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STUDENTS' PROJECTS > THE STORY OF MY LIFE > PART III : IN INDIA AS BARRISTER > Back in India

15. Back in India

I passed my examinations, was called to the Bar on the 10th of June 1891, and enrolled in the High Court on the 11th. On the 12th I sailed for home.

But notwithstanding my study there was no end to my helplessness and fear. I did not feel myself qualified to practise law. I had read the laws, but not learnt how to practise law. Besides, I had learnt nothing at all of Indian law. I had not the slightest idea of Hindu and Mahomedan Law. I had not even learnt how to draft a plaint, and felt completely helpless. I had serious misgivings as to whether I should be able even to earn a living by the profession.

My elder brother had come to meet me at the dock in Bombay. I was pining to see my mother. My brother had kept me ignorant of her death, which took place whilst I was still in England. He did not want to give me the bad news in a foreign land. The news, however, was none the less a severe shock to me. My grief was even greater than over my father’s death. Most of my cherished hopes were shattered.

But I remember that I did not give myself up to any wild expression of grief. I could even check the tears, and took to life just as though nothing had happened.

The storm in my caste over my foreign voyage was still there. It had divided the caste into two camps, one of which immediately re-admitted me, while the other was bent on keeping me out. I never tried to seek admission to the section that had refused it. Nor did I feel even mental resentment against any of the headmen of that section. Some of these regarded me with dislike, but I scrupulously avoided hurting their feelings. I fully respected their regulations.

According to these, none of my relations, including my father-in-law and mother-in-law, and even my sister and brother-in-law, could entertain me; and I would not so much as drink water at their houses. They were prepared secretly to lay aside the prohibition, but I did not like to do a thing in secret that I would not do in public.

The result of my scrupulous conduct was that I never had occasion to be troubled by the caste; nay, I have experienced nothing but affection and generosity from the general body of the section that still regards me as outside the caste. They have even helped me in my work, without ever expecting me to do anything for the caste. It is my conviction that all these good things are due to my non-resistance. Had I agitated for being admitted to the caste, had I attempted to divide it into more camps, had I provoked the castemen, they would surely have retaliated and I would have found myself in a whirlpool of agitation.

To start practice in Rajkot would have meant sure ridicule. I had hardly the knowledge of a qualified vakil and yet I expected to be paid ten times his fee! No client would be fool enough to engage me.

Friends advised me to go to Bombay for some time in order to gain experience of the High Court, to study Indian law and to try and get what cases I could. I took up the suggestion and went. But it was impossible for me to get along in Bombay for more than four or five months, there being no income to square with the ever-increasing expenditure. About this time, I took up the case of one Mamibai. It was a ‘small cause’.

“You will have to pay some commission to the tout,”1 I was told. I emphatically declined. I gave no commission but got Mamibai's case all the same. It was an easy case. I charged Rs. 30 for my fees. The case was not likely to last longer than a day.

This was my first appearance in the Small Cause Court. I had to cross-examine the plaintiff's witness.

I stood up, but my courage failed. My head was reeling and I felt as though the whole Court was doing likewise. I could think of no question to ask. The judge must have laughed, and the vakils no doubt enjoyed the sight. But I could not see anything. I sat down and told the agent that I could not conduct the case, that he had better engage Shri Patel and have the fee back from me. Shri Patel was duly engaged for Rs. 51. To him, of course, the case was child’s play.

I hastened from the Court, not knowing whether my client won or lost her case, but I was ashamed of myself, and decided not to take up any more cases until I had courage enough to conduct them. So I thought I might take up a teacher's job. My knowledge of English was good enough and I should have loved to teach English to Matriculation boys in some school. In this way I could have met part at least of the expenses. I came across an advertisement in the papers :

‘Wanted an English teacher to teach one hour daily. Salary Rs. 75.’ The advertisement was from a famous high school. I applied for the post and was called for an interview.

I went there in high hopes, but when the principal found that I was not a graduate, he regretfully refused me.

“But I have passed the London Matriculation with Latin as my second language.”

“True, but we want a graduate.”

There was no help for it. I was very disappointed. My brother also felt much worried. We both came to the conclusion that it was no use spending more time in Bombay.

So I left Bombay and went to Rajkot, where I set up my own office.

Here I got along moderately well. Drafting applications and memorials brought me, on an average, Rs. 300 a month. For this work I had to thank influence rather than my own ability, for my brother’s partner had a settled practice. All applications etc. which were, really or to his mind, of an important character, he sent to big barristers.

To my lot fell the applications to be drafted on behalf of his poor clients.


1. A man who obtains cases for lawyers. – Ed.