He demanded thirty-five rupees, if not much more, per month. I considered no price too
high at the time. She trained a few youngsters to make slivers out of the carded cotton. I begged
for cotton in Bombay. Sjt. Yashvantprasad Desai at once responded. Gangabehn’s enterprise
thus prospered beyond expectations. She found out weavers to weave the yarn that was spun in
Vijapur, and soon Vijapur Khadi gained a name for itself.
While these developments were taking place in Vijapur, the spinning wheel gained a rapid footing
in the Ashram. Maganlal Gandhi, by bringing to bear all his splendid mechanical talent on the
wheel, made many improvements in it, and wheels and their accessories began to be
manufactured at the Ashram. The first piece of Khadi manufactured in the Ashram cost 17 annas
per yard. I did not hesitate to commend this very coarse Khadi at that rate to friends, who willingly
paid the price.
I was laid up in bed at Bombay. But I was fit enough to make searches for the wheel there. At last
I chanced upon two spinners. They charged one rupee for a seer of yarn, i.e., 28 tolas or nearly
three quarters of a pound. I was then ignorant of the economics of Khadi. I considered no price
too high for securing handspun yarn. On comparing the rates paid by me with those paid in
Vijapur I found that I was being cheated. The spinners refused to agree to any reduction in their
rates. So I had to dispense with their service. But they served their purpose. They taught spinning
to Shrimatis Avantikabai, Ramibai Kamdar, the widowed mother of Sjt. Shankarlal Banker and
Shrimati Vasumatibehn. The wheel began merrily to hum in my room, and I may say without
exaggeration that its hum had no small share in restoring me to my health. I am prepared to admit
that its effect was more psychological than physical. But then it only shows how powerfully the
physical in man reacts to the psychological. I too set my hand to the wheel, but did not so much
with it at the time.
In Bombay, again, the same old problem of obtaining a supply of hand- made slivers presented
itself. A carder twanging his bow used to pass daily by Sjt. Revashankar’s residence. I sent for
him and learnt that he carded for slivers, but stuffing mattresses. He agreed to card for slivers,
but demanded a stiff price for it, which, however, I paid. The yarn thus prepared I disposed of to some Vaishnava friends for making from it the gariands for the pavitra ekadashi. Sjt. Shivji started
a spinning class in Bombay. All these experiments involved considerable expenditure. But it was
willingly defrayed by patriotic friends, lovers of the motherland, who had faith in Khadi. The
money thus spent, in my humble opinion, was not wasted . It brought us a rich store of
experience, and revealed to us the possibilities of the spinning wheel.
I now grew impatient for the exculsive adoption of Khadi for my dress. Mt dhoti was still of Indian
mill cloth. The coarse Khadi manufactured in the Ashram and at Vijapur was only 30 inches in
width. I gave notice to Gangabehn that, unless she provided me with a Khadi dhoti of 45 inches
with within a month. I would do with coarse, short Khadi dhoti. The ultimatum came upon her as a
shock. But she proved equal to the demand made upon her. Well within the month she sent me a
pair of Khadi dhotis of 45 inches width, and thus relieved me from what would then have been a
difficult situation for me.
At about the same time Sjt. Lakshmidas brought Sjt. Ramji, the weaver, with his wife Gangabehn
from Lathi to the Ashram and got Khadi dhotis woven at the Ashram. The part played by this
couple in the spread of Khadi was by no means insignificant. They initiated a host of persons in
Gujarat and also outside into the art of weaving hand- spun yarn. To see Gangabehn at her loom
is a stirring sight. When this unlettered but self-possessed sister plies at her loom, she becomes
so lost in it that it is difficult to distract her attention, and much more difficult to draw her eyes off
her beloved loom.
Chapter 165
From its very inception the Khadi movement, Swadeshi movement as it was then called, evoked
much criticism from the mill-owners. The late Umar Sobani, a capable mill-owner himself, not only
gave me the benefit of his own knowledge and experience, but kept me in touch with the opinion
of the other mill-owners as well. The argument advanced by one of these deeply impressed him.
He pressed me to meet him. I agreed. Mr. Sobani arranged the interview. The mill-owner opened
the conversation.
‘You know that there has been Swadeshi agitation before now ?’
‘Yes, I do,’ I replied.
‘You are also aware that in the days of the Partition we, the mill- owners, fully exploited the
Swadeshi movement. When it was at its height, we raised the prices of cloth, and did even worse
‘You, I have heard something about it, and it has grieved me.’
‘I can understand your grief, but I can see no ground for it. We are not conducting our business
out of philanthropy. We do it for profit, we have got to satisfy the shareholders. The price of an
article is governed by the demand for it. Who can check the law of demand and supply ? The
bengalis should have known that their agitation was bound to send up the price of Swadeshi cloth
by stimulating the demand for it.’ I interrupted: ‘The Bengalis like me were trustful in their nature. They believed, in the fulness of
their faith, that the mill-owners would not be so utterly selfish and unpatriotic as to betray their
country in the hour of its need, and even to go the length, as they did, of fraudulently passing off
foreign cloth as Swadeshi.’
‘I knew your believing nature,’ he rejoined; ‘that is why I purt you to the trouble of coming to me,
so that I might warn you against falling into the same error as these simple-hearted Bengalis.’
With these words the mill-owner beckoned to his clerk who wa standing by to produce samples of
the stuff that was being manufactured in his mill. Pointing to it he said: ‘Look at this stuff. This is
the latest variety turned out by our mill. It is meeting with a widespread demand. We manufacture
it from the waste. Naturally, therefore, it is cheap. We send it as far North as the valleys of the
Himalayas. We have agencies all over the country, even in places where your voice or your
agents can never reach. You can thus see that we do not stand in need of more agents. Besides,
you ought to know that India’s production of cloth falls far short of its requirements. The question
of Swadeshi, therefore, largely resolves itself into one of production. The moment we can
increase our production sufficiently, and improve its quality to the necessary extent, the import of
foreign cloth will automatically cease. extent, the import of foreign cloth will automatically cease.
My advice to you, therefore, is not to carry on your agitation on its present lines, but to turn your
attention to the erection of fresh mills. What we need is not propaganda to inflate demand for our
goods, but greater production.’
‘Then, surely, you will bless my effort, if I am laready engaged in that very thing,’ I asked.
‘How can that be ?’ he exclaimed, a bit puzzled, ‘but may be, you are thinking of promoting the
establishment of new mills, in which case you certainly deserve to be congratulated.’
‘ I am not doing exactly that,’ I explained, ‘but I am engaged in the revival of the spinning wheel.’
‘What is that ?’ he asked, feeling still more at sea. I told him all about the spinning wheel, and the
story of my long quest after it, and added, ‘I am entirely of your opinion; it is no use my becoming
virtually an agent for the mils. That would do more harm than good to the country. Our mills will
not be in want of custom for a long time to come. My work should be, and therefore is, to organize
the production of handspun cloth, and to find means for the disposal of the Khadi thus produced. I
am, therefore, concentrating my attention on the production of Khadi. I swear by this form of
Swadeshi, because through it I can provide work to the semi-starved, semi-employed women of
India. My idea is to get these women to spin yarn, and to clothe the people of India with Khadi
woven out of it. I do not know how far this movement is going to succeed, at present it is only in
the incipient stage. But i have full faith in it. At any rate it can do no harm. On the contrary to the
extent that it can add to the cloth production of the country, he it ever so small, it will represent so
much solid gain. You will thus perceive that my movement is free from the evils mentioned by
He replied, ‘If you have additional production in view in organizing your movement, I have nothing
to say against it. Whether the spinning wheel can make headway in this age of power machinery
is another question. But I for one wish you every success.
Chapter 166
ITS RISING TIDEI must not devote any more chapters here to a description of the further progress of Khadi. It
would be outside the scope of these chapters to give a history of my various activities after they
came before the public eye, and I must not attempt it, if only because to do so would require a
treatise on the subject. My object in writing these chapters is simply to describe how certain
things, as it were spontaneously, presented themselves to me in the course of my experiments
with truth.
To resume, then, the story of the non-co-operation movement. Whilst the powerful Khilafat
agitation set up by the Ali Brothers was in full progress, I had long discussions on the subject with
the late Maulana Abdul Bari and the other Ulema, especially, with regard to the extent to which a
Musalman could observe the rule of non-violence. In the end they all agreed that Islam did not
forbid its followers from following non-violence as a policy, and further, that, while they were
pledged to that policy, they were bound faithfully to carry it out. At last the non-co-operation
resolution was moved in the Khilafat conference, and carried after prolonged deliberations. I have
a vivid recollection how once at Allahabad a committee sat all night deliberating upon the subject.
In the beginning the late Hakim Saheb was secptical as to the practicability of non-violent non-co-
operation. But after his scepticism was overcome he threw himself into it heart and soul, and his
help proved invaluable to the movement.
Next, the non-co-operation resolution was moved by me at the Gujarat political conference that
was held shortly afterwards. The preliminary contention raised by the opposition was that it was
not competent to a provincial conference to adopt a resolution in advance of the Congress. As
against this, I suggested that the restriction could apply only to a backward movement; but as for
going forward, the subordinate organizations were not only fully competent, but were in duty
bound to do so, if they had in them the necessary girt and confidence. No permission, I argued
was needed to try to enhance the prestige of the parent institution, provided one did it at one’s
own risk. The proposition was then discussed on its merits, the debate being marked by its
keenness no less than the atmosphere of ‘sweet reasonableness’ in which it was conducted. On
the ballot being taken the resolution was declared carried by an overwhelming majority. The
successful passage of the resolution was due not a little to the personality of Sjt. Vallabhbhai and
Abbas Tyabji. The latter was the president, and his leanings were all in favour of the non-cooperation resolution.
The All-India Congress Committss resolved to hold a special session of the Congress in
September 1920 at Calcutta to deliberate on this question Preparations were made for it on a
large scale. Lala Lajpat Rai was elected President . Congress and Khilafat specials were run to
Calcutta from Bombay. At Calcutta there was a mammoth gathering of delegates anad visitors.
At the request of Maulana Shaukat Ali I prepared a draft of the non- co-operation resolution in the
train. Up to this time I had more or less avoided the use of the word non-vilent in my drafts. I
invariably made use of this word in my speeches. My vocabulary on the subject was still in
process of formation. I found that I could not bring home of the Samskrit equivalent for nonviolent. I therefore asked Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad to give me some other equivalent for it. He
suggested the word ba-aman; similarly for non-co-operation he suggested the phrase tark-imavalat.
Thus, while I was still busy devising suitable Hindi, Gujarati and Urdu phraseology for non-cooperation, I was called upon to frame the non-co-operation resolution for that eventful Congress.
In the original draft the word ‘non-violent’ had been left out by me. I had handed over the draft to
Maulana Shaukat Ali who was travelling in the same compartment, without noticing the omission.
During the night I discovered the error. In the morning I sent Mahadev with the message that the
omission should be made good before the draft was sent to the press. But I have an impression
that the draft was printed before the insertion could be made. The Subjects Committee was to have met the same evening. I had therefore to make the necessary correction in the printed
copies of the draft. I afterwards saw that there would have been great difficulty, had I not been
ready with my draft.
None the less my plight was pitiable indeed. I was absolutely at sea as to who would support the
resolution and who would oppose it. Nor had I any idea as to the attitude that Lalaji would adopt. I
only saw an imposing phalanx of veteran warriors assembled for the fray at Calcutta, Dr. Besant,
Pandit Malaviyaji, Sjt. Vijayaraghavachari, Pandit Motilalji and the Deshabandhu being some of
In my resolution non-co-operation was postulated only with a view to obtaining redress of the
Punjab and the Khilafat wrongs. That, however, did not appeal to Sjt. Vijayaraghavachari. ‘If nonco- operation was to be declared, why should it be with reference to particular wrongs ? The
absence of Swaraj was the biggest wrong that the non-co-operation should be directed,’ he
argued. Pandit Motilalji also wanted the demand for Swaraj to be included in the resolution. I
readily accepted the suggestion and incorporated the demand for Swaraj in my resolution, which
was passed after an exhaustive, serious and somewhat stromy discussion.
Motilalji was the first to join the movement. I still remember the sweet discussion that I had with
him on the resolution. He suggested some changes in its phraseology which I adopted. He
undertook to win the Deshabandhu for the movement. The he felt sceptical as to the capacity of
the people to carry out the programme. It was only at the Nagpur Congress that he and Lalaji
accepted it whole heartedly.
I felt the loss of the late Lokamanya very deeply at the special session. It has been my firm faith
to this day that, had the Lokamanya been then alive, he would have given his benedictions to me
on that occasion. But even if it had been otherwise, and he had opposed the movement, I should
still have esteemed his opposition as a privilege and an education for myself. We had our
differences of opinion always, but they never led to bitterness. He always allowed me to believe
that the ties between us were of the closest. Even as I write these lines, the circumstances of his
death stand forth vividly before my mind’s eye. It was about the hour of midnight, when
Patwardhan, who was then working with me, conveyed over the telephone the news of his death.
I was at that time surrounded by me companions. Spontaneously the exclamation escaped my
lips, ‘My strongest bulwark is gone.’ The non- co-operation movement was then in full swing, and
I was eagerly looking forward to encouragement and inspiration from him. What his attitude would
have been with regard to the final phase of non-cooperation will always be a matter of
speculation, and an idle one at that. But this much is certain that the deep void left by his death
weighed heavily upon everybody present at Calcutta. Everyone felt the absence of his counsels
in that hour of crisis in the nation’s history.
Chapter 167
The resolutions adopted at the Calcutta special session of the Congress were to be confirmed
at its annual session at Nagpur. Here again, as at Calcutta there was a great rush of visitors and
delegates. The number of delegates in the Congress had not been limited yet. As a result, so far
as I can remember, the figure on this occasion reached about fourteen thousand. Lalaji pressed
for a slight amendment to the clause about the boycott of schools, which I accepted. Similarly some amendments were made at the instance of the Deshabandhu, after which the non-cooperation resolution was passed unanimously.
The resolution regarding the revision of the Congress constitution too was to be taken up at this
session of the Congress. the sub- committee’s draft was presented at the Calcutta special
session. The matter had therefore been thoroughly ventilated and thrashed out. At the Nagpur
session, where it came up for final disposal, Sjt. C. Vijayaraghavachariar was the President. The
Subjects Committee passed the draft with only one important change. In my draft the number of
delegates had been fixed, I think, at 1,500 ; the Subjects Committee substituted in its place the
figure 6,000. In my opinion this increase was the result of hasty judgment, and experience of all
these years has only confirmed me in my view. I hold it to be an utter delusion to believe that a
large number of delegates is in any way a help to the better conduct of the business, or that it
safeguards the principle of democracy. Fifteen hundred delegates, jealous of the interests of the
people, broad-minded and truthful, would any day be a better safeguard for democracy than six
thousand irresponsible men chosen anyhow. To safeguard democracy the people must have a
keen sense of independence, self-respect and their oneness, and should insist upon choosing as
their representatives only such persons as are good and true. But obsessed with the idea of
numbers as the Subjects Committee was, it would have liked to go even beyond the figure of six
thousand. The limit of six thousand was therefore in the nature of a compromise.
The question of the goal of the Congress formed a subject for keen discussion. In the constitution
that I had presented, the goal of the Congress was the attainment of Swaraj within the British
Empire if possible and without if necessary. A party in the Congress wanted to limit the goal to
Swaraj within the British Empire only. Its view- point was put forth by Pandit Malaviyaji and Mr.
Jinnah. But they were not able to get many votes. Again the draft constitution provided that the
means for the attainment were to be peaceful and legitimate. This condition too came in for
opposition, it being contended that there should be no restriction upon the means to be adopted.
But the Congress adopted the original draft after an instructive and frank discussion. I am of
opinion that, if this constitution had been worked out by the people honestly, intelligently and
zealously, it would have become a potent instrument of mass education, and the very process of
working it out would have brought us Swaraj. But a discussion of the theme would be irrelevant
Resolutions about Hindu-Muslim unity, the removal of untouchability and Khadi too were passed
in this Congress, and since then the Hindu members of the Congress have taken upon
themselves the responsibility of ridding Hinduism of the curse of untouchability, and the Congress
has established a living bond of relationship with the ‘skeletons’ of India through Khadi. The
adoption of non-co-operation for the sake of the Khilafat was itself a great practical attempt made
by the Congress to bring about Hindu-Muslim unity.
Chapter 168
The time has now come to bring these chapters to a close.
My life from this point onward has been so public that there is hardly anything about it that people
do not know. Moreover, since 1921 I have worked in such close association with the Congress
leaders that I can hardly describe any episode in my life since then without referring to my relations with them. For though Shraddhanandji, the Deshabandhu, Hakim Saheb and Lalaji are
no more with us today, we have the good luck to have a host of other veteran Congress leaders
still living and working in our midst. The history of the Congress, since the great changes in it that
I have described above, is still in the making. And my principal experiments during the past seven
years have all been made through the Congress. A reference to my relations with the leaders
would therefore be unavoidable, if I set about describing my experiments further. And this I may
not do, at any rate for the present, if only from a sense of propriety. Lastly, my conclusions from
my current experiments can hardly as yet be regarded as decisive. It therefore seems to me to be
my plain duty to close this narrative here. In fact my pen instinctively refuses to proceed further.
It is not without a wrench that I have to take leave of the reader. I set a high value on my
experiments. I do not know whether I have been able to do justice to them. I can only say that I
have spared no pains to give a faithful narrative. To describe truth, as it has appeared to me, and
in the exact manner in which I have arrived at it, has been my ceaseless effort. The exercise has
given me ineffable mental peace, because, it has been my fond hope that it might bring faith in
Truth and Ahimsa to waverers.
My uniform experience has convinced me that there is no other God than Truth. And if every
page of these chapters does not proclaim to the reader that the only means for the realization of
Truth is Ahimsa, I shall deem all my labour in writing these chapters to have been in vain. And,
even though my efforts in this behalf may prove fruitless, let the readers know that the vehicle,
not the great principle, is at fault. After all, however sincere my strivings after Ahimsa may have
been, they have still been imperfect and inadequate. The little fleeting glimpses, therefore, that I
have been able to have of Truth can hardly convey an idea of the indescribable lustre of Truth, a
million times more intense than that of the sun we daily see with our eyes. In fact what I have
caught is only the fainest glimmer of that mightly effulgence. But this much I can say with
assurance, as a result of all my experiments, that a perfect vision of Truth can only follow a
complete realization of Ahimsa.
To see the universal and all-pervading Spirit of Truth face to face one must be able to love the
meanest of creation as oneself. And a man who aspires after that cannot afford to keep out of any
field of life. That is why my devotion to Truth has drawn me into the field of politics; and I can say
without the slightest hesitation, and yet in all humility, that those who say that religion has nothing
to do with politics do not know what religion means.
Identification with everything that lives is impossible without self- purification; without selfpurification the observance of the law of Ahimsa must remain an empty dream; God can never be
realized by one who is not pure of heart. Self-purification therefore must mean purification in all
the walks of life. And purification being highly infectious, purification of oneself necessarily leads
to the purification of one’s surroundings.
But the path of self-purification is hard and steep. To attain to perfect purity one has to become
absolutely passion-free in thought, speech and action; to rise above the opposing currents of love
and hatred, attachment and repulsion. I know that I have not in me as yet that triple purity, in spite
of constant ceaseless striving for it. That is why the world’s praise fails to move me, indeed it very
often stings me. To conquer the subtle passions to me to be harder far than the physical
conquest of the world by the force of arms. Ever since my return to India I have had experience of
the dormant passions lying hidden with in me. The knowledge of them has made me feel
humiliated though not defeated. The experiences and experiments have sustained me and given
me great joy. But I know that I have still before me a difficult path to traverse. I must reduce
muself to zero. So long as a man does not of his own free will put himself last among his fellow
creatures, there is no salvation for him. Ahimsa is the farthest limit of humility.
In bidding farewell to the reader, for the time being at any rate, I ask him to join with me in prayer
to the God of Truth that He may grant me the boon of Ahimsa in mind, word and deed.

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