You are here:
30. My First Congress
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 it ?”
“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.
“Of course.”
“Do you like it ?”
“It is quite good.”
“Well then, let us have it, Gandhi.”
I read it trembling.
Gokhale supported it.
“Unanimously passed,” 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 anyone.