The train reached Charlestown in the morning. There was no railway, in those days, between Charlestown and Johannesburg, but only a stage-coach, which halted at Standerton for the night en route. I possessed a ticket for the coach, which was not cancelled by the break of the journey at Maritzburg for a day; besides, Abdulla Sheth had sent a wire to the coach agent at Charlestown.
But the agent only needed a pretext for putting me off, and so, when
he discovered me to be a stranger, he said, 'Your ticket is
cancelled.' I gave him the proper reply. The reason at the back of
his mind was not want of accommodation, but quite another.
Passengers had to be accommodated inside the coach, but as I was
regarded as a 'coolie' and looked a stranger, it would be proper,
thought the 'leader', as the white man in charge of the coach was
called, not to seat me with the white passengers. There were seats
on either side of the coachbox. The leader sat on one of these as a
rule. Today he sat inside and gave me his seat. I knew it was sheer
injustice and an insult, but I thought it better to pocket it. I
could not have forced myself inside, and if I had raised a protest,
the coach would have gone off without me. This would have meant the
loss of another day, and Heaven only knows what would have happened
the next day. So, much as I fretted within myself, I prudently sat
next the coachman.
At about three o'clock the coach reached Pardekoph. Now the leader
desired to sit where I was seated, as he wanted to smoke and
possibly to have some fresh air. So he took a piece of dirty
sack-cloth from the driver, spread it on the footboard and,
addressing me, said, 'Sami, you sit on this, I want to sit near the driver.' The insult was
more than I could bear. In fear and trembling I said to him, 'It was
you who seated me here, though I should have been accommodated
inside. I put up with the insult. Now that you want to sit outside
and smoke, you would have me sit at your feet. I will not do so, but
I am prepared to sit inside.'
As I was struggling through these sentences, the man came down upon
me and began heavily to box my ears. He seized me by the arm and
tried to drag me down. I clung to the brass rails of the coachbox
and was determined to keep my hold even at the risk of breaking my
wrist bones. The passengers were witnessing the scene - the man
swearing at me, dragging and belabouring me, and I remaining still.
He was strong and I was weak. Some of the passengers were moved to
pity and exclaimed: 'Man, let him alone. Don't beat him. He is not
to blame. He is right. If he can't stay there, let him come and sit
with us.' 'No fear,' cried the man, but he seemed somewhat
crestfallen and stopped beating me. He let go my arm, swore at me a
little more, and asking the Hottentot servant who was sitting on the
other side of the coachbox to sit on the footboard, took the seat so
The passengers took their seats and, the whistle given, the coach
rattled away. My heart was beating fast within my breast, and I was
wondering whether I should ever reach my destination alive. The man
cast an angry look at me now and then and, pointing his finger at
me, growled: 'Take care, let me once get to Standerton and I shall
show you what I do.' I sat speechless and prayed to God to help me.
After dark we reached Standerton and I heaved a sigh of relief on
seeing some Indian faces. As soon as I got down, these friends said:
'We are hereto receive you and take you to Isa Sheth's shop. We have
had a telegram from Dada Abdulla.' I was very glad, and we went to
Sheth Isa Haji Sumar's shop. The Sheth and his clerks gathered round
me. I told them all that I had gone through. They were very sorry to
hear it and comforted me by relating to me their own bitter
I wanted to inform the agent of the Coach Company of the whole
affair. So I wrote him a letter, narrating everything that had
happened, and drawing his attention to the threat his man had held
out. I also asked for an assurance that he would accommodate me with
the other passengers inside the coach when we started the next
morning. To which the agent replied to this effect: 'From Standerton
we have a bigger coach with different men in charge. The man
complained of will not be there tomorrow, and you will have a seat
with the other passengers.' This somewhat relieved me. I had, of
course, no intention of proceeding against the man who had assaulted
me, and so the chapter of the assault closed there.
In the morning Isa Sheth's man took me to the coach, I got a good
seat and reached Johannesburg quite safely that night.
Standerton is a small village and Johannesburg a big city. Abdulla
Sheth had wired to Johannesburg also, and given me the name and
address of Muhammad Kasam Kamruddin's firm there. Their man had come
to receive me at the stage, but neither did I see him nor did he
recognize me. So I decided to go to a hotel. I knew the names of
several. Taking a cab I asked to be driven to the Grand National
Hotel. I saw the Manager and asked for a room. He eyed me for a
moment, and politely saying, 'I am very sorry, we are full up,' bade
me good-bye. So I asked the cabman to drive to Muhammad Kasam
Kamruddin's shop. Here I found Abdul Gani Sheth expecting me, and he
gave me a cordial greeting. He had a hearty laugh over the story of
my experience at the hotel. 'How ever did you expect to be admitted
to a hotel?' he said.
'Why not?' I asked.
'You will come to know after you have stayed here a few days,' said
he. 'Only we can live in a land like this, because, for making
money, we do not mind pocketing insults, and here we are.' With this
he narrated to me the story of the hardships of Indians in South
Of Sheth Abdul Gani we shall know more as we proceed.
He said: 'This country is not for men like you. Look now, you have
to go to Pretoria tomorrow. You will have to travel third class.
Conditions in the Transvaal are worse than in Natal. First and
second class tickets are never issued to Indians.'
'You cannot have made persistent efforts in this direction.'
'We have sent representations, but I confess our own men too do not
want as a rule to travel first or second.
I sent for the railway regulations and read them. There was a
loophole. The language of the old Transvaal enactments was not very
exact or precise; that of the railway regulations was even less so.
I said to the Sheth: 'I wish to go first class, and if I cannot, I
shall prefer to take a cab to Pretoria, a matter of only
Sheth Abdul Gani drew my attention to the extra time and money this
would mean, but agreed to my proposal to travel first, and
accordingly we sent a note to the Station Master. I mentioned in my
note that I was a barrister and that I always travelled first, I
also stated in the letter that I needed to reach Pretoria as early
as possible, that as there was no time to await his reply I would
receive it in person at the station, and that I should expect to get
a first class ticket. There was of course a purpose behind asking
for the reply in person. I thought that if the Station master gave a
written reply, he would certainly say 'no', especially because he
would have his own notion of a 'coolie' barrister. I would therefore
appear before him in faultless English dress, talk to him and
possibly persuade him to issue a first class ticket. So I went to
the station in a frock-coat and necktie, placed a sovereign for my
fare on the counter and asked for a first class ticket.
'You sent me that note?' he asked.
'That is so. I shall be much obliged if you will give me a ticket. I
must reach Pretoria today.'
He smiled and, moved to pity, said: 'I am not a Transvaaler. I am a
Hollander. I appreciate your feelings, and you have my sympathy. I
do want to give you a ticket – on one condition, however, that, if the
guard should ask you to shift to the third class, you will not
involve me in the affair, by which I mean that you should not
proceed against the railway company. I wish you a safe journey. I
can see you are a gentleman.'
With these words he booked the ticket. I thanked him and gave him
the necessary assurance.
Sheth Abdul Gani had come to see me off at the station. The incident
gave him an agreeable surprise, but he warned me saying: 'I shall be
thankful if you reach Pretoria all right. I am afraid the guard will
not leave you in peace in the first class and even if he does, the
passengers will not.'
I took my seat in a first class compartment and the train started.
At Germiston the guard came to examine the tickets. He was angry to
find me there, and signaled to me with his finger to go to the
third class. I showed him my first class ticket. 'That doesn't
matter,' said he, 'remove to the third class.'
There was only one English passenger in the compartment. He took the
guard to task. 'What do you mena by troubling the gentleman?' he
said. 'Don't you see he has a first class ticket? I do not
mind in the least his travelling with me.' Addressing me, he said,
'You should make yourself comfortable where you are.'
The guard muttered: 'If you want to travel with a coolie, what do I
care?' and went away.
At about eight o'clock in the evening the train reached Pretoria.