So I sailed for home. Mauritius was one of the ports of call, and as the boat made a long halt there, I went ashore and acquainted myself fairly well with the local conditions. For one night I was the guest of Sir Charles Bruce, the Governor of the Colony.
After reaching India I spent some time in going about the country.
It was the year 1901 when the Congress met at Calcutta under the
presidentship of Mr. (later Sir) Dinshaw Wacha. And I of course
attended it. It was my first experience of the Congress.
From Bombay I traveled in the same train as Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, as I had to
speak to him about conditions in South Africa. I knew the kingly
style in which he lived. He had engaged a special saloon for
himself, and I had orders to take my opportunity of speaking to him
by traveling in his saloon for one stage. I, therefore, went to the
saloon and reported myself at the appointed station. With him were
Mr. Wacha, and Mr. (now Sir) Chimanlal Setalvad. They were
discussing politics. As soon as Sir Pherozeshah saw me, he said,
'Gandhi, it seems nothing can be done for you. Of course we will
pass the resolution you want. But what rights have we in our own
country? I believe that, so long as we have no power in our own
land, you cannot fare better in the colonies.'
I was taken aback.
Mr. Setalvad seemed to concur in the view; Mr. Wacha cast a pathetic
look at me.
I tried to plead with Sir Pherozeshah, but it was out of
the question for one like me to prevail upon the uncrowned king of
Bombay. I contented myself with the fact that I should be allowed to
move my resolution.
'You will of course show me the resolution,' said
Mr. Wacha, to cheer me up. I thanked him and left them at the next
So we reached Calcutta. The President was taken to his camp
with great éclat by the Reception Committee. I asked a volunteer where I was to go.
He took me to the Ripon College, where a number of delegates were
being put up. Fortune favoured me. Lokamanya was put up in the same
block as I. I have a recollection that he came a day later.
And as was natural, Lokamanya would never be without his darbar. Were I a
painter, I could paint him as I saw him seated on his bed – so
vivid is the whole scene in my memory. Of the numberless people that
called on him, I can recollect today only one, namely, the late Babu
Motilal Ghose, editor of the Amrita Bazar Patrika.
Their loud laughter and their talks about the wrong-doings of the
ruling race cannot be forgotten.
But I propose to examine in some
detail the appointments in this camp. The volunteers were clashing
against one another. You asked one of them to do something. He
delegated it to another, and he in his turn to a third, and so on;
and as for the delegates, they were neither here nor there.
friends with a few volunteers. I told them some things about South
Africa, and they felt somewhat ashamed. I tried to bring home to
them the secret of service. They seemed to understand, but service
is no mushroom growth. It presupposes the will first, and then
experience. There was no lack of will on the part of those good
simple-hearted young men, but their experience was nil. The Congress
would meet three days every year and then go to sleep. What training
could one have out of a three days' show once a year? And the
delegates were of a piece with the volunteers. They had no better or
longer training. They would do nothing themselves. 'Volunteer, do
this', 'Volunteer, do that', were their constant orders.
Even here I was face to face with untouchability in a fair measure.
The Tamilian kitchen was far away from the rest. To the Tamil delegates
even the sight of others, whilst they were dining, meant pollution.
So a special kitchen had to be made for them in the college
compound, walled in by wicker-work. It was full of smoke which
choked you. It was a kitchen, dining room, washroom, all in one
– a close safe with no outlet. To me this looked like a travesty of
If, I said to myself, there was such untouchability between the
delegates of the Congress, one could well imagine the extent to
which it existed amongst their constituents. I heaved a sigh at the
There was no limit to insanitation. Pools of water were
everywhere. There were only a few latrines, and the recollection of
their stink still oppresses me. I pointed it out to the volunteers.
They said pointblank: 'That is not our work, it is the scavenger's
work.' I asked for a broom. The man stared at me in wonder. I
procured one and cleaned the latrine. But that was for myself. The
rush was so great, and the latrines were so few, that they needed
frequent cleaning; but that was more than I could do. So I had to
content myself with simply ministering to myself. And the others did
not seem to mind the stench and the dirt.
But that was not all. Some
of the delegates did not scruple to use the verandahs outside their
rooms for calls of nature at night. In the morning I pointed out the
spots to the volunteers. No one was ready to undertake the cleaning,
and I found no one to share the honour with me of doing it.
Conditions have since considerably improved, but even today
thoughtless delegates are not wanting who disfigure the Congress
camp by committing nuisances wherever they choose, and all the
volunteers are not always ready to clean up after them.
I saw that, if the Congress session were to be prolonged, conditions would be
quite favourable for the outbreak of an epidemic.