From The Vegetarian (London), June 13, 1891:
['Our Workers' was a ocassional series in the newspaper, mostly about
workers for the London Vegetarian Society. It is not stated who conducted
this interview, or when, but it was almost certainly Gandhi's good friend
Josiah Oldfield who was Editor of The Vegetarian at this time, and presumably
just before Gandhi left England.]
Photo from The Vegetarian, June 13, 1891.
No indication was given of when it was taken, but probably when he
was called to the bar.
Of the many who know something of India there are few who have any true
conception of the habits and customs, the thoughts and aspirations, the
religions, intheory and practice of the natives of India. Mr. Gandhi's
pen, however, has been active in the pages of this paper in doing something
to dispel that ignorance.
There is one point connected with the presence of all Hindus in England
which is not generally known, and that is the patient, persistent force
of character which has been necessary to enable them to overcome the enormous
difficulties which lie in the way of their coming here.
To enable Englishmen to appreciate these diffculties and so to respect
every Hindu who lands upon these shores, and also to point out
to Hindus how these difficulties may be overcome, and how they will find
Vegetarian friends in England, we have asked Mr. Gandhi to reply fully
to a few questions.
Mr. Gandhi was first asked what was the reason which fist induced him
to think of coming over to England and adopting the legal profession.
In a word ambition. I matriculated at the Bombay University, in the
year 1887. Then I joined the Bhownagar College, for unless you graduate
at the Bombay University you get no status in society. If you want any
employment before that, you cannot secure, unless of course you have
a very good influence to back you up, a repectale post, giving a handsome
salary. But I found that I wold have to spend three years at the least
before I could graduate. Moreover, I suffered from constant headaches
and nose-bleeding, and this was supposed to be due to the hot climate.
And, after all, I could not, even after graduating, expect any very
great income.While I was incessantly brooding over these things an old
friend of my father's saw and advised me to go to England and take the
robe ; he, as it were, fanned the fire that was burning within me. I
thought to myself, "If I go to England, not only shall I become
a barrister (of whom I used to think a great deal) but I shall be able
to see England, the land of philosophers and poets, the very centre
of civilisation." This gentleman had influence with my elders,
and so he succeeded in persuading them to send me to England.
This is a very brief statement of my reasons for coming to England,
but they by no means represent my present views.
Of course your friends were all delighted at your ambitious purpose?
Well, not all. There are friends and friends. Those who were my real
friends, and of about my age, were glad to hear that I was to go to
England. Some were friends, or rather well-wishers, old in years. These
sincerely believed that I was going to ruin myself, and that I would
be a disgrace to my family by going to England. Others, however, set
up their opposition simply from malice. They had seen some of the barristers
who derived fabulous incomes, and they were afraid that I might do the
same. Some, again there were, who thought that I was too young (I am
now about twenty-two), or that I should not be able to bear the climate.
To cut the matter short, no two persons supported or opposed my coming
on the same grounds.
How did you set about carrying out your intentions? Just tell me, if
you please, what were your difficulties, and how you overcame them?
Even to try to tell you the story of my difficulties would fill up
the whole of your valuable paper. It is a tale of misery and woe. The
difficulties may well be likened to the heads of Ravan (the giant of
the second great Hindu epic Romayan, whom Rama the Hero fought, and
ultimately defeated), which were many, and which were no sooner chopped
off than replaced. They may be divided chiefly under four heads, viz.,
money, consent of my elders, separation from relations, and caste restrictions.
First, then, as to money. Though my father was the prime mnister of
more than one native state, he never hoarded money. He spent all thathe
earned in charity and the education and marriages of his children, so
we were practically left without much cash. He left some property and
that was all. When asked why he did not collect money and set it aside
for his children, he used to say that his children represented his wealth,
and if he hoarded much money he would spoil them. So, then, money was
no small difficulty in my way. I tried for some State scholarship but
failed. At one place I was asked to prove my worth by graduating and
then expect it. Experience teaches me that the gentleman who said so
was right. Nothing daunted I requested my eldest brother to devote all
the money that was left to my education in England.
Here I cannot helo digressing to explain the family system that prevails
in India. There, unlike as in England, the children always, if male,
and until marriage, if female, live with their parents. What they earn
goes to the father, and so also what they lose is a loss to the father.
Of course even the male children do separate under exceptional circumstances,
e.g., in the case of a great quarrel. But these are the exceptions.
In the legal language of Mayne "Individual property is the rule
in the West. Corporate property is the rule in the East." So, then,
I have and had no property of my own. Everything was under the control
of my brother, and we were all living together.
To return to the question of money. What little my father could leave
for me was in the hands of my brother.It could only be set free subject
to his consent. Moreover, that was not enough, so I proposed that the
whole capital should be devoted to my education. I ask you if any brother
would do so here. There are very few such brothers in India. He was
told that I might prove an unworthy brother after imbibing in the western
ideas, and that the onyl chance of regaining the money would be my returning
alive to India, which was very doubtful. But he turned a deaf ear to
all these reasonable and well-meant warnings. There was one, and only
one condition attached to the consent to my proposal, viz., that I should
get the permission of my mother and my uncle. May many persons have
such brothers as mine! I then set about the allotted task, which I can
assure you was uphill enough. Fortunately I was the pet of my mother.
She had much faith in me, and so I succeeded in getting over her superstition,
but how was I to make her nod consent to a three years' separation?
However, by showing the exaggerated advantages of coming to England,
I got her to accede, with much reluctance, to my request. Now for the
uncle. He was on the point of going to Benares and other such holy places.
After three days' incessant persuasion and arguments I could get the
following answer from him -
"I am going on a pilgrimage. What you say may be right, but how
could I willingly say 'yes' to your unholy proposal. The only thing
I can say is, that if your mother does not mind you going I have no
right to interfere."
This can easily be interpreted into "yes." Nor were these
the onyl two whom I had to please. In India every one, no matter how
remotely connected, thinks he has a right to poke his nose into another's
affairs. But when I had exacted (for it was nothing else) acquiesence
from the two, the pecuniary difficulties almost disappeared.
The difficulties under the second head are partially discussed above.
You will, perhaps, be astonished to hear that I am married. (The marriage
took place at the age of twelve.) Small blame then to my wife's parents
if they thought they had a right to interfere if only for the sake of
their daughter. Who was to look after her? How was she to manage to
spend the three years? Of course she was to be looked after by my brother.
Poor brother! According to my ideas at thattime I should have taken
littel notice of their legitimate fears and growlings, had it not been
that their displeasure would have been reflected on my mother and brother.
It was no easy task to sit night after night with my father-in-law and
to hear and successfully answer his objections. But then I was taught
the old proverb, "Patience and perseverance overcome mountains"
too well to give way.
When I had money and the requisite permission I said to myself, "How
an I to persuade myself to separate from all that is dear and near to
me?" In India we fight shy of separation. Even when I had to go
from home for a few days m mother wold weep. How, then, was I to witness,
without being affected, the heart-rending scene. It is impossible for
me to describe the tortures that my mind had to suffer. As the day of
leave-taking drew near I nearly broke down. But I was wise enoughx not
to say this, even to my closest friends. I knew that my health was failing.
Sleeping, waling, drinking, eating, waling, running, reading, I was
dreaming and thinking of England and what I would do on that momentous
day. At last the day came. On teh one hand my mother was hiding her
eyes, full of tears, in her hands, but the sobbing was clearly heard.
On the other, I was placed among a circle of some fifty friends. "If
I wept they would think me too weak ; perhaps they would not allow me
to go to England" soliloquised I, therefore I did not weep, even
though my heart was breaking. Last, but not least, came the leave-taking
with my wife. It would be contrary to custom for me to see or talk to
her in the presence of friends. So I had to see her in a separate room.
She, of course, had begn sobbing long before. I went to her and stood
like a dumb statue for a moment. I kissed her, and she said, "Don;t
go." What followed I need not describe. This done my anxieties
were not over. It was but the beginning of the end. The leave-taking
was only half done, for I parted with my mother and the wife in Rajkot
(where I was educated), but my brother and friends came to see me off
as far as Bombay. The scene that took place there was no less affecting.
The collisions with my caste fellows in Bombay defy description, for
Bombay is the place where they chiefly live. In ajkot I did not meet
with any such opposition worthy of the name. It was my misfortune to
live in the heart of the city of Bombay, where they most abound, so
I was hemmed in on all sides.I could not go out without being pointed
and stared at by some one or another. At one time I was walking near
the Town Hall, I was surrounded and hooted by them, and my poor brother
had to look at the scene in silence. The culminating point was reached,
when a huge meeting of the caste fellows was summoned by the chief representatives.
Every member of the caste was called upon to atend the meeting, under
pain of forfeiting a fine of five annas. I may here mention that before
this step was determined upon, I was pestered with many deputations
from them to no avail. At this great meeting I was seated in the centre
of the audience. The Patels, as the representatives are called,
remonstrated with me very strongly, and reminded me of their connection
with my father.It may be mentioned that all this was quite an unique
experience to me. They literally dragged me out of my seclusion, for
I was not accustomed to such things. Moreover, my position became more
precarious on account of an extreme shyness. Seeing that remonstrance
fell flat on me, the head Patel addressed me (in effect) in the
following words :- "We were your fathers friends, and therefore
we feel for you, as heads of the caste you know our power. We are positively
informed that you will have to eat flesh and drink wine in England ;
moreover, you have to crossthe waers ; all this you must know is against
our caste rules. Therefore we command you to reconsider your decision,
or else the heaviest punishment will be meted out to you. What have
you to say to this?"
I replied in the following words :
"I thank you for your warnings. I am sorry that I cannot alter
my decision. What I have heard about England is quite different from
what you say ; one need not take meat and wine there. As for crossing
the waters, if our brethren can go as far as Aden, why could I not go
to England? I am deeply convinced that malice is at the root of all
"Very well then replied the worthy Patel, in anger, "You
are not the son of your father." Then turing to the audience, he
went on, "This boy has lost his sense, and we command everyone
not to have anything to do with him. He who will support him in any
way or go to see him off, will be treated as an outcast, and if the
boy ever returns, let him know that he shall never be taken into the
These words fell like a bombshell on all. Even the chosen few who had
supported me through thick and thin, left me alone. I had a great mind
to answer the childish taunt, but was prevented from doing so by my
brother. Thus even though I got out of the ordeal safely, my position
became worse than ever. Even my brother began to vaccilate, though only
for a moment. He was reminded of the threat that the pecuniary support
from him would cost him not only the money, but his membership of the
caste. So although he did not say anything to me in person, he asked
some of his friends to persuade me either to reconsider my decision
or to defer its execution till the fury had subsided. There could be
but one answer from me, and ever since that, he never flinched, and,
as a fact, he has not been excommunicated ; but the end had not come
yet. The intrigues of the caste fellows were always at work. They almost
seemed to have scored this time, for they could put off my going for
a fortnight. They carried it out thus wise. We went to see a captain
of a steamship company, who was requested to say thatit would be unwise
for me to leave during that time (August), because of the rough weather
in the sea. My brother would consent to anything but this. Unfotunately,
this was the first voyage that I had undertaken, so no one knew whether
I was a good sailor or not, so I was helpless. Much against my will,
I had to put off my departure. I thought the whole structure would fall
to the ground. My brother having left a note to a friend, requesting
him to give me the passage money when the time came, took leave. The
parting scene was similar to the one described above. Now I was left
alone in Bombay without any money to buy the passage. Every hour that
I had to wait seemed a year. In the meantime I heard that another Indian
gentleman was about to leave for England ; this news was a godsend to
me. I thought 'I would be allowed to go now'. I made use of the note,
and was refused the money. I had to make preparations within twenty-four
hours ; I was in a dreadful flutter. Without money I felt as if I was
a bird without wings. A friend whom I shal always thank, came to the
rescue, and advanced the passage money. I bought the ticket, telegraphed
to my brother, and sailed for England on the 4th September, 1888. Such
were my chief difficlties which spread over nearly five months. It was
a time of terrible anxiety and torture. Now hopeful, now despondent,
I dragged along always trying my best, and then depending on God to
show me the cherished goal.
(To be concluded)
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