It was no easy thing to issue the first number of Indian Opinion from Phoenix. Had I not taken two precautions, the first issue would have had to be dropped or delayed. The idea of having an engine to work the press had not appealed to me. I had thought that hand-power would be more in keeping with an atmosphere where agricultural work was also to be done by hand. But as the idea had not appeared feasible, we had installed an oil-engine. I had, however, suggested to West to have something handy to fall back upon in case the engine failed. He had therefore arranged a wheel which could be worked by hand. The size of the paper, that of a daily, was considered unsuitable for an out-of-the-way place like Phoenix. It was reduced to foolscap size, so that, in case of emergency, copies might be struck off with the help of a treadle.
In the initial stages, we all had to keep late hours before the day
of publication. Everyone, young and old, had to help in folding the
sheets. We usually finished our work between ten o'clock and
midnight. But the first night was unforgettable. We had got out an
engineer from Durban to put up the engine and set it going. He and
West tried their hardest, but in vain. Everyone was anxious. West,
in despair, at last came to me, with tears in his eyes, and said,
'The engine will not work, I am afraid we cannot issue the paper in
'If that is the case, we cannot help it. No use shedding tears. Let
us do whatever else is humanly possible. What about the hand-wheel?'
I said, comforting him.
'Where have we the men to work it?' he replied. 'We are not enough to
cope with the job. It requires relays of four men each, and our own
men are all tired.'
Building work had not yet been finished, so the
carpenters were still with us. They were sleeping on the press
floor. I said pointing to them, 'But can't we make use of these
carpenters? And we may have a whole night of work. I think this
device is still open to us.'
'I dare not wake up the carpenters. And our men are really too
tired,' said West.
'Well, that's for me to negotiate,' said I.
'Then it is possible that we may get through the work,' West
I woke up the carpenters and requested their co-operation. They
needed no pressure. They said, 'If we cannot be called upon in an
emergency, what use are we? You rest yourselves and we will work the
wheel. For us it is easy work.' Our own men were of course ready.
West was greatly delighted and started singing a hymn as we set to
work. I partnered the carpenters, all the rest joined turn by turn,
and thus we went on until 7 a.m. There was still a good deal to do.
I therefore suggested to West that the engineer might now be asked
to get up and try again to start the engine, so that if we succeeded
we might finish in time.
West woke him up, and he immediately went into the engine room. And
lo and behold! the engine worked almost as soon as he touched it.
The whole press rang with peals of joy. 'How can this be? How is it
that all our labours last night were of no avail, and this morning
it has been set going as though there were nothing wrong with it?' I
'It is difficult to say,' said West or the engineer, I forget which.
'Machines also sometimes seem to behave as though they required rest
For me the failure of the engine had come as a test for us all, and
its working in the nick of time as the fruit of our honest and
The copies were despatched in time, and everyone was happy.
This initial insistence ensured the regularity of the paper, and
created an atmosphere of self-reliance in Phoenix. There came a time
we deliberately gave up the use of the engine and worked with
hand-power only. Those were, to my mind, the days of the highest
moral uplift for Phoenix.