The Congress was over, but as I had to meet the Chamber of Commerce and various people in connection with work in South Africa, I stayed in Calcutta for a month. Rather than stay this time in a hotel, I arranged to get the required introduction for a room in the India Club. Among its members were some prominent Indians, and I looked forward to getting into touch with them and interesting them in the work in South Africa. Gokhale frequently went to this Club to play billiards, and when he knew that I was to stay in Calcutta for some time, he invited me to stay with him. I thankfully accepted the invitation, but did not think it proper to go there by myself. He waited for a day or two and then took me personally. He discovered my reserve and said: 'Gandhi, you have to stay in the country, and this sort of reserve will not do. You must get into touch with as many people as possible. I want you to do Congress work.'
I shall record here an incident in the India Club, before I proceed
to talk of my stay with Gokhale.
Lord Curzon held his darbar about this time. Some Rajas and
Maharajas who had been invited to the darbar were members of the
Club. In the Club I always found them wearing fine Bengali dhotis
and shirts and scarves. On the darbar day they put on trousers
befitting khansamas1 and shining boots. I was pained and inquired of one of them the
reason for the change.
'We alone know our unfortunate condition. We alone know the insults
we have to put up with, in order that we may possess our wealth and
titles,' he replied.
'But what about these khansama
turbans and these shining boots?' I asked.
'Do you see any difference between khansamas
and us?' he replied, and added, 'they are our khansamas,
we are Lord Cruzon's khansamas.
If I were to absent myself from the levée,
I should have to suffer the consequences. If I were to attend it in
my usual dress, it would be an offence. And do you think I am going
to get any opportunity there of talking to Lord Curzon? Not a bit of
I was moved to pity for this plain-spoken friend.
This reminds me of another darbar.
At the time when Lord Hardinge laid the foundation-stone of the
Hindu University, there was a darbar. There were Rajas and Maharajas
of course, but Pandit Malaviyaji specially invited me also to attend
it, and I did so.
I was distressed to see the Maharajas bedecked like women – silk
pyjamas and silk achkans,
pearl necklaces round their necks, bracelets on their wrists, pearl
and diamond tassels on their turbans and, besides all this, swords
with golden hilts hanging from their waist-bands.
I discovered that these were insignia not of their royalty, but of
their slavery. I had thought that they must be wearing these badges
of impotence of their own free will, but I was told that it was
obligatory for these Rajas to wear all their costly jewels at such
functions. I also gathered that some of them had a positive dislike
for wearing these jewels, and that they never wore them except on
occasions like the darbar.
I do not know how far my information was
correct. But whether they wear them on other occasions or not, it is
distressing enough to have to attend viceregal darbars in jewels
that only some women wear.
How heavy is the toll of sins and wrongs that wealth, power and
prestige exact from man!