After reaching India I spent some time in going about the country. It was the year 1901 when the Congress met at Calcutta under the presidentship of Mr. (later Sir) Dinshaw Wacha. And I of course attended it. It was my first experience of the Congress.
I asked a volunteer where
I was to go. He took me to the Ripon College, where a
number of delegates were being put up. The volunteers
were clashing against one another. You asked one of them
to do something. He sent you to another, and he in his
turn to a third and so on; and as for the delegates,
they were neither here nor there. There was no limit to
insanitation. Pools of water were everywhere. There were
only a few latrines, and the recollection of their stink
still oppresses me. I pointed it out to the volunteers.
They said point blank: “That is not our work, it is the
scavenger’s work.” I asked for a broom. The man stared
at me in wonder. I got one and cleaned the latrine. But
that was for myself.
The rush was so great, and
the latrines were so few, that they needed frequent
cleaning; but that was more than I could do. There were
yet two days for the Congress session to begin. I had
made up my mind to offer my services to the Congress
office in order to gain some experience. Babu
Bhupendranath Basu and Sjt. Ghosal were the secretaries.
I went to Bhupenbabu and offered my services. He looked
at me, and said : “I have no work, but possibly
Ghosalbabu might have something to give you. Please go
to him.” So I went to him. He looked at me and said with
a smile: “I can give you only clerical work. Will you do
“Certainly,” said I. “I am
here to do anything that is not beyond my capacity.”
Shri Ghosal used to get
his shirt buttoned by his bearer. I volunteered to do
the bearer's duty, and I loved to do it, as my regard
for elders was always great. When he came to know this,
he did not mind my doing little acts of personal service
for him. In fact he was delighted. The benefit I
received from this service is incalculable. In a few
days I came to know the working of the Congress. I met
most of the leaders.
Sir Pherozeshah had agreed
to admit my resolution on South Africa, but I was
wondering who would put it before the Subjects
Committee, and when. For there were lengthy speeches to
every resolution all in English and every resolution had
some well-known leader to back it. As the night was
closing in, my heart beat fast. Everyone was hurrying to
go. It was 11 o'clock. I had not the courage to speak. I
had already met Gokhale, who had looked at my
resolution. So I drew near his chair and whispered to
him : “Please do something for me.”
“So we have done ?” said
Sir Pherozeshah Mehta.
“No, no, there is still
the resolution on South Africa. Mr. Gandhi has been
waiting long,” cried out Gokhale.
“Have you seen the
resolution ?” asked Sir Pherozeshah.
“Do you like it ?”
“It is quite good.”
“Well then, let us have
I read it trembling.
Gokhale supported it.
cried out everyone.
“You will have five
minutes to speak to it Gandhi,” said Mr. Wacha.
The procedure was far from
pleasing to me. No one had troubled to understand the
resolution, everyone was in a hurry to go and because
Gokhale had seen the resolution, it was not thought
necessary for the rest to see it or understand it !
And yet the very fact that
it was passed by the Congress was enough to delight my
heart. The knowledge that the approval of the Congress
meant that of the whole country was enough to delight