Gokhale was very anxious that I should settle down in Bombay, practise at the bar and help him in public work. Public work in those days meant Congress work, and the chief work of the institution which he had assisted to found was carrying on the Congress administration.
I liked Gokhale's advice, but I was not overconfident of success as
a barrister. The unpleasant memories of past failure were yet with
me, and I still hated as poison the use of flattery for getting
I therefore decided to start work first at Rajkot. Kevalram Mavji
Dave, my old well-wisher, who had induced me to go to England, was
there, and he started me straightaway with three briefs. Two of them
were appeals before the Judicial Assistant to the Political Agent in
Kathiawad and one was an original case in Jamnagar. This last was
rather important. On my saying that I could not trust myself to do
it justice, Kevalram Dave exclaimed: 'Winning or losing is no
concern of yours. You will simply try your best, and I am of course
there to assist you.'
The counsel on the other side was the late Sjt. Samarth. I was
fairly well prepared. Not that I knew much of Indian law, but
Kevalram Dave had instructed me very thoroughly. I had heard friends
say, before I went out to South Africa, that Sir Pherozeshah Mehta
had the law of evidence at his finger-tips and that was the secret
of his success. I had borne this in mind, and during the voyage had
carefully studied the Indian Evidence Act with commentaries thereon.
There was of course also the advantage of my legal experience in
I won the case and gained some confidence. I had no fear about the
appeals, which were successful. All this inspired a hope in me that
after all I might not fail even in Bombay.
But before I set forth the circumstances in which I decided to go to
Bombay, I shall narrate my experience of the inconsiderateness and
ignorance of English officials. The Judicial Assistant's court was
peripatetic. He was constantly touring, and vakils and their clients
had to follow him wherever he moved his camp. The vakils would
charge more whenever they had to go out of headquarters, and so the
clients had naturally to incur double the expenses. The
inconvenience was no concern of the judge.
The appeal of which I am talking was to be heard at Veraval where
plague was raging. I have a recollection that there were as many as
fifty cases daily in the place with a population of 5,500. It was
practically deserted, and I put up in a deserted dharmashala at
some distance from the town. But where were the clients to stay? If they
were poor, they had simply to trust themselves to God's mercy.
A friend who also had cases before the court had wired that I should
put in an application for the camp to be moved to some other station
because of the plague at Veraval. On my submitting the application,
the sahib asked me. 'Are you afraid?'
I answered: 'It is not a question of my being afraid. I think I can
shift for myself, but what about the clients?'
'The plague has come to stay in India,' replied the sahib. 'Why
fear it? The climate of Veraval is lovely. (The sahib lived far away from
the town in a palatial tent pitched on the seashore.) Surely people
must learn to live thus in the open.'
It was no use arguing against this philosophy. The sahib told his
shirastedar: 'Make a note of what Mr. Gandhi says, and let me know
if it is very inconvenient for the vakils or the clients.'
The sahib of course had honestly done what he thought was the right
thing. But how could the man have an idea of the hardships of poor
India? How was he to understand the needs, habits, idiosyncrasies
and customs of the people? How was one, accustomed to measure things
in gold sovereigns, all at once to make calculations in tiny bits of
copper? As the elephant is powerless to think in the terms of the
ant, in spite of the best intentions in the world, even so is the
Englishman powerless to think in the terms of, or legislate for, the
But to resume the thread of story. In spite of my successes, I had
been thinking of staying on in Rajkot for some time longer, when one
day Kevalram Dave came to me and said: 'Gandhi, we will not suffer
you to vegetate here. You must settle in Bombay.'
'But who will find work for me there?' I asked. 'Will you find the
'Yes, yes, I will,' said he. 'We shall bring you down here sometimes
as a big barrister from Bombay, and drafting work we shall send you
there. It lies with us vakils to make or mar a barrister. You have
proved your worth in Jamnagar and Veraval, and I have therefore not
the least anxiety about you. You are destined to do public work, and
we will not allow you to be buried in Kathiawad. So tell me, then,
when you will go to Bombay.'
'I am expecting a remittance from Natal. As soon as I get it I will
go,' I replied.
The money came in about two weeks, and I went to Bombay. I took
chambers in Payne, Gilbert and Sayani's offices, and it looked as
though I had settled down.