10. FIRST DAY IN PRETORIA :
THE STORY OF MY EXPERIMENTS WITH TRUTH
by Mohandas K. Gandhi
I had expected someone on behalf of Dada Abdulla's attorney to meet me at Pretoria station. I
knew that no Indian would be there to receive me, since I had particularly promised not to put up
at an Indian house. But the attorney had sent no one. I understood later that as I had arrived on a
Sunday, he could not have sent anyone without inconvenience. I was perplexed, and wondered
where to go, as I feared that no hotel would accept me.
Pretoria station in 1893 was quite different from what it was in 1914. The lights were burning
dimly. The travellers were few. I let all the other passengers go and thought that as soon as the
ticket collector was fairly free, I would hand him my ticket and ask him if he could direct me to
some small hotel or any other such place where I might go; otherwise I would spend the night at
the station. I must confess I shrank from asking him even this, for I was afraid of being insulted.
The station became clear of all passengers. I gave my ticket to the ticket collector and began
my enquiries. He replied to me courteously, but I saw that he could not be of any considerable
help. But an American Negro who was standing near by broke into the conversation.
'I see,' said he, 'that you are an utter stranger here, without any friends. If you will come with
me, I will take you to a small hotel, of which the proprietor is an American who is very well known
to me. I think he will accept you.'
I had my own doubts about the offer, but I thanked him and accepted his suggestion. He took
me to Johnston's Family Hotel. He drew Mr. Johnston aside to speak to him, and the latter
agreed to accommodate me for the night, on condition that I should have my dinner served in my
'I assure you,' said he, 'that I have no colour prejudice. But I have only European custom, and,
if I allowed you to eat in the dinning room, my guests might be offended and even go away.'
'Thank you', said I, 'even for accommodating me for the night, I am now more or less
acquainted with the conditions here, and I understand your difficulty. I do not mind you serving
the dinner in my room. I hope to be able to make some other arrangement tomorrow.'
I was shown into a room, where I now sat waiting for the dinner and musing, as I was quite
alone. There were not many guests in the hotel, and I had expected the waiter to come very
shortly with the dinner. Instead Mr. Johnston appeared. He said: 'I was ashamed of having asked
you to have your dinner here. So I spoke to the other guests about you, and asked them if they
would mind your having your dinner in the dining-room. They said that they had no objection, and
that they did not mind your staying here as long as you liked. Please, therefore, come to the
dinning-room, if you will, and stay here as long as you wish.'
I thanked him again, went to the dining room and had a hearty dinner.
Next morning I called on the attorney, Mr. A. W. Baker. Abdulla Sheth had given me some
description of him, so his cordial reception did not surprise me. He received me very warmly and
made kind inquiries. I explained all about myself. Thereupon he said: 'We have no work for you
here as barrister, for we have engaged the best counsel. The case is a prolonged and
complicated one, so I shall take your assistance only to the extent of getting necessary
information. And of course you will make communication with my client easy for me, as I shall
now ask for all the information I want from him through you. That is certainly an advantage. I have
not yet found rooms for you. I thought I had better do so after having seen you. There is a fearful
amount of colour prejudice here, and therefore it is not easy to find lodgings for such as you. But I
know a poor woman. She is the wife of a baker. I think she will take you, and thus add to her
income at the same time. Come, let us go to her place.'
So he took me to her house. He spoke with her privately about me, and she agreed to accept
me as a boarder at 35 shillings a week.
Mr. Baker, besides being an attorney, was a staunch lay preacher. He is still alive and now
engaged purely in missionary work, having given up the legal profession. He is quite well-to-do.
He still corresponds with me. In his letters he always dwells on the same theme. He upholds the
excellence of Christianity from various points of view, and contends that it is impossible to find
eternal peace unless one accepts Jesus as the only son of God and the Saviour of mankind.
During the very first interview Mr. Baker ascertained my religious views. I said to him: 'I am a
Hindu by birth. And yet I do not know much of Hinduism, and I know less of other religions. In fact
I do not know where I am, and what is and what should be my belief. I intend to make a careful
study of my own religion and, as far as I can, of other religions as well.'
Mr. Baker was glad to hear all this, and said: 'I am one of the directors of the South Africa
General Mission. I have built a church at my own expense, and deliver sermons in it regularly. I
am free from colour prejudice. I have some co-workers, and we meet at one o'clock every day for
a few minutes and pray for peace and light. I shall be glad if you will join us there. I shall introduce
you to my co-workers, who will be happy to meet you, and I dare say you will also like their
company. I shall give you, besides, some religious books to read, though of course the book of
books is the Holy Bible, which I would specially recommend to you.'
I thanked Mr. Baker and agreed to attend the one o'clock prayers as regularly as possible.
'So I shall expect you here tomorrow at one o'clock, and we shall go together to pray,' added
Mr. Baker, and we said good-bye.
I had little time for reflection just yet.
I went to Mr. Johnston, paid the bill, and removed to the new lodgings, where I had my lunch.
The landlady was a good woman. She had cooked a vegetarian meal for me. It was not long
before I made myself quite at home with the family.
I next went to see the friend to whom Dada Abdulla had given me a note. From him I learnt
more about the hardships of Indians in South Africa. He insisted that I should stay with him. I
thanked him, and told him that I had already made arrangements. He urged me not to hesitate to
ask for anything I needed.
It was now dark. I returned home, had my dinner, went to my room, and lay there absorbed in
deep thought. There was not any immediate work for me. I informed Abdulla Sheth of it. What, I
thought, can be the meaning of Mr. Baker's interest in me? What shall I gain from his religious coworkers?
How far should I undertake the study of Christianity? How was I to obtain literature
about Hinduism? And how was I to understand Christianity in its proper perspective without
thoroughly knowing my own religion? I could come to only one conclusion: I should make a
dispassionate study of all that came to me, and deal with Mr. Baker's group as God might guide
me; I should not think of embracing another religion before I had fully understood my own.
Thus musing I fell asleep.
NEXT : 11. CHRISTIAN CONTACTS-