Just about this time Narayan Hemchandra came to
England. I had heard of him as a writer. We met at the
house of Miss Manning of the National Indian Association.
Miss Manning knew that I could not make myself sociable.
When I went to her place I used to sit tongue-tied, never
speaking except when spoken to. She introduced me to
Narayan Hemchandra. He did not know English. His dress
was queer a clumsy pair of trousers, a wrinkled, dirty,
brown coat after the Parsi fashion, no necktie or collar,
and a tasselled woolen cap. He grew a long beard.
He was lightly built and short of stature. His round
face was scarred with small-pox, and had a nose which was
neither pointed nor blunt. With his hand he was
constantly turning over his beard.
Such a queer-looking and queerly dressed person was
bound to be singled out in fashionable society.
'I have heard a good deal about you,' I said to him.
'I have also read some of your writings. I should be very
pleased if you were kind enough to come to my place.'
Narayan Hemchandra had a rather hoarse voice. With a
smile on his face he replied?' 'Yes, where do you stay?'
'In Store Street.' 'Then we are neighbours. I want to
learn English. Will you teach me?' 'I shall be happy to
teach you anything I can, and will try my best. If you
like, I will go to your place.'
'Oh, no. I shall come to you. I shall also bring with
me a Translation Exercise Book.' So we made an
appointment. Soon we were close friends.
Narayan Hemchandra was innocent of grammar. 'Horse'
was a verb with him and 'run' a noun I remember many such
funny instances. But he was not to be baffled by his
ignorance. My little knowledge of grammar could make no
impression on him. Certainly he never regarded his
ignorance of grammar as a matter for shame.
With perfect nonchalance he said: 'I have never felt
the need of grammar in expressing my thoughts. Well, do
you know Bengali? I know it. I have travelled in Bengal.
It is I who have given Maharshi Devendranath Tagore's
works to the Gujarati speaking world. And I wish to
translate into Gujarati the treasures of many other
translations. I always content myself with bringing out
the spirit. Others, with their better knowledge, may be
able to do more in future. But I am quite satisfied with
what I have achieved without the help of grammar. I know
Marathi, Hindi, Bengali, and now I have begun to know
English. What I want is a copious vocabulary. And do you
think my ambition ends here? No fear. I want to go to
France and learn French. I am told that language has an
extensive literature. I shall go to Germany also, if
possible, and there learn German.' And thus he would talk
on unceasingly. He had a boundless ambition for learning
languages and for foreign travel.
'Then you will go to America also?'
'Certainly. How can I return to India without having
seen the New World?'
'But where will you find the money?'
'What do I need money for? I am not a fashionable
fellow like you. The minimum amount of food and the
minimum amount of clothing suffice for me. And for this
what little I get out of my books and from my friends is
enough. I always travel third class. While going to
America also I shall travel on deck.'
Narayan Hemchandra's simplicity was all his own, and
his frankness was on a par with it. Of pride he had not
the slightest trace, excepting, of course, a rather undue
regard for his own capacity as a writer.
We met daily. There was a considerable amount of
similarity between our thoughts and actions. Both of us
were vegetarians. We would often have our lunch together.
This was the time when I lived on 17s. a week and cooked
for myself. Sometimes when I would go to his room, and
sometimes he would come to mine. I cooked in the English
style. Nothing but Indian style would satisfy him. He
would not do without dal. I would make soup of
carrots etc., and he would pity me for my taste. Once he
somehow hunted out mung cooked it and brought it
to my place. I ate it with delight. This led on to a
regular system of exchange between us. I would take my
delicacies to him and he would bring his to me.
Cardinal Manning's name was then on every lip. The
dock labourers' strike had come to an early termination
owing to the efforts of John Burns and Cardinal Manning.
I told Narayan Hemchandra of Disraeli's tribute to the
Cardinal's simplicity. 'Then I must see the sage,' said
'He is a big man. How do you expect to meet him?'
'Why? I know how. I must get you to write to him in my
name. Tell him I am an author and that I want to
congratulate him personally on his humanitarian work, and
also say that I shall have to take you as interpreter as
I do not know English.'
I wrote a letter to that effect. In two or three days
came Cardinal Manning's card in reply giving us an
appointment. So we both called on the Cardinal. I put on
the usual visiting suit. Narayan Hemchandra was the same
as ever, in the same coat and the same trousers. I tried
to make fun of this, but he laughed me out and said:
'You civilized fellows are all cowards. Great men
never look at a person's exterior. They think of his
We entered the Cardinal's mansion. As soon as we were
seated, a thin, tall, old gentleman made his appearance,
and shook hands with us. Narayan Hemchandra thus gave his
'I do not want to take up your time. I had heard a lot
about you and I felt I should come and thank you for the
good work you done for the strikers. It has been my
custom to visit the sages of the world and that is why I
have put you to this trouble.'
This was of course my translation of that he spoke in
'I am glad you have come. I hope your stay in London
will agree with you and that you will get in touch with
people here. God bless you.'
With these words the Cardinal stood up and said
Once Narayan Hemchandra came to my place in a shirt
and dhoti. The good landlady opened the door,
came running to me in a fright this was a new landlady
who did not know Narayan Hemchandra and said: 'A sort of
a madcap wants to see you.' I went to the door and to my
surprise found Narayan Hemchandra. I was shocked. His
face, however, showed nothing but his usual smile.
'But did not the children in the street rag you?'
'Well, they ran after me, but I did not mind them and
they were quiet.'
Narayan Hemchandra went to Paris after a few months'
stay in London. He began studying French and also
translating French books. I knew enough French to revise
his translation, so he gave it to me to read. It was not
a translation, it was the substance.
Finally he carried out his determination to visit
America. It was with great difficulty that he succeeded
in securing a duck ticket. While in the United States he
was prosecuted for 'being indecently dressed', as he once
went out in a shirt and dhoti. I have a
recollection that he was discharged.