27. THE BOMBAY MEETING
On the very day after
my brother-in-law's death I had to go to Bombay for the public meeting.
There had hardly been time for me to think out my speech. I was feeling
exhausted after days and nights of anxious vigil, and my voice had become
husky. However, I went to Bombay trusting entirely to God. I had never
dreamt of writing out my speech.
In accordance with Sir Pherozeshah's
instructions I reported myself at his office at 5 p.m. on the eve of the
'Is your speech ready, Gandhi?'
'No, sir,' said I, trembling
with fear, 'I think of speaking ex tempore.'
'That will not do in Bombay.
Reporting here is bad, and if we would benefit by this meeting, you should
write out your speech, and it should be printed before daybreak tomorrow.
I hope you can manage this?'
I felt rather nervous, but I
said I would try.
'Then, tell me, what time should
Mr. Munshi come to you for the manuscript?'
'Eleven o'clock tonight,' said
On going to the meeting the
next day, I saw the wisdom of Sir Pherozeshah's advice. The meeting was
held in the hall of the Sir Cowasji Jehangir Institute. I had heard that
when Sir Pherozeshah Mehta addressed meetings the hall was always packed,
chiefly by the students intent on hearing him, leaving not an inch of room.
This was the first meeting of the kind in my experience. I saw that my
voice could reach only a few. I was trembling as I began to read my speech.
Sir Pherozeshah cheered me up continually by asking me to speak louder
and still louder. I have a feeling that far from encouraging me, it made
my voice sink lower and lower.
My old friend Sjt. Keshavrao
Deshpande came to my rescue. I handed my speech to him. His was just the
proper voice. But the audience refused to listen. The hall rang with the
cries of 'Wacha', 'Wacha'. So Mr. Wacha stood up and read the speech, with
wonderful results. The audience became perfectly quiet, and listened to
the speech to the end, punctuating it with applause and cries of 'shame'
where necessary. This gladdened my heart.
Sir Pherozeshah liked the speech.
I was supremely happy.
The meeting won me the active
sympathy of Sjt. Deshpande and a Parsi friend, whose name I hesitate to
mention, as he is a high-placed Government official today. Both expressed
their resolve to accompany me to South Africa. Mr. C. M. Cursetji, who
was then Small Causes Court judge, however, moved the Parsi friend from
his resolve, as he had plotted his marriage. He had to choose between marriage
and going to South Africa, and he chose the former. But Parsi Rustomji
made amends for the broken resolve, and a number of Parsi sisters are now
making amends for the lady who helped in the breach, by dedicating themselves
to Khadi work. I have therefore gladly forgiven that couple. Sjt. Deshpande
had no temptations of marriage, but he too could not come. Today he is
himself doing enough reparation for the broken pledge. On my way back to
South Africa I met one of the Tyabjis at Zanzibar. He also promised to
come and help me, but never came. Mr. Abbas Tyabji is atoning for that
offence. Thus none of my three attempts to induce barristers to go to South
Africa bore any fruit.
In this connection I remember
Mr. Pestonji Padshah. I had been on friendly terms with him ever since
my stay in England. I first met him in a vegetarian restaurant in London.
I knew of his brother Mr. Barjorji Padshah by his reputation as a 'crank'.
I had never met him, but friends said that he was eccentric. Out of pity
for the horses he would not ride in tramcars, he refused to take degrees
in spite of a prodigious memory, he had developed an independent spirit,
and he was a vegetarian, though a Parsi. Pestonji had not quite this reputation,
but he was famous for his erudition even in London. The common factor between
us, however, was vegetarianism, and not scholarship, in which it was beyond
my power to approach him.
I found him out again in Bombay.
He was Protonotary in the High Court. When I met him he was engaged on
his contribution to a Higher Gujarati Dictionary. There was not a friend
I had not approached for help in my South African work. Pestonji Padshah,
however, not only refused to aid me, but even advised me not to return
to South Africa.
'It is impossible to help you,'
he said, 'But I tell you I do not like even your going to South Africa.
Is there lack of work in our own country? Look, now, there is not a little
to do for our language. I have to find out scientific words. But this is
only one branch of the work. Think of the poverty of the land. Our people
in South Africa are no doubt in difficulty, but I do not want a man like
you to be sacrificed for that work. Let us win self-government here and
we shall automatically help our coutrymen there. I know I cannot prevail
upon you, but I will not encourage any one of your type to throw in his
lot with you.'
I did not like this advice,
but it increased my regard for Mr. Pestonji Padshah. I was struck with
his love for the country and for the mother tongue. The incident brought
us closer to each other. I could understand his point of view. But far
from giving up my work in South Africa. I became firmer in my resolve.
A patriot cannot afford to ignore any branch of service to the mother land.
And for me the text of the Gita was clear and emphatic:
'Finally, this is better, that one do
His own task as he may, even though he fail,
Than take tasks not his own, though they seem
To die performing duty is no ill:
But who seeks other roads shall wander still.'