24. 'CALLED' —BUT THEN? :
THE STORY OF MY EXPERIMENTS WITH TRUTH
by Mohandas K. Gandhi
I have deferred saying anything up to now about the purpose for which I went to England, viz.,
being called to the bar. It is time to advert to it briefly.
There were two conditions which had to be fulfilled before a student was formally called to the
bar: 'keeping terms', twelve terms equivalent to about three years; and passing examinations.
'Keeping terms' meant eating one's terms, i.e., attending at least six out of about twenty-four
dinners in a term. Eating did not mean actually partaking of the dinner, it meant reporting oneself
at the fixed hours and remaining present throughout the dinner. Usually of course everyone ate
and drank the good commons and choice wines provided. A dinner cost from two and six to three
and six, that is from two to three rupees. This was considered moderate, inasmuch as one had to
pay that same amount for wines alone if one dined at a hotel. To us in India it is a matter for
surprise, if we are not 'civilized', that the cost of drink should exceed the cost of food. The first
revelation gave me a great shock, and I wondered how people had the heart to throw away so
much money on drink. Later I came to understand. I often ate nothing at these dinners, for the
things that I might eat were only bread, boiled potato, and cabbage. In the beginning I did not eat
these, as I did not like them; and later, when I began to relish them, I also gained the courage to
ask for other dishes.
The dinner provided for the benchers used to be better than that for the students. A Parsi
student, who was also a vegetarian, and I applied, in the interests of vegetarianism, for the
vegetarian courses which were served to the benchers. The application was granted, and we
began to get fruits and other vegetables from the benchers' table.
Two bottles of wine were allowed to each group of four, and as I did not touch them, I was ever
in demand to form a quartet, so that three might empty two bottles. And there was a 'grand night'
in each term when extra wines, like champagne, in addition to port and sherry, were served. I was
therefore specially requested to attend and was in great demand on that grand night.
I could not see then, nor have I seen since, how these dinners qualified the students better for
the bar. There was once a time when only a few students used to attend these dinners, and thus
there were opportunities for talks between them and the benchers, and speeches were also
made. These occasions helped to give them knowledge of the world, with a sort of polish and
refinement, and also improved their power of speaking. No such thing was possible in my time, as
the benchers had a table all to themselves. The institution had gradually lost all its meaning, but
conservative England retained it nevertheless.
The curriculum of study was easy, barristers being humorously known as 'dinner barristers'.
Everyone knew that the examinations had practically no value. In my time there were two, one in
Roman Law and the other in Common Law. There were regular text-books prescribed for these
examinations, which could be taken in compartments, but scarcely anyone read them. I have
known many to pass the Roman Law examination by scrambling through notes on Roman Law in
a couple of weeks, and the Common Law examination by reading notes on the subject in two or
three months. Question papers were easy and examiners were generous. The percentage of
passes in the Roman Law examination used to be 95 to 99 and of those in the final examination
75 or even more. There was thus little fear of being plucked, and examinations were held not
once but four times in the year. They could not be felt as a difficulty.
But I succeeded in turning them into one. I felt that I should read all the text-books. It was a
fraud, I thought, not to read these books. I invested much money in them. I decided to read
Roman Law in Latin. The Latin which I had acquired in the London Matriculation stood me in
good stead. And all this reading was not without its value later on in South Africa, where Roman
Dutch is the common law. The reading of Justinian, therefore, helped me a great deal in
understanding the South African law.
It took me nine months of fairly hard labour to read through the Common Law of England. For
Broom'sCommon Law, a big but interesting volume, took up a good deal of time.
Snell's Equity was full of interest, but a bit hard to understand. White and Tudor's Leading Cases,
from which certain cases were prescribed, was full of interest and instruction. I read also with
interest Williams' and Edward's Real Property and Goodeve'sPersonal Property. Williams' book
read like a novel. The one book I remember to have read, on my return to India, with the same
unflagging interest, was Mayne's Hindu Law. But it is out of place to talk here of Indian law books.
I passed my examinations, was called to the bar on the 10th of June 1891, and enrolled in the
High Court on the 11th. On the 12th I sailed for home.
But notwithstanding my study, there was no end to my helplessness and fear. I did not feel
myself qualified to practise law.
But a separate chapter is needed to describe this helplessness of mine.
Next : 25. MY HELPLESSNESS-