29. 'RETURN SOON'
From Madras I proceeded
to Calcutta, where I found myself hemmed in by difficulties. I knew no
one there. So I took a room in the Great Eastern Hotel. Here I became a
acquainted with Mr. Ellerthorpe, a representative of The Daily Telegraph.
He invited me to the Bengal Club, where he was staying. He did not then
realize that an Indian could not be taken to the drawing-room of the Club.
Having discovered the restriction, he took me to his room. He expressed
his sorrow regarding this prejudice of the local Englishmen, and apologized
to me for not having been able to take me to the drawing-room.
I had of course to see Surendranath
Banerji, the 'Idol of Bengal'. When I met him, he was surrounded by a number
of friends. He said:
'I am afraid people will not
take interest in your work. As you know, our difficulties here are by no
means few. But you must try as best you can. You will have to enlist the
sympathy of Maharajas. Mind you meet the representatives of the British
Indian Association. You should meet Raja Sir Pyarimohan Mukarji and Maharaja
Tagore. Both are liberal-minded and take a fair share in public work.'
I met these gentlemen, but without
success. Both gave me a cold reception and said it was no easy thing to
call a public meeting in Calcutta, and if anything could be done, it would
practically all depend on Surendranath Banerji.
I saw that my task was becoming
more and more difficult, I called at the office of the Amrita Bazar
Patrika. The gentleman whom I met there took me to be a wandering Jew.
Bangabasi went even one better. The editor kept me waiting for an hour.
He had evidently many interviewers, but he would not so much as look at
me, even when he had disposed of the rest. On my venturing to broach my
subject after the long wait he said: 'Don't you see our hands are full?
There is no end to the number of visitors like you. You had better go.
I am not disposed to listen to you.' For a moment I felt offended, but
I quickly understood the editor's position. I had heard of the fame of
Bangabasi. I could see that there was a regular stream of visitors
there. And they were all people acquainted with him. His paper had no lack
of topics to discuss, and South Africa was hardly known at that time.
However serious a grievance
may be in the eyes of the man who suffers from it, he will be but one of
the numerous people invading the editor's office, each with a grievance
of his own. How is the editor to meet them all? Moreover, the aggrieved
party imagines that the editor is a power in the land. Only he knows that
his powers can hardly travel beyond the threshold of his office. But I
was not discouraged. I kept on seeing editors of other papers. As usual
I met the Anglo-Indian editors also. The Statesman and The Englishman
realized the importance of the question. I gave them long interviews, and
they published them in full.
Mr. Saunders, editor of The
Englishman, claimed me as his own. He placed his office and paper at
my disposal. He even allowed me the liberty of making whatever changes
I liked in the leading article he had written on the situation, the proof
of which he sent me in advance. It is no exaggeration to say that a friendship
grew up between us. He promised to render me all the help he could, carried
out the promise to the letter, and kept on his correspondence with me until
the time when he was seriously ill.
Throughout my life I have had
the privilege of many such friendships, which have sprung up quite unexpectedly.
What Mr. Saunders liked in me was my freedom from exaggeration and my devotion
to truth. He subjected me to a searching cross-examination before he began
to sympathize with my cause, and he saw that I had spared neither will
nor pains to place before him an impartial statement of the case even of
the white man in South Africa and also to appreciate it.
My experience has shown me that
we win justice quickest by rendering justice to the other party.
The unexpected help of Mr. Saunders
had begun to encourage me to think that I might succeed after all in holding
a public meeting in Calcutta, when I received the following cable from
Durban 'Parliament opens January. Return soon.'
So I addressed a letter to the
Press, in which I explained why I had to leave Calcutta so abruptly, and
set off for Bombay. Before starting I wired to the Bombay agent of Dada
Abdulla and Co., to arrange for my passage by the first possible boat to
South Africa. Dada Abdulla had just then purchased the steamship Courland
and insisted on my travelling on that boat, offering to take me and my
family free of charge. I gratefully accepted the offer, and in the beginning
of December set sail a second time for South Africa, now with my wife and
two sons and the only son of my widowed sister. Another steamship, Naderi,
also sailed for Durban at the same time. The agents of the Company were
Dada Abdulla and Co. The total number of passengers these boats carried
must have been about eight hundred, half of whom were bound for the Transvaal.