20. THE FIRST NIGHT
It was no easy thing to
issue the first number of Indian Opinion from Phoenix. Had I not
taken two precautions, the first issue would have had to be dropped or
delayed. The idea of having an engine to work the press had not appealed
to me. I had thought that hand-power would be more in keeping with an atmosphere
where agricultural work was also to be done by hand. But as the idea had
not appeared feasible, we had installed an oil-engine. I had, however,
suggested to West to have something handy to fall back upon in case the
engine failed. He had therefore arranged a wheel which could be worked
by hand. The size of the paper, that of a daily, was considered unsuitable
for an out-of-the-way place like Phoenix. It was reduced to foolscap size,
so that in case of emergency, copies might be struck off with the help
of a treadle.
In the initial stages, we all
had to keep late hours before the day of publication. Everyone, young and
old, had to help in folding the sheets. We usually finished our work between
ten o'clock and midnight. But the first night was unforgettable. The pages
were locked, but the engine refused to work. We had got out an engineer
from Durban to put up the engine and set it going. He and West tried their
hardest, but in vain. Everyone was anxious. West, in despair, at last came
to me, with tears in his eyes, and said, 'The engine will not work, I am
afraid we cannot issue the paper in time.'
'If that is the case, we cannot
help it. No use shedding tears. Let us do whatever else is humanly possible.
What about the hand-wheel?' I said, comforting him.
'Where have we the men to work
it?' he replied. 'We are not enough to cope with the job. It requires relays
of four men each, and our own men are all tired.'
Building work had not yet been
finished, so the carpenters were still with us. They were sleeping on the
press floor. I said pointing to them, 'But can't we make use of these carpenters?
And we may have a whole night of work. I think this device is still open
'I dare not wake up the carpenters.
And our men are really too tired,' said West.
'Well, that's for me to negotiate,'
'Then it is possible that we
may get through the work,' West replied.
I woke up the carpenters and
requested their co-operation. They needed no pressure. They said, 'If we
cannot be called upon in an emergency, what use are we? You rest yourselves
and we will work the wheel. For us it is easy work.' Our own men were of
West was greatly delighted and
started singing a hymn as we set to work. I partnered the carpenters, all
the rest joined turn by turn, and thus we went on until 7 a.m. There was
still a good deal to do. I therefore suggested to West that the engineer
might now be asked to get up and try again to start the engine, so that
if we succeeded we might finish in time.
West woke him up, and he immediately
went into the engine room. And lo and behold! the engine worked almost
as soon as he touched it. The whole press rang with peals of joy. 'How
can this be? How is it that all our labours last night were of no avail,
and this morning it has been set going as though there were nothing wrong
with it?' I enquired.
'It is difficult to say,' said
West or the engineer, I forget which. 'Machines also sometimes seem to
behave as though they required rest like us.'
For me the failure of the engine
had come as a test for us all, and its working in the nick of time as the
fruit of our honest and earnest labours.
The copies were despatched in
time, and everyone was happy.
This initial insistence ensured
the regularity of the paper, and created an atmosphere of self-reliance
in Phoenix. There came a time when we deliberately gave up the use of the
engine and worked with hand-power only. Those were, to my mind, the days
of the highest moral uplift for Phoenix.