47. HOW A CLIENT WAS SAVED
The reader by now will
be quite familiar with Parsi Rustomji's name. He was one who became at
once my client and co-worker, or perhaps it would be truer to say that
he first became co-worker and then client. I won his confidence to such
an extent that he sought and followed my advice also in private domestic
matters. Even when he was ill he would seek my aid, and though there was
much difference between our ways of living, he did not hesitate to accept
my quack treatment.
This friend once got into a
very bad scrape. Though he kept me informed of most of his affairs, he
had studiously kept back one thing. He was a large importer of goods from
Bombay and Calcutta, and not infrequently he resorted to smuggling. But
as he was on the best terms with customs officials, no one was inclined
to suspect him. In charging duty, they used to take his invoices on trust.
Some might even have connived at the smuggling.
But to use the telling simile
of the Gujarati poet Akho, theft, like quicksilver, won't be suppressed,
and Parsi Rustomji's proved no exception. The good friend ran post-haste
to me, the tears rolling down his cheeks as he said: 'Bhai, I have deceived
you. My guilt has been discovered today. I have smuggled, and I am doomed.
I must go to jail and be ruined. You alone may be able to save me from
this predicament. I have kept back nothing else from you, but I thought
I ought not to bother you with such tricks of the trade, and so I never
told you about this smuggling. But now, how much I repent it!'
I calmed him and said: 'To save
or not to save you is in His hands. As to me, you know my way. I can but
try to save you by means of confession.'
The good Parsi felt deeply mortified.
'But is not my confession before
you enough?' he asked.
'You have wronged not me but
Government. How will the confession made before me avail you?' I replied
'Of course I will do just as
you advise, but will you not consult with my old counsel Mr ---- ? He is
a friend too,' said Parsi Rustomji.
Inquiry revealed that the smuggling
had been going on for a long time, but the actual offence detected involved
a trifling sum. We went to his counsel. He perused the papers, and said:
'The case will be tried by a jury, and a Natal jury will be the last to
acquit an Indian. But I will not give up hope.'
I did not know this counsel
intimately. Parsi Rustomji intercepted: 'I thank you, but I should like
to be guided by Mr. Gandhi's advice in this case. He knows me intimately.
Of course you will advise him whenever necessary.'
Having thus shelved the counsel's
question, we went to Parsi Rustomji's shop.
And now, explaining my view,
I said to him: 'I don't think this case should be taken to court at all.
It rests with the Customs Officer to prosecute you or to let you go, and
he in turn will have to be guided by the Attorney General. I am prepared
to meet both. I propose that you should offer to pay the penalty they fix,
and the odds are that they will be agreeable. But if they are not, you
must be prepared to go to jail. I am of opinion that the shame lies not
so much in going to jail, as in committing the offence. The deed of shame
has already been done. Imprisonment you should regard as a penance. The
real penance lies in resolving never to smuggle again.'
I cannot say that Parsi Rustomji
took all this quite well. He was a brave man, but his courage failed with
him for the moment. His name and fame were at stake, and where would he
be if the edifice he had reared with such care and labour should go to
'Well, I have told you,' he
said, 'that I am entirely in your hands. You may do just as you like.'
I brought to bear on this case
all my powers of persuasion. I met the Customs Officer and fearlessly apprised
him of the whole affair. I also promised to place all the books at his
disposal, and told him how penitent Parsi Rustomji was feeling.
The Customs Officer said: 'I
like the old Parsi. I am sorry he has made a fool of himself. You know
where my duty lies. I must be guided by the Attorney General, and so I
would advise you to use all your persuasion with him.'
'I shall be thankful,' said
I, 'if you do not insist on dragging him into court.'
Having got him to promise this,
I entered into correspondence with the Attorney General, and also met him.
I am glad to say that he appreciated my complete frankness and was convinced
that I had kept back nothing.
I now forget whether it was
in connection with this or with some other case that my persistence and
frankness extorted from him the remark: 'I see you will never take a no
for an answer.'
The case against Parsi Rustomji
was compromised. He was to pay a penalty equal to twice the amount he had
confessed to having smuggled. Rustomji reduced to writing the facts of
the whole case, got the paper framed and hung it up in his office to serve
as a perpetual reminder to his heirs and fellow merchants.
These friends of Rustomji warned
me not to be taken in by this transitory contrition. When I told Rustomji
about this warning he said: 'What would be my fate if I deceived you?'