10. FIRST DAY IN PRETORIA
I had expected someone
on behalf of Dada Abdulla's attorney to meet me at Pretoria station. I
knew that no Indian would be there to receive me, since I had particularly
promised not to put up at an Indian house. But the attorney had sent no
one. I understood later that as I had arrived on a Sunday, he could not
have sent anyone without inconvenience. I was perplexed, and wondered where
to go, as I feared that no hotel would accept me.
Pretoria station in 1893 was
quite different from what it was in 1914. The lights were burning dimly.
The travellers were few. I let all the other passengers go and thought
that as soon as the ticket collector was fairly free, I would hand him
my ticket and ask him if he could direct me to some small hotel or any
other such place where I might go; otherwise I would spend the night at
the station. I must confess I shrank from asking him even this, for I was
afraid of being insulted.
The station became clear of
all passengers. I gave my ticket to the ticket collector and began my enquiries.
He replied to me courteously, but I saw that he could not be of any considerable
help. But an American Negro who was standing near by broke into the conversation.
'I see,' said he, 'that you
are an utter stranger here, without any friends. If you will come with
me, I will take you to a small hotel, of which the proprietor is an American
who is very well known to me. I think he will accept you.'
I had my own doubts about the
offer, but I thanked him and accepted his suggestion. He took me to Johnston's
Family Hotel. He drew Mr. Johnston aside to speak to him, and the latter
agreed to accommodate me for the night, on condition that I should have
my dinner served in my room.
'I assure you,' said he, 'that
I have no colour prejudice. But I have only European custom, and, if I
allowed you to eat in the dinning room, my guests might be offended and
even go away.'
'Thank you', said I, 'even for
accommodating me for the night, I am now more or less acquainted with the
conditions here, and I understand your difficulty. I do not mind you serving
the dinner in my room. I hope to be able to make some other arrangement
I was shown into a room, where
I now sat waiting for the dinner and musing, as I was quite alone. There
were not many guests in the hotel, and I had expected the waiter to come
very shortly with the dinner. Instead Mr. Johnston appeared. He said: 'I
was ashamed of having asked you to have your dinner here. So I spoke to
the other guests about you, and asked them if they would mind your having
your dinner in the dining-room. They said that they had no objection, and
that they did not mind your staying here as long as you liked. Please,
therefore, come to the dinning-room, if you will, and stay here as long
as you wish.'
I thanked him again, went to
the dining room and had a hearty dinner.
Next morning I called on the
Mr. A. W. Baker. Abdulla Sheth had given me some description of him, so
his cordial reception did not surprise me. He received me very warmly and
made kind inquiries. I explained all about myself. Thereupon he said: 'We
have no work for you here as barrister, for we have engaged the best counsel.
The case is a prolonged and complicated one, so I shall take your assistance
only to the extent of getting necessary information. And of course you
will make communication with my client easy for me, as I shall now ask
for all the information I want from him through you. That is certainly
an advantage. I have not yet found rooms for you. I thought I had better
do so after having seen you. There is a fearful amount of colour prejudice
here, and therefore it is not easy to find lodgings for such as you. But
I know a poor woman. She is the wife of a baker. I think she will take
you, and thus add to her income at the same time. Come, let us go to her
So he took me to her house.
He spoke with her privately about me, and she agreed to accept me as a
boarder at 35 shillings a week.
Mr. Baker, besides being an
attorney, was a staunch lay preacher. He is still alive and now engaged
purely in missionary work, having given up the legal profession. He is
quite well-to-do. He still corresponds with me. In his letters he always
dwells on the same theme. He upholds the excellence of Christianity from
various points of view, and contends that it is impossible to find eternal
peace unless one accepts Jesus as the only son of God and the Saviour of
During the very first interview
Mr. Baker ascertained my religious views. I said to him: 'I am a Hindu
by birth. And yet I do not know much of Hinduism, and I know less of other
religions. In fact I do not know where I am, and what is and what should
be my belief. I intend to make a careful study of my own religion and,
as far as I can, of other religions as well.'
Mr. Baker was glad to hear all
this, and said: 'I am one of the directors of the South Africa General
Mission. I have built a church at my own expense, and deliver sermons in
it regularly. I am free from colour prejudice. I have some co-workers,
and we meet at one o'clock every day for a few minutes and pray for peace
and light. I shall be glad if you will join us there. I shall introduce
you to my co-workers, who will be happy to meet you, and I dare say you
will also like their company. I shall give you, besides, some religious
books to read, though of course the book of books is the Holy Bible, which
I would specially recommend to you.'
I thanked Mr. Baker and agreed
to attend the one o'clock prayers as regularly as possible.
'So I shall expect you here
tomorrow at one o'clock, and we shall go together to pray,' added Mr. Baker,
and we said good-bye.
I had little time for reflection
I went to Mr. Johnston, paid
the bill, and removed to the new lodgings, where I had my lunch. The landlady
was a good woman. She had cooked a vegetarian meal for me. It was not long
before I made myself quite at home with the family.
I next went to see the friend
to whom Dada Abdulla had given me a note. From him I learnt more about
the hardships of Indians in South Africa. He insisted that I should stay
with him. I thanked him, and told him that I had already made arrangements.
He urged me not to hesitate to ask for anything I needed.
It was now dark. I returned
home, had my dinner, went to my room, and lay there absorbed in deep thought.
There was not any immediate work for me. I informed Abdulla Sheth of it.
What, I thought, can be the meaning of Mr. Baker's interest in me? What
shall I gain from his religious co-workers? How far should I undertake
the study of Christianity? How was I to obtain literature about Hinduism?
And how was I to understand Christianity in its proper perspective without
thoroughly knowing my own religion? I could come to only one conclusion:
I should make a dispassionate study of all that came to me, and deal with
Mr. Baker's group as God might guide me; I should not think of embracing
another religion before I had fully understood my own.
Thus musing I fell asleep.