21. POLAK TAKES THE PLUNGE
It has always been my
regret that although I started the Settlement at Phoenix, I could stay
there only for brief periods. My original idea had been gradually to retire
from practice, go and live at the Settlement, earn my livelihood by manual
work there, and find the joy of service in the fulfilment of Phoenix. But
it was not to be. I have found by experience that man makes his plans to
be often upset by God, but at the same time, where the ultimate goal is
the search of truth, no matter how a man's plans are frustrated, the issue
is never injurious and often better than anticipated. The unexpected turn
that Phoenix took and the unexpected happenings were certainly not injurious,
though it is difficult to say that they were better than our original expectations.
In order to enable every one
of us to make a living by manual labour, we parcelled out the land round
the press in pieces of three acres each. One of these fell to my lot. On
all these plots we, much against our wish, built houses with corrugated
iron. Our desire had been to have mud huts thatched with straw, or small
brick houses such as would become ordinary peasants, but it could not be.
They would have been more expensive and would have meant more time, and
everyone was eager to settle down as soon as possible.
The editor was still Mansukhlal
Naazar. He had not accepted the new scheme, and was directing the paper
from Durban where there was a branch office for Indian Opinion.
Though we had paid compositors, the idea was for every member of the Settlement
to learn type-setting, the easiest, if the most tedious, of the processes
in a printing press. Those, therefore, who did not already know the work
learnt it. I remained a dunce to the last. Maganlal Gandhi surpassed us
all. Though he had never before worked in a press, he became an expert
compositor, and not only achieved great speed but, to my agreeable surprise,
quickly mastered all the other branches of press work. I have always thought
that he was not conscious of his own capacity.
We had hardly settled down,
the buildings were hardly ready, when I had to leave the newly constructed
nest and go to Johannesburg. I was not in a position to allow the work
there to remain without attention for any length of time.
On [my] return to Johannesburg,
I informed Polak of the important changes I had made. His joy knew no bounds
when he learnt that the loan of his book had been so fruitful. 'Is it not
possible,' he asked, 'for me to take part in the new venture?' 'Certainly,'
said I. 'You may if you like join the Settlement.' 'I am quite ready,'
he replied, 'if you will admit me.'
His determination captured me.
He gave a month's notice to his chief to be relieved from The Critic,
and reached Phoenix in due course. By his sociability he won the hearts
of all, and soon became a member of the family. Simplicity was so much
a part of his nature that, far from feeling the life at Phoenix in any
way strange or hard, he took to it like a duck takes to water. But I could
not keep him there long. Mr. Ritch had decided to finish his legal studies
in England, and it was impossible for me to bear the burden of the office
single-handed, so I suggested to Polak that he should join the office and
qualify as an attorney. I had thought that ultimately both of us would
retire and settle at Phoenix, but that never came to pass. Polak's was
such a trustful nature that when he reposed his confidence in a friend,
he would try to agree with him instead of arguing with him. He wrote to
me from Phoenix that though he loved the life there, was perfectly happy,
and had hopes of developing the Settlement, still he was ready to leave
and join the office to qualify as an attorney, if I thought that thereby
we should more quickly realize our ideals. I heartily welcomed the letter.
Polak left Phoenix, came to Johannesburg, and signed his articles with
About the same time a Scots
theosophist, whom I had been coaching for a local legal examination, also
joined as an articled clerk, on my inviting him to follow Polak's example.
His name was Mr. MacIntyre.
Thus, with the laudable object
of quickly realizing the ideals at Phoenix, I seemed to be going deeper
and deeper into a contrary current, and had God not willed otherwise, I
should have found myself entrapped in this net spread in the name of simple
It will be after a few more
chapters that I shall describe how I and my ideals were saved in a way
no one had imagined or expected.