4. THE FIRST SHOCK
Disappointed, I left Bombay
and went to Rajkot, where I set up my own office. Here I got along moderately
well. Drafting applications and memorials brought me in, on the average,
Rs. 300 a month. For this work I had to thank influence rather than my
own ability, for my brother's partner had a settled practice. All applications
etc. which were, really or to his mind, of an important character, he sent
to big barristers. To my lot fell the applications to be drafted on behalf
of his poor clients.
I must confess that here I had
to compromise the principle of giving no commission, which in Bombay I
had so scrupulously observed. I was told that conditions in the two cases
were different; that whilst in Bombay commissions had to be paid to touts,
here they had to be paid to vakils who briefed you; and that here as in
Bombay all barristers, without exception, paid a percentage of their fees
as commission. The argument of my brother was, for me, unanswerable. 'You
see,' said he, 'that I am in partnership with another vakil. I shall always
be inclined to make over to you all our cases with which you can possibly
deal, and if you refuse to pay a commission to my partner, you are sure
to embarrass me. As you and I have a joint establishment, your fee comes
to our common purse, and I automatically get a share. But what about my
partner? Supposing he gave the same case to some other barrister, he would
certainly get his commission from him.' I was taken in by this plea, and
felt that if I was to practise as a barrister, I could not press my principle
regarding commissions in such cases. That is how I argued with myself,
or to put it bluntly, how I deceived myself. Let me add, however, that
I do not remember ever to have given commission in respect of any other
Though I thus began to make
both ends meet, I got the first shock of my life about this time. I had
heard what a British officer was like, but up to now had never been face
to face with one.
My brother had been secretary
and adviser to the late Ranasaheb of Porbandar before he was installed
on his gadi,/1/ and
hanging over his head at this time was 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 disabuse the Political Agent of his prejudice.
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 relish 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 his brow.
Nevertheless I opened my case. 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
'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
'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 crestfallen, and told my brother all that had happened. He
was grieved, but was at a loss as to how to console me. He spoke to his
vakil friends. For I did not know 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.
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