6. ARRIVAL IN NATAL :
THE STORY OF MY EXPERIMENTS WITH TRUTH
by Mohandas K. Gandhi
When starting for South Africa, I did not feel the wrench of separation which I had experienced
when leaving for England. My mother was now no more. I had gained some knowledge of the
world and of travel abroad, and going from Rajkot to Bombay was no unusual affair.
This time I only felt the pang of parting with my wife. Another baby had been born to us since
my return from England. Our love could not yet be called free from lust, but it was getting
gradually purer. Since my return from Europe, we had lived very little together; and as I had now
become her teacher, however indifferent, and helped her to make certain reforms, we both felt the
necessity of being more together, if only to continue reforms. But the attraction of South Africa
rendered the separation bearable. 'We are bound to meet again in a year,' I said to her, by way of
consolation, and left Rajkot for Bombay.
Here I was to get my passage through the agent of Dada Abdulla and Co. But no berth was
available on the boat, and if I did not sail then, I should be stranded in Bombay. 'We have tried
our best,' said the agent, 'to secure a first-class passage, but in vain--unless you are prepared to go
on deck. Your meals can be arranged for in the saloon.' Those were the days of my first class
travelling, and how could a barrister travel as a deck passenger? So I refused the offer. I suspected
the agent's veracity, for I could not believe that a first class passage was not available. With the
agent's consent I set about securing it myself. I went on board the boat and met the chief officer.
He said to me quite frankly, 'We do not usually have such a rush. But as the Governor-General of
Mozambique is going by this boat, all the berths are engaged.'
'Could you not possibly squeeze me in?' I asked.
He surveyed me from top to toe and smiled. 'There is just one way,' he said. 'There is an extra
berth in my cabin, which is ususally not available for passengers. But I am prepared to give it to
you.' I thanked him, and got the agent to purchase the passage. In April 1893 I set forth full of zest
to try my luck in South Africa.
The first port of call was Lamu, which we reached in about thirteen days. The Captain and I had
become great friends by this time. He was fond of playing chess, but as he was quite a novice, he
wanted one still more of a beginner for his partner, and so he invited me. I had heard a lot about
the game but had never tried my hand at it. Players used to say that this was a game in which
there was plenty of scope for the exercise of one's intelligence. The Captain offered to give me
lessons, and he found me a good pupil, as I had unlimited patience. Every time I was the loser,
and that made him all the more eager to teach me. I liked the game, but never carried my liking
beyond the boat, or my knowledge beyond the moves of the pieces.
At Lamu the ship remained at anchor for some three to four hours, and I landed to see the port.
The Captain had also gone ashore, but he had warned me that the harbour was treacherous and
that I should return in good time.
It was a very small place. I went to the Post Office and was delighted to see the Indian clerks
there, and had a talk with them. I also saw the Africans and tried to acquaint myself with their
ways of life, which interested me very much. This took up some time.
There were some deck passengers with whom I had made acquaintance, and who had landed
with a view to cooking their food on shore and having a quiet meal. I now found them preparing
to return to the steamer, so we all got into the same boat. The tide was high in the harbour, and
our boat had more than its proper load. The high current was so strong that it was impossible to
hold the boat to the ladder of the steamer. It would just touch the ladder and be drawn away again
by the current. The first whistle to start had already gone. I was worried. The Captain was
witnessing our plight from the bridge. He ordered the steamer to wait an extra five minutes.
There was another boat near the ship which a friend hired for me for ten rupees. This boat picked
me up from the overloaded one. The ladder had already been raised. I had therefore to be drawn
up by means of a rope and the steamer started immediately. The other passengers were left
behind. I now appreciated the Captain's warning.
After Lamu the next port was Mombasa and then Zanzibar. The halt here was a long one--eight
or ten days--and we then changed to another boat.
The Captain liked me much, but the liking took an undesirable turn. He invited an English
friend and me to accompany him on an outing, and we all went ashore in his boat. I had not the
least notion of what the outing meant. And little did the Captain know what an ignoramus I was in
such matters. We were taken to some Negro women's quarters by a tout. We were each shown
into a room. I simply stood there dumb with shame. Heaven only knows what the poor woman
must have thought of me. When the Captain called me I came out just as I had gone in. He saw
my innocence. At first I felt very much ashamed, but as I could not think of the thing except with
horror, the sense of shame wore away, and I thanked God that the sight of the woman had not
moved me in the least. I was disgusted at my weakness, and pitied myself for not having had the
courage to refuse to go into the room.
This in my life was the third trial of its kind. Many a youth, innocent at first, must have been
drawn into sin by a false sense of shame. I could claim no credit for having come out unscathed. I
could have credit if I had refused to enter that room. I must entirely thank the All-merciful for
having saved me. The incident increased my faith in God and taught me, to a certain extent, to
cast off false shame.
As we had to remain in this port for a week, I took rooms in the town and saw a good deal by
wandering about the neighbourhood. Only Malabar can give any idea of the luxuriant vegetation
of Zanzibar. I was amazed at the gigantic trees and the size of the fruits.
The next call was at Mozambique, and thence we reached Natal towards the close of May.
Next :7. SOME EXPERIENCES