V. PREPARING FOR SOUTH AFRICA
I was no doubt at fault
in having gone to that officer. But his impatience and overbearing anger
were out of all proportion to my mistake. It did not warrant expulsion.
I can scarcely have taken up more than five minutes of his time. But he
simply could not endure my talking. He could have politely asked me to
go, but power had intoxicated him to an inordinate extent. Later I came
to know that patience was not one of the virtues of this officer. It was
usual for him to insult visitors. The slightest unpleasantness was sure
to put the sahib out.
Now most of my work would naturally
be in his court. It was beyond me to conciliate him. I had no desire to
curry favour with him. Indeed, having once threatened to proceed against
him, I did not like to remain silent.
Meanwhile, I began to learn
something of the petty politics of the country. Kathiawad, being a conglomeration
of small states, naturally had its rich crop of politicals. Petty intrigues
between states, and intrigues of officers for power, were the order of
the day. Princes were always at the mercy of others, and ready to lend
their ears to sycophants. Even the sahib's peon had to be cajoled,
and the sahib's shirastedar was more than his master, as
he was his eyes, his ears, and his interpreter. The shirastedar's
will was law, and his income was always reputed to be more than the sahib's.
This may have been an exaggeration, but he certainly lived beyond his salary.
This atmosphere appeared to
me to be poisonous, and how to remain unscathed was a perpetual problem
I was thoroughly depressed,
and my brother clearly saw it. We both felt that if I could secure some
job, I should be free from this atmosphere of intrigue. But without intrigue,
a ministership or judgeship was out of the question. And the quarrel with
the sahib stood in the way of my practice.
Porbandar was then under administration,
and I had some work there in the shape of securing more powers for the
prince. Also I had to see the Administrator in respect of the heavy vighoti
(land rent) exacted from the Mers. This officer, though an Indian, was,
I found, one better than the sahib in arrogance. He was able, but
the ryots appeared to me to be none the better off for his ability. I succeeded
in securing a few more powers for the Rana, but hardly any relief for the
Mers. It struck me that their cause was not even carefully gone into.
So even in this mission I was
comparatively disappointed. I thought justice was not done to my clients,
but I had not the means to secure it. At the most I could have appealed
to the Political Agent or to the Governor, who would have dismissed the
appeal, saying, 'We decline to interfere.' If there had been any rule or
regulation governing such decisions, it would have been something, but
here the sahib's will was law.
I was exasperated.
In the meantime a Meman firm
from Porbandar wrote to my brother making the following offer: 'We have
business in South Africa. Ours is a big firm, and we have a big case there
in the Court, our claim being £40,000. It has been going on for a
long time. We have engaged the services of the best vakils and barristers.
If you sent your brother there, he would be useful to us and also to himself.
He would be able to instruct our counsel better than ourselves. And he
would have the advantage of seeing a new part of the world, and of making
My brother discussed the proposition
with me. I could not clearly make out whether I had simply to instruct
the counsel or to appear in court. But I was tempted.
My brother introduced me to
the late Sheth Abdul Karim Jhaveri, a partner of Dada Abdulla & Co.,
the firm in question. 'It won't be a difficult job,' the Sheth assured
me. 'We have big Europeans as our friends, whose acquaintance you will
make. You can be useful to us in our shop. Much of our correspondence is
in English, and you can help us with that too. You will, of course, be
our guest, and hence will have no expense whatever.'
'How long do you require my
services?' I asked. 'And what will be the payment?'
'Not more than a year. We will
pay you a first class return fare and a sum of £105, all found [=with
all living expenses paid by the employer].'
This was hardly going there
as a barrister. It was going as a servant of the firm. But I wanted somehow
to leave India. There was also the tempting opportunity of seeing a new
country, and of having new experience. Also I could send £105 to
my brother and help in the expenses of the household. I closed with the
offer without any haggling, and got ready to go to South Africa.