25. IN INDIA
On my way to Bombay the
train stopped at Allahabad for forty-five minutes. I decided to utilize
the interval for a drive through the town. I also had to purchase some
medicine at a chemist's shop. The chemist was half asleep, and took an
unconscionable time in dispensing the medicine, with the result that when
I reached the station, the train had just started. The station master had
kindly detained the train one minute for my sake, but not seeing me coming,
had carefully ordered my luggage to be taken out of the train.
I took a room at Kelner's, and
decided to start work there and then. I had heard a good deal about The
Pioneer, published from Allahabad, and I had understood it to be an
opponent of Indian aspirations. I have an impresssion that Mr. Chesney,
Jr., was the editor at that time. I wanted to secure the help of every
party, so I wrote a note to Mr. Chesney, telling him how I had missed the
train, and asking for an appointment so as to enable me to leave the next
day. He immediately gave me one, at which I was very happy, especially
when I found that he gave me a patient hearing. He promised to notice in
his paper anything that I might write, but added that he could not promise
to endorse all the Indian demands, inasmuch as he was bound to understand
and give due weight to the viewpoint of the Colonials as well.
'It is enough,' I said, 'that
you should study the question and discuss it in your paper. I ask and desire
nothing but the barest justice that is due to us.'
The rest of the day was spent
in having a look round, admiring the magnificent confluence of the three
rivers, the 'Triveni', and planning the work before me.
This unexpected interview with
the editor of The Pioneer laid the foundation of the series of incidents
which ultimately led to my being lynched in Natal.
I went straight to Rajkot without
halting at Bombay, and began to make preparations for writing a pamphlet
on the situation in South Africa. The writing and publication of the pamphlet
took about a month. It had a green cover, and came to be known afterwards
as the Green Pamphlet. In it I drew a purposely subdued picture of the
conditions of Indians in South Africa. The language I used was more moderate
than that of the two pamphlets which I have referred to before, as I knew
that things heard of from a distance appear bigger than they are.
Ten thousand copies were printed
and sent to all the papers and leaders of every party in India. The
Pioneer was the first to notice it editorially. A summary of the article
was cabled by Reuter to England, and a summary of that summary was cabled
to Natal by Reuter's London office. This cable was not longer than three
lines in print. It was a miniature, but exaggerated, edition of the picture
I had drawn of the treatment accorded to the Indians in Natal, and it was
not in my words. We shall see later on the effect this had in Natal. In
the meanwhile every paper of note commented at length on the question.
To get these pamphlets ready
for posting was no small matter. It would have been expensive too, if I
had employed paid help for preparing wrappers, etc. But I hit upon a much
simpler plan. I gathered together all the children in my locality and asked
them to volunteer two or three hours' labour of a morning, when they had
no school. This they willingly agreed to do. I promised to bless them and
give them, as a reward, used postage stamps which I had collected. They
got through the work in no time. That was my first experiment of having
little children as volunteers. Two of those little friends are my co-workers
Plague broke out in Bombay about
this time, and there was panic all around. There was fear of an outbreak
in Rajkot. As I felt that I could be some help in the sanitation department,
I offered my services to the State. They were accepted, and I was put on
the committee which was appointed to look into the question. I laid especial
emphasis on the cleanliness of latrines, and the committee decided to inspect
these in every street. The poor people had no objection to their latrines
being inspected, and what is more, they carried out the improvements suggested
to them. But when we went to inspect the houses of the upper ten [percent?],
some of them even refused us admission, not to talk of listening to our
suggestions. It was our common experience that the latrines of the rich
were more unclean. They were dark and stinking and reeking with filth and
worms. The improvements we suggested were quite simple, e.g., to have buckets
for excrement instead of allowing it to drop on the ground, to see that
urine also was collected in buckets instead of allowing it to soak into
the ground, and to demolish the partitions between the outer walls and
the latrines, so as to give the latrines more light and air and enable
the scavenger to clean them properly. The upper classes raised numerous
objections to this last improvement, and in most cases it was not carried
The committee had to inspect
the untouchables' quarters also. Only one member of the committee was ready
to accompany me there. To the rest it was something preposterous to visit
those quarters, still more so to inspect their latrines. But for me those
quarters were an agreeable surprise. That was the first visit in my life
to such a locality. The men and women there were surprised to see us. I
asked them to let us inspect their latrines.
'Latrines for us!' they exclaimed
in astonishment. 'We go and perform our functions out in the open. Latrines
are for you big people.'
'Well, then, you won't mind
if we inspect your houses?' I asked.
'You are perfectly welcome,
sir. You may see every nook and corner of our houses. Ours are no houses,
they are holes.'
I went in and was delighted
to see that the insides were as clean as the outsides. The entrances were
well swept, the floors were beautifully smeared with cowdung, and the few
pots and pans were clean and shining. There was no fear of an outbreak
in those quarters.
In the upper class quarters
we came across a latrine which I cannot help describing in some detail.
Every room had its gutter, which was used both for water and urine, which
meant that the whole house would stink. But one of the houses had a storeyed
bedroom with a gutter which was being used both as a urinal and a latrine.
The gutter had a pipe descending to the ground floor. It was not possible
to stand the foul smell in this room. How the occupant could sleep there
I leave readers to imagine.
The committee also visited the
Vaishnava Haveli. The priest in charge of the Haveli was
very friendly with my family. So he agreed to let us inspect everything
and suggest whatever improvements we liked. There was a part of the Haveli
premises that he himself had never seen. It was the place where refuse
and leaves used as dinnerplates used to be thrown over the wall. It was
the haunt of crows and kites. The latrines were of course dirty. I was
not long enough in Rajkot to see how many of our suggestions the priest
It pained me to see so much
uncleanliness about a place of worship. One would expect a careful observance
of the rules of sanitation and hygiene in a place which is regarded as
holy. The authors of the Smritis, as I knew even then, have laid the greatest
emphasis on cleanliness both inward and outward.