XIX. A MONTH WITH
GOKHALE -- III
The terrible sacrifice offered to Kali in the name of
religion enhanced my desire to know Bengali life. I had
read and heard a good deal about the Brahmo Samaj. I knew
something about the life of Pratap Chandra Mazumdar. I
had attended some of the meetings addressed by him. I
secured his life of Keshav Chandra Sen, read it with
great interest, and understood the distinction between
Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, and Adi Brahmo Samaj. I met Pandit
Shivanath Shastri and in company with Prof. Kathavate
went to see Maharshi Devendranath Tagore, but as no
interviews with him were allowed then, we could not see
him. We were, however, invited to a celebration of the
Brahmo Samaj held at his place, and there we had the
privilege of listening to fine Bengali music. Ever since
I have been a lover of Bengali music.
Having seen enough of the Brahmo Samaj, it was
impossible to be satisfied without seeing Swami
Vivekanand. So with great enthusiasm I went to Belur
Math, mostly, or maybe all the way, on foot. I loved the
sequestered site of the Math. I was disappointed and
sorry to be told that the Swami was at his Calcutta
house, lying ill, and could not be seen.
I then ascertained the place of residence of Sister
Nivedita, and met her in a Chowringhee mansion. I was
taken aback by the splendour that surrounded her, and
even in our conversation there was not much meeting
ground. I spoke to Gokhale about this, and he said he did
not wonder that there could be no point of contact
between me and a volatile person like her.
I met her again at Mr. Pestonji Padshah's place. I
happened to come in just as she was talking to his old
mother, and so I became an interpreter between the two.
In spite of my failure to find any agreement with her, I
could not but notice and admire her overflowing love for
Hinduism. I came to know of her books later.
I used to divide my day between seeing the leading
people in Calcutta regarding the work in South Africa,
and visiting and studying the religious and public
institutions of the city. I once addressed a meeting,
presided over by Dr. Mullick, on the work of the Indian
Ambulance Corps in the Boer War. My acquaintance with
#The Englishman# stood me in good stead on this occasion
too. Mr. Saunders was ill then, but rendered me as much
help as in 1896. Gokhale liked this speech of mine, and
he was very glad to hear Dr. Ray praising it.
Thus my stay under the roof of Gokhale made my work in
Calcutta very easy, brought me into touch with the
foremost Bengali families, and was the beginning of my
intimate contact with Bengal.
I must needs skip over many a reminiscence of this
memorable month. Let me simply mention my flying visit to
Burma, and the #foongis# there. I was pained by their
lethargy. I saw the golden pagoda. I did not like the
innumerable little candles burning in the temple, and the
rats running about the sanctum brought to my mind
thoughts of Swami Dayanand's experience at Morvi. The
freedom and energy of the Burmese women charmed just as
the indolence of the men pained me. I also saw, during my
brief sojourn, that just as Bombay was not India, Rangoon
was not Burma, and that just as we in India have become
commission agents of English merchants, even so in Burma
have we combined with the English merchants, in making
the Burmese people our commission agents.
On my return from Burma I took leave of Gokhale. The
separation was a wrench, but my work in Bengal, or rather
Calcutta, was finished, and I had no occasion to stay any
Before settling down I had thought of making a tour
through India travelling third class, and of acquainting
myself with the hardships of third class passengers. I
spoke to Gokhale about this. To begin with he ridiculed
the idea, but when I explained to him what I hoped to
see, he cheerfully approved. I planned to go first to
Benares to pay my respects to Mrs. Besant, who was then
It was necessary to equip myself anew for the third
class tour. Gokhale himself gave me a metal tiffin-box
and got it filled with sweetballs and #puris#. I
purchased a canvas bag worth twelve annas and a long coat
made of Chhaya wool. The bag was to contain this coat, a
#dhoti#, a towel and a shirt. I had a blanket as well to
cover myself with and a water jug. Thus equipped I set
forth on my travels, Gokhlae and Dr. Ray came to the
station to see me off. I had asked them both not to
trouble to come, but they insisted. "I should not
have come if you had gone first class, but now I had to,'
No one stopped Gokhale from going on to the platform.
He was in his silk turban, jacket and #dhoti#. Dr. Ray
was in his Bengali dress. He was stopped by the ticket
collector, but on Gokhale telling him that he was his
friend, he was admitted.
Thus with their good wishes I started on my journey.