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ASSOCIATES & DISCIPLES OF MAHATMA GANDHI > TRIBUTES BY MAHATMA GANDHI > Rustomjee, Parsee
Rustomjee, Parsee
With the passing away of Parsee Rustomjee... India has lost a true soldier. So far as I am concerned, I have lost a true friend. I have come across few men like Parsee Rustomjee. He had had hardly any education. He knew a little English and his knowledge of Gujarati was not much. He was not too fond of reading. Right from his youth he was in business. Through sheer hard work he had risen from the status of a common clerk to that of a big businessman. Despite this, he had a keen common sense and great generosity and he was so tolerant that, although he was an orthodox Parsi, he had the same affection for Hindus, Muslims and Christians. I have never seen anyone going round for funds return empty-handed from him. His loyalty to his friends was so staunch that many gave him their power of attorney. I have seen many prominent Muslim businessmen name Parsee Rustomjee their representative in preference to their own relations. No poor Parsi was sent away from Rustomjee's shop. He was as sparing towards himself as he was generous towards others. Luxuries had no place in his life. He spent money after great hesitation on himself and his family. He continued to live in great simplicity till the end. Parsee Rustomjee's shop was the only place where Gokhale, Andrews, Sarojini Devi and such others stayed. The minutest detail did not escape his eyes. Who else but he could be given the responsibility of packing Gokhale's forty-five packages consisting of innumerable addresses of welcome and such other things, making a list of these and loading them on the steamer?
By making a trust in the name of his dearly loved wife Jerbai after her death, he gave away the larger part of his wealth in charity. He has not pampered his children at all but has rather brought them up in simplicity and left them an inheritance sufficient only to prevent them from starving. He has remembered all his relations in making his will.
He took part in public affairs with the same degree of precision and firmness described above. At the time of satyagraha, Parsee Rustomjee was the first among the businessmen of Natal who were prepared to sacrifice their all. It was his way not to give up a task once he had undertaken it, whatever the risks involved. He had to serve a longer sentence in prison than expected, but this did not frighten him. The struggle continued for eight years; many staunch warriors fell. Rustomjee, however, did not waver. He made his son Sorabjee also plunge into the struggle.
I first made the acquaintance of this good Indian in 1893. At first I was not greatly impressed by him. However, as I got more and more involved in public work, I learnt more and more to value the gemlike qualities in Parsee Rustomjee. He was my client, my colleague in public work and finally he became my friend. He did not hesitate to come to me and describe his faults like a child. He astounded me by his faith in me. When the whites attacked me in 1897, Rustomjee's house sheltered me and my sons. The whites had threatened to burn down his house and property. That threat, however, did not deter him in the least. He continued the relationship thus built up in Africa till the time of his death. He continued to send money here too for public work. He was to have come here in December at the time of the Congress session. God, however, willed otherwise. Sheth Rustomjee's death is a great loss to the Indians in South Africa. Sorabji Adajania passed away, after that Ahmed Mohamed Cachalia died, some time back P. K. Naidu, and now Parsee Rustomjee has departed. There are hardly any Indian workers of their calibre left in South Africa now. As God is the friend of the helpless, He will look after the Indians in South Africa. But the void created by Parsee Rustomjee's death will never be filled.
[From Gujarati]