- 'Opening Address' at Annual Conference of the South African Indian Congress by Dr. S. M. Molema, 25 January 1952
- 150 Anniversary; Anxieties of Commemoration - Towards a National Dialogue by Omar Badsha and Jon Soske
- 1913 Satyagraha Campaign Resumes
- A 'Public Health Nuisance': The Victoria Street Early Morning Squatters Market by Goolam Vahed, 1910-1934
- Defiance Campaign 1952
- Education Feature from Frene Ginwala's Thesis
- End Conscription Campaign (ECC)
- Gandhi and the Passive Resistance Campaign 1907-1914
- GANDHIJI AND THE STRUGGLE FOR LIBERATION IN SOUTH AFRICA
- India and South Africa - A Collection of Papers by E.S. Reddy
- Indian passive resistance in South Africa, 1946-1948
- Labouring under the Law: Exploring the Agency of Indian Women under Indenture in Colonial Natal, 1860 ? 1911 by Nafisa Essop Sheik
- Last of The Gandhians in South Africa
- Participation or Boycott by Jeeva Rajgopaul
- Segregation and the emergence of a left-wing grouping within the Transvaal and Natal Indian Congress
- Sharpeville Massacre, 21 March 1960
- The Anti-Pass Campaigns 1960
- The Coolies Here from the Natal Mercury, Thursday, November 22, 1860
- The Defiance Campaign 1989
- The Development of Indian Political Movements in South Africa, 1924 - 1946
- The Gandhi You May not Know
- The Indian War Memorial: National Memory and Selective Forgetting by Eric Itzkin
- The Place of India in South African History: Academic Scholarship, Past, Present and Future by Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie
- The Theory of passive resistance or non-violent campaigning
The Gandhi You May not Know
The Gandhi You May not Know
by Rajmohan Gandhi
In 1942, shortly before Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi launched the Quit India Movement, I was present in Sevagram as a six-and-a-half-year-old child. My memories also include a visit with my parents and siblings to the Aga Khan Detention Centre in Pune where Gandhi was detained along with my dying grandmother, Ba. But by far the most vivid recollections I have are of his two final years, which were often spent in Delhi, partly in the Balmiki Colony on Reading Road (now Mandir Marg), and later in Birla House. I was then between the ages of 10 and 12, and would often go to the prayer meeting along with the others in the family. I would also sometimes accompany my parents when they occasionally went at around quarter to nine at night to see him. That was before his bedtime at nine, as he was wont to rise at 3.30 am. No matter how busy he was, or weighed down with burdens, he would greet my siblings and me with tremendous warmth and a great thump on the back. And although he was an old man and almost perpetually on a fast, his thump made a memorable impression!
Unfortunately, we did not have leisurely one on ones. I wish I could say that he took me for a long walk and explained life to me - but he did not. The time we had with him was brief and was invariably shared with others present. I remember, too, how Gopal, my 2Â½-year-old brother, and Gandhi would often mimic each other by making faces. This was one way in which, amidst the saddest days of 1946-47-48, he obtained some fun - although India's Independence gave him great joy. I also remember that he laughed often and was very observant. Despite the great pain he carried in his heart, despite the weight his shoulders lifted, he brought to the visitor he was meeting a sparkle, a sense of fun even.
Another memorable impression is the manner in which he dealt with those who were unhappy with the recitation of the Quran at his prayer meetings. What struck me was his friendliness and fearlessness towards these angry people who could have very easily physically assaulted him, and his frankness in dealing with the issue.
As a student of his life, let me offer glimpses of the less known Gandhi. We know of Gandhi as the man guided by the inner voice, but I hope to unveil the Gandhi who collected sheer data or plain information - not the man driven by instinct or the inner voice alone.
We know of the Gandhi who was an indefatigable walker, often walking on dusty surfaces, and of the Gandhi who marched. We are reminded of Jawaharlal Nehru's wonderful comment as Gandhi left Ahmedabad for the 1930 Salt March:
Today the pilgrim marches onward on his long trek, staff in hand he goes along dusty roads of Gujarat, clear-eyed and firm of step with his faithful band trudging along behind him.
Â This aspect of Gandhi, the gyaarah-murti Gandhi, or the marching Gandhi, has been captured in many statues. But Gandhi was also an inveterate sailor - the sailing Gandhi -who made many voyages on water.
Gandhi as the karmaveer or the karmayogi - the man of action - is well known. Less known is the Gandhi who displayed an artistry with words. There is also the Gandhi who believed in 'aswaad' (non-love of pleasurable things), one of the eleven vows of the Satyagraha Ashram. He is invariably portrayed as a person who rejected the pleasure of the senses, which is untrue - Gandhi enjoyed music. Finally, while we are all familiar with the persona of the detached Gandhi living out the gospel of selfless action, there also existed the reverse - the attached Gandhi.
The Salt March illustrates Gandhi's interest in raw facts - not merely the instinct or the inner voice. At the time civil disobedience was planned, the entire nation was waiting to know the issue on which disobedience would be offered. We know that it was Gandhi's instinct that suggested the Salt March to him - the defiance would be over salt. While the populace was becoming restless and impatient, Gandhi pondered the best course of action. Tagore went to Sabarmati and asked Gandhi, 'What is going to happen?' to which Gandhi replied, 'I don't know. I am furiously thinking but I have no idea'. Suddenly, the inspiration struck: it would be the Salt March.
However, inspiration was followed by meticulous planning. He sent out a note to each of the scores of villages that he was going to cover. It was a note demanding information ahead of time on the following. 1) The village population, including how many women, men, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Parsis, etc. (He names 'women' before 'men' - in 1930). 2) The number of 'untouchables' and the education they were getting, if any. 3) The number of boys and girls in the village school, if one existed. Though this march was initiated in order to trigger nation-wide defiance, he wanted to collect this information about every village he was to visit. 4) The number of cattle, of spinning wheels, and of khadi wearers. 5) The amount and rate of land revenue. 6) The size of any common grazing ground. 7) The village's consumption of salt. (p. 332 of Mohandas). Here we glimpse Gandhi the social scientist.
Another example, also from a walk or trek but a much later one, is from the famous Noakhali walk which began in end-1946 and continued until March 1947. Here, too, he demanded information about each village he was visiting - from Manu, his 19-year-old grand-niece who accompanied him, and from Nirmal Kumar Bose, the anthropologist who accompanied Gandhi as his translator in East Bengal. The two were forced to do their research and, in her valuable account of Noakhali, Manu records the population of each village visited, categorized by religion, caste and occupation, showing that Gandhi wished to rely on information as well as on his instinct.
Gandhi was a prolific voyager having made several sea voyages over the years. He was, after all, a son of Porbandar on the Arabian Sea. In Hind Swaraj one reads of attacks on cars. On planes. On trains. But there is no attack on ships!
On his second sea voyage, which was in 1891 after his three student years in London were over when he was returning to India by ship, he maintained a diary, which began thus:
I could not make myself believe that I was going to India until I stepped into the steamship Oceana of the P&O Company. So much attached was I to London and its environments, for who would not be? London, with its teaching institutions, public galleries, vegetarian restaurants, is a fit place for a student and a traveller, a trader and a faddist, as a vegetarian would be called by his opponents. (He is conscious of the fact that he is now a passionate vegetarian and has opponents.) Thus it was not without regret that I left dear London. (This is the future foe of Empire speaking, at the age of 21.) (p.51)
On that voyage, he also wrote for a vegetarian journal in the UK. Here he employs a suave tone - he is trying, evidently, to develop his writing skills. He affects a very British mocking, snobbish and understating style. His articles refer to 'a crowd of dirty looking beggars' (can Gandhi write like this?) who 'pester' passengers in Malta, 'rogues and rascals' encountered in Port Said, and waiters who 'murder the Queen's English' and 'are the reverse of clean'. Gandhi describes the meals served in a day of an average passenger on that voyage. The pre-breakfast tea and biscuits, a huge breakfast (its elements are detailed), an 'easily digestible' lunch - but called 'dinner' - with 'plenty of mutton and vegetables, rice and curry, pastry and what not,... fruit and nuts followed by a "refreshing" cup of tea and biscuits at 4 pm' and a "high tea" at 6.30 pm - bread and utter, jam or marmalade or both, salad, chops, tea, coffee etc.' Thereafter, since the sea air was 'so very salubrious', 'the passengers could not retire to bed before taking a few, a very few - only eight or ten, fifteen at the most - biscuits, a little cheese and some wine or beer.' Added 21-year-old Gandhi:
Some very nice ladies and gentlemen travelled in the first saloon but it would not do to have all play and no quarrel, so some of the passengers thought fit to get drunk almost every evening. Beg your pardon, Mr. Editor, they got drunk almost every evening, but this particular evening they got drunk and disorderly. (p.52)
Gandhi also wrote of a speech on vegetarianism that he was all set to make on board. But the speech was never made because the evening devoted to speeches and concerts never came off. When asked to be humorous in his speech, Gandhi replied (he wrote) that 'he might be nervous but humorous he could not be' - in itself a humorous remark.
This was, apparently, the first and the last time he wrote in this British, understated, mocking style. Not knowing whether he would succeed as a lawyer, and wanting an alternate option to fall back upon, he practised writing.
Gandhi was 23 on his third voyage, which was in 1893 and to South Africa. On being informed that all space in first class had been booked for the governor-general of Mozambique who, too, was sailing from Bombay, Gandhi breezily went up to the chief officer of the ship and asked to be 'squeezed in' somehow. After being 'surveyed from top to toe', he was given a spare berth in the chief officer's cabin, not normally offered to passengers. The ship's captain also befriended Gandhi, and both spent a lot of time playing chess. Not many are aware of this chess-playing Gandhi, who makes moves and counter-moves.
When Gandhi's stay in South Africa proved longer than he had expected, he returned to India to collect his family. As there was no ship sailing immediately for Bombay, Gandhi boarded - in the middle of 1896 - the Pongola, which was bound for Calcutta to pick up a new lot of indentured labourers. During the 24 days at sea, he learnt something of two languages he could use in India and South Africa - Urdu, taught to him by a Muslim passenger, and Tamil, which he studied from a book, a 'Tamil Self-teacher'. He also managed an hour of chess a day with an English officer of the ship.
At the end of 1896, Gandhi took his family and a few other relatives to South Africa. This voyage, when two boats - the Courland and the Nader - sailed together for Durban, is fairly well-known. Four days short of the Natal coast, a violent gale hit the boats. Though the Courland's captain said that 'a well-built ship could stand almost any weather', the passengers became 'inconsolable'. The ships rocked and rolled and 'every minute were heard sounds and crashes which foreboded breaches and leaks'. Everyone prayed in different languages and ways, including the captain, to the one and only God. 'His will be done' was the only cry on every lip.
It is possible that the multi-faith prayers of the future that Gandhi presided over flowed from this storm. Watching Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jews and Parsis praying in different languages, Gandhi sensed that all the messages were aimed at a single address.
Always a good sailor himself, Gandhi took hourly reports from the captain to the Courland's passengers and sought to calm them. After 24 hours, the storm cleared; but just ahead was a gale of another sort. This episode is one that many are aware of: that enormous crowd of whites in Port Durban who did not want Gandhi to land in South Africa, some of whom wanted to lynch him. He was almost killed on this occasion. (pp.87-90).
Â By 1906, Gandhi, now 37, was editing a journal called Indian Opinion. He was also well on his way to formulating his concept of Satyagraha. In June and July 1906, he sought, while trekking in the Zulu country as an ambulance worker in the course of the so-called Zulu war, an alternative to violent struggle. It was there, in that beautiful but blood-soaked terrain, that he took some crucial personal decisions, which gave birth to the concept of Satyagraha. The meeting where Satyagraha was formally endorsed for the first time took place in Johannesburg on 11 September 1906. Please mark the month and the date. After the meeting, Gandhi went to England to ask British leaders to put pressure on South Africa to treat its Indians better.
From the ship taking him to England, the Armadale Castle, Gandhi sent a report for the Gujarati version of Indian Opinion. The ship, he wrote, 'is as big as a small town', and he added: 'There must be about a 1000 persons aboard but there is no noise, no disorder.' Gandhi noted that the English lawyer or businessman who had only recently trekked long distances in the Zulu war, and felt happy with dry bread, now did no work on the ship. 'He presses a button and an attendant stands before him. Why indeed should such a people not rule?' He would say this sort of thing (in Gujarati) to Indians in South Africa, not to the British. (p.125)
Three years later, Gandhi made another trip to England from South Africa. On the return journey, on the Kildonan Castle, in November 1909, two important pieces of writing were accomplished. The first was the Hind Swaraj. The text seemed to come to him in sentences already prepared, and he felt he was being inspired and wrote without ceasing. When his right hand got tired, he wrote with the left hand - hardly anything was scratched out. In addition, he translated a long unpublished piece that Tolstoy had written, called 'A Letter to a Hindoo'.
There was another significant voyage at the end of 1914. Gandhi's work in South Africa was over. He had won several key battles there, and was finally ready to take on India. First, however, he went to England and from there, in December 1914, he sailed for India on the Arabia. At the age of 45, Gandhi was returning to India with a resolve and a strategy.
Gandhi had not seen the land of his birth for 12 years. His father had died before he left for London to study law, and his mother died shortly before Gandhi returned on completing his law studies. Now, at the end of 1914, his two brothers too were dead. But that was not the only reason why Gandhi knew that he was not returning to Porbandar, where he was born, or Rajkot, where his family had lived. All of the Indian land towards which his steamer was making its way would be Gandhi's karmabhoomi or battlefield.
In South Africa, Gandhi had had the chance to work with Indians speaking different languages and coming from all parts of India, presenting the whole of India in miniature form. Unlike other leaders of the time, who were powerful leaders of their regions, Gandhi came to India with a plan to make all of India his battlefield. All of the Indian land towards which the Arabia was making its way would be his battlefield and so his home, and all living there would be his people. During the voyage on the Arabia, he tried to learn Bengali. By this time, his children had already gone to Calcutta and thence to Tagore's Santiniketan. He, too, would go there before long and wanted, therefore, to learn Bengali.
Â Kasturba and he enjoyed the voyage even though neither was very fit and the weather was either cold or stormy. On this voyage, for the first time ever since their marriage, Kasturba had her husband wholly to herself. This was the only journey - whether by road or rail or ship or in any other way - where Mohandas and Kasturba travelled just by themselves. Their children had left earlier, and there were no co-workers on board. The two, however, missed Kallenbach, the Jewish architect of German origin who had given Gandhi great support in South Africa, and who had wanted to come to India with the Gandhis. But the World War had just begun, and India's British government denied Kallenbach a visa. Gandhi wrote to him from the ship, 'The only thing to complete our happiness would be your presence. We always talk about you.'
While Kallenbach's presence would have added to their joy, Gandhi and Kasturba were indeed very happy to be with each other. Yet Gandhi was also conscious that he was on a momentous mission, for which he had plans and strategies, and so was anxious as anyone with a large plan and an uncertain future.
To Albert West, who was editing Indian Opinion in South Africa, Gandhi wrote from the Arabia: (23 Dec. 1914)
Â I have been so often prevented from reaching India that it seems hardly real that I am sitting in a ship bound for India. And having reached [India] what shall I do with myself? However, 'Lead Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, lead Thou me on.' That thought is my solace... (p.190)
To Kallenbach Gandhi wrote: 'Before retiring I invariably read the Bhagavad Gita [and the] Ramayana and sing one hymn.' (p.190) Let us imagine the Gandhis together on the Arabia, on the brink of a large undertaking, Kasturba having him all to herself, and he, always a good sailor, finding pleasure in the voyage - and singing each night a prayer song as the ship ploughed its way across the waters.
On Gandhi's last voyage to England, from India in 1931, for the Round Table Conference in London on the Rajputana, he was accompanied by several people: his secretary, Mahadev Desai; his other secretary Pyarelal; his son (and my father) Devadas; his friend and supporter, Ghanshyam Das Birla; and his British associate, Madeleine Slade, or Mira Behn, as she came to be known, who was 39 at this time.
As Mira Behn's father was an important Admiral in the navy of the British Empire, she was familiar with the sea and with ships. She reckoned that as a sailor on the Rajputana Gandhi was 'out and away the best' among the party. When a cheeky young fellow passenger presented Gandhi with what he called a journal named Scandal Times and asked for comments, Gandhi removed the pin from the sheets, returned the sheets, kept the pin and said, 'Thank you very much'. (p.354).
Some months after 21-year-old Gandhi returned to India in1891 after he had been called to the Bar in England, he looked for a part-time job, if possible of a literary type, since his practice was not coming along too well. On spotting an advertisement by 'a famous high school' in Bombay for someone who would teach English for an hour a day, Gandhi applied for the post that offered Rs. 75 a month, which was considered good pay in 1891 or 1892.
Certain that his skills in the English language were more than adequate for the job, young Gandhi went off in high spirits when called for an interview, but was rejected because he did not possess a B.A. degree. 'But I have passed the London matriculation with Latin as my second language and I am a Barrister,' he pointed out. He was told that a graduate was wanted - not merely someone who could teach English. (p.56).
Gandhi's home in Porbandar, where he was born, is indeed an impressive house. Just behind the house is the lane where Kasturba used to play, indeed where Mohandas and Kasturba used to play together as children. Her family, the Kapadias, lived in a house similar to that of the Gandhis. But it was only in the mid-1930s when a white South African leader called Jan Hofmeyr visited India that interest in the house of Gandhi's birth was aroused. Hofmeyr visited the house in Porbandar, which was then inhabited by numerous Gandhis from the joint family. Hofmeyr said, 'Don't you want to preserve this place?' and it was then that the building was purchased with funds provided by Nanji Kalidas.
Most readers are familiar with the scene from his childhood that Gandhi paints in his autobiography. A visitor to the Gandhi household sang the story of Shravan and perhaps displayed a picture of Shravan with a pole across his shoulder with baskets hanging down from the pole's ends, his father sitting in one basket and his mother in the other. It is this scene that Gandhi describes in his autobiography: 'The melting tune moved me deeply and I played it on a concertina which my father had purchased for me.'
As an eighteen or nineteen-year-old student in London he engages tutors for dancing, French, violin, and elocution. He paid three pounds for a term's dancing lessons, another three pounds for a violin, unstated fees for French and violin lessons, a preliminary fee of a guinea to a man teaching elocution, who began with a speech by Pitt. Gandhi paid another unknown sum to buy a book by Bell called Standard Elocutionist. In his autobiography Gandhi writes: 'But Mr. Bell rang the bell of alarm in my ear and I awoke.'
Something in the book, we don't know quite what - there are many instances of a thinking process in Gandhi triggered by something in a book - sets off a string of thoughts. 'How would English elocution help in India? Could dancing make one a gentleman? As for the violin, it could be learnt even in India.' (p.34) The 19-year-old Gandhi wanted to be a good violinist but decided that it was a skill best cultivated when he was back in India.
In 1907, Gandhi, now 37 years old and in South Africa, faced a dispute with some of his Indian allies who believe he had compromised with Smuts the ruler and let the side down. They decided to teach him a lesson - what could have been a better way of doing that than to beat him up? Mir Alam and his friends administered a vicious beating in Johannesburg, which left Gandhi unconscious.
He could have died, just as he could have been killed earlier when a British mob in Port Durban almost lynched him in January 1897. This time it was an Indian crowd that assaulted him, and, later, he was also roughed up by Africans in a prison. So Gandhi had the dubious privilege of being the recipient of multi-racial attacks.
By the time of the Mir Alam attack he had made friends with a Briton called Joseph Doke who was a Baptist Minister. Doke took the unconscious Gandhi to his home outside Johannesburg where, on revival, Gandhi issued instructions that his attackers were not be prosecuted. A doctor treated Gandhi in Doke's home and stitched up his face. He was unable to speak but was able to scribbled a note for Doke: would Doke's little daughter, Olive, mind singing for him a song he liked? The song that Olive sang was 'Lead, Kindly Light.'
Writing twenty years later, Gandhi says, 'All my life I can never forget the whole scene and the melodious voice of little Olive as she sang that song.' Perhaps we may say it is the words that move him, but Gandhi refers also to 'the melodious voice'. It is clear that both, the music as well as the meaning, touched Gandhi.
In 1922, Gandhi, now 52, was in Yeravda prison in Poona. He read scores and scores of books. There were no lamps in his cell, so he had to do his reading by day. Gandhi's enthusiasm for the reading habit is a little known aspect. He devoted six hours a day to reading, and four hours to spinning and carding. At dawn and sunset, he performed his prayers, singing bhajans most of the time to himself.
Two years later Gandhi was released because of illness, to the spectre of but Hindu-Muslim clashes. On a visit to Delhi he went on a fast - a 21-day fast for Hindu-Muslim reconciliation - staying in the home of Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar, the famous Muslim leader of northern India. At this point of time - 1924 - Maulana Muhammad Ali was the Congress President. His house stood on the Ridge from where, in 1857, the British had begun their recapture of Delhi and was in fact situated close to the 'Mutiny Memorial'.
Surrounding the fasting Gandhi inside Muhammad Ali's house were many friends and colleagues of Gandhi, including Swami Shraddhanand, Motilal Nehru, Chitta Ranjan Das, C. Rajagopalachari, and the hosts - Muhammad Ali and his older brother Shaukat Ali - Hakim Ajmal Khan, Dr. Ansari, Maulana Azad and two Englishmen, C.F. Andrews and Foss Westcott, the Bishop of Calcutta.
On the twentieth day of the fast, Gandhi said to these friends: 'During these days of grace, privilege and peace, I have hummed to myself the hymn that we often sing at the Satyagraha Ashram, "Raghuvar Tumko Meri Laj".' Thus we see that Gandhi used music and the solace it brought in times of turmoil. On breaking his fast, he requested bhajans from those of his colleagues who could sing them; and he asked Charlie Andrews, his English friend who had a good voice, to sing, 'When I survey the wondrous Cross'. (pp.293-4).
In London for the 1931 Round Table Conference, Gandhi stayed with the Lester sisters, Muriel and Doris, in an ordinary quarter of the city. At a 'joy night' organized by Muriel, when humble folk from the East end of London could have some amusement, a woman called Martha Rollason patted Gandhi on the shoulder and said, 'Come on, Mr. Gandhi, let's have a dance.' According to Muriel Lester, Gandhi 'looked awfully pleased to be asked' but he did not try to dance. At the Dorchester Hotel, the Maitre called Charles greeted Gandhi, reminding him that they had taken dancing lessons together in 1889. Gandhi, who remembered, exclaimed, 'Charlie!' (p.356).
A reporter from the Evening Standard asked Gandhi if he intended to see plays in London. Gandhi replied:
At one time I used to attend the Lyceum. I liked Shakespeare's plays - I adored the incomparable Ellen Terry, I worshipped her. But that was before the advent of melodrama. (He distinguishes drama from melodrama.) The only reason I will not attend theatres in London is because I shall not have time. I am not the dreadful old man I am represented to be. Actually I am a very jolly fellow. I can almost be described as Scotch. I am very careful of my sixpences. (p.354)
One evening towards the end of his life, his friend and wonderful singer, Dilip Kumar Roy, came to sing at Gandhi's prayer-meeting. Dilip Kumar Roy would later write:
After the meeting, I made my last obeisance on the lawn (of Birla House). He looked at me tenderly with gentle sad eyes and said, 'It was good, that song.' 'I know you had a special liking for that song'( - Roy). He sighed, 'When do I hear you next? Tomorrow?' 'I must fly tomorrow for Calcutta' (- Roy). He smiled. 'Well, well, if you must, you must. And that is the end of it. But I will miss you tomorrow.' When I left him my eyes were moist with tears. I was moved by him as never before. (p.654)
Gandhi is known as a man of detachment, but he also displayed attachment. Here is a glimpse from Rajkot in 1888, on the eve of Mohandas's departure for his three-year study in England, leaving behind his wife, Kastur, the boy Harilal, who is a few months old, his mother Putlibai, and other relatives. Mohandas himself is eighteen-and-a-half.
Putlibai cried, but the son successfully fought back his own tears. Kastur had begun sobbing long before this - Mohandas recalled the scene when in England he was asked about his departure from Rajkot. Added Mohandas: 'I went to [Kastur] and stood like a dumb statue for a moment. I kissed her and she said, "Don't go." What followed I need not describe.' (p.24)
Once in England, he found the separation from his family very hard:
I would continually think of my home and country. My mother's love always haunted me at night. The tears would stream down my cheeks. It was impossible to share my misery with anyone. I knew of nothing that would soothe me. England I could not bear but to return to India was not to be thought of. Now that I have come, I must finish the three years, said the inner voice. (pp.29-30)
When proceeding to South Africa in 1893, leaving his family behind to begin with, he felt 'the pang of parting from my wife'. Kastur and he had both felt the necessity of being more together but separation was 'rendered bearable' for him by the attractions of South Africa. But for that, the separation would have been unbearable for him. The man who repeatedly cut himself off from near and dear ones always felt the pain of separation. (p.61)
After eight years in South Africa, Gandhi considered his work there done. For five of these eight years he had the company of his wife and children. By October 1901 Kastur had given birth to all four of their children - all sons. He had succeeded in Durban in the law, indeed flourished in it. More than that, he had infused life and fight into the Indian community in South Africa. He had founded the Natal Indian Congress and had also discovered good lieutenants to whom he could pass on the baton. He was now ready to engage India which, incidentally, was his desire fairly soon after first arriving in South Africa. Also, he was apprehensive that if he continued to stay on in South Africa, money-making would absorb more and more of his energies.
South Africa's Indian community reluctantly agreed to let him go; but a condition was attached - if required Gandhi would have to return. The condition troubled him. He was looking forward to life and opportunities in India and feared that he would be summoned back. Yet he accepted the condition. In his words, 'The thread of love that bound me to the community was too strong to break.' He would break the thread of his desire but not the thread that bound him to the community. (p.96).
Gandhi and the family then sailed to India in October 1901. In Calcutta, he attended his first session of the Indian National Congress and spent much time in the company of Gopal Krishna Gokhale - a member of the Imperial Council - whom he had first met on a visit to India five years earlier. Much impressed by the 32-year-old Gandhi, Gokhale decided to build him up, both as a lawyer and in public work.
Barrister Gandhi hired chambers in Bombay's Fort area in the offices of Payne, Gilbert and Sayani. After a spell in a rented house in Girgaum, he looked for a house with more light and air and in his words 'hit upon' what he called 'a fine bungalow' in Santa Cruz in the Fort with the help of Revashankar Jagjivan.
Gandhi also prospered better than he expected in his profession. A first class ticket eased his commute between Santacruz and the Fort. Gandhi walked from Santa Cruz to Bandra to take the direct train to Churchgate. Later he would confess to an occasional feeling of 'a certain pride in being the only first class passenger in his compartment'. This is a confession, not a boast. He admits that this vain thought had crossed his mind.
Settling down with every appearance of normality, and in an admirable fashion, his work flourishing, Gandhi was persuaded to take out an insurance policy for Rs. 10,000 by an American insurance agent, a man with a pleasant countenance and persuasive tongue, who convinced Barrister Gandhi that it was almost a religious obligation to get insured. Thinking of Kastur and the children, Gandhi told himself, 'Man, you have sold almost all the ornaments of your wife. If something were to happen to you, the burden of supporting her and the children would fall on your poor brother. How would that become you?'
This comfortable period spent by the Gandhis in their Santa Cruz home was probably the one to which, in later years, Kastur was referring when, in response to a remark from Gandhi about spiced food that women in his ashram seemed to enjoy, she hit back saying, 'You had better keep quiet on the subject. Remember when every Sunday you would ask me to prepare some delicacies for you and you would gulp them down lustily.'
Our Gandhi was, however, not designed for comfort or pleasure. A cable arrived from South Africa, 'Chamberlain expected here. Please return immediately.' Chamberlain was the British Prime Minister, and his visit was expected to be crucial for the future of South Africa's Indians. Soon funds for Gandhi's fare to South Africa also arrived.
Remembering the promise he had given before he left, Gandhi gave up his court chambers and, in November 1902, went again to South Africa. In the hope that he would be back after a few months, he retained the Santa Cruz house, leaving Kastur and his children there under the care of a 22-year-old nephew, Chhaganlal Gandhi.
However, he did not return after some months as was expected, and it would be almost two years before Kastur and their sons would rejoin him in South Africa. And it would be more than twelve years before he returned to India, a period in which he embraced brahmacharya and poverty, discovered Satyagraha, wrote Hind Swaraj, and mobilized thousands of South Africa's Indians in an incredible struggle.
Gandhi wrote of his departure in November 1902 from Santa Cruz for South Africa:
The separation from wife and children, the breaking up of a settled establishment, and the going from the certain to the uncertain, all this was for a moment painful but I had inured myself to an uncertain life.
Compressed here is the lifelong clash in Gandhi between attachment and detachment. We know what always won, but we do not understand him if we ignore the attachment, or the pain in his struggles to overcome it.
We have glimpsed the rare but real Gandhi who enjoyed the small pleasures of life: sailing on the ocean, music, delicious food, the putting together of words, the first-class compartment, a fine bungalow in Santa Cruz, and the company of his wife and children. Also real, of course, was the Gandhi who was a slave to his inner voice, his conscience, his destiny and the people of India.