21. SETTLED IN BOMBAY?
Gokhale was very anxious
that I should settle down in Bombay, practise at the bar, and help him
in public work. Public work in those day meant Congress work, and the chief
work of the institution which he had assisted to found was carrying on
the Congress administration.
I liked Gokhale's advice, but
I was not overconfident of success as a barrister. The unpleasant memories
of past failure were yet with me, and I still hated as poison the use of
flattery for getting briefs.
I therefore decided to start
work first at Rajkot. Kevalram Mavji Dave, my old well-wisher, who had
induced me to go to England, was there, and he started me straightway with
three briefs. Two of them were appeals before the Judical Assistant to
the Political Agent in Kathiawad, and one was an original case in Jamnagar.
This last was rather important. On my saying that I could not trust myself
to do it justice, Kevalram Dave exclaimed: 'Winning or losing is no concern
of yours. You will simply try your best, and I am of course there to assist
The counsel on the other side
was the late Sjt. Samarth. I was fairly well prepared. Not that I knew
much of Indian law, but Kevalram Dave had instructed me very thoroughly.
I had heard friends say, before I went out to South Africa, that Sir Pherozeshah
Mehta had the law of evidence at his finger-tips, and that that was the
secret of his success. I had borne this in mind, and during the voyage
had carefully studied the Indian Evidence Act with commentaries thereon.
There was of course also the advantage of my legal experience in South
I won the case and gained some
confidence. I had no fear about the appeals, which were successful. All
this inspired a hope in me that after all I might not fail even in Bombay.
But before I set forth the circumstances
in which I decided to go to Bombay, I shall narrate my experience of the
inconsiderateness and ignorance of English officials. The Judicial Assistant's
court was peripatetic. He was constantly touring, and vakils and their
clients had to follow him wherever he moved his camp. The vakils would
charge more whenever they had to go out of headquarters, and so the clients
had naturally to incur double the expenses. The inconvenience was no concern
of the judge.
The appeal of which I am talking
was to be heard at Veraval, where plague was raging. I have a recollection
that there were as many as fifty cases daily in the place with a population
of 5,500. It was practically deserted, and I put up in a deserted dharmashala
at some distance from the town. But where were the clients to stay? If
they were poor, they had simply to trust themselves to God's mercy.
A friend who also had cases
before the court had wired that I should put in an application for the
camp to be moved to some other station because of the plague at Veraval.
On my submitting the application, the sahib asked me: 'Are you afraid?'
I answered: 'It is not a question
of my being afraid. I think I can shift for myself, but what about the
'The plague has come to stay
in India,' replied the sahib. 'Why fear it? The climate of Veraval is lovely.
(The sahib lived far away from the town in a palatial tent pitched on the
seashore.) Surely people must learn to live thus in the open.'
It was no use arguing against
this philosophy. The sahib told his shirastedar: 'Make a note of what Mr.
Gandhi says, and let me know if it is very incovenient for the vakils or
The sahib of course had honestly
done what he thought was the right thing. But how could the man have an
idea of the hardships of poor India? How was he to understand the needs,
habits, idiosyncrasies, and customs of the people? How was one accustomed
to measure things in gold sovereigns, all at once to make calculations
in tiny bits of copper? As the elephant is powerless to think in the terms
of the ant, in spite of the best intentions in the world, even so is the
Englishman powerless to think in the terms of, or legislate for, the Indian.
But to resume the thread of
the story. In spite of my successes, I had been thinking of staying on
in Rajkot for some time longer, when one day Kevalram Dave came to me and
said: 'Gandhi, we will not suffer you to vegetate here. You must settle
'But who will find work for
me there?' I asked. 'Will you find the expenses?'
'Yes, yes, I will,' said he.
'We shall bring you down here sometimes as a big barrister from Bombay,
and drafting work we shall send you there. It lies with us vakils to make
or mar a barrister. You have proved your worth in Jamnagar and Veraval,
and I have therefore not the least anxiety about you. You are destined
to do public work, and we will not allow you to be buried in Kathiawad.
So tell me, then, when you will go to Bombay.'
'I am expecting a remittance
from Natal. As soon as I get it I will go,' I replied.
The money came in about two
weeks, and I went to Bombay. I took chambers in Payne, Gilbert and Sayani's
offices, and it looked as though I had settled down.