XVI. MAN PROPOSES,
The case having been concluded, I had no reason for
staying in Pretoria. So I went back to Durban and began
to make preparations for my return home. But Abdulla
Sheth was not the man to let me sail without a send-off.
He gave a farewell party in my honour at Sydenham.
It was proposed to spend the whole day there. Whilst I
was turning over the sheets of some of the newspapers I
found there, I chanced to see a paragraph in a corner of
one of them under the caption 'Indian franchise'. It was
with reference to the Bill then before the House of
Legislature, which sought to deprive the Indians of their
right to elect members of the Natal Legislative Assembly.
I was ignorant of the Bill, and so were the rest of the
guests who had assembled there.
I inquired of Abdulla Sheth about it. He said: 'What
can we understand in these matters? We can only
understand things that affect our trade. As you know all
our trade in the Orange Free State has been swept away.
We agitated about it, but in vain. We are after all lame
men, being unlettered. We generally take in newspapers
simply to ascertain the daily market rates, etc. What can
we know of legislation? Our eyes and ears are the
European attorneys here.'
'But,'said I, 'there are so many young Indians born
and educated here, Do not they help you?'
'They!' exclaimed Abdulla Sheth in despair. 'They
never care to come to us, and to tell you the truth, we
care less to recognize them. Being Christians, they are
under the thumb of the white clergymen, who in their turn
are subject to the Government.'
This opened my eyes. I felt that this class should be
claimed as our own. Was this the meaning of Christianity?
Did they cease to be Indians because they had become
But I was on the point of returning home and hesitated
to express what was passing through my mind in this
matter. I simply said to Abdulla Sheth: 'This Bill, if it
passes into law, will make our lot extremely difficult.
It is the first nail into our coffin. It strikes at the
root of our self-respect.'
'It may,' echoed Sheth Abdulla. 'I will tell you the
genesis of the franchise question. We knew nothing about
it. But Mr. Escombe, one of our best attorneys, whom you
know, put the idea into our heads. It happened thus. He
is a great fighter, and there being no love lost between,
him and the Wharf Engineer, he feared that the Engineer
might deprive him of his votes and defeat him at the
election. So he acquainted us with our position, and at
his instance we all registered ourselves as voters, and
voted for him. You will now see how the franchise has not
for us the value that you attach to it. But we understand
what you say. Well, then, what is your advice?'
The other guests were listening to this conversation
with attention. One of them said: 'Shall I tell you what
should be done? You cancel your passage by this boat,
stay here a month longer, and we will fight as you direct
All the others chimed in : 'Indeed, indeed. Abdulla
Sheth, you must detain Gandhibhai.'
The Sheth was a shrewd man. He said: 'I may not detain
him now. Or rather, you have as much right as I to do so.
But you are quite right. Let us all persuade him to stay
on. But you should remember that he is a barrister. What
about his fees?'
The mention of fees pained me, and I broke in :
'Abdulla Sheth, fees are out of the question. There can
be no fees for public work. I can stay, if at all, as a
servant. And as you know, I am not acquainted with all
these friends. But if you believe that they will
co-operate, I am prepared to stay a month longer. There
is one thing, however. Though you need not pay me
anything, work of the nature we contemplate cannot be
done without some funds to start with. Thus we may have
to send telegrams, we may have to print some literature,
some touring may have to be done, the local attorneys may
have to be consulted, and as I am ignorant of your laws,
I may need some law-books for reference. All this cannot
be done without money. And it is clear that one man is
not enough for this work. Many must come forward to help
And a chorus of voices was heard: 'Allah is great and
merciful. Money will come in. Men there are, as many as
you may need. You please consent to stay, and all will be
The farewell party was thus turned into a working
committee. I suggested finishing dinner etc. quickly and
getting back home. I worked out in my own mind an outline
of the campaign. I ascertained the names of those who
were on the list of voters, and made up my mind to stay
on for a month.
Thus God laid the foundations of my life in South
Africa and sowed the seed of the fight for national