3. THE FIRST CASE :
THE STORY OF MY EXPERIMENTS WITH TRUTH
by Mohandas K. Gandhi
Whilst in Bombay I began on the one hand, my study of Indian law, and on the other, my
experiments in dietetics, in which Virchand Gandhi, a friend, joined me. My brother, for his part,
was trying his best to get me briefs.
The study of Indian law was a tedious business. The Civil Procedure Code I could in no way
get on with. Not so, however, with the Evidence Act. Virchand Gandhi was reading for the
solicitor's examination, and would tell me all sorts of stories about barristers and vakils. 'Sir
Pherozeshah's ability,' he would say, 'lies in his profound knowledge of law. He has the Evidence
Act by heart, and knows all the cases on the thirty-second section. Badruddin Tyabji's wonderful
power of argument inspires the judges with awe.'
The stories of stalwarts such as these would unnerve me.
'It is not unusual,' he would add, 'for a barrister to vegetate for five or seven years. That's why I
have signed the articles for solicitorship. You should count yourself lucky if you can paddle your
own canoe in three years' time.'
Expenses were mounting up every month. To have a barrister's board outside the house,
whilst still preparing for the barrister's profession inside, was a thing to which I could not reconcile
myself. Hence I could not give undivided attention to my studies. I developed some liking for the
Evidence Act, and read Mayne'sHindu Law with deep interest, but I had not the courage to
conduct a case. I was helpless beyond words, even as the bride come fresh to her father-in-law's
About this time, I took up the case of one Mamibai. It was a 'small cause'. 'You will have to pay
some commission to the tout,' I was told. I emphatically declined.
'But even that great criminal lawyer Mr. So-and-So, who makes three to four thousand a
month, pays commission!'
'I do not need to emulate him,' I rejoined. 'I should be content with Rs. 300 a month. Father did
not get more.'
'But those days are gone. Expenses in Bombay have gone up frightfully. You must be
I was adamant. I gave no commission, but got Mamibai's case all the same. It was an easy
case. I charged Rs. 30 for my fees. The case was not likely to last longer than a day.
This was my debut in the Small Causes Court. I appeared for the defendant and had thus to
cross-examine the plaintiff's witnesses. I stood up, but my heart sank into my boots. My head was
reeling, and I felt as though the whole court was doing likewise. I could think of no question to
ask. The judge must have laughed, and the vakils no doubt enjoyed the spectacle. But I was past
seeing anything. I sat down and told the agent that I could not conduct the case, that he had
better engage Patel and have the fee back from me. Mr Patel was duly engaged for Rs. 51. To
him, of course, the case was child's play.
I hastened from the Court, not knowing whether my client won or lost her case, but I was
ashamed of myself, and decided not to take up any more cases until I had courage enough to
conduct them. Indeed I did not go to Court again until I went to South Africa. There was no virtue
in my decision. I had simply made a virtue of necessity. There would be no one so foolish as to
entrust his case to me, only to lose it!
But there was another case in store for me at Bombay. It was a memorial to be drafted. A poor
Mussalman's land was confiscated in Porbandar. He approached me as the worthy son of a
worthy father. His case appeared to be weak, but I consented to draft a memorial for him, the cost
of printing to be borne by him. I drafted it and read it out to friends. They approved of it, and that
to some extent made me feel confident that I was qualified enough to draft a memorial, as indeed
I really was.
My business could flourish if I drafted memorials without any fees. But that would bring no grist
to the mill. So I thought I might take up a teacher's job. My knowledge of English was good
enough, and I should have loved to teach English to Matriculation boys in some school. In this
way I could have met part at least of the expenses. I came across an advertisement in the
papers: 'Wanted, an English teacher to teach one hour daily. Salary Rs 75.' The advertisement
was from a famous high school. I applied for the post and was called for an interview. I went there
in high spirits, but when the principal found that I was not a graduate, he regretfully refused me.
'But I have passed the London Matriculation with Latin as my second language.'
'True, but we want a graduate.'
There was no help for it. I wrung my hands in despair. My brother also felt much worried. We
both came to the conclusion that it was no use spending more time in Bombay. I should settle in
Rajkot where my brother, himself a petty pleader, could give me some work in the shape of
drafting applications and memorials. And then as there was already a household at Rajkot, the
breaking up of the one at Bombay meant a considerable saving. I liked the suggestion. My little
establishment was thus closed after a stay of six months in Bombay.
I used to attend High Court daily whilst in Bombay, but I cannot say that I learnt anything there.
I had not sufficient knowledge to learn much. Often I could not follow the cases, and dozed off.
There were others also who kept me company in this, and thus lightened my load of shame. After
a time, I even lost the sense of shame, as I learnt to think that it was fashionable to doze in the
If the present generation has also its briefless barristers like me in Bombay, I would commend
[to] them a little practical precept about living. Although I lived in Girgaum, I hardly ever took a
carriage or a tramcar. I had made it a rule to walk to the High Court. It took me quite forty-five
minutes, and of course I invariably returned home on foot. I had inured myself to the heat of the
sun. This walk to and from the Court saved a fair amount of money, and when many of my friends
in Bombay used to fall ill, I do not remember having once had an illness. Even when I began to
earn money, I kept up the practice of walking to and from the office, and I am reaping the benefits
of that practice.
Next :-4. THE FIRST SHOCK -