2. THE STORM
We have seen that the
two ships cast anchor in the port of Durban on or about the 18th December.
No passengers are allowed to land at any of the South African ports before
being subjected to a thorough medical examination. If the ship has any
passenger suffering from a contagious disease, she [=the ship] has to undergo
a period of quarantine. As there had been plague in Bombay when we set
sail, we feared that we might have to go through a brief quarantine. Before
the examination every ship has to fly a yellow flag, which is lowered only
when the doctor has certified her to be healthy. Relatives and friends
of passengers are allowed to come on board only after the yellow flag has
Accordingly our ship was flying
the yellow flag, when the doctor came and examined us. He ordered a five
days' quarantine because, in his opinion, plague germs took twenty-three
days at the most to develop. Our ship was therefore ordered to be put in
quarantine until the twenty-third day of our sailing from Bombay. But this
quarantine order had more than health reasons behind it.
The white residents of Durban
had been agitating for our repatriation, and the agitation was one of the
reasons for the order. Dada Abdulla and Co. kept us regularly informed
about the daily happenings in the town. The whites were holding monster
meetings every day. They were addressing all kinds of threats, and at times
offering even inducements, to Dada Abdulla and Co. They were ready to indemnify
the Company if both the ships should be sent back. But Dada Abdulla and
Co. were not the people to be afraid of threats. Sheth Abdul Karim Haji
Adam was then the managing partner of the firm. He was determined to moor
the ships at the wharf and disembark the passengers at any cost. He was
daily sending me detailed letters. Fortunately the late Sjt. Mansukhlal
Naazar was then in Durban, having gone there to meet me. He was capable
and fearless, and guided the Indian community. Their advocate Mr. Laughton
was an equally fearless man. He condemned the conduct of the white residents,
and advised the community not merely as their paid advocate, but also as
their true friend.
Thus Durban had become the scene
of an unequal duel. On one side there was a handful of poor Indians and
a few of their English friends, and on the other were ranged the white
men, strong in arms, in numbers, in education, and in wealth. They had
also the backing of the State, for the Natal Government openly helped them.
Mr. Harry Escombe, who was the most influential of the members of the Cabinet,
openly took part in their meetings.
The real object of the quarantine
was thus to coerce the passengers into returning to India by somehow intimidating
them or the Agent Company. For now threats began to be addressed to us
also: 'If you do not go back, you will surely be pushed into the sea. But
if you consent to return, you may even get your passage money back.' I
constantly moved amongst my fellow passengers cheering them up. I also
sent messages of comfort to the passengers of the s.s. Naderi. All
of them kept calm and courageous.
We arranged all sorts of games
on the ship for the entertainment of the passengers. On Christmas Day the
captain invited the saloon passengers to dinner. The principal among these
were my family and I. In the speeches after dinner I spoke on Western civilization.
I knew that this was not an occasion for a serious speech. But mine could
not be otherwise. I took part in the merriment, but my heart was in the
combat that was going on in Durban. For I was the real target. There were
two charges against me:
(1) that whilst in India
I had indulged in unmerited condemnation of the Natal whites;
(2) that with a view
to swamping Natal Indians I had specially brought the two shiploads of
passengers to settle there.
I was conscious of my responsibility.
I knew that Dada Abdulla and Co. had incurred grave risks on my account,
the lives of the passengers were in danger, and by bringing my family with
me I had put them likewise in jeopardy.
But I was absolutely innocent.
I had induced no one to go to Natal. I did not know the passengers when
they embarked. And with the exception of a couple of relatives, I did not
know the name and address of even one of the hundreds of passengers on
board. Neither had I said, whilst in India, a word about the whites in
Natal that I had not already said in Natal itself. And I had ample evidence
in support of all that I had said.
I therefore deplored the civilization
of which the Natal whites were the fruit, and which they represented and
championed. This civilization had all along been on my mind, and I therefore
offered my views concerning it in my speech before that little meeting.
The captain and other friends gave me a patient hearing, and received my
speech in the spirit in which it was made. I do not know that it in any
way affected the course of their lives, but afterwards I had long talks
with the captain and other officers regarding the civilization of the West.
I had in my speech described Western civilization as being, unlike the
Eastern, predominantly based on force. The questioners pinned me to my
faith, and one of them--the captain, so far as I can recollect--said to
'Supposing the whites carry
out their threats, how will you stand by your principle of non-violence?'
To which I replied: 'I hope God will give me the courage and the sense
to forgive them and to refrain from bringing them to law. I have no anger
against them. I am only sorry for their ignorance and their narrowness.
I know that they sincerely believe that what they are doing today is right
and proper. I have no reason therefore to be angry with them.'
The questioner smiled, possibly
Thus the days dragged on their
weary length. When the quarantine would terminate was still uncertain.
The quarantine officer said that the matter had passed out of his hands,
and that as soon as he had orders from the Government, he would permit
us to land.
At last ultimatums were served
on the passengers and me. We were asked to submit, if we would escape with
our lives. In our reply the pasengers and I both maintained our right to
land at Port Natal, and intimated our determination to enter Natal at any
At the end of twenty-three days
the ships were permitted to enter the harbour, and orders permitting the
passengers to land were passed.