XXIX. 'RETURN SOON'
From Madras I proceeded to Calcutta where I found
myself hemmed by difficulties. I knew no one there, so I
took a room in the Great Eastern Hotel. Here I became
acquainted with Mr. Ellerthorpe, a representative of The
Daily Telegraph. He invited me to the Bengal Club,
where he was staying. He did not then realize that an
Indian could not be taken to the drawing-room of the
club. Having discovered the restriction, he took me to
his room. He expressed his sorrow regarding this
prejudice of the local Englishmen and apologized to me
for not having been able to take me to the drawing-room.
I had of course to see Surendranath Banerji, the 'Idol
of Bengal'. When I met him, he was surrounded by a number
of friends. He said: 'I am afraid people will not take
interest in your work. As you know, our difficulties here
are by no means few. But you must try as best you can.
You will have to enlist the sympathy of Maharajas. Mind,
you meet the representatives of the British Indian
Association. You should meet Raja Sir Pyarimohan Mukarji
and Maharaja Tagore. Both are liberal- minded and take a
fair share in public work.'
I met these gentlemen, but without success. Both gave
me a cold reception in Calcutta, and if anything could be
done, it would practically all depend on Surendranath
I saw that my task was becoming more and more
difficult. I called at the office of the Amrita Bazar
Patrika. The gentleman whom I met there took me to
be a wandering jew. The Bangabasi went even one
better. The editor kept me waiting for an hour. He had
evidently many interviewers, but he would not so much as
look at me, even when he had disposed of the rest. On my
venturing to broach my subject after the long wait, he
said: 'Don't you see our hands are full? There is no end
to the number of visitors like you. You had better go. I
am not disposed to listen to you.' For a moment I felt
offended, but I quickly understood the editor's position.
I had heard of the fame of The Bangabasi. I
could see that there was a regular stream of visitors
there. And they were all people acquainted with him. His
paper had no lack of copies to discuss, and South Africa
was hardly known at that time.
However serious a grievance may be in the eyes of the
man who suffers from it, he will be but one of the
numerous people invading the editor's office, each with a
grievance of his own. How is the editor to meet them all?
Moreover, the aggrieved party imagines that the editor is
a power in the land. Only he knows that his power can
hardly travel beyond the threshold of his office. But I
was not discouraged. I kept on seeing editors of other
papers. As usual I met the Anglo-Indian editors also. The
Stateman and The Englishman realized the
importance of the question. I gave them long interviews,
and they published them in full.
Mr. Saunders, editor of The Englishman,
claimed me as his own. He placed his office and paper at
my disposal. He even allowed me the liberty of making
whatever changes I liked in the leading article he had
written on the situation, the proof of which he sent me
in advance. It is no exaggeration to say that a
friendship grew up between us. He promised to render me
all the help he could, carried out the promise to the
letter, and kept on his correspondence with me until the
time when he was seriously ill.
Throughout my life I have had the privilege of many
such friendships, which have sprung up quite
unexpectedly. What Mr. Saunders liked in me was my
freedom from exaggeration and my devotion to truth. He
subjected me to a searching cross-examination before he
began to sympathize with my cause, and he saw that I had
spared neither will nor pains to place before him an
impartial statement of the case even of the white man in
South Africa and also to appreciate it.
My experience has shown me that we win justice
quickest by rendering justice to the other party.
The unexpected help of Mr. Saunders had begun to
encourage me to think that I might succeed after all in
holding a public meeting in Calcutta, when I received the
following cable from Durban: 'Parliament opens January.
So I addressed a letter to the press, in which I
explained why I had to leave Calcutta so abruptly, and
set off for Bombay. Before starting I wired to the Bombay
agent of Dada Abdulla & Co, to arrange for my passage
by the first possible boat to South Africa. Dada Abdulla
had just then purchased the steamship Courland
and insisted on my travelling on that boat, offering to
take me and my family free of charge. I gratefully
accepted the offer, and in the beginning of December set
sail a second time for South Africa, now with my wife and
two sons and the only son of my widowed sister. Another
steamship Naderi also sailed for Durban at the
same time. The agents of the Company were Dada Abdulla
& Co. The total number of passengers these boats
carried must have been about eight hundred, half of whom
were bound for the Transvaal.