It has always been my regret that, although I started the Settlement at Phoenix, I could stay there only for brief periods. My original idea had been gradually to retire from practice, go and live at the Settlement, earn my livelihood by manual work there, and find the joy of service in the fulfillment of Phoenix. But it was not to be. I have found by experience that man makes his plans to be often upset by God, but, at the same time where the ultimate goal is the search of truth, no matter how a man's plans are frustrated, the issue is never injurious and often better than anticipated. The unexpected turn that Phoenix took and the unexpected happenings were certainly not injurious, though it is difficult to say that they were better than our original expectations.
In order to enable every one of us to make a living by manual
labour, we parceled out the land round the press in pieces of three
acres each. One of these fell to my lot. On all these plots we, much
against our wish, built houses with corrugated iron. Our desire had
been to have mud huts thatched with straw or small brick houses such
as would become ordinary peasants, but it could not be. They would
have been more expensive and would have meant more time, and
everyone was eager to settle down as soon as possible.
The editor was still Mansukhlal Nazar. He had not accepted the new
scheme and was directing the paper from Durban where there was a
branch office for Indian Opinion. Though we had paid compositors,
the idea was for every member of the Settlement to learn
type-setting, the easiest, if the most tedious, of the processes in
a printing press. Those, therefore, who did not already know the
work learnt it. I remained a dunce to the last. Maganlal Gandhi
surpassed us all. Though he had never before worked in a press, he
became an expert compositor and not only achieved great speed but,
to my agreeable surprise, quickly mastered all the other branches of
press work. I have always thought that he was not conscious of his
We had hardly settled down, the buildings were hardly ready, when I
had to leave the newly constructed nest and go to Johannesburg. I
was not in a position to allow the work there to remain without
attention for any length of time.
On return to Johannesburg, I informed Polak of the important changes
I had made. His joy knew no bounds when he learnt that the loan of
his book had been so fruitful. 'Is it not possible,' he asked, 'for
me to take part in the new venture?'. 'Certainly,' said I. 'You may
if you like join the Settlement.' 'I am quite ready,' he replied,
'If you will admit me.'
His determination captured me. He gave a month's notice to his chief
to be relieved from The Critic, and reached Phoenix in due course.
By his sociability he won the hearts of all and soon became a member
of the family. Simplicity was so much a part of his nature that, far
from feeling the life at Phoenix in any way strange or hard, he took
to it like a duck takes to water. But I could not keep him there
long. Mr. Ritch had decided to finish his legal studies in England,
and it was impossible for me to bear the burden of the office
single-handed, so I suggested to Polak that he should join the
office and qualify as an attorney. I had thought that ultimately
both of us would retire and settle at Phoenix, but that never came
to pass. Polak's was such a trustful nature that, when he reposed
his confidence in a friend, he would try to agree with him instead
of arguing with him. He wrote to me from Phoenix that though he
loved the life there, was perfectly happy, and had hopes of
developing the Settlement, still he was ready to leave and join the
office to qualify as an attorney, if I thought that thereby we
should more quickly realize our ideals. I heartily welcomed the
letter. Polak left Phoenix, came to Johannesburg and signed his
articles with me.
About the same time a Scots theosophist, whom I had been coaching
for a local legal examination, also joined as an articled clerk, on
my inviting him to follow Polak's example. His name was Mr.
Thus, with the laudable object of quickly realizing the ideals at
Phoenix, I seemed to be going deeper and deeper into a contrary
current, and had God not willed otherwise, I should have found
myself entrapped in this net spread in the name of simple life.
It will be after a few more chapters that I shall describe how I and
my ideals were saved in a way no one had imagined or expected.