I had expected someone on behalf of Dada Abdulla's attorney to meet me at Pretoria station. I knew that no Indian would be there to receive me, since I had particularly promised not to put up at an Indian house. But the attorney had sent no one. I understood later that as I had arrived on a Sunday, he could not have sent anyone without inconvenience. I was perplexed, and wondered where to go, as I feared that no hotel would accept me.
Pretoria station in 1893 was quite different from what it was in
1914. The lights were burning dimly. The travellers were few. I let
all the other passengers go and thought that, as soon as the ticket
collector was fairly free, I would hand him my ticket and ask him if
he could direct me to some small hotel or any other such place where
I might go; otherwise I would spend the night at the station. I must
confess I shrank from asking him even this, for I was afraid of
The station became clear of all passengers. I gave my ticket to the
ticket collector and began my inquiries. He replied to me
courteously, but I saw that he could not be of any considerable
help. But an American Negro who was standing near by broke into the
'I see,' said he, 'that you are an utter stranger here, without any
friends. If you will come with me, I will take you to a small hotel,
of which the proprietor is an American who is very well known to me.
I think he will accept you.'
I had my own doubts about the offer, but I thanked him and accepted
his suggestion. He took me to Johnson's Family Hotel. He drew Mr.
Johnson aside to speak to him, and the latter agreed to accommodate
me for the night, on condition that I should have my dinner served
in my room.
'I assure you,' said he, 'that I have no colour prejudice. But I
have only European custom, and, if I allowed you to eat in the
dining-room, my guests might be offended and even go away.'
'Thank you,' said I, 'even for accommodating me for the night. I am now
more or less acquainted with the conditions here, and I understand
your difficulty. I do not mind your serving the dinner in my room. I
hope to be able to make some other arrangement tomorrow.'
I was shown into a room, where I now sat waiting for the dinner and
musing, as I was quite alone. There were not many guests in the
hotel, and I had expected the waiter to come very shortly with the
dinner. Instead Mr. Johnston appeared. He said: 'I was ashamed of
having asked you to have your dinner here. So I spoke to the other
guests about you, and asked them if they would mind your having your
dinner in the dining-room. They said they had no objection, and that
they did not mind your staying here as long as you liked. Please,
therefore, come to the dining-room, if you will, and stay here as
long as you wish.'
I thanked him again, went to the dining-room and had a hearty dinner.
Next morning I called on the attorney, Mr. A. W. Baker. Abdulla
Sheth had given me some description of him, so his cordial reception
did not surprise me. He received me very warmly and made kind
inquiries. I explained all about myself. Thereupon he said: 'We have
no work for you here as barrister, for we have engaged the best
counsel. The case is a prolonged and complicated one, so I shall
take your assistance only to the extent of getting necessary
information. And of course you will make communication with my
client easy for me, as I shall now ask for all the information I
want from him through you. That is certainly an advantage, I have
not yet found rooms for you. I thought I had better do so after
having seen you. There is a fearful amount of colour prejudice here,
and therefore it is not easy to find lodgings for such as you. But I
know a poor woman. She is the wife of a baker. I think she will take
you and thus add to her income at the same time. Come, let us go to
So he took me to her house. He spoke with her privately about me,
and she agreed to accept me as a boarder at 35 shilling a week.
Mr. Baker, besides being an attorney, was a staunch lay preacher, He
is still alive and now engaged purely in missionary work, having
given up the legal profession. He is quite well-to-do. He still
corresponds with me. In his letters he always dwells on the same
theme. He upholds the excellence of Christianity from various points
of view, and contends that it is impossible to find eternal peace,
unless one accepts Jesus as the only son of God and the Saviour of
During the very first interview Mr. Baker ascertained my religious
views. I said to him: 'I am a Hindu by birth. And yet I do not know
much of Hinduism, and I know less of other religions. In fact I do
not know where I am, and what is and what should be my belief. I
intend to make a careful study of my own religion and, as far as I
can, of other religions as well.'
Mr. Baker was glad to hear all this, and said: 'I am one of the
directors of the South Africa General Mission. I have built a church
at my own expense, and deliver sermons in it regularly. I am free
from colour prejudice. I have some co-workers, and we meet at one
o'clock every day for a few minutes and pray for peace and light. I
shall be glad if you will join us there. I shall introduce you to my
co-workers who will be happy to meet you, and I dare say you will
also like their company. I shall give you, besides, some religious
books to read, though of course the book of books is the Holy Bible,
which I would specially recommend to you.'
I thanked Mr. Baker and agreed to attend the one o'clock prayers as
regularly as possible.
'So I shall expect you here tomorrow at one o'clock, and we shall go
together to pray,' added Mr. Baker, and we said good-bye.
I had little time for reflection just yet.
I went to Mr. Johnston, paid the bill and removed to the new
lodgings, where I had my lunch. The landlady was good woman. She had
cooked a vegetarian meal for me. It was not long before I made
myself quite at home with the family.
I next went to see the friend to whom Dada Abdulla had given me a
note. From him I learnt more about the hardships of Indians in South
Africa. He insisted that I should stay with him. I thanked him, and
told him that I had already made arrangements. He urged me not to
hesitate to ask for anything I needed.
It was now dark. I returned home, had my dinner, went to my room and
lay there absorbed in deep thought. There was not any immediate work
for me. I informed Abdulla Sheth of it. What, I thought, can be
the meaning of Mr. Baker's interest in me? What shall I gain from his
religious co-workers? How far should I undertake the study of
Christianity? How was I to obtain literature about Hinduism? And how
was I to understand Christianity in its proper perspective without
thoroughly knowing my own religion? I could come to only one
conclusion: I should make a dispassionate study of all that came to
me, and deal with Mr. Baker's group as God might guide me; I should
not think of embracing another religion before I had fully
understood my own.
Thus musing I fell asleep..........