II. THE STORM
We have seen that the two ships cast anchor in the
port of Durban on or about the 18th of December. No
passengers are allowed to land at any of the South
African ports before being subjected to a thorough
medical examination. If the ship has any passenger
suffering from a contagious disease, she has to undergo a
period of quarantine. As there had been plague in Bombay
when we met sail, we feared that we might have to go
through a brief quarantine. Before the examination every
ship has to fly a yellow flag, which is lowered only when
the doctor has certified her to be healthy. Relatives and
friends of passengers are allowed to come on board only
after the yellow flag has been lowered.
Accordingly our ship was flying the yellow flag,when
the doctor came and examined us. He ordered a five
days'quarantine because, in his opinion, plague germs
took twenty-three days at the most to develop. Our ship
was therefore ordered to be put in quarantine until the
twenty-third day of our sailing from Bombay. But this
quarantine order had more than health reasons behind it.
The white residents of Durban had been agitating for
our repatriation, and the agitation was one of the
reasons for the order. Dada Abdulla and Co. kept us
regularly informed about the daily happenings in the
town. The whites were holding monster meetings every day.
They were addressing all kinds of threats and at times
offering even inducements to Dada Abdulla and Co. They
were ready to indemnify the Company if both the ships
should be sent back. But Dada Abdulla and Co. were not
the people to be afraid of threats. Sheth Abdul Karim
Haji Adam was then the managing partner of the firm. He
was determined to moor the ships at the wharf and
disembark the passengers at any cost. He was daily
sending me detailed letters. Fortunately the Sjt.
Mansukhlal Naazar was then in Durban having gone there to
meet me. He was capable and fearless and guided the
Indian community. Their advocate Mr. Laughton was an
equally fearless man. He condemned the conduct of the
white residents and advised the community, not merely as
their paid advocate, but also as their true friend.
Thus Durban had become the scene of an unequal duel.
On one side there was a handful of poor Indians and a few
of their English friends, and on the other were ranged
the white men, strong in arms, in numbers, in education
and in wealth. They had also the backing of the State,
for the Natal Government openly helped them. Mr.Harry
Escombe, who was the most influential of the members of
the Cabinet, openly took part in their meetings.
The real object of the quarantine was thus to coerce
the passengers into returning to India by somehow
intimidating them or the Agent Company. For now threats
began to be addressed to us also: 'If you do not go back,
you will surely be pushed into the sea. But if you
consent to return, you may even get your passage money
back.' I constantly moved amongst my fellow-passengers
cheering them up. I also sent messages of comfort to the
passengers of the s.s.Naderi. All of them kept
calm and courageous.
We arranged all sorts of games on the ship for the
entertainment of the passengers. On Christmas Day the
captain invited the saloon passengers to dinner. The
principal among these were my family and I. In the
speeches after dinner I spoke on Western civilization. I
knew that this was not an occasion for a serious speech.
But mine could not be otherwise. I took part in the
merriment, but my heart was in the combat that was going
on in Durban. For I was the real target. There were two
charges against me:
1. that whilst in India I had indulged in unmerited
condemnation of the Natal whites;
2. that with a view to swamping Natal with Indians I
had specially brought the two shiploads of passengers to
I was conscious of my responsibility. I knew that Dada
Abdulla and Co. had incurred grave risks on my account,
the lives of the passengers were in danger, and by
bringing my family with me I had put them likewise in
But I was absolutely innocent. I had induced no one to
go to Natal. I did not know the passengers when they
embarked. And with the exception of a couple of
relatives, I did not know the name and address of even
one of the hundreds of passengers on board. Neither had I
said, whils in India, a word about the whites in Natal
that I had not already said in Natal itself. And I had
ample evidence in support of all tha I had said.
I therefore deplored the civilization of which the
Natal whites were the fruit, and which they represented
and championed. This civilization had all along been on
my mind, and I therefore offered my views concerning it
in my speech before that little meeting. The captain and
other friends gave me a patient hearing, and received my
speech in the spirit in which it was made. I do not know
that it in any way affected the course of their lives,
but afterwards I had long talks with the captain and
other officers regarding the civilization of the West. I
had in my speech described Western civilization as being,
unlike the Eastern, predominantly based on force. The
questioners pinned me to my faith, and one of them the
captain, so far as I can recollect said to me:
'Supposing the whites carry out their threats, how
will you stand by your principle of non-violence?' To
which I replied: 'I hope God will give me the courage and
the sense to forgive them and to refrain from bringing
them to law. I have no anger against them. I am only
sorry for their ignorance and their narrowness. I know
that they sincerely believe that what they are doing
today is right and proper. I have no reason therefore to
be angry with them.'
The questioner smiled, possibly distrustfully.
Thus the days dragged on their weary length. When the
quarantine would terminate was still uncertain. The
Quarantine Officer said that the matter had passed out of
his hands and that, as soon as he had orders from the
Government, he would permit us to land.
At last ultimatums were served on the passengers and
me. We were asked to submit, if we would escape with our
lives. In our reply the passengers and I both maintained
our right to land at Port Natal, and intimated our
determination to enter Natal at any risk.
At the end of twenty-three days the ships were
permitted to enter the harbour, and orders permitting the
passengers to land were passed.