THE SELECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Vol. II - SATYAGRAHA IN SOUTH AFRICA > Gokhale's Tour
36. Gokhale's Tour
Thus the Satyagrahis were pursuing the even tenor of their life on Tolstoy Farm, and preparing for whatever the future had in store for them. They did not know, nor did they care, when the struggle would end. They were only under one pledge namely to refuse submission to the Black Act and to suffer whatever hardships were involved in such disobedience. For a fighter the fight itself is victory for he takes delight in it alone. And as it rests with him to prosecute the fight, he believes that victory or defeat, pleasure or pain, depends upon himself. There is no such word in his dictionary as pain or defeat. In the words of the Gita, pleasure and pain, victory and defeat are the same to him.
Stray Satyagrahis now and then went to jail. But when there was no occasion for going to jail, anyone who observed the external activities of the Farm could hardly believe that Satyagrahis were living there or that they were preparing for a struggle. When a sceptic happened to visit the farm, if a friend he would pity us, and if a critic he would censure us. ‘These fellows,’ he would remark, ‘have grown lazy and are therefore eating the bread of idleness in this secluded spot. Thus are sick of going to jail and are therefore enjoying themselves in this fruit garden away from the din and roar of cities.’ How could it be explained to this critic that a Satyagrahi cannot go to jail by violating the moral law, that his preparation for ‘war’ , and that the Satyagrahi, bestowing no thought on human help, relies upon God as his sole refuge? Finally there happened, or God brought to pass, events which no one had expected. Help also arrived which was equally unforeseen. The ordeal came all unexpected and in the end there was achieved a tangible victory which he who ran could read.
I had been requesting Gokhale and other leaders to go to South Africa and to study the condition of the Indian settlers on the spot. But I doubted whether any of them would really come over. Mr. Ritch had been trying to have some Indian leader visit the subcontinent. But who would dare to go when the struggle was at a very low ebb? Gokhale was in England in 1911. He was a student of the struggle in South Africa. He had initiated debates in the Legislative Council of India and moved a resolution (February 25, 1910) in favour of prohibiting the recruitment of indentured labour for Natal, which was carried. I was in communication with him all along. He conferred with the Secretary of State for India and informed him of his intention to proceed to South Africa and acquaint himself with the facts of the case at first hand. The minister approved of Gokhale’s mission. Gokhale wrote to me asking me to arrange programme for a six weeks’ tour and indicating the latest date when he must leave South Africa. We were simply overjoyed. No Indian leader had been to South Africa before or for that matter to any other place outside Indian where Indians had emigrated, with a view to examine their condition. We therefore realized the importance of the visit of a great leader like Gokhale and determined to accord him a reception which even princes might envy and to take him to the principal cities of South Africa. Satyagrahis and other Indians alike cheerfully set about making grand preparations of welcome. Europeans were also invited to join and did generally join the reception. We also resolved that public meetings should be held in Town Halls wherever possible and the Mayor of the place should generally occupy the chair if he consented to do so. We undertook to decorate the principal stations on the railway line and succeeded in securing the necessary permission in most cases. Such permission is not usually granted. But our grand preparations impressed the authorities, who evinced as much sympathy in the matter as they could. For instance, in Johannesburg alone the decorations at Park station took us about a fortnight, including, as they did, a large ornamental arch of welcome designed by Mr. Kallenbach.
In England itself Gokhale had a foretaste of what South Africa was alike. The secretary of State for India had informed the Union Government of Gokhale’s high rank, his position in the Empire, etc. But who would think of booking his passage or reserving a good cabin for him? Gokhale had such delicate health that he needed a comfortable cabin where he could enjoy some privacy. The authorities of the Steamship Company roundly stated that there was no such cabin. I do not quite remember whether it was Gokhale or some friend of his who informed the India Office about this. A letter was addressed from the India office to the directors of the Company and the best cabin was placed at Gokhale’s disposal while none was available before. Good came out of this initial evil. The captain of the steamer received instructions to treat Gokhale well, and consequently he had a happy and peaceful voyage to South Africa. Gokhale was as jolly and humorous as he was serious. He participated in the carious games and amusements on the steamer, and thus became very popular among his fellow-passengers. The Union Government offered Gokhale their hospitality during his stay at Pretoria and placed the State railway saloon at his disposal. He consulted me on the point and then accepted the offer.
Gokhale landed at Cape Town on October 22, 1912. His health was very much more delicate than I had expected. He restricted himself to a particular diet, and he could not endure much fatigue. The programme I had framed was much too heavy for him, and therefore cut it down as far as possible. I deeply repented of my folly in drawing up an onerous programme without consulting him. Some changes were made, but much had to be left as it was. I had not grasped the necessity of securing absolute privacy for Gokhale, and I had the greatest difficulty in securing it. Still I must in all humility state in the interests of truth that as I was fond of and proficient in waiting upon the sick and the elderly,, as soon as I had realized my folly I revised all the arrangements so as to be able to give Gokhale great privacy and peace. I acted as his secretary throughout the tour. The volunteers, one of whom was Mr. Kallenbach, were wide awake, and I do not think Gokhale underwent any discomfort or hardship for want of hardship for want of help. It was clear that we should have a great meeting in Cape Town. I have already written about the Schreiners. I requested Senetar W. P. Schreiner, the head of that illustrious family, to take the chair on the occasion and he was good enough to consent. There was a big meeting attended by a large number of Indians and Europeans. Mr. Schreiner welcomed Gokhale in well-chosen words and expressed his sympathy with the Indians of South Africa. Gokhale made a speech, concise, full of sound judgement, from but courteous, which pleased the Indians and fascinated the Europeans. In fact Gokhale won the hearts of the variegated people of South Africa on the very day that he set foot on South African soil.
From Cape Town Gokhale was to go Johannesburg by a railway journey of two days. The Transvaal was the field of battle. As we went from Cape Town, the first large frontier station of the Transvaal was Klerksdorp. As each of these places had a considerable population of Indians, Gokhale had to stop and attend a meeting at Klerksdorp, as well as at the intermediate stations of Potchefstroom and Krugersdorp, between Klerksdorp and Johannesburg. He therefore left Klerksdorp by a special train. The Mayors of these places presided at the meetings, and at none of the stations did the train halt longer than one or two hours. The train reached Johannesburg punctually to the minute. On the platform there was a dais specially erected for the occasion and covered with rich carpets. Along with other Europeans there was present Mr. Ellis the Mayor of Johannesburg who placed his car at Gokhale’s disposal during his stay in the Golden City. An address was presented to Gokhale on the station itself. Addresses had of course been presented to him everywhere. The Johannesburg address was engraved on a solid heart-shaped plate of gold form the Rand mounted on Rhodesian teak. On the plate was a map of India and Ceylon and It was flanked on either side by two gold tablets, one bearing an illustration of the Taj Mahal and the other a characteristic Indian scene. Indian scences were also beautifully carved on the wood work. Introducing all present to Gokhale, reading the address, the reply, and receiving other addresses which were taken as read, all this did not take more than twenty minutes. The address was short enough to be read in five minutes. Gokhale’s reply did not occupy more than another five minutes. The volunteers maintained such excellent order, that there were no more persons on the platform than it was expected easily to accommodate. There was no noise. There was a huge crowd outside; yet no one was at all hampered in coming and going.
Gokhale was put up in a fine for use belonging to Mr. Kallenbach perched on a hill-top five miles from Johannesburg. Gokhale liked the place immensely as the scenery there was pleasant, the atmosphere soothing, and the house through simple was full of art. A special office was hired in the city for Gokhale to receive all visitors, where there were three rooms, a private chamber for Gokhale, a drawing room, and a waiting room for visitors. Gokhale was taken to make private calls upon some distinguished men in the city. A private meeting of leading Europeans was organized so as to give Gokhale a thorough understanding of their standpoint. Besides this, a banquet was held in Gokhale’s honour to which were invited 400 persons including about 150 Europeans. Indians were admitted by tickets, costing a guinea each, an arrangement which enabled us to meet the expenses of the banquet. The menu was purely vegetarian and there were no wines. The cooking was attended to by volunteers. It is difficult to give an adequate idea of this here. Hindus and Musalmans in South Africa do not observe restrictions as to inter dinning. But the vegetarians do not take meat. Some of the Indians were Christians, with whom I was as intimate as with the rest. These Christians are mostly the descendants of indentured labourers and many of them make their living by serving in hotels as waiters. It was with the assistance of these latter that culinary arrangements could be made on such a large scale with about 15 items on the bill of fare. It was a novel and wonderful experience for the Europeans of South Africa to sit at dinner with so many Indians on the same table, to have a purely vegetarian menu and to do without wines altogether. For many of them all the three features were new while two features were new for all.
To this gathering Gokhale addressed his longest and most important speech in South Africa. In preparing this speech, he subjected us to a very full examination. He declared that it had been his lifelong practice not to disregard the standpoint of local men and even to try to meet it as far as it was to put this on paper and undertake not to be offended even if he did not utilize a single word or idea from my draft, which should be neither too short nor too long, and yet which should not omit a single point of any consequence. I may say at once that Gokhale did not make any use of my language at all. Indeed I would never expect such a master of the English language as Gokhale adopted my ideas into his utterances. Indeed Gokhale’s train of thought was such, that one could never tell whether or not any room had there been allowed to one’s own ideas. I listened to every speech made by Gokhale, but I do not remember a single occasion when I could have wished that he had not expressed a certain idea or had omitted a certain adjective. The cleanness, firmness and urbanity of Gokhale’s utterances flowed from his indefatigable labour and unswerving devotion to truth.
In Johannesburg we also had to hold a mass meeting of Indians only. I have always insisted on speaking either in the mother tongue or else in Hindustani, the lingua franca of India, and thanks to this insistence, I have had much facility in establishing close relations with the Indians in South Africa. I was therefore anxious that Gokhale too should speak to the Indians in Hindustani. I was aware of Gokhale’s views on the subject. Broken Hindi would not do for him, and therefore he would speak either in Marathi or in English. It seemed artificial to him to speak in Marathi in South Africa and even if he did speak in Marathi, his speech would have to be translated into Hindustani for the benefit of Gujarati and North Indian members of the audience. And that being so, where was the harm if he spoke in English? Fortunately for me, I had one argument which Gokhale would accept as conclusive in favour of his making a Marathi speech. There were many Konkani Musalmans as well as a few Maharashtra Hindus in Johannesburg, all of whom were cager to hear Gokhale to speak Marathi, and who had asked me to request Gokhale to speak in their mother tongue. I told Gokhale that these friends would be highly pleased if he spoke in Marathi and I would translate his Marathi into Hindustani. Gokhale burst into laughter and said, ‘I have quite fathomed your knowledge of Hindustani, an accomplishment upon which you cannot exactly be congratulated. But now you propose to translate Marathi and Hindustani. May I know where you acquired such profound knowledge of Marathi?’ I replied, ‘What is true of my Hindustani is equally true of my Marathi. I cannot speak a single word of Marathi, but I am confident of gathering the purport of your Marathi speech on a subject, which I am familiar. In any case you will see that I do not misinterpret you to the people. There are others well versed in Marathi, who could act as your interpreters. But you will not perhaps approve of such arrangement. So please bear with me and do speak in Marathi. I too am desirous of hearing of your Marathi speech in common with the Konkani friend.’ ‘You will always have your own way,’ said Gokhale. ‘And there is no help for me as I am here at your mercy.’ So saying Gokhale fell in with my suggestion, and from this point onwards right up to Zanzibar he always spoke in Marathi at similar meetings and I served as translator by special appointment to him. I do not know if I was able to bring Gokhale round to the view, that rather than speak in perfect idiomatic English it was more desirable to speak as far as may be in the mother tongue and even in broken Hindi. But I do know that if only to please me, he spoke in Marathi in South Africa. After he had made some speeches, I could see that he too was gratified by the results of the experiments. Gokhale by his conduct on many occasions in South Africa showed that there was merit in pleasing one’s followers in cases not involving a question of principle.