The train reached Charlestown in the morning. There
was no railway, in those days, between Charlestown and
Johannesburg, but only a stage- coach, which halted at
Standerton for the night en route. I possessed a
ticket for the coach, which was not cancelled by the
break of the journey at Maritzburg for a day; besides,
Abdulla Sheth had sent a wire to the coach agent at
But the agent only needed a pretext for putting me
off, and so, when he discovered me to be a stranger, he
said, 'Your ticket is cancelled.' I gave him the proper
reply. The reason at the back of his mind was not want of
accommodation, but quite another. Passengers had to be
accommodated inside the coach, but as I was regarded as a
'coolie' and looked a stranger, it would be proper,
thought the 'leader', as the white man in charge of the
coach was called, not to seat me with the white
passengers. There were seats on either side of the
coachbox. The leader sat on one of these as a rule. Today
he sat inside and gave me his seat. I knew it was sheer
injustice and an insult, but I thought it better to
pocket it, I could not have forced myself inside, and if
I had raised a protest, the coach would have gone off
without me. This would have meant the loss of another
day, and Heaven only knows what would have happened the
next day. So, much as I fretted within myself, I
prudently sat next the coachman.
At about three o'clock the coach reached Pardekoph.
Now the leader desired to sit where I was seated, as he
wanted to smoke and possibly to have some fresh air. So
he took a piece of dirty sack-cloth from the driver,
spread it on the footboard and, addressing me said, 'Sami,
you sit on this, I want to sit near the driver,.' The
insult was more than I could bear. In fear and trembling
I said to him, 'It was you who seated me here, though I
should have been accommodated inside. I put up with the
insult. Now that you want to sit outside and smoke, you
would have me sit at your feet. I will not do so, but I
am prepared to sit inside.'
As I was struggling through these sentences, the man
came down upon me and began heavily to box my ears. He
seized me by the arm and tried to drag me down. I clung
to the brass rails of the coachbox and was determined to
keep my hold even at the risk of breaking my wristbones.
The passengers were witnessing the scene - the man
swearing at me, dragging and belabouring me, and I
remaining still. He was strong and I was weak. Some of
the passengers were moved to pity and exclaimed: 'Man,
let him alone. Don't beat him. He is not to blame. He is
right. If he can't stay there, let him come and sit with
us.' 'No fear,' cried the man, but he seemed somewhat
crestfallen and stopped beating me. He let go my arm,
swore at me a little more, and asking the Hottentot
servant who was sitting on the other side of the coachbox
to sit on the footboard, took the seat so vacated.
The passengers took their seats and, the whistle
given, the coach rattled away. My heart was beatingfast
within my breast, and I was wondering whether I should
ever reach my destination alive. The man cast an angry
look at me now and then and, pointing his finger at me,
growled: 'Take care, let me once get to Standerton and I
shall show you what I do.' I sat speechless and prayed to
God to help me.
After dark we reached Standerton and I heaved a sigh
of relief on seeing some Indian faces. As soon as I got
down, these friends said: 'We are hereto receive you and
take you to Isa Sheth's shop. We have had a telegram from
Dada Abdulla.' I was very glad, and we went to Sheth Isa
Haji Sumar's shop. The Sheth and his clerks gathered
round me. I told them all that I had gone through. They
were very sorry to hear it and comforted me by relating
to me their own bitter experiences.
I wanted to inform the agent of the Coach Company of
the whole affair. So I wrote him a letter, narrating
everything that had happened, and drawing his attention
to the threat his man had held out. I also asked for an
assurance that he would accommodate me with the other
passengers inside the coach when we started the next
morning. To which the agent replied to this effect: 'From
Standerton we have a bigger coach with different men in
charge. The man complained of will not be there tomorrow,
and you will have a seat with the other passengers.' This
somewhat relieved me. I had, of course, no intention of
proceeding against the man who had assaulted me, and so
the chapter of the assault closed there.
In the morning Isa Sheth's man took me to the coach, I
got a good seat and reached Johannesburg quite safely
Standerton is a small village and Johannesburg a big
city. Abdulla Sheth had wired to Johannesburg also, and
given me the name and address of Muhammad Kasam
Kamruddin's firm there. Their man had come to receive me
at the stage, but neither did I see him nor did he
recognize me. So I decided to go to a hotel. I knew the
names of several. Taking a cab I asked to be driven to
the Grand National Hotel. I saw the Manager and asked for
a room. He eyed me for a moment, and politely saying, 'I
am very sorry, we are full up', bade me good-bye. So I
asked the cabman to drive to Muhammad Kasam Kamruddin's
shop. Here I found Abdul Gani Sheth expecting me, and he
gave me a cordial greeting. He had a hearty laugh over
the story of my experience at the hotel. 'How ever did
you expect to be admitted to a hotel?' he said.
'Why not?' I asked.
'You will come to know after you have stayed here a
few days,' said he. 'Only we can live in a land like
this, because, for making money, we do not mind pocketing
insults, and here we are.' With this he narrated to me
the story of the hardships of Indians in South Africa.
Of Sheth Abdul Gani we shall know more as we proceed.
He said: 'This country is not for men like you. Look
now, you have to go to Pretoria tomorrow. You will have
to travel third class. Conditions in the Transvaal are
worse than in Natal. First and second class tickets are
never issued to Indians.'
'You cannot have made persistent efforts in this
'We have sent representations, but I confess our own
men too do not want as a rule to travel first or second.
I sent for the railway regulations and read them.
There was a loophole. The language of the old Transvaal
enactments was not very exact or precise; that of the
railway regulations was even less so.
I said to the Sheth: 'I wish to go first class, and if
I cannot, I shall prefer to take a cab to Pretoria, a
matter of only thirty-seven miles.'
Sheth Abdul Gani drew my attention to the extra time
and money this would mean, but agreed to my proposal to
travel first, and accordingly we sent a note to the
Station Master. I mentioned in my note that I was a
barrister and that I always travelled first. I also
stated in the letter that I needed to reach Pretoria as
early as possible, that as there was no time to await his
reply I would receive it in person at the station, and
that I should expect to get a first class ticket. There
was of course a purpose behind asking for the reply in
person. I thought that if the Station master gave a
written reply, he would certainly say 'No', especially
because he would have his own notion of a 'collie'
barrister. I would therefore appear before him in
faultless English dress, talk to him and possibly
persuade him to issue a first class ticket. So I went to
the station in a frock-coat and necktie, placed a
sovereign for my fare on the counter and asked for a
first class ticket.
'You sent me that note?' he asked.
'That is so. I shall be much obliged if you will give
me a ticket. I must reach Pretoria today.'
He smiled and, moved to pity, said: 'I am not a
Transvaaler. I am a Hollander. I appreciate your
feelings, and you have my sympathy. I do want to give you
a ticket on one condition, however, that, if the guard
should ask you to shift to the third class, you will not
involve me in the affair, by which I mean that you should
not proceed against the Railway Company. I wish you a
safe journey. I can see you are a gentleman.'
With these words he booked the ticket. I thanked him
and gave him the necessary assurance.
Sheth Abdul Gani had come to see me off at the
station. The incident gave him an agreeable surprise, but
he warned me saying: 'I shall be thankful if you reach
Pretoria all right. I am afraid the guard will not leave
you in peace in the first class and even if he does, the
passengers will not.'
I took my seat in a first class compartment and the
train started. At Germiston the guard came to examine the
tickets. He was angry to find me there, and signalled to
me with his finger to go to the third class. I showed him
my first class ticket. 'That doesn't matter,' said he,
'remove to the third class.'
There was only one English passenger in the
compartment. He took the guard to ask. 'Don't you see he
has a first class ticket? I do not mind in the least his
travelling with me.' Addressing me, he said, 'You should
make yourself comfortable where you are.'
The guard muttered; If you want to travel with a
coolie, what do I care?' and went away.
At about eight o'clock in the evening the train