Here is a tale of a journalist for whom life was devotion, sadhana. The newspaper to him was a means of his pursuit of life. His writings were the quintessence of experiences in the life of a sadhaka. It was an attempt to explain to his readers his pursuit of truth which he called satyagraha. He never wrote a word without proper thought and scrutiny or to humour anyone. There was not the slightest overstatement anywhere in his write-ups. They did reveal to the readers the true picture of satyagraha in South Africa and the freedom struggle in India. But besides that, it also conveyed the glimpses of the collective experiment conducted by a seeker of truth.
He had hardly any acquaintance with the newspapers whatsoever until
he was 19, when he went to England to study law. But as soon as he
developed the habit of reading newspapers there, he also imbibed the
urge to communicate so natural in a journalist.
But, I had found my feet now. I had not yet started upon my regular
studies. I had just begun reading newspapers, thanks to Sjt. Shukla.
In India I had never read a newspaper. But here I succeeded in
cultivating a liking for them by regular reading. I always glanced
over the Daily News, The Daily Telegraph and, The Pall
To begin with, he bought the custom-made clothes from the Army and
Navy Stores in order to pose as a perfect English gentleman. His
evening suit was bought from the Bond Street. He also purchased a
tall Chinese hat and golden chains hanging out of both the pockets.
He learnt to wear a neck-tie. As all of this was not enough, he
joined the classes to learn dancing and playing violin. Besides
learning French,he paid a guinea to learn public speaking___ He bought The
Standard Elocutionist by Bell. But it woke him up from his
three-month old craze :
I had not to spend a lifetime in England, I said to myself What then
was the use of learning elocution ? And how could dancing make a
gentleman of me ? The violin I could learn even in India. I was a
student and ought to go on with my studies. I should qualify myself
to join the Inns of Court. If my character made a gentleman of me,
so much the better. Otherwise I should forego the ambition.
This was the first major change in his attitude to life as well as
life-style. Of all these changes the major ones included simplicity
of living, the experiments of diet and religious reading. He joined
the vegetarian society of London, and wrote a series of articles on
the food habits and festivals of India in The Vegetarian.
Thus a great journalist was born.
Although born at Porbandar in India his life was largely shaped
abroad particularly at Durban and Phoenix. During two decades of his
stay in South Africa this Barrister-at-Law was transformed into a
seeker of truth.
In 1893 Gandhiji, the young Barrister, sailed to South Africa to
assist Sheth Abdulla's litigation. The day after his arrival there
Sheth Abdulla accompanied him to see the Law Court down there.
Gandhiji went there wearing his own Indian turban. According to the
convention of the court he had to take it off while he was in. But
he did not do so for that meant to him compromise of his
self-respect. On the Magistrate's order to take off the turban he
preferred to quit.
This incident awoke the journalist in Gandhi. He wrote to the editor
of a newspaper a letter on the right to wear the turban and the
humiliation involved in taking it off.
I wrote to the press about the incident and defended the wearing of
my turban in the court. The question was very much discussed in the
papers, which described me as an 'unwelcome visitor'. Thus the
incident gave me an unexpected advertisement in South Africa within
a few days of my arrival there. Some supported me, while others
severely criticized my temerity.
After settling Sheth Abdulla's case through compromise as he was
about to sail for India Gandhi saw in the Indian franchise bill the
first step towards the ruin of the Indian community there. He
explained to the businessmen who came to bid him farewell "it was an
insult and hurt our self-respect". The whole situation took such a
turn that Gandhiji had to cancel his journey home and stay on in
South Africa to serve the cause of the Indian community.
Of his associates in South Africa there was Madanjit who ran a press
called the International Printing Press. He sought Gandhiji's help
and guidance in launching a newspaper called the Indian
Opinion. Gandhiji gave his consent. Mansukhlal Nazar was
appointed its editor, but the major editorial burden devolved on
I had no notion that I should have to invest any money in this
journal, but I soon discovered that it could not go on without my
financial help. The Indians and the Europeans both knew that, though
I was not avowedly the editor of Indian Opinion, I was
virtually responsible for its conduct. It would not have mattered if
the journal had never been started, but to stop it after it had once
been launched would have been both a loss and a disgrace. So I kept
on pouring out my money, until ultimately I was practically sinking
all my savings in it. I remember a time when I had to remit £ 75
Thus the Indian Opinion did emerge as the organ of
defending the right and welfare of the Indians living there. But
financially it was a deficit venture. Against the loan advanced by
Gandhiji, Madanjit gave away the International Printing Press to
him. Thus Gandhiji owned the press. He deputed his associates Mr.
West and Shri Chhaganlal Gandhi to take charge of the press. In his
first dispatch Mr. West reported : "This venture does not yield any
profit as envisaged by you. I see clear loss. The accounts are in a
bad shape. There are considerable dues but of no consequence. It
will necessitate many changes. But please don't be alarmed by the
report. I will do my best. I would not give up my work simply
because there is no profit."
On reading this report, Gandhiji set out for Natal. Meanwhile he
came to be acquainted with Mr. Polak, the editor of the Critic,
who accompanied him to the station to see him off. While parting he
handed over Ruskin's Unto This Last to him saying, "It
is good reading during the journey. Please go through it; you will
As Gandhiji observed, the book had a magic effect on him. Once he
started reading the book, he could not put it aside. It cast a spell
on him. The train took 24 hours to reach Durban. During these twenty
four hours Gandhiji discovered a new instrument for his pursuit of
meaningful life - it was "ashram" life, the austere living based on
the principle of universal emancipation, Sarvodaya.
On the surface, Gandhiji might appear to be a social reformer or a
politician. But essentially he was a seeker of truth. He aspired to
realize God and attain salvation right in this life if he could. His
writings occasionally reveal this, sometimes directly, sometimes
obliquely. He has recorded this in one of his articles in the
Navajivan in 1924.
I do not consider myself worthy to be mentioned in the same breath
with the race of prophets. I am a humble seeker after truth. I am
impatient to realize myself to attain moksha in this very
existence. My national service is part of my training for freeing my
soul from the bondage of flesh. I have no desire for the transitory
kingdom of earth. I am striving for the Kingdom of Heaven which is
moksha, salvation. To attain my end it is not necessary for me
to seek the shelter of a cave. A cave-dweller can build castles in
the air whereas a dweller in a palace like Janaka has no castles to
build. The cave- dweller who hovers round the world on the wings of
thought has no peace. A Janaka though living in the midst of 'pomp
and circumstance' may have peace that passeth understanding. For me,
the road to salvation lies through incessant toil in the service of
my country and that through of humanity. I want to identify myself
with everything that lives. In the language of the Gita I
want to live at peace with both friends and foes. Though, therefore,
a Mussalman or a Christian or a Hindu may despise me and hate me, I
want to love him and serve him even as I would love my wife or son
though they might hate me. So my patriotism is for me a stage in my
journey to the land of eternal freedom and peace. Thus it will be
seen that for me there exists no politics devoid of religion. It
subserves religion. Politics bereft of religion is a deathtrap
because it kills the soul.
Gandhiji not only sought salvation for self but also desired to help
mankind to attain it; and hence his endeavour took a public mode. He
wanted the other like-minded persons to join him in his quest of
truth. "I have the desire to be associated with as many friends as
possible in my quest."
Thus Mahatma Gandhi opened up a new avenue in the area of the
pursuit of truth. Moreover, he hoped to spread the principles
realized by him in the course of his experiments with truth, and
thus give the benefit to the wider world. There were twin
instruments : the ashram, which was the centre of the activities of
the community as a whole and the newspaper for the propagation of
his ideals and experiments with truth.
The newspaper was thus to Gandhiji a vital means of his pursuit of
truth. To write for it was to him like the devotional counting of
the beads of a rosary. In 1904, the year in which he set up Phoenix
Institute, he shouldered the responsibility of editing the
Indian Opinion to propagate the ideals of Unto This
Last, Sarvodaya. While reading Ruskin's book, he made a
remarkable change both in his life and work and shifted both the
Indian Opinion and the International Press from Durban to
Phoenix. His reflection, on the very first night at Phoenix, came to
be remarkably momentary :
It was no easy thing to issue the first number of Indian Opinion
from Phoenix. Had I not taken two precautions, the first issue
would have had to be dropped or delayed. The idea of having an
engine to work the press had not appealed to me. I had thought that
hand- power would be more in keeping with an atmosphere where
agricultural work was also to be done by hand. But as the idea had
not appeared feasible, we had installed an oil-engine. I had,
however, suggested to West to have something handy to fall back upon
in case the engine failed. He had therefore arranged a wheel which
could be worked by hand. The size of the paper, that of a daily, was
considered unsuitable for an out-of-the-way place like Phoenix. It
was reduced to foolscap size, so that, in case of emergency, copies
might be struck off with the help of a treadle.
But the first night was unforgettable. The pages were locked, but
the engine refused to work. We had got out an engineer from Durban
to put up the engine and set it going. He and West tried their
hardest, but in vain. Everyone was anxious. West, in despair, at
last came to me, with tears in his eyes, and said, "The engine will
not work, I am afraid we cannot issue the paper in time.”
But Gandhiji did not lose courage, and endeavoured to keep going the
newspaper with the machine needing manual handling by as many as
four persons in turn. They were all exhausted. Nevertheless Gandhiji
succeeded. Even the tired mechanics and labourers agreed to run the
machine. There were already the workers of the Press also. Mr.
West's joy knew no bounds. He started off his work singing
devotional hymns. Gandhiji himself joined the working team and
handled the machine.
The machine still needed repairs.Next morning the engineer put in
one more effort to run the machine. It worked. There were shouts of
joy all around. At last the newspaper number could be issued in time.
In the words of Gandhiji:
For me the failure of the engine had come as a test for us all, and
its working in the nick of time as the fruit of our honest and
That machine of the Phoenix International Press is even today part
of its museum. The stool, on which Gandhiji used to sit to do his
writing and editorial work for the Indian Opinion
until 1914 when he left South Africa, is also preserved for its
historical value. For years he had sat on that stool. The
Indian Opinion revealed him as a journalist in quest of
So long as it was under my control, the changes in the journal were
indicative of changes in my life. Indian Opinion in those
days, like Young India and Navajivan today was mirror
ofpart of my life. Week after week I poured out my soul in its
columns, and expounded the principles and practice of Satyagraha as.
I understood it. During ten years, that is until 1914, excepting the
intervals of my enforced rest in prison, there was hardly an issue
of Indian Opinion without an article from me. I cannot recall
a word in those articles set down without thought or deliberation,
or a word of conscious exaggeration, or anything merely to please.
Indeed the journal became for me a training in self-restraint, and
for friends a medium through which to keep in touch with my
thoughts. The critic found very little to which he could object. In
fact the tone of Indian Opinion compelled the critic to put a
curb on his own pen. Satyagraha would probably have been impossible
without Indian Opinion. The readers lookedforward to it for a
trustworthy account of the Satyagraha campaign as also of the real
condition of Indians in South A frica. For me it became a means for
the study of human nature in all its casts and shades, as I always
aimed at establishing an intimate and clean bond between the editor
and the readers. I was inundated with letters containing the
outpourings of my correspondents 'hearts. They were friendly,
critical or bitter, according to the temper of the writer. It was a
fine education for me to study, digest and answer all this
correspondence. It was as though the community thought audibly
through this correspondence with me. It made me thoroughly
understand the responsibility of a journalist, and the hold I
secured in this way over the community made the future campaign
workable, dignified, and irresistible.
This rich tradition was continued and extended to the
Navajivan, the Young India and the
Harijan in India which not only fostered but also enriched
and strengthened the various movements for freedom. Through these
journals Mahatma Gandhi explored not merely the scope and power but
also the pitfalls of journalism. His perception in this field was clear :
One of the objects of a newspaper is to understand the popular
feeling and give expression to it; another is to arouse among the
people certain desirable sentiments; and the third is fearlessly to
expose popular defects.
In the very first month of Indian Opinion, I realized that
the sole aim of journalism should be service. The newspaper press is
a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges
whole countrysides and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen
serves but to destroy If the control is from without, it proves more
poisonous than want of control. It can be profitable only when
exercised from within. If this line of reasoning is correct, how
many of the journals in the world would stand the test? But who
would stop those that are useless? And who should be the judge? The
useful and the useless must, like good and evil generally, go on
together, and man must make his choice.
These words, written as early as seven decades ago, are even today