Gandhi In South Africa
Reminiscences of Persons who knew him in South Africa
Compiled by E. S. Reddy
[NOTE: This compilation does not include two books devoted to reminiscences of Gandhi - Gandhi The Man, by Millie Graham Polak, and Gandhi in Sadhana, by Raojibhai M. Patel - and the reminiscences in the biography, Gandhi, A Patriot in South Africa, by Joseph J. Doke.]
"The Tribute of a Friend" (in Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, ed., Mahatma Gandhi: Essays and Reflections on His Life and Work. Fourth edition. Bombay: Jaico Publishing House, 1977. Originally published in 1939.)
"Gandhi and South Africa" (in The Woman Citizen, March 1922)
"Two meetings with Gandhi" (in Radhakrishnan, op. cit.)
"Satyagraha in South Africa" (in Chandrashanker Shukla, ed., Reminiscences of Gandhiji by Forty-eight Contributors. Bombay: Vora & Co., 1951.)
"Memories of Gandhiji" (in Indian Review, Madras, March 1952)
"Gandhiji in South Africa" (in Shukla, op. cit.)
"Sixty Years Memoir" (extract)
"Recollections" (in Shukla, op. cit.)
"South African Reminiscences" (in Indian Review, Madras, February, March and May 1925)
"A South African Reminiscence" (in Indian Review, October 1926)
"Gandhi, the Man" (in Indian Review, October 1929)
"Memories of Gandhi" (in Contemporary Review, London, March 1948)
"Some South African Reminiscences" (in Chandrashanker Shukla, ed., Incidents of Gandhi's Life, by Fifty-four Contributors. Bombay: Vora & Co., 1949.)
"Gandhi, the Man" (in Indian Review, October 1929)
"In the South African Days" (in Shukla, Incidents of Gandhiji's Life.)
"My South African Days with Gandhi" (in Indian Review, October 1964)
"Gandhi's Political Method" (in Radhakrishnan, op. cit.)
"In the Early Days with Gandhi" (in Illustrated Weekly of India, Bombay, October 3, 10, 17 and 31, 1965)
YOUNG HUSBAND, Sir Francis
"Gandhi - after Forty-seven Years" (in Radhakrishnan, op. cit.)
THE TRIBUTE OF A FRIEND
C. F. Andrews1
The Reverend C.F. Andrews described Gandhi at Phoenix Ashram one evening in January 1914.]
The strain of a long day of unwearied ministry among the poor was over, and Mahatma Gandhi was seated under the open sky, tired almost beyond human endurance, but even at such a time he nursed a sick child on his lap who clung to him with a pathetic affection. A Zulu girl from the school on the hill beyond the Ashram was seated there also. He asked me to sing "Lead Kindly Light" as the darkness grew deeper and deeper. Even then, though he was much younger, his frail body was worn with suffering that could never be laid aside even for a moment: yet his spirit within was radiant when the hymn broke the silence, with its solemn close,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since and lost a while.
I can remember how we all sat in silence when the hymn was finished, and how he then repeated to himself those two lines which I have quoted.
Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt2
Mrs. Catt, a prominent American suffragette, met Gandhiji in Johannesburg in 1911. An account from her diary was published in 1922.]
An English lady insisted upon giving me a letter of introduction to an Indian in Johannesburg, assuring me that I would not regret any trouble taken to make his acquaintance. By the time I arrived here (Johannesburg) I had forgotten what she had told me about him and I was not particularly interested to meet him, but I sent the letter nevertheless and asked him to call upon me at the hotel if convenient at a stated time. At the hour named a pretty, intelligent young Russian Jewess3 called and explained that she was Mr. Gandhi's secretary and that no Indian was permitted to enter a hotel to call upon a guest.
A prominent lawyer to whom I told the tale offered the use of his office for the purpose of an interview, so again I wrote, stating the time and place when I would be glad to receive him. Again the pretty little Jewess came to the lawyer's office to say that Mr. Gandhi had come but the elevator operator refused to take him up and he would not so far demean himself as to walk when the European was carried. This challenged my curiosity and I told the young girl to tell him to go back to his office and that I would call upon him.
Directly Miss Cameron and I, escorted by the secretary, were on our way. She took us into quarters apparently occupied exclusively by Indians. We found his office much the same as any of the less prosperous sort. The outer room was filled with Indians awaiting their turn to consult Mr. Gandhi, who was a lawyer. We found the man seated behind an American desk - a small very black man with his head wrapped in a very white turban. He was not particularly prepossessing in appearance, but we soon engaged him in conversation and were amazed at his excellent and correct English; he was a gentleman. He told us that he had been in prison because he had evaded signing a registration paper which is made compulsory for all Indians for police purposes. He then spoke of his hope that India would be independent one day. His eyes lighted with an inner fire and he spoke with such fervour that we recognised that we were in the presence of no ordinary man. Directly he quoted from the Declaration of Independence, from Emerson and Longfellow. Proud, rebellious, humiliated, he may earn his livelihood by law, but he dreams of naught but India's independence.
TWO MEETINGS WITH GANDHI
I have a vivid recollection of my first meeting with Mr. Gandhi about 1903. I was then a young official under whose department came the vexed and difficult question of Indian immigration. I have since been privileged to meet a large number of Indian and Chinese friends, but Mr. Gandhi was I believe the first Oriental I met. He was dressed in European clothes except for his Indian cap and gave me the impression of being an exceedingly able young lawyer. He started by trying to convince me of the good points in the character of his countrymen, their industry, fruality, their patience. I remember that after listening to him I said, "Mr. Gandhi, you are preaching to the converted. It is not the vices of Indians that Europeans in this country fear but their virtues." In my subsequent dealings with Mr. Gandhi, the characteristic which most impressed me was his tenacity of purpose. I have since come to think that few qualities count more in this world than tenacity.
Years later, about Christmas 1916, I again met Mr. Gandhi in the Congress camp at Lucknow. The contrast he made with the smart young Johannesburg attorney I had known in the Transvaal is something I shall never forget. He was now dressed in a ragged Indian garb, and had on his face, which was considerably aged, the marks of an ascetic. The morning was bitterly cold and we talked by a brazier, over which he was trying to get some warmth into his hands as he spoke. He was doing his best to explain to me the inner meaning of caste as viewed by the Indian mind.
Few men, if any, in any generation have commanded so great a following, have so changed the course of events, and so influenced thought in more than one continent than Mr. Gandhi. I must humbly confess my own failure to guess that such spiritual powers were latent in the alert young lawyer I met in 1903.
SATYAGRAHA IN SOUTH AFRICA
It was in the year 1906 that I went to South Africa at the age of 22. My sole purpose was to earn money and help my family which had seen very hard days because of poverty. But fate seemed to have ordained something quite different for me. Within three days of my landing in Durban I was led to throw myself into Gandhiji's hands. A well-known doctor of Bombay, Sir Bhalchandra Krishna Bhatavdekar, who was a friend of my uncle, had given me a note of introduction to "Barrister Gandhi." I had imagined that I should be able to earn money with the help of this barrister. In Durban I came to know that Gandhiji had just returned from England to Durban. At about 1 p.m. I went to the house of the late Haji Omar Amod Zaveri where he had put up. I peeped into the house from the window on the verandah, and saw more than a dozen Muslim gentlemen having a lunch at a table, at the head of which sat a man with a peculiar black turban which distinguished him from the others. I at once guessed who he was, and sent in the note of introduction with a servant with instructions to give it to "Barrister Gandhi." The servant placed it into his hands, while I kept on looking in from the window. He opened the note, read it, and at once got up. I was standing on the verandah. My heart was throbbing. A charming and lovable person came out to the verandah with the note in his hand, and asked me if I was the bearer of this note. I said, "Yes," with a respectful bow. He at once said: "Come, come," took me to the drawing room, and asked me to be seated on a sofa. He sat next to me, and asked me detailed questions as to when I had arrived in Durban, what I had been doing in Bombay, how far I had studied, and so on. I gave suitable replies to all the questions. For a couple of minutes he sat thinking, and then asked me: "What has brought you to South Africa?" I said: "I have come here to earn money. I am a very poor man, and I request you to help me in fulfilling my wishes." He at once said: "What chance is there for earning money here? Our countrymen here are undergoing terrible hardships. Their very existence seems to be in danger. In a day or two I will leave Durban for Johannesburg, and I think of presently launching a struggle of passive resistance against the Transvaal Government. You are a young man. You are fairly educated. You ought not to think of earning money. You ought to be helpful to our countrymen and to serve them."
No one in India had ever spoken to me in this strain. The advice to serve our countrymen I heard for the first time in my life. It set me thinking. "I will go to Phoenix in the evening," Gandhiji went on to say. "Come here at about 4.30 p.m., and we will go together. If you like the place, you may settle down there and work in the press, where Indian Opinion is printed." I promised to join him. During our conversation I happened to look right into his eyes twice or thrice, and saw the love-light in those eyes. It was this deep-seated love that attracted me forcibly to him. I felt comforted and happy, as if I was talking to the head of my own family.
I went with him to Phoenix. Next day he was to leave for Johannesburg. I requested him to take me with him. He explained to me that under the Immigration Act of Transvaal I had no right to enter that territory. I could go there later, he said, and join the struggle against the Government which it was his intention to start before long. He asked me to write to him as often as I liked, and gave me his address at Johannesburg.
Later, under his leadership, the Indians in Transvaal put up a heroic fight. Hundreds of them went to jail. The struggle was naturally prolonged. While it was going on, the Government passed an Immigration Act which prohibited even highly educated Indians from entering that province. Gandhiji considered this to be an insult to India, and he appealed to the educated Indians in South Africa to join the fight.
This was the second phase of the struggle of passive resistance. In a letter to him I expressed my willingness to join the struggle. He wrote back to say that he would soon go to Durban where I might meet him. He also gave me a warning that, if I decided to join the struggle, I must be prepared to face all the consequences. I met him at Durban a little later; and with a few other educated Indians he left for Transvaal. We were arrested on the Transvaal border as prohibited immigrants and were sentenced to six months' hard labour. Gandhiji was not arrested, and was allowed to proceed to Johannesburg. Till the end of the final phase of the struggle in 1914 I had the privilege to go to jail seven times in company with several other comrades.
Bapu's views on education were well known even in those days. Of his four sons three were never sent to any regular school. Whatever education they have received was given at home. The eldest son, Harilal, had some schooling at Rajkot. He was not satisfied with the education that he had when he came to South Africa. He felt that Bapu was neglecting his duty as a father to give modern education to him and his brothers. He often pleaded with Bapu to give the brothers a higher education so that they could become barristers or doctors. Bapu refused to give such education to his sons, because he did not set much store by it. Harilal argued in reply that, if Bapu himself had not become a barrister, he would not have been able to do the work that he was doing. Bapu answered by saying that it was not necessary to become barristers and doctors to qualify for service of the people. He cited the examples of Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Shivaji, Pratap, Dayanand - none of whom had English education, and who were yet among the greatest Indians of their times. Harilal retorted by citing the examples of Ranade, Gokhale, Tilak, Malaviya and Lajpatrai who had equipped themselves with higher English education and had served the country so well. Such arguments would often go on between father and son, but with no concrete result.
When the great passive resistance movement was started by Bapu, Harilal joined it and took a prominent part in it, undergoing several imprisonments. But he was dissatisfied with the life of simplicity and poverty which Bapu had adopted. Harilal was in those days a friend of mine. We went to jail together, and shared a common life of hardship and labour inside the prison. He often poured out his heart before me. I saw that his discontent was very great.
The passive resistance struggle was postponed by Bapu temporarily in 1911. Harilal took this opportunity, and disappeared from Johannesburg without informing anybody. He had left a very pathetic letter for Bapu who told us that this was the result of reading the Gujarati novel Sarasvatichandra, in which the young hero disappears in a similar manner, leaving a letter of farewell for the father. Shri Surendra Medh and I, who were friends of Harilal, had no previous knowledge of his plan. A search was made in vain all over Johannesburg. A Parsi friend gave the information that Harilal had gone to him and borrowed twenty pounds from him. The news of Harilal's disappearance spread quickly, and many friends of Bapu rushed to his office which remained crowded for the whole day. Several Muslim merchants remonstrated with Bapu, saying: "You should have sent him to England for further studies. We would have paid all the expenses." In the evening we left the office with Bapu to go to the Tolstoy Farm at Lawley where we were living. Bapu said to us in the train: "Don't you say anything about Harilal's disappearance to Ba. I myself will reveal the fact to her in my own way." Ba's grief can be imagined when she was told what had happened.
On the third day a friend of ours told us that he definitely knew Harilal was in Lourenco Marques. We conveyed the news to Bapu. Mr. Kallenbach offered to go to Lourenco Marques and bring back Harilal to Johannesburg. Harilal had changed his name so that no one might recognise him as Gandhiji's son. He came back and the tension was relieved both in the city and at the Tolstoy Farm. At the latter place, father and son alone walked all night over the farm and had a long exchange of views. Next morning at breakfast Bapu announced that Harilal would leave for India the next day. He was to live at Ahmedabad and prosecute his studies in a school.
Next day we all went to Johannesburg to bid goodbye to Harilal. When the train was about to start, Bapu kissed Harilal, gave a gentle slap on his cheek, and said: "Forgive your father, if you think he has done you wrong." It was a most touching scene, and these words of Bapu moved me so deeply that I could not restrain my tears. I said to myself: "What a hard-hearted father! And at the same time how kind, meek and lovable!"
On the Tolstoy Farm we lived as one big family. As passive resisters we lived mostly on public funds and the small produce of the farm. Bapu was the chef. He was also the server. Each one of us had been given a wooden bowl and a wooden spoon. He once decided to give us olive oil in the place of ghee. Olive oil was healthy but costlier. Before serving it to us Bapu delivered a little sermon to us: "We are passive resisters. We have willingly adopted a life of simplicity and poverty. Moreover we live on public charity. We must therefore be very careful in using costly things. We must not use them in large quantities. We may thus not take any more of this oil than the minimum necessary." We all sat in a line, and went to him at the table one by one with our bowl and spoon, when he would serve out the food to us. I happened to be first in the line that day. I went to him and he served me rice, dal and vegetables, and then asked me: "How many teaspoonfuls of olive oil shall I give you?" His sermon was quite fresh in my mind, and I said: "One." I got one teaspoonful, and went back to my seat. Then the next man went to him. He asked for three spoonfuls and got three. The third one wanted four, and got four. The fourth man asked for five, and got five. Then Bapu looked at me and had a hearty laugh. "Pragji," he said, "you have to thank yourself for the small quantity of oil that you got!" I replied: "Well, Bapu, I am satisfied with my one teaspoonful." It was apparently a trivial incident, but it made a lasting impression on my mind, and taught me to keep a detailed account of public funds, and to use them economically and for no other purpose than the one for which they were earmarked. I had often to collect funds both in South Africa and in India, and this lesson stood me in good stead on all those occasions.
Gokhaleji visited South Africa in 1912. According to the report that he gave to Gandhiji, General Botha, the then Prime Minister of the Union, had given him a promise to repeal the three pound tax. After his departure for India, however, General Botha denied having given any such promise to Prof. Gokhale. Gandhiji cabled to Gokhaleji, who replied that General Botha had given him a definite promise to this effect. Gandhiji felt that this involved the honour of Gokhaleji and, therefore, the honour of India...
During this period of suspension (of passive resistance) the question of the legality of Indian marriages suddenly cropped up. In an Indian's case the Supreme Court at Cape Town decided that his marriage, not having been performed according to Christian rites, could not be considered legally valid. Indian marriages, performed according to Hindu, Muslim or Parsi rites, would thus be legally invalid. The judgment came as an earthquake shock to the Indian community. The three pound poll tax and the marriage question became life and death problems to Gandhiji. These questions came up at a time when the spirit of the Indian community was at its lowest ebb. People were tired of going to jail again and again. The struggle had been a prolonged one. Life in jail was very hard. But Gandhiji was made of a sterner stuff. He came to Johannesburg from Phoenix, and immediately on arrival called a meeting of about a dozen old passive resisters who had proved their mettle in the previous campaigns. He had come with an inflexible resolve to "do or die." I was present at this memorable meeting. This was the gist of what he said (of course I am quoting from memory):
"I have made my own decision. The legality of our marriages and the three pound poll tax have become religious questions to me. With me they are life and death questions. A fire is raging in my heart. These two acts must be repealed. They involve the honour of our great country. This time no mass meetings are to be held, no resolutions are to be passed, no deputations are to be sent anywhere. We are not going to beg and collect money from anybody. We will not carry on any press propaganda. I know that the spirit of the community is at its lowest ebb, but that does not worry me. We have proclaimed to the world that in the code of satyagraha there is no such word as 'defeat.' Can truth ever suffer defeat? I certainly want every one of you to join the struggle. But this time my conditions are very strict. If you wish to line up with me, you must first of all forget your wife, children and other members of the family. You must forget even India. You must decide to fight, though non-violently, till death. If you join me, well and good. If, however, you don't join me, I do not care. I have often said that one true satyagrahi can carry on the struggle, because it is a struggle to be carried on with soul force. If you don't join, I have decided to carry on the struggle single-handed but with the utmost vigour. I will wander like a mad man throughout South Africa. I will go from house to house and will rouse our people to join me in this sacred cause. I will fight till the end of my life, and will get the three pound poll tax and the marriage act repealed. I must do or die. I am also considering whether our women folk should take part in the struggle or not. Their own honour is also at stake. Up till now we have not asked them to join the struggle. I ask your opinion on this question too. I should now like to know your own decision."
While I was listening very attentively to the fiery words which came from the very depth of his heart, I had decided to take a plunge. I felt that even death in this great cause under the leadership of such a brave and fearless man would be glorious. The stalwart satyagrahis, who were present, all said "yes." No one wavered for a moment. The result immensely pleased the leader. Finally, before we parted, Gandhiji said: "I will now go to Phoenix and chalk out our programme. This time we are going to fight in such a way that even gods will descend to see us fighting!" The meeting decided, after a full discussion, that our womenfolk also should be invited to participate in the struggle and court imprisonment. The subsequent events, ending in the Gandhi-Smuts agreement of 1914, have been described at length by the leader of the movement himself in his Satyagraha in South Africa.
October 10, 1948
During my life-time I was able to spend very few years actually with my father. Unlike my other brothers, I had to live away from him in exile, in South Africa. I have been in South Africa for the last thirty years and more almost at a stretch. From August 1914, till the beginning of 1917. I went on a month's visit to India. I went again at the end of 1924, on a month's visit. In 1926 I was there. I got married in March 1927 and returned almost immediately to South Africa and paid a visit to India once in about three years.
The longest period I was able to spend in India and most of it with father was the whole of 1945 and half of 1946. Those were the precious months I spent with father and had the rare opportunity to be with him during the long tour of Bengal and Madras. Those who nursed him and looked after his personal requirements were able to have the best time with him. Though I seemed to be encroaching upon the preserves of others, father lovingly gave me as much opportunity as was possible in the circumstances, to be with him. We had many free and frank discussions on various matters including his own surroundings and on his own attitude which had so vastly changed since the time we were under him in childhood.
It seemed to me as though he had spoilt those near him by his extreme love and affection. They had become as his spoilt children as it were and much more so after my mother had been called away from his life. She acted as a check on my father and filled the gaps left by him especially on the social side of life. After my mother had gone, father had to act both as father and mother to those close to him but none in return were able to fill the gap left by mother and by Mahadev Desai, who next to mother was the nearest and dearest to him. They were both his right and left hand.
Extremely Soft - One of the things that struck me was the extreme softness in father's attitude compared with what it was when we, four brothers, were under him. He was, of course, always forgiving though he was a very severe task master. But he had grown extremely tolerant which he was not in our time. That was partly due to his bitter experiences of the world in latter years and partly to the development of the spirit of non-violence in him. When I saw this, many a time I chafed and said to father : "Bapu, you have vastly changed from the time we were under you. You never pampered us. You were very severe with us. I remember how you made us to do laundry work and chop wood; how you made us to take the pick and shovel in the bitter cold mornings and dig in the garden, to cook and to walk miles. And I am surprised to see how you pamper these people around you."
Bapu would listen and burst out with his usual hearty laughter : "Well children," he would say "are you listening to what Manilal is saying?" And yet he would love and caress them. No wonder India sobs at the very thought that that loving soul in whom both father and mother were personified, was no longer with them.
Though father was ever with us, never was there a time when we felt his severity. The reason was that he did not tell us to do what he himself did not actually do and surpass everyone in doing. There were times at Phoenix whenever he would go out hoeing in the field, the strongest among us would get tired but he would go on plodding steadily and unceasingly till the stipulated time. That was his great energy and will power.
When I think of that past, I bless it. For that indeed, has sustained me to this day and saved me from becoming a physical wreck.
I have passed through many a vicissitude in my life and have had love lavished upon me by father as also punishment from him. But I do not remember having felt bitter over his punishment at any time. No father could have nursed his child with more loving care as my father did when typhoid fever had gripped me at about nine years of age. A vivid description of it is given in father's Experiments with Truth, every word of which is true.
Seven Days' Fast - I must confess to my utter shame that I was the cause of father having had to undergo a fast for seven days in 1912. I had tried to deceive him. Father was at that time in Johannesburg and I was in Phoenix. There was an exchange of letters between us. He was pained at certain reports he had received about me. He wanted an admission from me but I persisted in denying until at last I received a letter from him which was signed "Blessings from your father in Agony." I could no longer bear it. I wanted to confess but I had not the courage to approach him direct. I, therefore, enclosed the letter in a letter to Mr. Kallenbach, who was to us like a member of our family. I asked father to forgive me in the letter. I received a telegram from him: "I forgive you. Ask God to forgive you." He came immediately to Phoenix and he and I together underwent a fast for seven days and Mr. Kallenbach also joined us. I can truthfully say that there was not a trace of bitterness in me then or after over the painful incident. Father was at that time conducting a school at Phoenix and had children who were boarding and lodging there. As a result of this incident, he wrote to all the parents who had entrusted their children to him informing them of this episode and asked them to withdraw their children if they so wished. None however did so.
Another incident took place in India in the beginning of 1916 when an untruth slipped from my mouth. It seemed a trifling thing to all around us. But to father, it was a Himalayan mistake. He disclosed the fact to the inmates of the Ashram and I was to be banished from the Ashram the next day. I was to go wherever I chose to but father made some suggestions. He said I could go to Madras to a certain place where hand-spinning and hand-weaving was carried on and ask to be apprenticed there. I was, however, not to make use of father's name. In addition to this, father was also contemplating a fast but I sat all night entreating him not to do so and in the end my prayer was heeded. I left my dear mother and my brother Devadas sobbing. Father did not throw me out completely empty handed. He gave me just sufficient money for my train fare and a little extra. I wrote a letter to father from the train with tears in my eyes regretting the pain I had caused him.
I had the experience of my life during the two months I thus spent which would make another story. After that father sent me a letter of introduction to one of our close friends and I spent the rest of my seven months in Madras in happiness and none the worse for what I had undergone.
I bless those days with loving memory of my dear father whose gentleness had no bounds and yet could he be as hard as steel. I thank him for what he has given me and millions of my fellow countrymen in India and in my adopted country, South Africa, which has become the centre of world-wide attention, as a result of her suicidal racial policy. At this crucial hour of South African Indians' struggle for human rights and turmoil and strife threatening to engulf humanity with another fearful and deadly world war, may his spirit guide us all in the right path, and may the world enjoy a long spell of peace.
F. E. T. Krause
It is a trite but true saying that small things often have great repercussions, and I have been wondering whether the incidents I am about to relate may not have influenced the future life and activities of Gandhiji in South Africa, - the spark, as it were, which set ablaze the fires of self-sacrifice and devotion to the cause of his people.
It was in 1893 that I returned from Europe where I had been studying law, and started practice as an Advocate of the Old High Court of the South African Republic at Pretoria. I had taken a law degree in Holland, and had also been called to the English Bar, having been a student at the Middle Temple, London. Gandhiji had, likewise, about that time become an English barrister, and had gone to Natal, where there was a large colony of Indians - mostly descendants of the cheap Indian labourers recruited by the sugar planters of Natal...
I believe it was in 1893 when I met him in Pretoria. A brother of mine, Dr. A. E. J. Krause, was then the Attorney General of the Republic. The law at that time was that no native was allowed to be at large, especially at night, without being in possession of a pass from a white man. The police had a right to stop any native and to demand his pass and, if he could not produce one, he could be arrested, fined or imprisoned as if he had committed a criminal offence.
Gandhiji was liable to the same restrictive laws and so, to protect him, my brother granted him a Certificate of Exemption. I remember an incident which occurred when my brother had invited him one night to dinner. The natives, serving at the table, protested at being called upon to attend to an Indian, and it was only after it had been explained to them that Gandhiji was a great man, just like a native chief, that they were prepared to continue their services.
In 1896, I was appointed the State Prosecutor at Johannesburg, and since that time and until the Anglo-Boer War in 1899, I had many opportunities of meeting Gandhiji.
The impression I formed was that he resented the fact that his people should be and were placed in the same category as the uncivilized and primitive native, and that they should consequently be subject to the same restrictive laws. I believe the inference is justified that when on his first visit to the Transvaal he found that the civilized and educated Indian, by reason only of the colour of his skin, was looked upon as an inferior human being, that it was this circumstance which was the spark which fired him with that resolution to devote all his life and energy to right the wrongs of his people. Small beginnings often lead to great things.
Devotion to a cause, and self-sacrifice, are the outstanding attributes of him who is determined to right an unjust wrong done to his race or people!
Gandhi's life was one of unselfish devotion and sacrifice for the Indian people, irrespective of race, colour or creed!
I believe it was what he experienced and saw on his first visit to the Transvaal that was the determining factor of that life of devotion!
Mr. Lawrence, born in Madras on September 10, 1872, taught in missionary schools in Madras, and then went to Natal on six months' leave. There he was employed as a confidential clerk, or private secretary, of Gandhiji for six years. He lived with Gandhiji in Beach Grove, opposite the house of Harry Escombe, for several years.]
In 1895 Mr. Gandhi paid a visit to the Marianhill Monastery where he found the missionaries deep in prayer and labour in the fields true to their motto, "Orare et labore" and was amazed at their sincerity, piety and devotion and wrote a complimentary article in the Natal Advertiser, now The Daily News... praising their work of missionary zeal and devotion and ever after he became imbued with Christ's Sermon on the Mount, following and practising the sublime doctrine with the indomitable courage. He at that time used to visit the missionaries of the South African General Mission in Ash Lane off Point Rd. and at the request of the Superintendent Mr. Walter Spencer Walton and on the direction of Mr. Gandhi [I] taught Tamil to two young European lady missionaries, Misses Day and Hargreaves during the day at St. Aidan's Indian Girls School at the corner of Cross St. and Prince Edward St. which is now the Hindu Tamil Institute which was subsequently converted into flats and shops, to enable them to labouramong the Tamilians.
At the persistent request of the prominent and influential merchants Mr. Gandhi founded the Natal Indian Congress in 1894 in Dada Abdulla and Co.'s premises upstairs, next to Harvey Greenacre's Wholesale merchants in West St. in the days of Sir Benjamin Wesley Greenacre who was the Mayor of Durban...
Mr. Gandhi had his business at the corner of West and Field Streets, known as Ferguson's Corner, the owner being Mr. James Ferguson who carried on a jewellers business and was at one time a Deputy Mayor of Durban and after the anti-Indian demonstration in 1896 the office was removed to 14 Mercury Lane opposite to Natal Mercury editorial dept. and Mr. Gandhi and I used to walk to and from the house to the office, the office hours being 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with lunch break between 1.00 and 2.00. Mr. Gandhi also formed the Natal Indian Educational Association, after the founding of the Natal Indian Congress, for the purpose of training Indian youth and adults to become public speakers and future leaders and its meeting place being the same as for the meetings and public activities of the Congress in an upstairs hall adjoining Camroodeen's Passage off Grey St... In that hall the N.I.C. arranged welcome reception to Lord Roberts, which I attended, who was Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces with Lord Kitchener as second in command. As a member of the N.I. Voluntary Ambulance Corps I was present at the battle Colenso where Lieutenant Roberts, son of Lord Roberts was killed...
When the Natal Indian Congress was founded, the subscription for membership was fixed at three pounds a year or 5/- per month. Except the merchant class the other members of the Indian community were unable to meet it because of their financial circumstances and agitated against it. I took up their case and formed a Committee and put before the officials the Committee their complaint and pleaded for an amendment of the subscription clause which was altered to 5/- per year. During my office hours I translated the first two years' Annual General Reports of the Congress into Tamil and when Mr. Gandhi went to India in 1896 to espouse the cause of the Indians here he took these translations with him and submitted them to the Madras High Court translators and they complimented the translation and when Mr. Gandhi returned to Natal he was highly elated and very pleased with me. When he returned to Natal unfortunately for him two ship loads of Indians particularly of the artisan class came with him and when they reached the harbour a case of small-pox occurred and they were quarantined. After the expiration of the period of quarantine, they came inside the harbour but were not allowed to land. In the meantime the European colonists, after hearing Mr. Gandhi's campaign in India which was flashed across Natal by Reuter that Mr. Gandhi was dragging the names of the colonists in the gutter, they formed a committee of important men, such as Lieutenant Colonel Wiley, L.C. Harry Sparks and others. On hearing the arrival of two ships with the passengers they took with them a batch of kraal natives with their assegais and shields and made them dance on the wharf to frighten the life of these Indians and when Harry Escombe heard of this demonstration and the commotion he went up to the Point and pleaded with the demonstrators to disperse as the Govt. was taking the necessary steps to meet the situation. Meanwhile, Mr. F. A. Laughton of the firm of Goodrick, Laughton and Cook, a very great friend of Mr. Gandhi took a ferry boat and with the permission of the immigration authorities went up on the boat and persuaded Mr. Gandhi to land with his family, as he was taking the initiative to land them safely. When they reached the Gardener St. jetty there were a lot of young Europeans playing about in the water and recognised Mr. Gandhi with his peculiar turban with two tails hanging behind and they chased him from there through West St. with mud and rotten fish and started assaulting him. Just at that moment Mrs. R. C. Alexander, the wife of the Superintendent of Police, passed by and protected him with her open parasol and drove the crowd away, took him over to the Central Police Station next to the Medwood Gardens and handed him over to the Superintendent. He took him over to the Officers' Mess upstairs. During the course of this demonstration I was locked up in my office upstairs the windows facing West St. and cried for help and people came and freed me. Towards the evening of that day the Superintendent took Mr. Gandhi away to Mr. Parsee Rustomjee's house in Field St. I left him inside with Mr. Rustomjee. The demonstrators having heard of Mr. Gandhi's removal there they gathered there in great numbers and wanted to set the place on fire. The Superintendent was there with some of his European and Indian constables to prevent them from doing so. In the meantime the Superintendent went inside with some of his constables and got an Indian constable to divest of his uniform and made Mr. Gandhi wear it and sent him away through a side door to his place of residence. The Superintendent went out with great agitation and told the demonstrators that Mr. Gandhi was not inside, that he had looked for him everywhere, and if they didn't believe him they had better take some of them inside and look for him and if they found him they were at liberty to do with him what they liked...
[Mr. Lawrence went to India at the end of 1900 with letters of introduction to Indian leaders by Mr. Gandhi. He went to Madras and Bombay during his six months' leave, meeting leaders and speaking of the situation in South Africa.
[Before going to India, on December 8, 1900, he was engaged to Miss Josephine Gabriel; they were married on his return in June 1901. Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Rustomjee spoke at the wedding reception. She was the daughter of an old Indian colonist. Her brothers Lazarus, Brian and Bernard served in the Anglo-Boer War and the two former were members of the Natal Indian Volunteer Ambulance Corps and were noted photographers. The last brother was a barrister and a well-known criminal lawyer.]
Agnes M. Phillips
Agnes M. Phillips was the niece of the Rev. Charles Phillips, who supported the Indian cause and became a close friend of Gandhiji. She stayed with her uncle in South Africa from 1907 to 1909.]
My first recollections of Mr. Gandhi date back to 1907. At that time I was staying with my uncle, Rev. Charles Phillips, in Johannesburg. One day he said that he had invited Mr. Gandhi to lunch, that he was a vegetarian and that we must be very particular about this. As I knew practically nothing about vegetarianism at that time, I became very interested but was rather afraid of doing anything wrong. However, when Mr. Gandhi questioned me about it, luckily everything was correct. He came several times again to meals and to small gatherings at my uncle's house.
I wish I could convey my ideas about Mr. Gandhi clearly. Much to my surprise, I began to regard him as a much revered and at the same time lovable elder brother. Also, that this was no ordinary man, but a master. His simplicity and integrity were very manifest; yet they were such an integral part of him that he could not be otherwise. He made one think of the deeper things of life and religion without any apparent effort on his part. Truth and uprightness were his watchwords. His courage was beyond question. His influence was such that it was impossible to do or even to think meanly. This feeling of affection and reverence has remained with me during my life.
Later, much to my family's and my horror, he was sent to prison on account of the Indian question. When he was released, my aunt and I went to the station to welcome him. He was carried from the train shoulder-high by his compatriots, after being garlanded. I was glad to be there to offer my mite of understanding and welcome. A more tragic memory was when he was attacked and nearly killed by some misguided countryman of his. He was looked after by the family of another Christian minister, a friend of ours, Rev. Joseph J. Doke.
In 1909 I came back to England to train as a nurse at Guy's Hospital. During that year, Mrs. Polak wrote to me to say that Mr. Gandhi would shortly be in England. I went to see him at the Westminster Palace Hotel, where he had a room. He welcomed me warmly, and asked me to sit down, as he had ordered tea for me. There were innumerable people in and out to see him, but in between he found time for a little conversation with me. It was eventually arranged that I should go to him on Wednesday afternoons, during my off-duty time. He was always very busy and inundated with visitors.
One Wednesday I felt that my visit must interfere with his work, so I did not go. Next morning I had a letter from him asking why I had not done so. This astonished me very much, as I had really thought that he would not miss me in the throng and bustle. I resumed my visits...
SOUTH AFRICAN REMINISCENCES
H. S. L. Polak
It was a wonderful day, that on which I landed at Cape Town, a young man not yet of legal age, under the shadow of Table Mountain, intent upon making a fortune that would take me back to England in five years' time. The whole world of South Africa was before me. All I had to do was to conquer it, an easy enough task for a youthful dreamer. Little did I realize what South Africa was to mean for me, what of pain and sorrow and hardship, of joy and hope and idealism, it was to bring forth for me in the next thirteen years.
A year later I had begun to take my bearings and to learn something of the tragic problems of the country. Chief of these was the colour problem. I saw racial and colour prejudice enshrined around me. Pigmentation was not merely a physical defect; it was a moral and an economic crime, for which the non-white was daily punished throughout the greater part of the land, then still divided into separate administrative units, two of them, the Cape and Natal, self-governing Colonies, the remaining two, the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony, as it was then renamed, Crown Colonies under Colonial Office administration.
And I had become both a vegetarian and a journalist, in both of which capacities I acquired prolifications which later stood me in good stead, the one as the means of introduction to Mr. Gandhi, the Indian leader, who was to change the whole current of my life, the other as the principal means of my public service in South Africa during the ensuing years. It was in a Johannesburg vegetarian restaurant kept by an enthusiastic Austrian that I first saw Gandhiji. He was pointed out to me by my friend who did not know him well enough to introduce. That was reserved for a few weeks later, when I was introduced to him by an English lady then running another vegetarian restaurant, which Gandhi had encouraged and later helped, at considerable financial loss, to expand. We found one very entrancing subject of conversation which brought us close together - our common vegetarianism and the fact that I was almost the only other person that he knew that had read a certain book on nature-cure. It was a remarkable evening for me; but little did I imagine that fate was, in this way, using us for the great purpose of future history making.
Another four months had passed, with pregnant happenings. In my journalistic reading, I had constantly come across a large broadsheet, entitled Indian Opinion. It gave me much news about India, ancient and modern, but still more, it gave me detailed information about the disabilities of the Indians of the country. I found them to be substantially similar to those suffered by my own co-religionists in Eastern Europe and much the same arguments were used against the former as against the latter, by their respective opponents. My sympathies were readily aroused and my active support for the Indian cause already enlisted, when Gandhi, to whom revelation of the conflict between the claims of the simple life and the complexities of the civilization had already come, and who thought he had found the solution of the problem through the combined teaching of Ruskin and Tolstoy, invited me to throw up my work, which had already become irksome owing to the Anti-Indian policy of the paper on whose staff I was serving, and join his new Phoenix settlement of Indians and Europeans anxious to render service to the country by establishing better relations between the two communities upon a basis of mutual sympathy and understanding and the living of the simple life. The prospect of expressing my idealism in beautiful and inspiring surroundings attracted me strongly, and the New Year's Day, 1905 (just twenty years ago), found me on my way to take up the joint English editorship of Indian Opinion. My sojourn in Elysian fields was, however, of short duration. Gandhi's managing clerk had left him, and he invited me to take articles of attorneyship under him and study law, for the better service of our common cause. With much demur I accepted the call, upon the express condition that I was not to be expected to practice a profession that I strongly disliked. How time works changes in our methods and outlook!
A year later I was married to the lady who subsequently, by her many sacrifices, made it possible for me to engage so largely in public work of a peculiarly exacting character, and who, during the great days of the Passive Resistance Struggle, enabled me to assume heavy responsibility and took a large enough share of her own.
What great days there were in store for us. They were well heralded. The hateful Registration Draft Ordinance had come in 1906 as the sequel and climax of much that was hurtful to the welfare and dignity of the Transvaal Indian community. Gandhi felt, and made others feel with him, that this affront and injury was wholly unacceptable, and the community met in mass meeting at the Empire Theatre, Johannesburg to tell it to all the world and announce its resolve never to submit to Indian degradation. It was a wonderfully impressive occasion with old Mr. Abdul Gani, then Chairman of the British Indian Association presiding with dignity and courage. Business losses and ill health later caused him to withdraw from the leadership, but in those earliest days of the struggle he played a fine and inspiring part. It was a historic event, for a new moral weapon was being forged to combat injustice and prejudice. The Fates celebrated it by reducing the theatre to ashes that very night, as though the old building should never stage a less worthy scene.
Then came Gandhi's first visit to England as the head of a deputation as spokesman for his people, I playing the humble part of locum tenens at Johannesburg, with the scene of action shifted to London. Being an untried novice and as yet not known to a large part of the Indian community, I was somewhat timid of my unexpected responsibility. Fortunately, it did not last long, thanks to Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman, whose Government disallowed the Ordinance, and Gandhi soon returned to South Africa to await the next attack.
It was not long forthcoming, for the very first action of the new Transvaal Parliament (Responsible Government having been conceded to the Colony by the British Liberal Administration) was to re-enact the offending Ordinance, as Act 2 of 1907, with its implied challenge to the Imperial Government. It was obviously impossible for the latter to advise refusal of the Royal assent to the very first legislation of a Colony that had just received the privilege of self-government, and no steps were, in fact, taken to disallow the Act or the subsequent Immigration Act the penalties of which were later invoked to bring recalcitrant Asiatics to heel. It was evident that Passive Resistance could no longer be avoided, and it was accordingly launched in the middle of 1907.
The first round in the Passive Resistance Struggle was short and sharp. When the registration offices were opened in Johannesburg and Pretoria under the Asiatics Law Amendment Act, as the hated statute was formally described, the officials sat there twiddling their thumbs. They had nothing to do; there were no "clients." A complete boycott had been proclaimed and was carried out rigidly up to the last day notified for registration. It having been maliciously suggested in hostile quarters that the explanation was fear of intimidation by the volunteer pickets stationed outside the registration offices in the vicinity, the organizers undertook to withdraw the pickets from the neighborhood for a whole day, in order to give a public test of the community's feeling. I personally supervised those arrangements and subsequently vouched for the fact that, at Johannesburg, that day there was only one application made by an unfortunate servant brought to the office in a trap by his European mistress.
As scarcely an Indian or a Chinese (for both communities were affected and had united in their opposition to the Act) had applied for registration, the authorities made a virtue of a necessity, and extended the time limit. The only result was that, under cover of darkness, and in the privacy of their stores whither, with an extraordinary lack of dignity and in breach of the terms of the official notification, the Registrar of Asiatics and his myrmidons had repaired, a small group of frightened traders at Pretoria, numbering about 500, made their application for servitude, with the full complement of compulsory finger-prints, against the will of the community. Thereafter, the boycott extended to these weak-kneed brethren, whose timidity and greed might have resulted in irreparable injury to all. Fortunately, 95 per cent of the Transvaal Indian population numbering over 12,000 stood firm.
The Government not unnaturally alarmed at this display at virtual unanimity, and irritated, on the one hand by the gibes of the small but satirical pro-Indian section of the press, and, on the other urged on by the anti-Indian majority section, felt obliged to make its power known. Accordingly, stronger measures were adopted and a haphazard collection of Indian and Chinese leaders and nobodies was arrested and brought before the Pretoria-Johannesburg magistrates, charged with breach of the Act in not producing a registration certificate when duly called upon. Thus the Government fell into the trap so carefully laid for it. It could not be pretended that any of those arrested was unknown to the authorities or that he had no rights of residence in the Colony, apart from his not being in possession of a certificate of registration to which he was legally entitled and which could not have been denied him had he thought fit to make application under the Act. Thus, it was made clear from the commencement that what the Government was aiming at was not identification of the Asiatic population, in order to deal with those who had no rights of residence and were therefore liable to removal from the Transvaal; but the degradation and humiliation of the Indian community upon a pretended issue, and in order to justify the foolish theories of young and inexperienced administrators, who had been hypnotized by the perfection of Colonel Henry's finger-print system. Quite a good deal of knowledge of this subject, be it said parenthetically, was acquired during the struggle by a number of us laymen, official and non-official. Some of us were greatly fascinated by its amazing accuracy and I believe I still possess somewhere a complete set of my own impressions taken by a friendly police expert.
I can well remember the scene when, in the hostile surroundings of the Court (for the magistrate was obviously a partisan pretending to be judicial, who deemed it his duty not merely to carry out the law but also to interpret for the benefit of the accused its underlying purpose and policy), Mr. Gandhi was brought forward, having surrendered to his recognizance, and pleaded guilty to the technical charge. He disdained to raise a defence, but made a statement, for purposes of subsequent publication, of the circumstances under which Passive Resistance had been adopted. Even the aggressive magistrate was abashed by the unusual and dignified address of the accused, who concluded by demanding the highest sentence that the outraged majesty of the law required, to solace him for the severity of the sentences that, he had just heard, had been imposed upon some of his followers in Pretoria. But the Court, whilst willing enough to obey the official behest and make an example, nevertheless did not consider that a first offence merited the utmost degree of martyrdom, and passed a sentence of three months' imprisonment without hard labour, in consequence of which the Pretoria sentences were promptly reduced to decent proportions.
Evidently the police, who realized the great tension under which the Indians, who crowded the Court and its purlieus, labored, feared a demonstration that might have had ugly results, for they managed cleverly to spirit the distinguished prisoner away to jail by a cab driven from another exit. Foiled of its purpose of according a respectful farewell to its leader, the crowd marched in orderly array to the usual place of communal meeting, at the historic Johannesburg Mosque grounds, where it encouraged itself with strong speeches and stirring resolutions to remain united till the end, which meant the complete repeal of the hated Act.
It was at this stage that I first had real responsibility thrust upon me. In the natural course of events, I became the community's trusted adviser, my previous associations with Mr. Gandhi and the British Indian Association having, during the period of preparation, become so close that I had been appointed the Association's assistant secretary, it being understood that I was to replace him in the direction of the movement in the event of his imprisonment. That event having now taken place, I got busy at the task of organisation and encouragement and then began my painful education in public speaking and responsible public work. During the next three weeks, in the press and on the platform, I thundered defiance of the authorities in terms of youthful indiscretion and the community nobly backed me. I do not suppose that any serious notice of me was taken by the said authorities at that time; what was more to the point was that they had conclusive proof of the continued unanimity of the Indian and Chinese populations and their refusal to be intimated into acceptance of the Act by imprisonment or the threat of it.
What appeared to be the end soon came. One day agitated messages came over the telephone from Pretoria to the busy offices of the Association that Mr. Gandhi had been seen by an Indian cyclist taken from a train that had been stopped at a suburban station and driven with a warder to the Government Buildings. I at once got into touch with my old friend, Mr. Albert Cartwright, the Editor of the Transvaal Leader, and now the Editor of West Africa, whom I knew to be sympathetic and in close touch with the Pretoria officials. We were all most anxious lest an attempt should be made by General Smuts to bring about a misunderstanding between Mr. Gandhi and his followers by making him falsely believe in their weakness and I urged Mr. Cartwright to make it clear to all concerned that the community was as resolved as ever upon carrying on the struggle unflinchingly. He, however, reassured me, but would give me nothing explicit. On the following day, however, Mr. Gandhi and his fellow-prisoners were released and upon his arrival that night from Pretoria, a public meeting was forthwith held, at which he explained that he and certain of his colleagues had come to a provisional Agreement with General Smuts, subject to confirmation by the community. The principal terms of the Agreement were that the Act was to be repealed, the people, as they had previously publicly offered to do in its absence, were to submit themselves to voluntary, instead of compulsory, registration, and this was subsequently to be validated by statute, in order to give legal effect and protection to the certificates of registration thus issued. This offer of voluntary registration had been made before the Act had been passed, in order to demonstrate to the general public and to the officials that the Indians had nothing to conceal as to their numbers or the legitimacy of their entry into the Colony, both of which had been challenged and used as a justification for the obnoxious legislation. Hence the provisional Agreement was regarded as a victory for the passive resisters, whose bona fides were thus publicly acknowledged by the capitulation of the Government, and in spite of some opposition, the Agreement was adopted by the community.
But there are always fanatics who cling to the word rather than the spirit, and these, worked upon by a belief that there was something inherently impious in finger-prints, even though given voluntarily, as an act of faith, instead of under compulsion, as a jail-bird would do, were not to be conciliated. They threatened Mr. Gandhi with physical harm unless he withdrew his promise to lead the community in submitting voluntarily to registration, and when he proceeded to fulfill it in disregard of the threat, he was set upon in broad daylight by a small gang of Pathan ruffians, who left him for dead almost at the door of the Registration Office.
I shall not easily forget my consternation when news of this was brought to me there, I having gone by another route. I rushed to the place of assault and found that Mr. Gandhi had been taken into the business office of a friend and was there being tended, having just recovered consciousness. Blood was all about him, but, though in great pain, he managed to give us a twisted smile and reassured us that all was well. I remember, too, how those devoted friends the Rev. Joseph Doke and his wife nursed him back slowly to health, what time the facial wounds, which he would not have stitched up till he had fulfilled his promise, healed, and I recall his refusal to tender evidence against the Pathan leader who had dealt the murderous blows.
We had fondly thought that, with the acknowledged success of the registration voluntarily conducted under such tragic auspices, the Government would carry out its part of the bargain by repealing the objectionable Law. But when the Bill was published, though it validated all that had been voluntarily done, it made no mention of repeal, and Mr. Gandhi, in the name of the community, warned the Government that without this, there would be a grave breach of faith on its part, and passive resistance would be resumed. Unfortunately, he had trusted to General Smuts' personal assurance on this vital point, which had not been reduced to writing, and, fearful of his political prestige and none too scrupulous in his statesmanship, General Smuts denied the promise and was upheld by General Botha, who had relied upon his colleague. A revival of passive resistance was thus rendered inevitable, until the Act of 1907 was repealed. Such was the position in August, 1908.
In anticipation of successful outcome of the negotiations with the Transvaal Government, the Chinese community, who were likewise victims of anti-Asiatic legislation, and had made common cause with their Indian brethren, had, a little earlier, decided to commemorate the forthcoming final settlement by a pleasant entertainment, at which the Chinese Consul-General was present, when occasion was taken to present address and gifts to the most prominent among the European public workers, to whose advocacy was largely attributed the happy result that was being celebrated. It was a little difficult to recognise ourselves in the heroes whose exploits were lauded to the skies that day, and although we naturally cherished the kind things said and the presentations made, it was for the good of our souls, if not to the advantage of the two victimised communities, that our noble deeds were placed in something like their proper perspective when it was seen, soon afterwards, that the negotiations with the Government had fallen through and the whole question was reopened by a revival of Passive Resistance. Nevertheless, there have been moments of pessimism and self-depreciation when it has been some consolation to look upon the Chinese community's address, beautifully illuminated by a local Chinese artist in the hope that certain hieroglyphics in either margin may hold the key to wisdom and future success.
I do not know whether the Chinese community was less well balanced than the Indian, or whether it had been worse led and inadequately instructed in the tenets of Passive Resistance. Certain it is, however, that a great wave of passionate anger took hold of it when the grim news came that the Government had broken faith. They were divided into two bitter factions, one of which backed the Chairman of the Transvaal Chinese Association, Mr. Leong Quinn, whilst the other denounced him as a traitor to the cause by agreeing to the provisional arrangement at the time of the release of the prisoners, of whom he was one. Fierce faction fights were often with the utmost difficulty prevented, and for long it was hardly safe for Mr. Quinn to sleep two consecutive nights in the same place. At a later date, he was somewhat rehabilitated, when, among a number of others, Indian and Chinese alike, he was deported from South Africa as a passive resister, and subsequently returned with them, to resume his leadership of the Chinese community until the end of the second period of the struggle. It fell to me, at the time of these internal discords, to attend and address infuriated Chinese meetings in order to explain the situation and try to pour oil upon the troubled waters. I did not know that several of my friends had gone armed to these meetings, to protect me from possible attack, partly for my unpopular views, partly as the host of their unlucky chairman, against whom a vendetta had been proclaimed by the opposite faction. Had I been aware of this at the time, I should have been decidedly more uncomfortable than I was. It ought, however, to be recorded that the European friends were always quite safe from molestation, and often acted as a moderating influence.
That some individual members of the Indian community were out of hand, and did not hesitate to resort to personal violence was evident from the attack upon Mr. Gandhi in Johannesburg, already mentioned, and a further one upon him, in Durban, at about this time. So far, however, as the Indians were concerned, it was only in exceptional cases that there was a resort to violence, and the offenders were severely disciplined by the rest of the community. It is to the credit of the Indian population that, in spite of the intense bitterness felt by the great majority against the small number of its members that were considered to have betrayed it, by helping the authorities to impose a racial stigma upon it, the worst that happened to these was that they were virtually boycotted; whilst the violence and factional quarrels of the Chinese rendered them impotent during the greater part of the next three years, and operated as a barrier between the two communities.
When the true nature of the Government's decision was known and the anti-Asiatic legislation fully understood, it was recognised that not merely were the rank and the file of Transvaal Indians affected by it, but that it was also aimed at preventing the entry into the Colony of even Indians of high educational qualifications. It was clear to all that a racial insult was intended, in spite of protests, and it was necessary to take up the challenge. Sorabji Shapurji, a young Parsi, well connected and educated, and serving as a book-keeper in a country store, at Charlestown, just across the Natal border, whence a splendid view of the historic Majuba Hill is to be had, felt the call to come to the aid of his countrymen in the Transvaal. He defied the law and entered the Colony, fully prepared to suffer the consequences on behalf of the Motherland, whose dignity, he felt, was being dragged into the dust by the Transvaal Government. He gave due notice of his intentions to the authorities, and he was promptly arrested, tried, and imprisoned for a few weeks. Upon his release, he repeated the offence immediately, and was re-arrested. Then ensued one of those judicial comedies that brought the authorities into so much disrepute in the public eyes, by exposing their folly, tactlessness, and inefficiency.
The administration of the anti-Asiatic laws at this time was in the hands of a retired Anglo-Indian tea-planter of Irish extraction, but of little sense of humour. He held the triple office of Chief Immigration Officer, Registrar of Asiatics, and Protector of Asiatics. No one ever knew exactly what functions he performed to justify the last title. He had been appointed Immigration Officer after a ridiculous episode, in 1905, when a Japanese merchant had been refused, by his predecessor in office, an extension of his permit, issued under the old law, to reside in the Transvaal, on the ground that, as the office instructions precluded the extension of permits issued to Indians, who were British subjects, he ought not to give to alien Asiatics preferential treatment. The Transvaal Governor, whether Lord Milner or Lord Selborne I do not now remember, failed to appreciate this kind of logic at its proper worth, presumably because it was feared that it might some day lead to an international incident, and the officer was at once retired and replaced by the ex-tea-planter. Whatever the latter's virtues may have been, they included neither modesty nor clarity of thought, and he took it upon himself, without consulting the legal advisers, to draft and publish the statutory notifications under the anti-Asiatic Acts. Unfortunately for him, he had to deal with one of the acutest legal minds in the country. When Sorabji was again put upon his trial, Mr. Gandhi, who defended him, pointed out that the charge as framed, with reference to the gazetted notification, the terms of which were alleged to have been infringed, disclosed no offence in law, and the magistrate (the same that had sentenced Mr. Gandhi himself earlier and was to do so again not long afterwards) held that he had no option but to discharge the accused, to the immense merriment of the entire Indian community, who thenceforth knew exactly the quality of their "Protector" and the value of his self-importance. He thereupon set himself to the task of rectifying his blunder, and drafted and gazetted a fresh notification, but apparently once more without safeguarding himself with legal opinion as to its adequacy for the intended purpose, and the now notorious Sorabji, in his modest role of scapegoat, was again arrested and charged. Once more Mr. Gandhi appeared on his behalf, and once again he challenged the validity of the notification. The unhappy magistrate glared at the "Protector" and Registrar of Asiatics, who had come to Court quite satisfied that this time he had "bagged" his victim and deprived the Indians of an excellent advertisement. He was already prepared to celebrate his triumph in the usual way with his friend on the Bench, whose convivial habits were well known even to the unsophisticated. Then, turning to Mr. Gandhi, the magistrate mildly asked him how, in his opinion, the notification should have been worded. Always willing to assist the Court, Mr. Gandhi promptly responded with an explanation that made it abundantly clear that Sorabji should have been immediately discharged. The magistrate, however, recognised the seriousness of the position for the Government if he took such a course, and ordered an adjournment till after luncheon.
We reassembled at the appointed hour, with pleased and expectant smiles upon our faces in the anticipation of once more congratulating the accused upon his release and ourselves upon a fresh tactical defeat, of the authorities, who had, until then, displayed some sort of sportsmanship. But we had reckoned without our hosts. General Smuts and his colleagues could not afford another public laugh at their expense. The Pretoria telephone was kept busy in the interval. Officials hurriedly consulted each other. In the end, the Bench, which had hitherto been looked upon as the palladium of the weak and the humble, regardless of the dictates of political expediency, fell to official influence, and when the proceedings were resumed, the magistrate blandly announced, to the stupefaction of all in Court, including the press representatives, who had as Mr. Gandhi sat down, that morning, expected Sorabji's acquittal, that as the Court was now aware of the correct wording of the notification, he would permit the amendment of the charge. He there and then convicted and sentenced Sorabji, who quietly fulfilled his ambition to return to prison on behalf of his compatriots. Mr. Gandhi, true lawyer that he was, was scandalized by the Court's action, and vehemently protested against the gross irregularity, pointing out that it was he that had given the Court the correct wording of the notification and that the proper course was to issue a fresh notification, in proper terms, and to proceed anew thereon, but his protest fell upon the unheeding ears of the magistrate, who had already risen in order to avoid what he not unnaturally felt would be an uncomfortable scene. I recall vividly my conversation with the public prosecutor in his private room, a few minutes later. My honest indignation at this display of official unscrupulousness was voiced in terms that almost exceeded the limits of courtesy. He was shamefaced to a degree and remained silent under my vehement reproaches. Shortly afterwards, he sought and obtained a transfer to another Court, which did not have the unpleasant task of trying passive resistance cases. As we had announced a policy of suffering silently whatever penalties might be imposed, we decided not to appeal on Sorabji's behalf against his unjust conviction, though, had we done so, there is no doubt but that the conviction would have been quashed and the magistrate rebuked. It only remains to add that Sorabji remained true as steel to the end of this period of passive resistance, when he went to London to study for the Bar. Shortly after I had returned to settle in London, he took his finals, and early in 1918 he returned to South Africa, to practice there and to assume the leadership of his community that his character and qualifications entitled him to. Unhappily, he was one of the first victims of the terrible influenza scourge that swept the country, and passed away to the immense loss of the South African Indians.
H. S. L. Polak
I was in England when the negotiations between General Smuts and Mr. Gandhi had finally broken down in the late summer of 1913. I had gone home from South Africa at the summons of the late Mr. Gokhale who was resolved to have the question of the position of South African Indians raised in the House of Lords, and he paid me the compliment of inviting me to be his expert adviser. It may be remembered that the debate was raised by Lord Ampthill, and among those who intervened on the Indians' behalf were Lords Sydenham and Curzon, whilst Lord Crewe replied on behalf of the Government. So soon as Mr. Gokhale received the news of the revival of the Passive Resistance Struggle he determined, upon his forthcoming return to India, to organise the most energetic campaign on behalf of the South African Passive Resisters, and asked me to return to South Africa, study the situation there, and then proceed to India with the latest news to assist him in the organisation of the campaign. He then went to Vichy for a cure and later left for India, whilst I returned to South Africa driving there to find the Struggle already in full swing with several friends and colleagues in prison and others, including a number of ladies whose names have since become well-known in connection with the events of those days, preparing to share that imprisonment.
In the course of my duties it became necessary for me to go to Newcastle-in-Natal, to attend the trial of some of these ladies and to appear on their behalf before the local magistrate, and a few hours later it fell to my lot to attend and address a meeting of Indian strikers from the neighbouring coal mines who had concentrated upon Newcastle when the Indian workers at the mines in the north of the province went on strike in protest against the iniquitous (3 annual Poll Tax, the promise of whose repeal, given by the Union Ministers to Mr. Gokhale, was still unredeemed. It will be remembered that, with the consent of his associates, the repeal of the Poll Tax had been added by Mr. Gandhi, as a special case and a matter of honour, to the list of those particular grievances the removal of which was the object of Passive Resistance. The fact that I had addressed this meeting stood me a little later in god stead.
I returned to Durban in order to make arrangements for my approaching visit to India, and Mr. Gandhi discussed with me his plans for the organisation of the strikers in the north of Natal and informed me of his intention thereafter to march with them into the Transvaal and there to court arrest, in order by this striking demonstration of mass-suffering, to appeal to the sense of righteousness of the Union Government and the conscience of the white population of South Africa. This consultation, however, was simply for my better information, as it was realised by Mr. Gandhi that participation in that matter would inevitably bring all concerned within the reach of the law, and he agreed with Mr. Gokhale as to the desirability of my being left free to join the latter in India and work there by his side for the relief of distress in South Africa and the more rapid termination of the Struggle. Mr. Gandhi thereafter left for the North, in order to take up his task and form a concentration camp for the benefit of the Strikers who had either left or been driven away from the mine. The arrangements for feeding the refugees in this camp were left in the charge of our colleague Mr. H. Kallenbach. A few days later, Mr. Gandhi announced to me his intention of leaving immediately for the great march into the Transvaal and to continue the march until his small army of Passive Resisters were arrested and imprisoned. As I was to have a final interview with him before I left for India just before taking my passage, I telegraphed to him for an appointment. He was, however, already on the march and replied by telegram that I could meet him at a certain place in the Transvaal, but that if I went there to meet him it might happen that I should render myself liable to arrest. This telegram reached me in the middle of a committee meeting in Durban. I immediately handed it over to my colleagues who were curious to know what I should do in the light of the warning that it contained. I told them that I had no choice in the matter,as it almost appeared, as though a challenge had been thrown down to me, and a test had been offered of the sincerity of my oft repeated lamentations that whilst on my advice and encouragement, so many of my Indian fellow workers had gone to jail, I, presumably because of my European status, had been left unmolested by the authorities.
The same night I left for the Transvaal. On my arrival the following morning at Volksrust station I found, among other persons on the platform, Mr. Jooste, the Magistrate, who informed me that Mr. Gandhi had already been arrested in the neighboring magisterial division, but had been released on bail, and he earnestly advised me to go back and not to put my head into the lion's den. I deeply appreciated his friendly advice, but I pointed out that I had no alternative but to proceed, and explained that I was not taking any active part in this march but was merely obtaining certain information from Mr. Gandhi prior to sailing for India. We shook hands very cordially.
The conductor of the train was an old friend, who knew Mr. Gandhi very well, and he told me that if, instead of going on to the place which had been appointed by Mr. Gandhi, I got out at an earlier halt and walked a mile or so across country, I should probably meet the invading army, with Mr. Gandhi at its head, some hours earlier. I accepted the suggestion and thereby, though not at the moment realizing it, I altered all my plans.
At the indicated halt I left the train, carrying with me a sleeping bag with a few personal effects. After crossing a few fields, I reached the main road and there learnt that the marchers had not yet arrived. Half an hour later a cloud of dust in the distance heralded their approach, and as it came nearer I could distinguish a bent and labouring figure, carrying a staff, at the head of the long and straggling column. It was with difficulty that I realised that this was no other than Mr. Gandhi himself. He had been living for weeks on one meal a day and he showed the physical marks of this combined with the arduous labours of organisation, the heavy anxiety of the responsibilities that he had undertaken in leading his army to victory, and the fatigue and weariness of a long march on a dusty and hot road. But he grimly and resolutely held on his way, intent only upon sacrifice and suffering.
We greeted each other affectionately and at once resumed the march. My intention had been to spend a couple of hours in conversation and then to take the mail train from the next station back to Natal. Man proposes, but God disposes! We had hardly conversed for more than half an hour, as we trudged slowly along side by side, when there appeared driving rapidly towards us, a Cape cart from which there descended Mr. M. Chamney, the Principal Immigration Officer of the Transvaal, and a couple of police constables. We at once guessed that a further arrest was in store for Mr. Gandhi, who turned to me and said that if he were arrested he left the care of those leaderless people in my hands, a charge that I at once accepted. Our anticipations were speedily realised. Mr. Gandhi was arrested, placed in the Cape cart, and rapidly driven away.
I at once assumed the responsibility of taking the marchers to their camping ground arranged for them that night, expecting to hand them over, as had been arranged, to the chairman of the Transvaal British Indian Association, that brave and honoured Passive Resister Ahmed Mohammed Cachalia. Unfortunately he and his host, Mr. A. M. Bhyat, had missed the road, so we did not meet, and there was nothing for it but to camp out that night in the open just beyond the station of Greylingstad, from which I had expected to take the train back to Natal en route for India. We had been shepherded during the latter part of the afternoon by a couple of mounted police in the distance, but they had not molested us in any way.
I shall not readily forget that night! Our small campfires gradually flickered out as we lay down to rest and sleep after a very frugal meal that had been cooked in the early morning. The clouds rolled up heavily and a thunderstorm played in the distance. A light rain fell at intervals during the night and a cool wind blew in gusts, increasing the general discomfort. I had not slept in the open for years, and the blanket that I carried with me was little protection against the roughness and inequalities of the ground upon which we lay. On either side of me was a poor wretched striker in the early stages, apparently, of consumption, and they coughed continually throughout the night. It was therefore, with considerable relief that I rose with the dawn, and we struck camp after a hurried wash and without eating for we were due at the township of Balfour, where we understood arrangements had been made for the next meal. I learnt afterwards that this final march (as it turned out) was one that would have done credit to a well-drilled army since we did the distance to Balfour at the rate of three and a half miles an hour, arriving at eight o'clock in the morning. Those mine coolies were splendid fellows, full of courage and strong of purpose. We were passed on the way by Mr. Chamney alone in the Cape cart, and there was no sign of the police. At Balfour we received the hearty greetings of Mr. Cachalia and Mr. Bhyat, to whom, as arranged, I handed over charge and proceeded to enjoy a much needed bath. Before I had completed my toilet I was informed that Mr. Chamney wished to see me immediately. I at once assumed that he had a warrant for my arrest and sent telegrams of warning to my wife and friends in Durban. I was surprised, however, to find, although I offered myself for arrest, that Mr. Chamney had had no such instructions, but that he had orders to arrest the marchers and would be grateful for my co-operation in enabling him to do his duty. I told him that I would cheerfully do this, provided that I had the assurance from him that the arrested men, who were to be taken back to Natal, were to be kept in custody and to be dealt with by Law, as it was their desire to suffer imprisonment for the cause that they held dear, and also because I feared that, if they were taken back across the Natal border and there released without further proceedings, they would at once endeavour to recross the border into the Transvaal, where, according to the threats I had heard expressed when I was at Volksrust by the white townsfolk, there was a grave risk of bloodshed if the local farmers took the law into their own hands. Mr. Chamney gave me this assurance and, after foodstuffs had been distributed to the marchers and they had had their meal, it was arranged that they should be gathered together and they should then be summoned to produce their authority to enter and remain in the Transvaal, and upon their failing to produce it they would be arrested as prohibited immigrants and, upon arrest, would be removed to the trains that were already awaiting them. The marchers, however, had got it firmly fixed into their heads that they were going to Johannesburg and from there to Tolstoy Farm, and they were unwilling to be diverted from that intention.
Fearing some such misunderstanding, and having learnt that Mr. Gandhi was shortly passing through Balfour by train under arrest on his way from the Standerton Court where he had been convicted and sentenced, and was being taken to Natal where another charge awaited him, I suggested to Mr. Chamney that it would be very useful if, as I was hardly known personally to any of the marchers I was able to assure them that I had Mr. Gandhi's express authority for urging them to submit peacefully to arrest and return to Natal, there to await their trial. I had a brief conversation with Mr. Gandhi, who was in the train in charge of a policeman, obtained the authority that I had sought and then returned to the awaiting army. Immediately upon the proclamation by Mr. Chamney of their being prohibited immigrants and the announcement of their arrest as such, a few of the more headstrong shouted to the rest that they should start off at once for Johannesburg. Mr. Cachalia and I saw at once how dangerous it would be if once these two thousand people started on their way. The thirty policemen present were unarmed and would have been powerless to cope with such numbers, whilst the marchers, having once got out of hand, would get scattered over the country with grievous danger to their safety and even to their lives. We rushed at the head of the column and, fortunately, I was able to use as my interpreter a man who had been one of the leaders among the strikers that I had addressed at Newcastle some days before. He added his persuasions to ours and the magic of Mr. Gandhi's name working wonders, the little army eventually calmed down sufficiently to listen to reason. With a wisdom born of experience the local Chief Constable, who was present in charge of the police operations, suggested that I should pass through the crowd and persuade them, as I did so, to follow me to the trains which ultimately they were induced to enter with great good humour.
Mr. Chamney took the opportunity of thanking me personally for the assistance that I had rendered to him, and which he volunteered to communicate to the Government. I told him that I was not very much interested in this, but thought that it might be advisable, in the interests of the strikers themselves, if I were to accompany them across the Natal border. At the Transvaal border town of Volksrust I received the news that my colleague, Mr. Kallenbach, had already been arrested, but as he had been engaged in organizing the concentration camp for the strikers and their families at an earlier stage, this did not altogether surprise me. We reached Charlestown just before midnight, and there I found an armed guard on the platform to prevent any of the strikers from leaving the trains. I also found my friend, Mr. Jooste, the Magistrate. I learnt then that there was a warrant issued for my own arrest and I was urgently implored by a friend not to wait for its being served upon me but to proceed upon my journey. I replied that since I knew of its issue, I must take my chances. If it were not served upon me before the arrival of the mail train by which I had originally intended to travel I should consider myself free to fulfill my programme as already laid down. A few minutes after the warrant of arrest was served upon me by my friend the Chief Constable, with many apologies, and I was escorted in custody back across the border to Volksrust, the merry party consisting, among others, of the Magistrate, the Public Prosecutor and the Chief Constable. Upon arrival at the station, we bade each other a cheery god-night, and I slept that night, much more comfortably upon the bare floor of the police station, and was conducted the following morning to the local gaol there to await my trial.
The rest is history. As is known, the brave Passive Resisters went back to their mines, which were converted for the purpose of their imprisonment into goals, by proclamation, whilst I spent a quiet five weeks enjoying His Majesty's hospitality on a somewhat meagre diet and although we were all released before the Congress met at Karachi, it was too late for me to keep my appointment with Mr. Gokhale in India.
H. S. L. Polak
There may be more than one opinion as to Gandhiji's profundity as a teacher, his insight as a leader, his wisdom as a guide. There can hardly be two opinions as to his merits and qualities as a man, and it is as a man that he would, I imagine, prefer to be judged. Indeed, it is to his human weaknesses and demerits that he always points when he explains to his audience how and why it is that he fails to reach the goal that he has set himself to, how and why he has failed to satisfy their hopes and his own aspirations. He is Mahatma because small, weak, humble as he is, it is instinctively recognised that here we have the type and example of the man striving with all his might to reach the heart of the Divinity within him. Again and again, he implores us and his Creator, to take him with all his limitations (which he eagerly exposes to our gaze), and yet to measure him by the heights that he would attain with every effort of his sleeping and waking hours. It is thus that we come to realise the majesty of manhood, and because he insists that he is a mere man striving to be perfect even as our Father in Heaven is perfect that we have agreed to call him a great soul. Can any higher tribute be paid by us to one in the flesh? He forces us to understand clearly, what we but dimly perceived before, that Man is a Spirit, and that, in addressing the best in us, it is Spirit calling to Spirit. I doubt if any can make a higher practical contribution to life than this.
It was my own high fortune and privilege to be closely associated with Gandhiji when the Mahatmaship was less insisted upon, and its glamour did not partly hide him from us, when he was allowed to be among us as a man among men; and then it was that we, who were close to him, could see him as he really is - tender, affectionate, humorous, generous, always eager to serve, never hasty to condemn. Did you feel like shirking? Who readier to do the work than Gandhi? Who made you more ashamed than he by his very unconsciousness of your slackness?
Who more dependable in an emergency? Who readier to overlook your faults - even to ignore them? Who more eager to attribute to you high motives of which you were all too ashamedly unaware? To live with Gandhi was an education in the whole art of manhood. Courage, with him, has stood for something more than a mere physical attribute, Truth has been an urgent and immediate reality, not a vague and misty dream-figure whose proper habitation lies at the bottom of a well. Another's need has been his occasion. He once said to me in mild rebuke: "Sunday is no day of rest for the sorrowful or those who suffer." And for him, Sunday was, accordingly, a day of harder work than any other.
Gandhi has proved beyond dispute the theory that the best men and the best women combine in themselves the best qualities of each other. No woman could excel him in patience or endurance, none could be more long-suffering. I leave to another pen the task of elaborating this point on the domestic side, and content myself with its application to his public life. Abuse has left him completely unmoved. The difficulty of the task has inhibited him not at all. The faithlessness of fellow-workers has merely stimulated him to greater endurance for them as well as for the others who have stood and waited upon events. Disappointment has but encouraged that invincible patience with which he has taken up the task anew, sure of his goal, certain of the rightness of his cause, with the words "one step enough for me" ever upon his lips.
The true test of leadership is not when the cause is won and the flowing tide carries it to victory; but when the leader of a cause forlorn, facing treachery and disaster, nevertheless keeps his inner eye upon the distant vision, and conveys something of that vision and his own assurance of its realization to his colleagues, associates, and followers. That is where Gandhi's true greatness as a man lies. To the young man, at the threshold of life, in the midst of struggle, all untried, Gandhi has ever been a source of inspiration and encouragement. However wearied by the incidents of the fray, however frequent the disappointments, however hurt by the failures, Gandhi never failed. He understood human weakness, human sorrow, human incapacity, human folly - and made yet one more sacrifice in order to retrieve their consequences. He has been the exemplar of high courage, of chivalry, of hope, of faith. His soul soars high above his human weakness. Strength has come to him and flowed from him because the human man has ever been in close contact with the things of the Spirit.
By perseverance in overcoming, man climbs from the shadows of the lowlands to the bright mountain-tops of the Spirit. For how many of us have Gandhi marked out the way and, alas! how many of us has not this great pioneer left far behind, conscious of our lost opportunities, staggering with fatigue at the pace that he has set, laying down our burdens for just a little rest, taking breath where he has gone serenely forward, doubtful of our capacity to endure, realizing that our hero is already acclimatized to higher altitudes than any that we can hope in this life to reach, that there rings in his ears a harmony to which we cannot attune ourselves, that for him there burns a light that is still hidden from us by the intervening distance, that he already converses with those Higher Spirits with whom we cannot yet commune!
H. S. L. Polak
I was a young journalist in Johannesburg when I first met Gandhi in 1904. He was then living the quiet life of a middle-class professional man. He was a vegetarian, a student of nature cure, and a lecturer as well, of course, as a legal practitioner and his compatriots' political adviser. I soon learnt that his non-violence was derived from ancient Hindu teachings and practice. Tolstoy, whose writings on the subject had greatly attracted him, had merely emphasised an inherent trend in his character. For the next ten years our relations were most intimate. Shortly after our meeting he was much worried by the finances of his weekly paper, Indian Opinion, and he went to Durban where it was printed and published, to see what could be done about it. I gave him to read on his journey Ruskin's Unto This Last. In his Autobiography he says that he was so fascinated by the book that he decided to take immediate steps to live as a peasant and handicrafts man. He did, in fact, buy a small estate near Durban, to which he transferred the printing plant and where he organised a "simple-life" settlement of British and Indian friends, confident that, despite racial differences, they could collaborate. Later, he sent his family there, but he himself could only pay occasional visits, owing to growing political difficulties in the Transvaal.
I became the editor of the paper and was professionally articled to him. His constant admonition was moderation and objectivity. Three years later he gave up his legal activities, partly to devote himself entirely to the service of his countrymen, then in the throes of the seven years' passive resistance struggle, and partly because of his conviction that as a devotee of non-violence he should no longer earn a livelihood from a profession in which the decrees of the courts might ultimately have to be enforced by police action. His retirement was much regretted by all who knew him and had admired his high integrity.
The great struggle began in 1907, when the Botha-Smuts Government secured the enactment by the new Transvaal Legislature of the very measure which, under the Crown Colony administration, had been rejected only shortly before by the British Colonial Secretary. I do not think that either then, or later, when the Union Government continued to enforce anti-Asiatic laws, Gandhi fully understood that the essence of responsible Government was the constitutional freedom to act wrongly as well as rightly. It was not until much later that he realised that the grant of "the key of the door" had its dangers as well as its useful possibilities.
His campaign of "passive resistance", apart from his natural attraction to non-violence, was much encouraged by two events. One was the arrival, at a critical moment, of a pamphlet entitled On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, by the American pacifist Thoreau. His argument that a man must obey his own conscience even against the will of his fellow citizens, and be ready to undergo imprisonment in consequence (for, after all, it was only his body and not his spirit which was in custody), appealed strongly to Gandhi. He pressed me to publish it as a supplement to Indian Opinion. The other event was his observation, during a brief visit to England, in 1909, of the methods used by the British suffragettes, involving imprisonment, in furtherance of their cause. His keen sense of humour was often displayed, but never more appropriately than when he told my wife that he had learnt more of "passive resistance" from Mrs. Gandhi, when she disagreed with him, than from any other source.
It was in South Africa, too, that he learnt what it was to be an "untouchable", both racially (as I knew from direct experience as a member of his household), and from the practice of elementary scavenging which he undertook at his "simple life" colonies at Phoenix and Tolstoy Farm. Hence his powerful advocacy, upon his return to India, of the removal of "untouchability," which he condemned as a disgrace to Hinduism. Ever since his arrival in Natal he had seen the necessity of Hindu-Muslim unity, and among his closest colleagues, during the South African period, were Muslims as well as Hindus. Indeed, he always held office under a Muslim president. His earliest fasts, for self purification and as contrition for wrong-doing, were undertaken in the Union. I had many opportunities, during those formative years, of discussing with him these fundamental ideas as well as of appreciating the sufferings of his people. I realised even then that his advice was always welcomed by them, because they were assured of his desire for service and his capacity for personal sacrifice.
It was at his request that I first went to India in 1909 to explain to the leaders and the Government the South African Indian disabilities. Before I left he urged me to do my best to persuade them to terminate the evil indenture system. As a result of these efforts, led by G. K. Gokhale, this was done, as regards Natal, in 1911. It was not until January 1st, 1920, that, after an agitation in India under Gandhi's leadership which began in 1916, the system was ended throughout the Empire. During the last phase of the great struggle,14 when he was arrested, I shared his imprisonment, for he left to me the leadership of the ex-indentured Indians whom he had persuaded to cross the Transvaal border and court imprisonment, in order to secure the repeal of the tax to which they were annually liable as the price of the freedom. Its abolition had been promised by the spokesman of the Union Government to Gokhale, when on a visit to South Africa in 1912 - a promise which had been violated.
Gandhi's own part in the long campaign had been admired even by those opposed to his views. It had brought him into close contact with General Smuts, who had greatly appreciated his suspending activities at the time of the general strike in 1913. From the time of his first imprisonment, in 1907, when the General had sent him some books to read, until his departure from South Africa, in 1914, after the signing of the historic Gandhi-Smuts Agreement which had brought the campaign to an end, the personal relations of the two men, so different in their outlook and methods, remained friendly. It was, therefore, not without meaning that, when he left the Union, his parting gift to his old opponent was a pair of hand-made sandals, or that, after Gandhi's tragic death, the great South African described him as "a prince among men."
Of the deepest religious convictions, Gandhi held his prayer meetings even in those days with the singing of Hindu, Muslim and Christian hymns and devotional readings from the world's Scriptures. I often questioned him, having regard to his insistence upon non-violence at all times whatever the provocation, about Lord Krishna's adjuration, in the Bhagavad Gita (his own favourite Scripture), to his soldier-pupil, Prince Arjuna, to fight. Gandhi's reply was that he regarded the story as a poetic description of the eternal conflict within man between good and evil. I was never quite convinced by this explanation. Indeed having organised an Indian Ambulance Corps (which he led as sergeant-major) in the Boer War, and a stretcher-bearer unit in the Zulu Rebellion of 1906, because he insisted with his countrymen that claims to the rights of citizenship were insufficient without acceptance of the corresponding responsibilities, he not only did so again, with his compatriots in England, at the outbreak of the first Great War, but, on his return to India, he even took part in a recruiting campaign for fighting soldiers among his followers, on the ground that many of them were refraining from joining up not from an honest belief in non-violence but from cowardice, and he argued that death whilst fighting with courage was far better than refraining from its risks through fear.
He was never merely quiescent or negative, but always dynamic and energetic. His non-violence he translated as utter belief in the power of the spirit and in Truth-force, or Satyagraha, as he called it. Nor was his simplicity of life due so much to an aesthetic preference as to a mystical strain combined with an urge to relate himself intimately to the sorrows, the needs and the way of life of the humblest peasant. A loyal friend and a loving brother, never once did I hear from him a personal attack even upon his most aggressive opponents, to whom he would always attribute the better motive rather than the worse. On one occasion, shortly after his return to India, I told him that people were describing him as a saint lost in politics. "No," was his instant reply, "I am a politician trying my best to become a saint - and only too often failing in the attempt."
My last important contact with him was in 1937, when I asked him what was his personal definition of the slogan Hind Swaraj, which he had invented many years earlier, and to which different interpretations were being given by his Congress followers. He gave me authority to publish a letter in which he defined the phrase as meaning Dominion Status under the Statute of Westminster, which gave the right - whether exercised or not - of separation from the Commonwealth. He regarded that as equivalent to "complete independence."
SOME SOUTH AFRICAN REMINISCENCES
H. S. L. Polak
Not long before I first met Gandhiji, in Johannesburg, in 1904, I had joined the editorial staff of the Transvaal Critic. Until then I had no knowledge of the existence in South Africa of an important Indian community. I had come to learn of it from reading, among the exchange papers that came to me, Indian Opinion (then published in English, Gujarati, Hindi and Tamil) which I later came to know, Gandhiji had financed and which was largely under his control, though he never edited it. From it I gathered some valuable information concerning Indian culture, history, and political affairs. Moreover, I discovered mainly from this interesting source that there was a local Indian problem, and that the Indian community was complaining loudly of the many disabilities imposed upon it. Its leader and spokesman was Gandhiji, who had just come prominently before the Johannesburg public once more because of his outspoken criticism, in a newspaper controversy with the Medical Officer of Health, of the Johannesburg Municipality for its serious neglect of the Indian Location of the city, where the Indians were segregated, resulting in a bad outbreak of plague. This he had ascribed to the denial to his countrymen of the municipal vote, despite their payment of rates and taxes in common with the white population. I thought that he had the better of the argument, and as a faithful journalist, I wanted to see him and to find out more of the Indian community and its needs.
My desire was increased when he was pointed out to me one day by a friend as we entered a vegetarian restaurant shortly after my conversion to a non-flesh diet by the great Russian, Tolstoy. He was a pleasant-looking man, sitting alone. Apart from his black lawyer's turban and his rather dark complexion, there was nothing specially to mark him out. I could not guess that I was then gazing at the man who was to become the best-known Oriental of his time.
A few days later, I mentioned my desire to meet this interesting personality to the proprietress of another vegetarian restaurant which I frequented. It was my lucky day. She responded immediately. "That's easy," she said; "come to my `at home' tomorrow night. He always comes, and I will introduce you to him." So we met, and the meeting changed the current of both our lives. I did not then know, as I came to know later when I had become closely associated with him, that, being himself an ardent vegetarian, Gandhiji had largely helped to finance these two restaurant-keepers, and when subsequently they failed in business, he lost heavily thereby.
Strangely enough, my real card of introduction to him was not that of a journalist, but because I was almost the only other person he had met who had read a book on the subject of nature-cure of disease by one Adolf Just, entitled Return to Nature. Upon learning this, he welcomed me with open arms, and we had a long talk on this and cognate subjects. He was interested in my vegetarianism and was delighted to learn that, like himself, I was an ardent admirer of Tolstoy. "I have a shelf full of his books at my office. Come and look at them," he said. I took the opportunity of his cordial invitation to ask for an early appointment, in order to learn from him more of the Indian question and of India, and to make a certain suggestion that I had been turning over in my mind for some time.
Gandhiji was then practising as an attorney (solicitor) of the Transvaal High Court. Though a barrister of the Inner Temple, he had chosen a branch of legal practice which brought him into direct contact with the lay client. I had already heard that he was held in high esteem by his fellow-lawyers and with respect by the Courts before whom he practised. Later I came to know that he would never sue a client for his unpaid fees or take a case involving appearing in Court without first warning the client that he reserved the right to return the "brief" if he should find that the client had been deceiving him. He held strongly that, as an officer of the Court, which had confidence in him, he could be no willing party to deception. I have, on such an occasion, seen him throw down his "brief" and walk out of Court, with due apology to the presiding officer. And, if a matter in dispute could be properly compromised, he would always urge this upon his client, rather than that heavy legal expenses should be unnecessarily incurred by taking the matter to Court. That, indeed, was how he settled the dispute which first took him to South Africa. It will be recalled that, later, when he decided to withdraw from practice and become a "farmer", he did so partly because he wanted to devote himself entirely to his public activities, of which the "simple life" was one; and partly because he wished to be logically faithful to his belief in non- violence, by refusing any longer to earn his living from a profession in which resort was ultimately had, through the use of the police, to force for giving effect to the decrees of the Courts.
At the time of our first meeting, as his family was still in India, he was living in a modest room behind his chambers in Rissik Street. A little later, and when he had settled down with the family as a small householder, he offered me its use, which helped to bring me into closer contact with him.
The day of our appointment arrived, and he received me in his office. As I sat down, I drew a mental picture of my host's surroundings, a picture which presently became so familiar to me that it remains unblurred to this day. Above his desk I noticed a large and beautiful picture of Jesus Christ. This at once indicated to me where some, at least, of his sympathies lay. Though I knew already that he was a Hindu, I at once realised that he was very tolerant in his religious approach. On the political side of his interests, another wall held large portraits of Dadabhai Naoroji, Ranade, and Gokhale - his political guru. If my memory does not deceive me, there was also a fine portrait of Tolstoy. In a small bookcase beside his chair were a number of volumes very familiar to me, but also some as yet unknown. There were the Bible, Arnold's Song Celestial (the Bhagavadgita), and an array of Tolstoy's works, many on non-violence. I also noticed a copy of India: What Can It Teach Us?, by Professor Max Muller, which I quickly borrowed.
Gandhiji welcomed me pleasantly and with what I presently came to recognise as traditional Indian courtesy. His manner at first was quiet and restrained. As he told me something of the background of the South African Indian question, however, he warmed up. His voice took on a more serious tone when he described some of the hardships and disabilities under which his countrymen lived in this land of their exile. He told me how by their labour, originating in the evil indentured labour emigration system, and by their varied enterprise during nearly half a century, they had helped actively in the country's development and had saved Natal from economic ruin. I may here mention that he felt the tragedy of indentured labour so strongly that when, five years later, he asked the Transvaal Indian community to send me to India to make representations to the Indian Government and people on their behalf, he urged me to do everything possible to get the system brought to an end, at least as regards South Africa. I took his advice very deeply to heart, with the result that, because of Mr. Gokhale's activity on the subject upon the information that I had given to him, Lord Minto's Government did refuse to permit further indentured emigration to Natal in 1910. And I was one of the small band of workers under Gandhiji's leadership, of whom Dinabandhu Andrews was another, who helped Lord Hardinge's Government to end the system altogether ten years later.
Gandhiji, in those early days, had a curious hesitation in rapid speech, which took the form of a slightly sibilant in drawing of the breath, as he sought for the right expression. Later, when I had come to know him well enough to do so, I drew his attention to this, and I suggested that it would be useful to correct it in public speech so as not to distract attention from his argument. He promptly took the matter in hand, and the peculiarity soon disappeared.
Throughout our conversation, I never heard him utter one angry word or make an attack upon any individual, though several anti-Indian personalities were mentioned between us. I soon learnt that he had no animus against individuals and that, though he could be indignant at injurious action or policy, he was always objective and impersonal in his exposition of its background. To him the Indian question was a human problem, like so many others, and I heard no hint in his tone or language, either then or later, of any bitterness at the many affronts that had been put upon himself because of his race and colour. His philosophic self-control aroused great admiration and respect among the few Europeans who knew him well as a man. It was never difficult to get close to him, for he was of a simple, friendly, and informal nature. But his mind worked with a political astuteness and a metaphysical subtlety which often baffled even his closest associates.
I had already told him that, even before going to South Africa, I had been attracted to Indian culture and philosophy by some books that I had bought at a second-hand book-shop in London. I mentioned some of them that I had brought with me overseas - Dutt's summaries of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana and Arnold's Light of Asia among them - and he had been delighted to hear this. He now showed me many more works along the same lines of thought.
I informed him that I had lately become deeply interested in Indian political problems, both in the Motherland and in South Africa, as I had strongly differed from my own paper's policy on the Indian question, and that I had taken up the matter with my editor who, after listening to my objections, had generously informed me that I need not write in support of the paper's policy on racial and colour questions. Gandhiji beamed as I told him this, and congratulated me warmly upon my independent stand. I also told him that I had agreed with his side of the published correspondence with the Medical Officer of Health on the causes of the spread of the plague outbreak. He then told me many details which had not appeared in the press; but never a word did he utter of the great risks which he had personally taken in nursing plague-patients - of which I learnt indirectly only later - though he had much to say of the self-sacrificing service of others of his countrymen.
Having by now reached the stage of mutual understanding, I felt the time had come to offer him my services as a writer for Indian Opinion, though at the time I had no intention of giving up my regular job on the Critic. He said that, if I were willing to do so without remuneration, which his paper could not afford, my contributions would be very welcome. As no thought of payment had entered my mind, I told him that I should be proud to do something to help to make the South African Indian question better understood among my own countrymen, both there and in England, with which I had professional contacts, as well as through the recognised organ of the Indian community. So began an editorial association with the paper which lasted till I left South Africa twelve years later.
I recall one interesting early experience of journalistic collaboration with Gandhiji, which has its amusing side. About this time, Paul Kruger, the ex-President of the South African Republic, had died in exile in Europe. He had been Hitler's prototype in describing black men as no better than intelligent apes, who should have no equality with the whites. Now his mortal remains had been brought back to South Africa, to be buried at Pretoria. To me was assigned the task of reporting the funeral proceedings for Indian Opinion. Having noted in the paper many printer's errors, I made an urgent request to Gandhiji that he would personally revise the "proof" of my article before publication, which he promised to do. In those days I was rather proud of my "style". My description of the ceremony opened thus: "He is dead and is buried." I thought that this looked impressive. Imagine, then, my horror when, on receipt of the issue containing the article, this is what I read: "He is dead and is burned." I wrote to him at once to complain that he had not carried out his promise. I pointed out further that, if any orthodox Boer were to read that his dead hero had been consigned to perdition, it would arouse strong indignation and resentment, which would do the Indian community no good. I do not suppose that any Boer did read the article; but I received from Gandhiji a prompt and very humble apology. He explained that he had in fact faithfully carried out his promise, that he had read every line and word of the "proof", and that, when he came to the word "burned", it had seemed quite natural to him, a Hindu, whose dead were habitually cremated!
As in his professional work, which I shortly came to know intimately as his articled clerk, so in all that applied to public affairs Gandhiji always maintained a high standard of responsibility. He was always exact in his facts, and he would never magnify his case for the sake of argument. He had noted a too emphatic tone in some of my editorials. I had commented vigorously and somewhat acidly upon certain happenings specially relating to the Indian community or involving racial relations. He suggested to me, on one such occasion when he thought that I had been unnecessarily aggressive and flamboyant, that it would be much better for me, as a matter of professional self-discipline, and would have more desirable results for the cause that we were both seeking to serve, if I were to model my style rather upon the moderation and objectiveness of the London Times than upon the more picturesque if less accurate ways of the "cheaper" press. I tried thereafter to follow his excellent advice.
In those days, too, he had not gained that remarkable command of vivid, terse English which he showed in later years. Often he wrote hurriedly, in the midst of interruptions, and then his articles, for which I had asked him occasionally on some matter of special complexity or involving some particular legal technicality requiring careful analysis, came to me in somewhat unliterary language. I remember telling him once, with mock editorial gravity, that I could not send his "copy" to the printer unless he rewrote it, which he did with due humility - and with an amused twinkle in his eye. He had a great sense of humour!
I always found Gandhiji insistent that one should act according to his conviction, whether spiritual or political. "Keep your standards right," he wrote me during my first visit to India, in 1909-10, on behalf of the Indian community. "Everything else will follow, sooner or later." An illustration of his ready regard for another's independence of judgement occurred shortly after I had joined his office, at his own early request. There had appeared in a well-known English magazine an article by a South African journalist in which, unintentionally as I afterwards learnt, he had made several serious misstatements regarding the Indian situation in the Transvaal. I felt that unless these were at once and authoritatively corrected, they would give rise to much misunderstanding in England, which was then still responsible, under the Crown Colony administration, for Transvaal affairs, and the Indian cause would thereby greatly suffer. I urged this vigorously upon Gandhiji, but he seemed unimpressed by my argument. Deeply disappointed, I spent the rest of the day in stony silence, which he noted quietly. Then he sent for me and asked me what was the matter. I told him somewhat curtly, and added that, of course, this was primarily his cause and he must be the judge of what should be done. He gently suggested that, if I felt so strongly about the matter, I should myself send an article in reply. I did so, and to my great satisfaction it was published in London immediately and was later reproduced in the Indian press. It proved to be my first direct introduction to the Indian public, and shortly afterwards I received an urgent invitation to contribute a further article on the subject to a well-known Indian magazine.
It was about this time that Gandhiji amazed me by informing me one day that he had come to the conclusion that Indian Opinion should no longer depend upon advertisements for its support. It seemed to me the death-knell of the paper, and I asked him whether that meant that he intended to close it down. "By no means," was his reply. "Let us try to get a substantial increase in the number of subscribers, to make up for what we shall lose by dropping the advertisements." "But", I said, "how are we to do this?" "Well", he replied, "you can yourself travel around the country and get to know the Indian people better. You can bring the paper to the notice of many who are not already subscribers, and if you can convince them that they ought to be, they will certainly persuade others to subscribe. Explain that this is a non-profit venture for the community's service, and that all the workers responsible for it are performing a labour of love. In this way, too, you will yourself become better known and better able to understand the people's problems and living conditions." This was, indeed, the fact. I set out on a most interesting series of journeys, in which I made many friends; which brought me into direct contact with individual Indians whose hospitality I shared, thus enabling me the better to understand the Indian way of life (Hindu, Muslim, Parsi, and Christian); and which gained for the paper a considerable number of new and enthusiastic subscribers at what proved a critical period of the community's history.
Not long before this, a deep and fundamental change in Gandhiji's own mentality had occurred. It had been developing quietly for some time, but it had not yet crystallized. This seemed to occur by some mysterious chance and in a moment of time. But there was more than mere chance to it. Gandhiji refers to it in his own writings of the South African days. The financial position of the paper, under its then ownership, was causing him much concern. He had contributed generously to its establishment and maintenance. But it was not so much the fear of heavy pecuniary loss that troubled him as the prospect of the disappearance of the community's organ of expression, with the consequent loss of public service which this would entail. At last the crisis came, involving a hurried journey to Durban. As a result, and in order to save the concern, he decided to take over the complete financial responsibility and general control, thus, with wise foresight, preventing a serious setback for the Indian community.
On the night of his departure for Durban, I saw him off at the Johannesburg station. He was seated in the "reserved" compartment in which coloured persons were required to travel. The "coolie lawyer" (by which foolish epithet he was commonly known) was a well-known passenger, as he went about the country on professional or public business, and he generally had the compartment (a first-class one, in those days) to himself. Full of my social and economic enthusiasms, in which he had been much interested but with which he had not always agreed, I handed him a book that I had just finished, and which I felt sure he would much enjoy. Little did I realise how far-reaching would be the consequences! The book was John Ruskin's Unto This Last. Gandhiji always regarded the perusal of this book as one of the great turning points of his life. He describes how he was so fascinated by the book that he could not put it down all night until he had finished it, and he declares that, upon his arrival at Durban, it had changed his outlook for ever. He determined immediately to adopt and to advocate the "simple life", with all its attendant consequences.
He bought a small estate of some 100 acres about twelve miles north of Durban, to which he transferred the printing press. It was there that the historic Phoenix settlement (significant name!) was established, in the midst of sugarcane and timber plantations. The colony consisted of Indians and Englishmen, able to rise above racial differences, and willing to live the simplest life, as advocated by Tolstoy and Ruskin, away from urban surroundings and industrial influences, and receiving only a trifling monthly stipend for their barest needs. They were to help to build their own and each other's tiny cottages and to cultivate with their own hands the two-acre plots allotted to each settler and from which they hoped to grow the crops suited for a vegetarian dietary. In addition, they were to undertake, without pecuniary reward, the production of the weekly newspaper.
It was here that Gandhiji later brought his family to live, after giving up his small middle-class home in Johannesburg. Here, too, began those inter-religious exercises which later became so famous. On Sunday the settlers would meet at the Gandhi house, when he was with them, and would sing with him not only Hindu and Muslim chants, but also Christian hymns, of which the favourite was "One Step Enough for Me". It was here, too, that Gandhiji came to appreciate the meaning and the peculiarities of machine-industry at first hand. The printing press, where the type-setting was done by hand, was run by a decrepit oil-engine which frequently broke down. When this occurred, the settlers had to resort to hand-power to turn out the paper in time for the usual dispatch mails, often until the middle of the night. More than once, when this happened during one of his occasional visits - he could not permanently reside there, as his public and professional work in the Transvaal then occupied almost all his energies - I can recall Gandhiji literally putting his shoulder to the wheel as energetically as any of us.
In our "bachelor" days, before the return to South Africa of the Gandhi family, Gandhiji and I used to lunch regularly at one of the vegetarian restaurants. I had decided to undertake a three days' fast, partly as an exercise of will-power and partly as a health-cure. I used, however, to visit the restaurant as usual and sit with our small party, consisting of Gandhiji, a Jewish Theosophist, and a third, who prided himself upon being a rationalist and an agnostic and was a man of the highest integrity. They tried unsuccessfully to persuade me to give up my fast, lest it should do me harm. This was some years before Gandhiji himself took his own first long fast, for self-purification, in South Africa. Our meals on these occasions consisted mainly of fresh salads and other uncooked foods. The salads usually contained plenty of onions. Someone suggested that the four of us should form ourselves into the "Amalgamated Society of Onion-eaters", and Gandhiji fell in with the idea with much amusement. He was the President and I the Treasurer. There was never any "treasure" - unless, in the light of recent British war experience, onions can be so described! I may add here that, when my Theosophical friend tried to persuade me to join the Johannesburg Lodge of the Society, and I showed signs of hesitancy, Gandhiji added his own earnest persuasions. Though an occasional lecturer to the Lodge on Indian religion and philosophy, Gandhiji was not himself a member of the Society, though, as a Bar student in London, he had become an associate member of the Blavatsky Lodge, during H. P. B.'s lifetime and shortly after Dr. Annie Besant had joined the Society. In his Autobiography, he recalls that it was two Theosophical brothers who first truly interested him in the Bhagavadgita. It was they who probably introduced him to Sir Edwin Arnold, who translated that immortal work in his verse rendering, The Song Celestial. Arnold subsequently became an officer of a branch of the London Vegetarian Society, of which Gandhiji was secretary. "Rooming" at the same boarding-house in London then was Dr. Josiah Oldfield, the veteran "fruitarian", who told me recently that Gandhiji helped to design the badge of the Vegetarian Society, and it was his own badge that Gandhiji gave me, when I joined his household in Johannesburg.
Gandhiji's prompt and self-sacrificing action in saving Indian Opinion from extinction was soon to be amply justified. Within eighteen months of the plague outbreak, which had resulted in the scattering of a large part of the Johannesburg Indian population throughout the Transvaal and had raised the suspicion in the country areas that widespread illicit Indian immigration had occurred, the aggravated political situation came to a head. The paper played a very great part in keeping the community together during the Passive Resistance Struggle, which was about to commence. The leading figures on either side, for nearly eight years, were Gandhiji and General (now Field Marshal) Jan Christian Smuts. And it was from the paper that the chief events of the long struggle, the sacrifice of its Indian participants, men and women alike, and the personality and philosophy of life of its indomitable leader became known to India and to the world at large. As Mr. Gokhale later declared, Gandhiji had shown that he had the supreme gift of making heroes out of common clay.
I well recall his impassioned appeal, at a public meeting of his countrymen, in 1906, in a Johannesburg theatre, which was burnt out the same night by an accidental fire (some may think that a good angel had decided that the building should not be put thereafter to a less honourable use!), in which he successfully urged them to take an oath to resist by all non-violent means the new anti-Asiatic law that had just been passed if all representations for its disallowance failed. I remember, too, the scene, some months later, when he was first charged with deliberate breach of the law, and he explained courteously to the Court, after pleading guilty to the charge, that he had felt it his duty to do so in the interests of his South African countrymen and for the honour of his Motherland.
I recall, again, how, after his conviction, and upon his return to Johannesburg some time later, upon being transferred to the local jail, several of us awaited his arrival at Park Station. Among the many watchers were a number of Madrasi hawkers. There descended briskly from the train, attended by a prison-warder in uniform, this small, slim, dark-complexioned man, with calm eyes and a serene countenance. He was clad in the garb of a Native convict - small military cap (the already forgotten original of the famous "Gandhi cap") which did not protect from the sun, loose coarse jacket, bearing a numbered ticket and marked with the broad-arrow, short trousers - one leg dark, the other light - similarly marked, thick grey woolen socks, and leather sandals. He was respectfully saluted by us all, as he turned quickly to the warder for instructions. He was carrying a white canvas bag, which held his clothing and other effects found upon him when he was received by the jail authorities, and also a small basket containing books. A brief consultation took place between the two. The warder appeared to realise the incongruity of the situation, for he bore himself towards the prisoner with every reasonable mark of respect. For this was evidently a person of some importance, to whom a certain degree of deference must be shown. The subject of conversation was whether the prisoner preferred to go by cab or to walk to the jail. If the former, he would have to pay for it. He, however, declined the easier way, and being a practised and easy walker he chose to march the three-quarters of a mile, in broad daylight in his convict suit. Resolutely shouldering his bag, he stepped out smartly, we shamefacedly following at a respectful distance. Later he disappeared behind the grim portals of the Johannesburg Jail, above which was carved in Dutch the motto: "Union Makes Strength". It was exactly Gandhiji's charge to his people at the time. It was his motto to the end.
I recall how, almost exactly forty years before that tragic end, he nearly fell to a murderous assault upon his life by some of his countrymen who had entirely misunderstood the spirit of compromise with which he entered into an arrangement with General Smuts to suspend the struggle and to undergo voluntary registration, upon the condition that the offending anti-Indian Act should be subsequently repealed. They awaited him as he left his office in order to be the first to offer voluntary registration, and when he refused to go back upon his undertaking, they struck him down. Being a few minutes late for my appointment with him, I just missed being personally involved in the attack, but I saw Gandhiji a little later at the home of the Rev. Joseph J. Doke (the writer of the first book dealing with his life and philosophy, entitled M.K. Gandhi: An Indian Patriot in South Africa) and arranged for the visit to him of the Registrar of Asiatics to take his application for registration, with finger-prints, before he would allow himself to be medically attended to. It may be added that he refused to give evidence against the culprits when, against his will, they were subsequently prosecuted by the Crown authorities. The evidence that convicted them was given by European eye-witnesses who had come to his rescue.
I may here add that among the books that Gandhiji had with him in jail had been some sent to him by General Smuts himself, who bore no personal animus in causing to be locked up, for the first time, his Indian opponent. On Gandhiji's retirement from South Africa six years later, he reciprocated General Smuts's courtesy by sending him, in token of the Gandhi-Smuts Agreement, through Miss Sonia Schlesin (Gandhiji's enthusiastic secretary) and myself, a pair of hand-made sandals from Tolstoy Farm, which Mr. Hermann Kallenbach, a devoted believer in his philosophy of the "simple life", had placed at the disposal of the passive resisters. Not long before the end of the struggle, both Kallenbach and I had been fellow-prisoners with Gandhiji. I have reason to believe that General Smuts, who himself lived the "simple life" in his own way on his own farm at Irene, near Pretoria, made an excellent use of the sandals, which 25 years later, he returned to Gandhiji in proof thereof.
I have already mentioned my living with Gandhiji as a member of the family, before he began his experiments in asceticism. Our relations were those of Bhai and Chhotabhai. At his persuasion, my wife later joined me there, and Gandhiji was the chief witness at our marriage. He had to assure the officiating magistrate that we were both Europeans (I had been so often taken for an Indian because of my close association with him and his community), our marriage in the Transvaal being otherwise unlawful.
I used to study Gujarati with him at this time, and I have recently come across my Gujarati notebook that I then used. After dinner each night we would read verses from the Song Celestial, which Gandhiji stated that he had always greatly admired and which not long since he admitted that he regarded as the first among the many English renderings of the Bhagavadgita. Remembering that, as an act of duty, he had donned the uniform of a British sergeant-major in the Boer War and, again, at the time of the Zulu Rebellion, I was somewhat surprised at his insistence that the Gita story must be taken metaphorically and not literally. I was the more astonished when I read Shrikrishna's constant admonition to Prince Arjuna that he should do his duty as a Kshattriya and that a man should perform his own duty only, even though with fault, rather than another's duty, though done perfectly, for the latter brought with it spiritual danger. But in these matters, partly because of my own temperamental unwillingness to resort to physical force, and partly because of his superior authority where, as a Hindu, he was the guru, and I, an Englishman and a non-Hindu, was the chela, I could not question beyond a certain point.
And yet it is known that, during the First World War, he took an active part in recruiting fighting soldiers for the Indian Army. Indeed, for the very reason that Shrirkrishna had given, I was one of those of his friends who strongly dissuaded him from joining up as such, in order to set an example to others. It was about this time that I received from him a letter in which he wrote as follows:
"What do you say to my recruiting campaign? It is for me a religious activity undertaken for the sacred doctrine of ahimsa. I have made the discovery that India has lost the power to fight - not the inclination. She must regain the power and then, if she will, deliver to a groaning world the doctrine of ahimsa. She must give abundantly out of her strength, not out of her weakness. She may never do it. That to me would mean her effacement. She would lose her individuality and would be like the other nations - a worshipper of brute-force. This recruiting work is perhaps the hardest task yet undertaken by me. I may fail to gain recruits. I shall still have given the best political education to the people."
It is difficult to believe, looking back at the events of recent years, that even Gandhiji would have included indiscriminately all the non-Indian nations engaged in the late conflict as "worshippers of brute-force"!
About 1913 he received an inquiry from India whether he would allow himself to be nominated as President of the next session of the Congress. We discussed the matter, and I told him that I thought that it would be useless his doing so, as his views were, in my opinion, much ahead of Indian opinion at the time, and misunderstanding might result, especially as he could do no more than pay a very short visit to India, in view of the South African circumstances. After consideration, he decided to decline the invitation. Another occasion when he accepted my view was with regard to the appointment by General Smuts of the Commission of Inquiry after Lord Hardinge's protest. At first he was inclined to tender evidence before the Commission, but I felt strongly that the Commission as appointed was one-sided, with two of the three members well-known anti-Indians, and there being no one to represent the Indian community. After discussion, we agreed that the Indian community should refuse to appear before the Commission unless at least one independent member, besides the chairman, was appointed. In the end and to break the stalemate, Lord Hardinge sent out Sir Benjamin Robertson who made the necessary representations to the Commission.
And, finally (for all good things come to an end at last), let me close these reminiscences of those days by recalling another historic event in both our lives. It had been agreed and clearly understood between us that, when at length the Passive Resistance Struggle should end, I should return to my own homeland, where our children could be brought up in an atmosphere free from racial and colour prejudice, in the South African sense of the term. After long negotiations, the Gandhi-Smuts Agreement of 1914 was at length signed. But it still had to be implemented. Imagine, then, my feelings when Gandhiji came to me one day with the urgent plea that I should stay in South Africa to serve the Indian community as its adviser in his place - as I had done so often during his periods of imprisonment or absences in England - since he felt the call to return to India, from which he had been absent for so long (he had not been there for twelve years), there to undertake such public work as would serve his countrymen in some of the many ways that we had discussed from time to time. One of us, he insisted, must stay to see the Agreement through, for we had already had two experiences of breach of faith in carrying out agreements with the Government. What could I do about it? We referred the matter to my wife, who told him that, in all the circumstances, though it was a terrible disappointment, she felt that I must free him for his great mission. Who can say what might have been the course of political events in India, had the decision been otherwise and he had been obliged to remain in South Africa?
Millie Graham Polak
Most women love men for such attributes as are usually considered masculine. Yet Mahatma Gandhi has been given the love of many women for his womanliness; for all those qualities that are associated with women - great faith, great fortitude, great devotion, great patience, great tenderness and great sympathy. Women could sense that in him they found a fellow-traveler, one who had passed ahead along the road they, too, were travelling, and could give him an affection deep, pure and untouched by any play of sex emotion. Women of all kinds have turned to him in perplexity and trouble, and no problem of their lives but could be discussed with absolute frankness, if they desired to do so. They could be sure that some light would be thrown upon their difficulties and the path made to look not too arduous to travel. He seemed to understand how easy it might be for a woman to do what appeared to be evil for love's sake, to sympathise with the soul-surrender which prompted the action, and yet to condemn it unflinchingly and point out that the way of love's service could not be through ministering to anything but the highest. I have known many occasions when a woman has gone to him deeply troubled because she had to acquiesce in some seriously dishonorable action of her husband. Mahatmaji has sympathized with her difficulty, never suggested that she should betray her knowledge of her husband's action, but advised her to use all her love and woman's power to get the man to amend his ways. For himself, he chose the path of the ascetic, yet I have always known him to make allowances for those who could not tread the cold austere path of denial. If comforts and objects of beauty seemed essential to the woman who discussed such a question with him, he would, had it been in his power, have given them to her; but, at the same time, he would try and persuade her to seek beauty in the things of the spirit and not to identify herself with the things of the world. Perhaps, sometimes he did not quite realise that so many women, while having great possessions, can yet stand outside of them. So often the woman herself does not realise it until she is called upon to give them up. Then she knows they have very little real meaning to her, neither are they the things that matter most.
I often see in imagination Mahatmaji, as I frequently saw him in South Africa, walking up and down a room with a young child in his arms, soothing it in the almost unconscious way a woman does, and, at the same time, discussing with the utmost clearness pressing political questions, communal strife, or abstract problems in philosophy; and children instinctively knew this side of his character; they would nestle up to him, sure of the comfort they desired. In some ways, I have thought it was easier for him to deal with the needs of young children than those of adolescence, with its warring emotions, its struggle for liberty and self-expression, and its developing mind. During that period in the life of the developing individual, he did not so easily realise the strength of the storms that can sweep reason aside, and when, as it unfortunately sometimes happened, he was deceived by the youth around him, it was because in his own great simplicity, he did not appreciate the amazing complexity of the character of youth. He saw so clearly the straight path that should be trod, that he seemed to find it somewhat difficult to deal with the dual nature that becomes apparent during those years when one passes from childhood into adulthood. When, however, the individual had taken upon himself his adult character, then again for Mahatmaji, contact and understanding were once more easy and could be complete.
Another of the many pictures of life in South Africa arises clearly in my mind. It was during the early years of life in Phoenix. Mahatmaji had at this time come to definite conclusions about sex-abstinence. He had written and spoken on the subject very decisively. I had had several discussions with him about the continuance of human life on this planet, and had, on one occasion, remarked that he must surely consider that God was wrong in having created men and women with their senses and emotions, since, were they to accept and adopt Mahatmaji's dictum, then God's expression through creation would cease; self-control, I contended, being the goal of developed humanity and not the denial of God's method of peopling the world. Very soon after this conversation, one of the members of the little settlement at Phoenix gave birth to a child. I purposely refrained from speaking of the matter when I visited Phoenix two or three days later. I thought that perhaps Mahatmaji might feel the fact displeasing. After a short time, and having talked of other things, he said in a surprised voice: "You have not asked about the mother and babe. Do you not want to see them?" He then came with me to see the baby and talked in a quiet, joyous way to the mother, and I realised in a flash that, even as a woman does, he differentiated between abstract principles and human needs and affections.
Only once have I known him fail to comprehend the deep emotions of a woman's life, and that was in not understanding the depth of absolute sorrow into which a woman, bereft of her dearly beloved by death, was plunged. Perhaps it was the one experience that he had not until then fully entered into, and he could not, therefore, realize how sick the soul of such a woman could be. Or it may have been that his belief in woman's consciousness of her touch with the All Father precluded him from knowing that women also have their periods of standing alone in an empty universe, where God has ceased to be and man is a vanishing shadow.
Millie Graham Polak
Many of us who knew Gandhiji in the days of long ago were aware that he had long had a deep interest in trying to heal a sick body - not only his own, though with that he was always experimenting, but also that of the many who were near or came to him for help. At one time he might have interested himself in orthodox medical science, though I cannot say that he had ever made any real study of it. But orthodoxy was not for him, for, like all other things in his life, he sought to get back to what was to him the fountain-head of life and health. So he sought to treat an ailment by what was known as nature-cure methods.
After reading Just's Return to Nature, in which the author had devised a special simple method of nature-cure, Gandhiji was convinced that here were to be found healing and absence of ills. It was about this time that an unhappy experience made a profound impression upon him, and deepened his suspicion of the orthodox medical schools of thought and practice.
An Indian trader had a dearly loved son, who had become seriously ill. Only an immediate operation, said the doctor in charge of the case, could cure the boy. The operation was not considered to be a serious one, but the father was filled with fear and anxiety. He consented at last to the operation, but begged Gandhiji to be with him during the ordeal, and to help the family at the time of trial. Gandhiji consented to do so. The operation was performed at the boy's home one Sunday morning. When, later that day, Gandhiji returned to us - my husband and I were then living with the Gandhi family - it was evident that he was still labouring under a severe emotional strain. We learned, upon inquiry, that the boy had died under the operation. Gandhiji seemed to feel that the boy need never have undergone it - and, in any case, that it had been incompetently performed - and that he might have recovered under other treatment. He worried about this considerably, and I think that he felt that his agreeing to be present on the occasion was tantamount to advising, and, therefore, being partially responsible for, the operation and the unhappiness of the bereaved family.
This experience certainly increased his bias towards `unorthodox' methods of healing, and engendered a strong dislike of the surgeon's knife. Several of us who were closely associated with him at the time underwent experiments with earth-poultices, cabinet steam-baths to be followed by a plunge into a tub of cold water, colonic irrigation, acid fruit cures, fasts, many different types of diet, and several other trials. Always these experiments were first carried out on himself and the members of his own family. Many cases of illness or discomfort were quite successfully treated in this manner - a poisoned finger or a severely suppurating wound having made a remarkably quick recovery when treated with a clean, fresh earth-poultice. This same type of poultice, however, when applied to the stomach of my six-weeks old baby (who, like most infants, had a slight digestive trouble) proved not only a failure, but a real danger to the poor child. The shock of the cold compress produced a rigor, and after my ministration had restored him to normal, I refused to have the method tested on him again.
The cure that seemed almost miraculous to those of us who watched it was that for which he was responsible in respect of Mrs. Gandhi. She was at the Phoenix Settlement, in Natal, and Gandhiji was at Johannesburg, in the Transvaal. After having been ailing for some time, she became very ill, and the doctor, who lived twelve miles away, had to be sent for late one night. Upon examination, he found her suffering from a bad attack of pernicious anaemia. He considered her condition so serious that he asked for her husband to be sent for at once. Upon Gandhiji's arrival, and after being closeted with Ba for some time, he told us that she had placed herself entirely in his hands for treatment, and that he was going to look after her himself. The doctor, who had been urging orthodox dietary treatment, which involved breach of the customary vegetarianism, was dispensed with, much to his indignation, and Gandhiji set to work and treat his wife. She was given frequent small quantities of acid fruit and practically no other food at first, and, contrary to the expectations of those of us who feared the consequences of such drastic treatment of a weak and desperately sick woman, the trouble was arrested. After a week or two, simple, non-stimulating food was taken, and Ba commenced to improve. In due course, a complete cure was effected.
In those days, Gandhiji accepted cow's milk as a valuable food, though already he was saying that it was not a proper food for adults. Presently, he insisted that it stimulated the lower passions of man's nature. This line of argument aroused strong opposition in me. "If that be so," I said, "then young children, who are principally fed on milk, would be nothing but horrible little brutes, and you do not certainly believe that to be the case." However, he smiled tolerantly. Neither of us believed that the other was right. Shortly afterwards he took a vow never to drink again the milk of the cow and the buffalo.
Since those days, doctors and surgeons played a bigger part in Gandhiji's life. Even his fasts had to be carefully watched by his medical advisers, and probably only such medical care enabled him to retain for so long a hold on his physical body. And, too, he later learnt to distinguish between the moral consequences of taking cow's milk and goat's milk! I expect that he must often have thought back to the past and, in a way, felt that those days, full of hope and belief and strenuous endeavour, were rich in experiences and the knowledge that grew from them.
Our dietary experiments were many and various. For some time, upon his advice, Ba and I cooked without ordinary refined sugar. Cooked fruits, puddings or cakes were sweetened with raw cane syrup. When this phase passed, we had a saltless table. Salt, Gandhiji contended, other than that contained in natural foods, was bad not only for health but for the character. But years later, he conducted the great anti-salt tax campaign in India, and he and many others endured imprisonment therefor. Tea was not to be used, nor any other stimulant. Abstention from tea was, I think, a real deprivation for him, for, until my husband had denounced it to him as a stimulant or a narcotic, he had much enjoyed his afternoon cup in his office. When in London on one of his missions on behalf of his countrymen, his tea-parties were a delight to many. He would then be his most human self, teasing, laughing, and seemingly enjoying the friendly intercourse and the tea. An imitation coffee, made from roasted and ground cereals or peanuts, was the usual evening beverage. I personally struck against some of these austerities and refused to be bound or worried by them; whereat Gandhiji, with his usual affectionate smile, would cease to argue with me, though keeping strictly to his own regime, intent on working out his own dietary theories.
When Mr. G. K. Gokhale paid his historic visit to South Africa in 1912, to investigate the Indian grievances there, my husband and I were no longer sharing a home with the Gandhi family, who were then living at Phoenix. A house had been placed at Mr. Gokhale's disposal by an Indian merchant. In all the arrangements for the distinguished visitor's comfort and convenience, Gandhiji entered minutely. When he discovered that Mr. Gokhale was suffering from diabetes, he and I used to char the bread and potatoes in hot ashes, so as to extract as much starch as possible. Mr. Gokhale never knew of these culinary efforts to preserve his health. Nothing was ever too small for Gandhiji, and the more menial the task, the greater dignity he imparted to it by his own great earnestness and simplicity.
In our talks in the South African days, I came to realise that Gandhiji believed very intensely that man's essential nature was divine, and that if it were to be allowed to develop naturally from birth, the divine in him would expand as a flower and his natural wisdom would grow and manifest direct from God. This being his profound belief, it is understandable that education, in its ordinary sense, namely, the imparting of information along scholastic lines, was of secondary importance to him. Many were the arguments that I had with him. Yet we did have a little school at the Phoenix Settlement for a short time, which the children of the settlers attended. The teaching was very rudimentary and amateurish, for the teachers were without much training or skill. Nevertheless, it was something in the right direction, and Gandhiji was interested in the work.
A question that troubled him somewhat during this period was how to convey the right kind of sex-knowledge to the children under his influence as they were reaching puberty. He realised that children growing up in a free life close to nature might misunderstand the right use of the procreative faculties and that experimenting and abuses might easily take place. At length he procured what at that time were regarded as standard works on what a boy and a girl should know and how they should be informed. The then teacher at the school was an unmarried woman, so Gandhiji did not feel that he could ask her advice on the books without embarrassing her. Being the only other Englishwoman there, and a married woman, he asked me to help him. Soon after, owing to his rapid immersion in the political struggle, the little school was closed, and nothing further was done in the matter.
MY SOUTH AFRICAN DAYS WITH GANDHIJI
Millie Graham Polak
On looking back over my South African days I think of the many things seemingly so cruel as acts of man, yet if looked at with deeper insight, carried a blessing.
The many times Gandhiji was arrested and sentenced to terms of imprisonment, how we deplored them at the time and suffered because of them. Later on I could see that which seemed so cruel was for him a release from the strain and turmoil of the circumstance of the day. During those troubled years the community rarely gave him an hour's respite nor quietude. One incident so often comes to my mind. It was a time of crisis in the early days of the struggle, a time of arrests and confusion, wives and children being left bewildered and feeling lost. The nerves of all were getting frayed. Day and night Gandhiji, with the nearest and most understanding of his followers, were wearied with striving with officials and the troubles of the Community.
My husband, Gandhiji, and I, with my baby, had a miserable little house in a fairly busy part of Johannesburg. We could not afford a better one. Money for my family life was very scarce and we had to be near the centre of the struggle. In his house there was no proper plumbing, and a make-shift bath-room had been fixed by previous tenants under the stairs; the waste water from the bath ran down the wall outside into a kind of gutter, which ran along a dark passage, and thus the walls were always damp. These conditions helped to produce big slimy slugs that got into the house.
Gandhiji came home after midnight weary and thirsty and before going to bed went to the kitchen to get some lemon water which was kept prepared for him. He trod on a fat slimy slugs that got into the house.
Gandhiji came home after midnight weary and thirsty and before going to bed went to the kitchen to get some lemon water which was kept prepared for him. He trod on a fat slimy slug, of course, in bare feet. This seemed just more than he could bear, and in a quiet but penetrative voice exclaimed, "Thank God I will be in jail tomorrow;" and he was. It was a rest and refuge, a time of comparative quietude, a blessing for him. Fortunately, before he was free again we had been able to secure a better house, the property of one of our good European friends who put the house at our disposal.
The friends and followers of Gandhiji were presented with problems, theoretically easy to deal with, but practically difficult. One such occasion - one of many - arose as follows. The Chinese community in the Transvaal, not a large one, that had been brought to South Africa largely to work in the mines, but one difficult to handle, also had a very few educated men with them who acted as their leader. They, like the Indian community, were having trouble with the Government. Though the two communities were not working officially together, their troubles, being much alike, brought them into close contact.
At a certain time, two or three of the violent ones in this community thought that their leader, Mr. C., was letting them down and betraying them to the Government; therefore he should die. He went into hiding in various places to avoid being murdered. Then one day, Gandhiji and my husband, having worried about Mr. C., thought it would be a good plan if he came to us for refuge and hiding. His enemies would not be likely to look for him there. That would give Mr. C. a little respite and the hot heads time to cool if they did not find him. So they gravely, but happily, proposed to me that they invite him to our house and that I should do the best I could to protect him.
"But," I said, in dismay, "I cannot agree to that. Here am I alone in a house with a little child, boycotted by the neighbours, and murderers come to search for someone presumably I would have in hiding. What do you suppose I could do or say if men came to me and threateningly asked me, 'Where is C?' You know he could not escape through the back of the house, and no neighbour would help if trouble arose."
"You would be able to do something," my husband said.
"And if I were asked, 'Where is C.?' should I be truthful and say where he is, or should I lie, and say, not here, and endeavour to shut them out. If a fight ensued, more than one person would probably be killed, you know."
We argued the latter over in relation to truth and humanity, then came to the conclusion we should leave the whole matter to God.
Fortunately, our Chinese friend did not come. The heat of the moment calmed down and soon arrangements were made for the whole of the Chinese community to be returned to the homeland.
Another incident presenting an interesting problem and one that puzzled me considerably at the time because of Gandhiji's insistence of separating the sinner from the sin. The sin we must condemn, but the sinner needs our understanding and compassion.
I was asked by the wife of a prominent member of the Muslim community to visit her. She was European, a beautiful woman who kept a nice house. When, on the evening in question, I told my husband and Gandhiji that Mrs. M. had visited me, and asked me to go to her to tea, they exchanged glances, then Gandhiji said gravely, "I think you should know, Mrs. M. was divorced from her first husband because of her association with Mr. M. It may create a difficult situation if you go. However, you must use your own judgement."
He uttered no condemnation of her, but obviously could not accept her with approval, nor of my visiting her, and I wondered how he could separate the action from the actor, for the action was the outcome of the actor's character that belonged to her. I did not go then; it would have caused complications in the community and elsewhere. I did, however, much later on visit her, my husband also.
This attitude of his was exemplified by another incident. We had been to a crowded meeting in which Gandhiji was the chief speaker. As he and I came out alone from a side door in a dark street, a man darted out from the shadows with a knife half hidden in his sleeve. Gandhiji stopped abruptly, faced the man and in a quiet, yet firm voice, remonstrated with him. A largely one-sided conversation took place which I could not follow, but soon the would-be attacker passed the knife he was carrying to Gandhiji and rather slouched off alone.
As soon as he had gone, "What happened," I asked. "What was that man going to do?"
"It is alright," he replied. "That man thought I was badly advising his people and betraying them, and so you saw what he intended to do."
"But he might have killed you," I exclaimed indignantly. "He is not safe; he ought to be put under restraint."
"But he didn't, you see. We need not disturb ourselves any longer."
"But he might try again if he does not like something you say or do."
"No, I think not. I think he understands better now. It was not me he wanted to kill, but the things he believed I was standing for. It is finished." And it was for that time, but his life was attempted again later on, not by the same man, and - then again, though badly injured, he refused to prosecute though strongly pressed to do.
During that period, coming home one afternoon after taking my baby for an outing, I found my little house filled with a number of people who had tramped into the town from outside districts, and not knowing where to go, had come to our place with their little children and bundles. I tried to deal with their situation, but without success, so when Gandhiji and my husband returned home to a meal, they found me in the bedroom in distress, nothing readily to eat, and not even my baby's food ready, as the only stove I possessed was being used for making a hot curry. My Negro maid had run away, I learned afterwards frightened by the invasion. Gandhiji took things in hand, talked to the people and soon they gathered their possessions together and tramped off to various addresses they were advised about.
Soon after that Gandhiji took up his headquarters at Tolstoy Farm, a few miles out of Johannesburg, with a place in the town to work from, which situation continued until he left South Africa.
J. C. Smuts
It is fitting that I, as an opponent of Gandhi a generation ago, should now salute the veteran as he reached the scriptural limit of three score years and ten. May the further allotment which the Psalmist grudgingly allows also be his, and may they be years of fruitful service to the world and of a peaceful mind to himself! I join most heartily with the other contributors to this volume in recognition of his great public services and in paying tribute to his high personal qualities. Men like him redeem us all from a sense of commonplaceness and futility, and are an inspiration to us not to be weary in well-doing.
The story of our clash in the early days of the Union of South Africa has been told by Gandhi himself and is well known. It was my fate to be the antagonist of a man for whom even then I had the highest respect. That clash on the small stage of South Africa brought out certain qualities of Gandhi's character which have since become more prominently displayed in his later large-scale operations in India. And they show that while he was prepared to go all out for the causes which he championed, he never forgot the human background of the situation, never lost his temper or succumbed to hate, and preserved his gentle humour even in the most trying situations. His manner and spirit even then, as well as later, contrasted markedly with the ruthless and brutal forcefulness which is the vogue in our day.
I must frankly admit that his activities at that time were very trying to me. Together with other South African leaders I was then busily engaged on the task of welding the old colonies into a unified State, of consolidating the administration of the new national structure, and of creating, out of what was left after the Boer War, a new nation. It was a colossal work which took up every moment of my time. Suddenly, in the midst of all these engrossing preoccupations, Gandhi raised a most troublesome issue.
We had a skeleton in our cupboard in the form of what is called the Indian question in South Africa. The Transvaal had made an effort to restrict Indian immigration. Natal had an old tax on Indians intended to induce them to return to India after their period of service on the sugar plantations had been completed. Gandhi tackled this problem, and in doing so showed a new technique - one which he afterwards made world-famous in his political campaigns in India. His method was deliberately to break the law, and to organise his followers into a mass movement of passive resistance in disobedience to the law objected to. In both provinces a wild and disconcerting commotion was created, large numbers of Indians had to be imprisoned for lawless behaviour and Gandhi himself received - what no doubt he desired - a short period of rest and quiet in gaol. For him everything went according to plan. For me - the defender of law and order - there was the usual trying situation, the odium of carrying out a law which had not strong public support, and finally the discomfiture when the law had to be repealed. For him it was a successful coup. Nor was the personal touch wanting for nothing in Gandhi's procedure is without a peculiar personal touch. In gaol he had prepared for me a very useful pair of sandals which he presented to me when he was set free! I have worn these scandals for many a summer since then, even though I may feel that I am not worthy to stand in the shoes of so great a man! Anyhow it was in that spirit that we fought out our quarrels in South Africa. There was no hatred or personal ill-feeling, the spirit of humanity was never absent, and when the fight was over there was the atmosphere in which a decent peace could be concluded. Gandhi and I made a settlement which Parliament ratified, and which kept the peace between the races for many years. He left South Africa to undertake his Herculean task in India and to impress his spirit and personality on the masses of that great country to a degree which has no parallel in recent Indian history. And throughout it all, he was but largely carrying out the methods he had learnt in South Africa in our scrappings over the Indian question. South Africa was indeed a great training school for him, as it has been for other notable men who have from time to time shared our life in this strangely attractive and provocative subcontinent.
I say largely, but not quite. In addition to his old method of passive resistance - now renamed non-cooperation - he developed in India a new technical device of a very disconcerting but effective character. That technique of reform was persuasion by self-starvation. Fortunately we had been spared this development in South Africa where people have a horror of any unnecessary loss of life. In India it has worked wonders and carried Gandhi to success and heights of achievement which would probably have been unattainable otherwise.
It may be of interest to give closer attention to this novel technique - novel at any rate in political warfare. I cannot conceive the Leader of the Opposition in Great Britain starving himself to death in order to convince the Government of the day of the error of their ways. We are here in a strange region, remote from the ways of democracy and indeed of Western civilization. I think the phenomenon is deserving of careful study. I can but direct cursory attention to it here.
It is not so entirely novel to Indian ways of thought and practice. In India it appears to be a recognised practice for the creditor to bring pressure to bear on his dilatory debtor by inflicting suffering, not on the debtor but on himself. Civil imprisonment of the debtor is or has been our Western way of forcing the hand of the recalcitrant debtor. Not so in India: there the creditor will himself go to prison or sit and starve on the doorstep of his debtor in order to soften his heart and open his or his friend's purse. Gandhi adopts this Indian technique and only alters its application and scale. He would sit and starve, if need be to death, on the doorstep of the Government or a recalcitrant section of the community whom he wishes to persuade or rather to coerce to better ways. And like the creditor he succeeds, not by reasoning or persuasion, but by arousing the much deeper-lying emotions of fear, of shame, of repentance, of sympathy, of humanity, and of other feelings below the threshold of conscious thought, which in their mass effect prove much more potent than reasoning or persuasion. The debtor - the opponent Government or community - is morally undermined and finally overwhelmed by this emotional mass effect.
In some ways this technique is not very different from the methods followed by large-scale propaganda in our day. It has the same effect of overwhelming the public mind, not by reason but by play on the emotions, many of them of an irrational character. One might fairly conclude that this technique is dangerous and may be abused, just as propaganda today is being abused to debauch and poison public opinion in the Western world. Whether the objects in view are worthy or detestable, the method is a dangerous one, as it undermines reason and personal responsibility, and is an invasion of that inner sanctuary of the personality which is the final citadel of all human nature.
Gandhi's technique of self-starvation differs, however, in a very important respect from that of Western propaganda. The performer (if I may call him so) tries to rouse the community to face the situation by the thought and the spectacle of his own suffering. The technique is based on the principle of suffering and the purifying effect of vicarious suffering on the emotions of others. It has the same purifying and ennobling effect which high tragedy has in accordance with the Aristotelian definition.
We touch here not only the Greek notion of tragedy but the deepest springs of religion. In particular the motif of suffering is central to the Christian religion. The Cross remains the symbol of the most significant tragedy in all human history. The Suffering Servant of Isaiah and the Great Sufferer on the Cross, pouring out his soul for his brothers, stir emotions whose dynamic is incomparably greater than that of all reason or rational persuasion. The argument from suffering is and remains the most effective in the world. In the welter of religions in the early Roman Empire the Christian religion won through by suffering, by martyrdom, and not by the arguments of the Apologists; nor was its progress impeded by the current philosophies of that enlightened age. And in the same way the large-scale sufferings which in our day a cruel and brutal inhumanity in Europe is inflicting on those who differ in race or religion or conviction may yet become the dynamite to explode the great systems now soproudly being reared.
It is this potent principle of suffering on which Gandhi has based his novel technique or reform. He makes himself a sufferer in order to move the sympathy and gain the support of others for the cause he has at heart. Where ordinary political methods of reasoning and persuasion fail, he falls back on this new technique, based on the ancient practices of India and the East. It is a procedure which, as I have said, deserves the attention of political thinkers. It is Gandhi's distinctive contribution to political method.
Let me conclude with one other thought. Many people, even some who sincerely admire him, will differ from some of his ideas and some of his ways of doing things. His style of doing things is individual, is his own, and, as in the case of other great men, does not conform to the usual standards. But however often we may differ from him, we are conscious all the time of his sincerity, his unselfishness, and above all of his fundamental and universal humanity. He always acts as a great human, with deep sympathy for men of all classes and all races and especially for the under-dog. His outlook has nothing sectional about it, but is distinguished by that universal and eternal human which is the hall-mark of true greatness of spirit.
It is curious how in these days of European confusion and decline Asia is steadily moving to the front. Among the greatest men on the public stage of the world today are two Asiatics - Gandhi and Chiang-kai Shek, both moving immense masses of men along noble lines to a destiny which in essence is one with the high Christian ideal which the West has received but no longer seriously practices.
GANDHIJI AND SMUTS
Some years ago I visited, in the company of a high Government official, a reformatory for Indian and native boys just outside Johannesburg, which had once been a prison. My companion pointed out to me the room in which Gandhi had been incarcerated thirty years ago and recalled how he, then a junior magistrate, had taken to him books on philosophy, the gift of his ministerial chief, General Smuts. Happily the bonds of mutual respect and friendship between the two men prevailed over all disruptive forces and are still effective links today.
- Jan H. Hofmeyer, "Gandhi in South Africa" in Radhakrishnan, op. cit.]
1. C.F. Andrews, "The Tribute of a Friend" in Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan,, Mahatma Gandhi, fourth edition. Bombay: Jaico Publishing House, 1977.
2. Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt, "Gandhi in South Africa" in The Woman Citizen, March 1922. Reproduced in Blanche Watson, Gandhi and Non-violent Resistance, The Non-Co-operation Movement in India: Gleanings from the American Press. Madras: Ganesh & Co., 1923.
3. Apparently Miss Sonja Schlesin
4. Lionel Curtis, "Two Meetings with Gandhi" in Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, op. cit.
Mr. Curtis was an official in the Transvaal after the Boer War. When he wrote these reminiscences, he was teaching at All Souls' College, Oxford.
5. Pragji Desai, "Satyagraha in South Africa" in Chandrashanker Shukla, Reminiscences of Gandhiji by Forty-eight Contributors. Bombay: Vora & Co., 1951.
6. Manilal Gandhi, "Memories of Gandhiji" in Indian Review, Madras, March 1952
7. F. E. T. Krause (1868- ), a barrister, held responsible positions in the Transvaal Republic. He was a Special Commandant and Minilitary Governor of Johannesburg during the Anglo-Boer War. Subsequently he was a member of the Transvaal Parliament, 1907-10, and Judge of the Supreme Court for several years. He first met Gandhiji in Pretoria in 1893, and they became friends, especially in Johannesburg after the Anglo-Boer War. Mr. Krause represented Indians in many cases in court.
8. Extracts from "Sixty Years Memoir of Vincent Lawrence of 67 Gale Street, Durban, Natal" in UNISA Documentation Centre for African Studies.
There are many typing and grammatical errors in the original. I have not tried to correct all the errors or improve the English in this extract of passages which relate to Gandhiji.
9. Agnes M. Phillips, "Recollections" in Chandrashanker Shukla, op. cit.
10. H. S. L. Polak, "South African Reminiscences" in Indian Review, Madras, February, March and May 1925
11. H. S. L. Polak, "A South African Reminiscence" in Indian Review, Madras, October 1926
12. H. S. L. Polak, "Gandhi, The Man" in Indian Review, October 1929
13. H. S. L. Polak, "Memories of Gandhi" in Contemporary Review, London, March 1948
14. In November 1913
15. From Shukla, Chandrashanker (ed.), Incidents of Gandhiji's Life, by Fifty-four Contributors (Bombay: Vora & Co., 1949), pages 230-47
16. Millie Graham Polak, "Gandhi, the Man" in Indian Review, Madras, October 1929
17. From Shukla, Chandrashanker (ed.), Incidents of Gandhiji's Life, by Fifty-four Contributors. Bombay: Vora & Co., 1949.
18. Millie Graham Polak, "My South African Days with Gandhi" in Indian Review, Madras, October 1964
19. J.C. Smuts, "Gandhi's Political Method" in Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, op. cit.