My brother had been secretary and adviser to the late Ranasaheb of Porbandar before he was installed on his gadi, and my brother at this time suffered under the charge of having given wrong advice when in that office. The matter had gone to the Political Agent who was prejudiced against my brother. Now I had known this officer when in England, and he may be said to have been fairly friendly to me. My brother thought that I should avail myself of the friendship and putting in a good word on his behalf, try to remove the prejudice of the Political Agent. I did not at all like this idea. I should not, I thought, try to take advantage of a trifling acquaintance in England. If my brother was really at fault, what use was my recommendation?
If he was innocent, he
should submit a petition in the proper course and,
confident of his innocence, face the result. My brother
did not like this advice.
“You do not know Kathiawad,”
he said, “and you have yet to know the world. Only
influence counts here. It is not proper for you, a
brother, to shirk your duty, when you can clearly put in
a good word about me to an officer you know.”
I could not refuse him, so
I went to the officer much against my will. I knew I had
no right to approach him and was fully conscious that I
was compromising my self-respect. But I sought an
appointment and got it. I reminded him of the old
acquaintance, but I immediately saw that Kathiawad was
different from England; that an officer on leave was not
the same as an officer on duty. The Political Agent
owned the acquaintance, but the reminder seemed to
stiffen him. “Surely you have not come here to abuse
that acquaintance, have you ?” appeared to be the
meaning of that stiffness, and seemed to be written on
Nevertheless I opened my
The sahib was impatient.
“Your brother is an intriguer. I want to hear nothing
more from you. I have no time. If your brother has
anything to say, let him apply through the proper
channel.” The answer was enough, was perhaps deserved.
But selfishness is blind. I went on with my story. The
sahib got up and said : “You must go now.”
“But please hear me out,”
said I. That made him more angry. He called his peon and
ordered him to show me the door. I was still hesitating
when the peon came in, placed his hands on my shoulders
and put me out of the room.
The sahib went away as
also the peon, and I departed fretting and fuming. I at
once wrote out and sent over a note to this effect :
“You have insulted me. You have assaulted me through
your peon. If you make no amends, I shall have to
proceed against you.”
Quick came the answer
through his sowar : “You were rude to me. I asked you to
go and you would not. I had no option but to order my
peon to show you the door. Even after he asked you to
leave the office, you did not do so. He therefore had to
use just enough force to send you out. You are at
liberty to proceed as you wish.”
With this answer in my
pocket, I came home feeling ashamed, and told my brother
all that had happened.
He was grieved, but did
not know how to console me. He spoke to his vakil
friends to find out how to proceed against the sahib.
Sir Pherozeshah Mehta happened to be in Rajkot at this
time, having come down from Bombay for some case. But
how could a junior barrister like me dare to see him? So
I sent him the papers of my case, through the vakil who
had engaged him and begged for his advice. “Tell
Gandhi,” he said, “such things are the common experience
of many vakils and barristers.
He is still fresh from
England, and hot-blooded. He does not know British
officers. If he would earn something and have an easy
time here, let him tear up the note and pocket the
insult. He will gain nothing by proceeding against the
sahib, and on the contrary will very likely ruin
himself. Tell him he has yet to know life.”
The advice was as bitter
as poison to me, but I had to swallow it.
I pocketed the insult, but
also profited by it. “Never again shall I place myself
in such a false position, never again shall I try to
exploit friendship in this way,” said I to myself, and
since then I have never been guilty of a breach of that
determination. This shock changed the course of my life.
I was no doubt at fault in
having gone to that officer. But his impatience and
overbearing anger were out of all proportion to my
mistake. It did not justify expulsion.
Now most of my work would
naturally be in his court. I had no desire to seek his
favour. Indeed, having once threatened to proceed
against him, I did not like to remain silent.
Meanwhile I began to learn
something of the petty politics of the country.
Kathiawad, being group of small states, naturally had
its rich crop of petty intrigues.
Princes were always at the
mercy of others and ready to lend their ears to
flatterers. Even the sahib’s peon had to be coaxed, and
the sahib's shirastedar was more than his master, as he
was his eyes, his ears and his interpreter. The
shirastedar's will was law, and his income was always
reputed to be more than the sahib's. This may have been
an exaggeration, but he certainly lived beyond his
This atmosphere appeared
to me to be poisonous, and how to remain in it was a
problem for me.
I was thoroughly depressed
and my brother clearly saw it. We both felt that, if I
could secure some job, I should be free from this
atmosphere of intrigue. But without intrigue a
ministership or judgeship was out of the question. And
the quarrel with the sahib stood in the way of my
practice. I did not know what to do.
In the meantime a Meman
firm from Porbandar wrote to my brother making the
following offer : “We have business in South Africa.
Ours is a big firm, and we have a big case there in the
Court, our claim being £ 40,000. It has been going on
for a long time. We have engaged the services of the
best vakils and barristers. If you sent your brother
there, he would be useful to us and also to himself.
He would be able to
instruct our lawyer better than ourselves. And he would
have the advantage of seeing a new part of the world and
of making new acquaintances.”
“How long do you require
my services ?” I asked. “And what will be the payment ?”
“Not more than a year. We
will pay you a first class return fare and a sum of £
105, all found.” This was hardly going there as a
barrister. It was going as a servant of the firm. But I
wanted somehow to leave India. There was also the
tempting opportunity of seeing a new country, and of
having new experience. Also I could send £ 105 to my
brother and help in the expenses of the household. I
closed with the offer without any bargaining, and got
ready to go to South Africa.