19. A MONTH WITH GOKHALE—III
The terrible sacrifice
offered to Kali in the name of religion enhanced my desire to know Bengali
life. I had read and heard a good deal about the Brahmo Samaj. I knew something
about the life of Pratap Chandra Mazumdar. I had attended some of the meetings
addressed by him. I secured his life of Keshav Chandra Sen, read it with
great interest, and understood the distinction between Sadharan Brahmo
Samaj and Adi Brahmo Samaj. I met Pandit Shivanath Shastri, and in company
with Professor Kathavate went to see Maharshi Devendranath Tagore; but
as no interviews with him were allowed then, we could not see him. We were,
however, invited to a celebration of the Brahmo Samaj held at his place,
and there we had the privilege of listening to fine Bengali music. Ever
since I have been a lover of Bengali music.
Having seen enough of the Brahmo
Samaj, it was impossible to be satisfied without seeing Swami Vivekanand.
So with great enthusiasm I went to Belur Math, mostly, or maybe all the
way, on foot. I loved the sequestered site of the Math. I was disappointed
and sorry to be told that the Swami was at his Calcutta house, lying ill,
and could not be seen.
I then ascertained the place
of residence of Sister Nivedita, and met her in a Chowringhee mansion.
I was taken aback by the splendour that surrounded her, and even in our
conversation there was not much meeting ground. I spoke to Gokhale about
this, and he said he did not wonder that there could be no point of contact
between me and a volatile/1/
person like her.
I met her again at Mr. Pestonji
Padshah's place. I happened to come in just as she was talking to his old
mother, and so I became an interpreter between the two. In spite of my
failure to find any agreement with her, I could not but notice and admire
her overflowing love for Hinduism. I came to know of her books later.
I used to divide my day between
seeing the leading people in Calcutta regarding the work in South Africa,
and visiting and studying the religious and public institutions of the
city. I once addressed a meeting, presided over by Dr. Mullick, on the
work of the Indian Ambulance Corps in the Boer War. My acquaintance with
Englishman stood me in good stead on this occasion too. Mr. Saunders
was ill then, but rendered me as much help as in 1896. Gokhale liked this
speech of mine, and he was very glad to hear Dr. Ray praising it.
Thus my stay under the roof
of Gokhale made my work in Calcutta very easy, brought me into touch with
the foremost Bengali families, and was the beginning of my intimate contact
I must needs skip over many
a reminiscence of this memorable month. Let me simply mention my flying
visit to Burma, and the foongis/2/
there. I was pained by their lethargy. I saw the golden pagoda. I did not
like the innumerable little candles burning in the temple, and the rats
running about the sanctum brought to my mind thoughts of Swami Daynand's
experience at Morvi. The freedom and energy of the Burmese women charmed
just as the indolence of the men pained me. I also saw, during my brief
sojourn, that just as Bombay was not India, Rangoon was not Burma, and
that just as we in India have become commission agents of English merchants,
even so in Burma have we combined with the English merchants, in making
the Burmese people our commission agents.
On my return from Burma, I took
leave of Gokhale. The separation was a wrench, but my work in Bengal, or
rather Calcutta, was finished, and I had no occasion to stay any longer.
Before settling down I had thought
of making a tour through India travelling third class, and acquainting
myself with the hardships of third class passengers. I spoke to Gokhale
about this. To begin with he ridiculed the idea, but when I explained to
him what I hoped to see, he cheerfully approved. I planned to go first
to Benares to pay my respects to Mrs. Besant, who was then ill.
It was necessary to equip myself
anew for the third class tour. Gokhale himself gave me a metal tiffin-box,
and got it filled with sweet-balls and puris. I purchased a canvas
bag worth twelve annas and a long coat made of Chhaya/3/
wool. The bag was to contain this coat, a dhoti, a towel, and a
shirt. I had a blanket as well, to cover myself with, and a water-jug.
Thus equipped, I set forth on my travels. Gokhale and Dr. Ray came to the
station to see me off. I had asked them both not to trouble to come, but
they insisted. 'I should not have come if you had gone first class, but
now I had to,' said Gokhale.
No one stopped Gokhale from
going on to the platform. He was in his silk turban, jacket and dhoti.
Dr. Ray was in his Bengali dress. He was stopped by the ticket collector,
but on Gokhale telling him that he was his friend, he was admitted.
Thus with their good wishes
I started on my journey.
= = = = = = = = = = =
Regarding the use of the word 'volatile', see note 'In Justice of Her Memory',
India, 30th June, 1927.
A place in Porbandar State noted locally for its coarse woollen fabrics.