Gandhi the Matchmaker

Gandhi has, of course, been regarded as a 'good man' and a 'great soul' (Mahatma). But there was also a time when he was the 'Best Man' in quite another way.

It was his friend Henry Polak who was responsible for this. Polak was in love with an English girl called Millie. But he was not sure whether he should marry her, as it would mean that she might have to settle in a place like South Africa. When Gandhi came to know about this, he wrote a letter to Millie and her father explaining the situation to them. On reading Gandhi's letter, Millie, who loved Polak dearly, decided to go to Africa and get married over there.

Now, in western weddings, the bridegroom chooses from among his friends and relatives one man he considers closest, to be with him during the ceremony, as the 'Best Man'.

Gandhi was Polak's 'Best Man' at his wedding to Millie. Since Millie was a Christian and Henry a Jew, the marriage had to be registered with the registrar of marriages. But a problem arose. Gandhi was an Indian and the English registrar would not accept him. Henry, on the other hand, refused to name any other man as his best man. Gandhi then had a talk with the magistrate. This gentleman was a good friend of his and readily agreed to register the marriage. And that is how, despite initial difficulties, Gandhi the good man became the best man.

K.S. Narayanaswamy

Who was Henry Polak?

Gandhi's South Africa days were filled with struggles of all kinds. But along the way, he made many friends who, interestingly enough  turned out to be white men. Henry Polak was one such English friend of Gandhi.

While working in Johannesburg as a sub-editor of an English newspaper called 'Critic', Polak fearlessly wrote against all social injustices around him. Later on, he joined Gandhi in his office after passing the necessary tests to become a practicing lawyer. Polak soon became a member of Gandhi's family and was an affectionate uncle to  his children.