From Madras I proceeded to Calcutta where I found myself hemmed by difficulties. I knew no one there. So I took a room in the Great Eastern Hotel. Here I became acquainted with Mr. Ellerthorpe, a representative of The Daily Telegraph. He invited me to the Bengal Club, where he was staying. He did not then realize that an Indian could not be taken to the drawing-room of the club. Having discovered the restriction, he took me to his room. He expressed his sorrow regarding this prejudice of the local Englishmen and apologized to me for not having been able to take me to the drawing-room.
I had of course to see Surendranath Banerji, the 'Idol of Bengal'.
When I met him, he was surrounded by a number of friends. He said:
'I am afraid people will not take interest in your work. As you
know, our difficulties here are by no means few. But you must try as
best you can. You will have to enlist the sympathy of Maharajas.
Mind you meet the representatives of the British Indian
Association. You should meet Raja Sir Pyarimohan Mukarji and
Maharaja Tagore. Both are liberal-minded and take a fair share in
I met these gentlemen, but without success. Both gave me a cold
reception and said it was no easy thing to call a public in Calcutta, and if anything could be done, it would
practically all depend on Surendranath Banerji.
I saw that my task was becoming more and more difficult. I called at the office of The
Amrita Bazar Patrika.
The gentleman whom I met there took me to be a wandering Jew.
The Bangabasi went even one better. The editor kept me waiting for an hour. He had
evidently many interviewers, but he would not so much as look at me,
even when he had disposed of the rest. On my venturing to broach my
subject after the long wait, he said: 'Don't you see our hands are
full? There is no end to the number of visitors like you. You had
better go. I am not disposed to listen to you.' For a moment I felt
offended, but I quickly understood the editor's position. I had
heard of the fame of The Bangabasi.
I could see that there was a regular stream of visitors there. And
they were all people acquainted with him. His paper had no lack of
topics to discuss, and South Africa was hardly known at that time.
However serious a grievance may be in the eyes of the man who
suffers from it, he will be but one of the numerous people invading
the editor's office, each with a grievance of his own. How is the
editor to meet them all? Moreover, the aggrieved party imagines that
the editor is a power in the land. Only he knows that his powers can
hardly travel beyond the threshold of his office. But I was not
discouraged. I kept on seeing editors of other papers. As usual I
met the Anglo-Indian editors also.
The Statesman and The Englishman
realized the importance of the question. I gave them long
interviews, and they published them in full.
Mr. Saunders, editor of The Englishman,
claimed me as his own. He placed his office and paper at my
disposal. He even allowed me the liberty of making whatever changes
I liked in the leading article he had written on the situation, the
proof of which he sent me in advance. It is no exaggeration to say
that a friendship grew up between us. He promised to render me all
the help he could, carried out the promise to the letter, and kept
on his correspondence with me until the time when he was seriously
Throughout my life I have had the privilege of many such
friendships, which have sprung up quite unexpectedly. What Mr.
Saunders liked in me was my freedom from exaggeration and my
devotion to truth. He subjected me to a searching cross-examination
before he began to sympathize with my cause, and he saw that I had
spared neither will nor pains to place before him an impartial
statement of the case even of the white man in South Africa and also
to appreciate it.
My experience has shown me that we win justice quickest by rendering
justice to the other party.
The unexpected help of Mr. Saunders had begun to encourage me to
think that I might succeed after all in holding a public meeting in
Calcutta, when I received the following cable from Durban:
'Parliament opens January. Return soon.'
So I addressed a letter to the press, in which I explained why I had
to leave Calcutta so abruptly, and set off for Bombay. Before
starting I wired to the Bombay agent of Dada Abdulla & Co., to
arrange for my passage by the first possible boat to South Africa.
Dada Abdulla had just then purchased the steamship Courland
and insisted on my travelling on that boat, offering to take me and
my family free of charge. I gratefully accepted the offer, and in
the beginning of December set sail a second time for South Africa,
now with my wife and two sons and the only son of my widowed sister.
Another steamship Naderi also sailed for Durban at the same time. The agents of the Company
were Dada Abdulla & Co. The total number of passengers these boats
carried must have been about eight hundred, half of whom were bound
for the Transvaal.