I had expected someone on behalf of Dada Abdulla's
attorney to meet me at Pretoria station. I knew that no
Indian would be there to receive me, since I had
particularly promised not to put up at an Indian house.
But the attorney had sent no one. I understood later
that, as I had arrived on a Sunday, he could not have
sent anyone without inconvenience. I was perplexed, and
wondered where to go, as I feared that no hotel would
Pretoria station in 1893 was quite different from what
it was in 1914. The lights were burning dimly. The
travellers were few. I let all the other passengers go
and thought that, as soon as the ticket collector was
fairly free, I would hand him my ticket and ask him if he
could direct me to some small hotel or any other such
place where I might go; otherwise I would spend the night
at the station. I must confess I shrank from asking him
even this, for I was afraid of being insulted.
The station became clear of all passengers. I gave my
ticket to the ticket collector and began my inquiries. He
replied to me courteously, but I saw that he could not be
of any considerable help. But an American Negro who was
standing near by broke into the conversation.
'I see,' said he, 'that you are an utter stranger
here, without any friends. If you will come with me, I
will take you to a small hotel, of which the proprietor
is an American who is very well known to me. I think he
will accept you.'
I had my own doubts about the offer, but I thanked him
and accepted his suggestion. He took me to Johnson's
Family Hotel. He drew Mr. Johnson aside to speak to him,
and the latter agreed to accommodate me for the night, on
condition that I should have my dinner served in my room.
'I assure you,' said he, 'that I have no colour
prejudice. But I have only European custom, and, if I
allowed you to eat in the dining-room, my guests might be
offended and even go away.'
'Thank you,' said I, 'even for accommodating me for
the night. I am now more or less acquainted with the
conditions here, and I understand your difficulty. I do
not mind your serving the dinner in my room. I hope to be
able to make some other arrangement tomorrow.'
I was shown into a room, where I now sat waiting for
the dinner and musing, as I was quite alone. There were
not many guests in the hotel, and I had expected the
waiter to come very shortly with the dinner. Instead Mr.
Johnston appeared. He said: I was ashamed of having asked
you to have your dinner here. So I spoke to the other
guests about you, and asked them if they would mind your
having your dinner in the dining-room. They said they had
no objection, and that they did not mind your staying
here as long as you liked. Please, therefore, come to the
dining-room, if you will, and stay here as long as you
I thanked him again, went to the dining-room and had a
Next morning I called on the attorney, Mr. A. W.
Baker. Abdulla Sheth had given me some description of
him, so his cordial reception did not surprise me. He
received me very warmly and made kind inquiries. I
explained all about myself. Thereupon he said: 'We have
no work for you here as barrister, for we have engaged
the best counsel. The case is a prolonged and complicated
one, so I shall take your assistance only to the extent
of getting necessary information. And of course you will
make communication with my client easy for me, as I shall
now ask for all the information I want from him through
you. That is certainly an advantage, I have not yet found
rooms for you. I thought I had better do so after having
seen you. There is a fearful amount of colour prejudice
here, and therefore it is not easy to find lodgings for
such as you. But I know a poor woman. She is the wife of
a baker. I think she will take you and thus add to her
income at the same time. Come, let us go to her place.'
So he took me to her house. He spoke with her
privately about me, and she agreed to accept me as a
boarder at 35 shilling a week.
Mr. Baker, besides being an attorney, was a staunch
lay preacher, He is still alive and now engaged purely in
missionary work, having given up the legal profession. He
is quite well-to-do. He still corresponds with me. In his
letters he always dwells on the same theme. He upholds
the excellence of Christianity from various points of
view, and contends that it is impossible to find eternal
peace, unless one accepts Jesus as the only son of God
and the Saviour of mankind.
During the very first interview Mr. Baker ascertained
my religious views. I said to him: 'I am a Hindu by
birth. And yet I do not know much of Hinduism, and I know
less of other religions. In fact I do not know where I
am, and what is and what should be my belief. I intend to
make a careful study of my own religion and, as far as I
can, of other religions as well.'
Mr. Baker was glad to hear all this, and said: 'I am
one of the Directors of the South Africa General Mission.
I have built a church at my own expense, and deliver
sermons in it regularly. I am free from colour prejudice.
I have some co-workers, and we meet at one o'clock every
day for a few minutes and pray for peace and light. I
shall be glad if you will join us there. I shall
introduce you to my co-workers who will be happy to meet
you, and I dare say you will also like their company. I
shall give you, besides some religious books to read,
though of course the book of books is the Holy Bible,
which I would specially recommend to you.'
I thanked Mr. Baker and agreed to attend the one
o'clock prayers as regularly as possible.
'So I shall expect you here tomorrow at one o'clock,
and we shall go together to pray,' added Mr. Baker, and
we said good-bye.
I had little time for reflection just yet.
I went to Mr. Johnston, paid the bill and removed to
the new lodgings, where I had my lunch. The landlady was
good woman. She had cooked a vegetarian meal for me. It
was not long before I made myself quite at home with the
I next went to see the friend to whom Dada Abdulla had
given me a note. From him I learnt more about the
hardships of Indians in South Africa. He insisted that I
should stay with him. I thanked him, and told him that I
had already made arrangements. He urged me not to
hesitate to ask for anything I needed.
It was now dark. I returned home, had my dinner, went
to my room and lay there absorbed in deep thought. There
was not any immediate work for me. I informed Abdulla
Sheth of it. What, I thought, can be meaning of Mr.
Baker's interest in me? What shall I gain from his
religious co-workers? How far should I undertake the
study of Christianity? How was I to obtain literature
about Hinduism? And how was I to understand Christianity
in its proper perspective without thoroughly knowing my
own religion? I could come to only one conclusion: I
should make a dispassionate study of all that came to me,
and deal with Mr. Baker's group as God might guide me; I
should not think of embracing another religion before I
had fully understood my own.
Thus musing I fell asleep.