12. EUROPEAN CONTACTS (CONTINUED)
In Johannesburg I had
at one time as many as four Indian clerks, who were perhaps more like my
sons than clerks. But even these were not enough for my work. It was impossible
to do without typewriting, which among us, if at all, only I knew. I taught
it to two of the clerks, but they never came up to the mark because of
their poor English. And then one of these I wanted to train as an accountant.
I could not get anyone from Natal, for nobody could enter the Transvaal
without a permit, and for my own personal convenience I was not prepared
to ask a favour of the Permit Officer.
I was at my wits' end. Arrears were
fast mounting up, so much so that it seemed impossible for me, however
much I might try, to cope with the professional and public work. I was
quite willing to engage a European clerk, but I was not sure to get a white
man or woman to serve a coloured man like myself. However I decided to
try. I approached a typewriter's [=stenographer's] agent whom I knew, and
asked him to get me a stenographer. There were girls available, and he
promised to try to secure the services of one. He came across a Scots girl
called Miss Dick, who had just come fresh from Scotland. She had no objection
to earning an honest livelihood, wherever available, and she was in need.
So the agent sent her on to me. She immediately prepossessed me.
'Don't you mind serving under
an Indian?' I asked her.
'Not at all,' was her firm reply.
'What salary do you expect?'
'Would £17 10s. be too
'Not too much if you will give
me the work I want from you. When can you join?'
'This moment, if you wish.'
I was very pleased and strainghtaway
started dictating letters to her.
Before very long she became
more a daughter or a sister to me than a mere stenotypist. I had scarcely
any reason to find fault with her work. She was often entrusted with the
management of funds amounting to thousands of pounds, and she was in charge
of account books. She won my complete confidence, but what was perhaps
more, she confided to me her innermost thoughts and feelings. She sought
my advice in the final choice of her husband, and I had the privilege to
give her away in marriage. As soon as Miss Dick became Mrs. Macdonald,
she had to leave me, but even after her marriage she did not fail to respond,
whenever under pressure I made a call upon her.
But a permanent stenotypist
was now needed in her place, and I was fortunate in getting another girl.
She was Miss Schlesin, introduced to me by Mr. Kallenbach, whom the reader
will know in due course. She is at present a teacher in one of the High
Schools in the Transvaal. She was about seventeen when she came to me.
Some of her idiosyncrasies were at times too much for Mr. Kallenbach and
me. She had come less to work as a stenotypist than to gain experience.
Colour prejudice was foreign to her temperament. She seemed to mind neither
age nor experience. She would not hesitate even to the point of insulting
a man and telling him to his face what she thought of him. Her impetuosity
often landed me in difficulties, but her open and guileless temperament
removed them as soon as they were created. I have often signed without
revision letters typed by her, as I considered her English to be better
than mine, and had the fullest confidence in her loyalty.
Her sacrifice was great. For
a considerable period she did not draw more than £6, and refused
ever to receive more than £10 a month. When I urged her to take more,
she would give me a scolding and say, 'I am not here to draw a salary from
you. I am here because I like to work with you and I like your ideals.'
She had once an occasion to
take £40 from me, but she insisted on having it as a loan, and repaid
the full amount last year. Her courage was equal to her sacrifice. She
is one of the few women I have been privileged to come across with a character
as clear as crystal, and courage that would shame a warrior. She is a grown
up woman now. I do not know her mind quite as well as when she was with
me, but my contact with this young lady will ever be for me a sacred recollection.
I would therefore be false to truth if I kept back what I know about her.
She knew neither night nor day
in toiling for the cause. She ventured out on errands in the darkness of
the night all by herself, and angrily scouted [=rejected] any suggestion
of an escort. Thousands of stalwart Indians looked up to her for guidance.
When during the Satyagraha days almost every one of the leaders was in
jail, she led the movement single-handed. She had the management of thousands,
a tremendous amount of correspondence, and Indian Opinion in her
hands, but she never wearied.
I could go on without end writing
thus about Miss Schlesin, but I shall conclude this chapter with citing
Gokhale's estimate of her. Gokhale knew every one of my co-workers. He
was pleased with many of them, and would often give his opinion of them.
He gave the first place to Miss Schlesin amongst all the Indian and European
co-workers. 'I have rarely met with the sacrifice, the purity, and the
fearlessness I have seen in Miss Schlesin,' said he. 'Amongst your co-workers,
she takes the first place in my estimation.'