The journey was from Calcutta to Rajkot, and I planned to halt at Benares, Agra, Jaipur and Palanpur en route. I had not the time to see any more places than these. In each city I stayed one day and put up in dharmashalas or with pandas1 like the ordinary pilgrims, excepting at Palanpur. So far as I can remember, I did not spend more than Rs. 31 (including the train fare) on this journey.
In travelling third class I mostly preferred the ordinary to the
mail trains, as I knew that the latter were more crowded and the
fares in them higher.
The third class compartments are practically
as dirty, and the closet arrangements as bad, today as they were
then, There may be a little improvement now, but the difference
between the facilities provided for the first and the third classes
is out of all proportion to the difference between the fares for the
two classes. Third class passengers are treated like sheep and their
comforts are sheeps' comforts. In Europe I travelled third –
and only once first, just to see what it was like –
but there I noticed no such difference between the first and the third classes. In South Africa
third class passengers are mostly negros, yet the third class comforts are better there than here. In parts of South Africa
third class compartments are provided with sleeping accommodation,
and cushioned seats. The accommodation is also regulated, so as to
prevent overcrowding, whereas here I have found the regulation limit
The indifference of the railway authorities to the comforts of the
third class passengers, combined with the dirty and inconsiderate
habits of the passengers themselves, makes third class travelling a
trial for a passenger of cleanly ways. These unpleasant habits
commonly include throwing of rubbish on the floor of the
compartment, smoking at all hours and in all places, betel and
tobacco chewing, converting of the whole carriage into a spittoon,
shouting and yelling, and using foul language, regardless of the
convenience or comfort of fellow passengers. I have noticed little
difference between my experience of the third class travelling in
1902 and that of my unbroken third class tours from 1915 to 1919.
I can think of only one remedy for this awful state of things –
that educated men should make a point of travelling third class and
reforming the habits of the people, as also of never letting the
railway authorities rest in peace, sending in complaints wherever
necessary, never resorting to bribes or any unlawful means for
obtaining their own comforts, and never putting up with
infringements of rules on the part of anyone concerned. This, I am
sure, would bring about considerable improvement.
My serious illness in 1918-19 has unfortunately compelled me
practically to give up third class travelling, and it has been a
matter of constant pain and shame to me, especially because the
disability came at a time when the agitation for the removal of the
hardships of third class passengers was making fair headway. The
hardships of poor railway and steamship passengers, accentuated by
their bad habits, the undue facilities allowed by Government to
foreign trade, and such other things, make an important group of
subjects, worthy to be taken up by one or two enterprising workers who could devote their full time to it.
But I shall leave the third class passengers at that, and come to my
experience in Benares. I arrived there in the morning. I had decided
to put up with a panda.
Numerous Brahmans surrounded me, as soon as I got out of the train,
and I selected one who struck me to be comparatively cleaner and
better than the rest. It proved to be a good choice. There was a cow
in the courtyard of his house and an upper storey where I was given
a lodging. I did not want to have any food without ablution in the
Ganges in the proper orthodox manner. The panda
made preparations for it. I had told him beforehand that on no
account could I give him more than a rupee and four annas as dakshina2,
and that he should therefore keep this in mind while making the preparations.
The panda readily assented. 'Be the pilgrim rich or poor,' said he, 'the
service is the same in every case. But the amount of dakshina
we receive depends upon the will and the ability of the pilgrim.' I
did not find that the panda at all abridged the usual formalities in my case. The
puja3 was over at twelve o'clock, and I went to the Kashi Vishvanath
temple for darshan.
I was deeply pained by what I saw there. When practising as a
barrister in Bombay in 1891, I had occasion to attend a lecture on
'Pilgrimage to Kashi' in the Prarthana Samaj hall. I was therefore
prepared for some measure of disappointment. But the actual
disappointment was greater than I had bargained for.
The approach was through a narrow and slippery lane. Quiet there was none. The
swarming flies and the noise made by the shopkeepers and pilgrims
were perfectly insufferable.
Where one expected an atmosphere of meditation and communion it was
conspicuous by its absence. One had to seek that atmosphere in
oneself. I did observe devout sisters, who were absorbed in
meditation, entirely unconscious of the environment. But for this
the authorities of the temple could scarcely claim any credit. The
authorities should be responsible for creating and maintaining about
the temple a pure, sweet and serene atmosphere, physical as well as
moral. Instead of this I found a bazar
where cunning shopkeepers were selling sweets and toys of the latest
When I reached the temple, I was greeted at the entrance by a
stinking mass of rotten flowers. The floor was paved with fine
marble, which was however broken by some devotee innocent of
aesthetic taste, who had set it with rupees serving as an excellent
receptacle for dirt.
I went near the Jnana-vapi
(Well of knowledge). I searched here for God but failed to find Him.
I was not therefore in a particularly good mood. The surroundings of
the Jnana-vapi too I found to be dirty. I had no mind to give any dakshina.
So I offered a pie. The panda
in charge got angry and threw away the pie. He swore at me and said,
'This insult will take you straight to hell.'
This did not perturb me. 'Maharaj,' said I, 'whatever fate has in
store for me, it does not behove one of your class to indulge in
such language. You may take this pie if you like, or you will lose
'Go away,' he replied, 'I don't care for your pie.' And then
followed a further volley of abuse.
I took up the pie and went my way, flattering myself that the
Brahman had lost a pie and I had saved one. But the Maharaj was
hardly the man to let the pie go. He called me back and said, 'All
right, leave the pie here, I would rather not be as you are. If I
refuse your pie, it will be bad for you.'
I silently gave him the pie and, with a sigh, went away.
Since then I have twice been to Kashi Vishvanath, but that has been
after I had already been afflicted with the title of Mahatma
and experiences such as I have detailed above had become impossible.
People eager to have my darshan would not permit me to have a
darshan of the temple. The woes of Mahatmas
are known to Mahatmas alone. Otherwise the dirt and the noise were the same as before.
If anyone doubts the infinite mercy of God, let him have a look at
these sacred places. How much hypocrisy and irreligion does the
Prince of Yogis suffer to be perpetrated in His holy name? He proclaimed long ago:
'Whatever a man sows, that shall he reap.' The law of Karma is
inexorable and impossible of evasion. There is thus hardly any need
for God to interfere. He laid down the Law and, as it were, retired.
After this visit to the temple, I waited upon Mrs. Besant. I knew
that she had just recovered from an illness. I sent in my name. She
came at once. As I wished only to pay my respects to her, I said, 'I
am aware that you are in delicate health. I only wanted to pay my
respects. I am thankful that you have been good enough to receive me
in spite of your indifferent health. I will not detain you any
So saying, I took leave of her.