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16. MAN PROPOSES, GOD DISPOSES :



AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY:
THE STORY OF MY EXPERIMENTS WITH TRUTH
by Mohandas K. Gandhi


PART :2.


The case having been concluded, I had no reason for staying in Pretoria. So I went back to
Durban and began to make preparations for my return home. But Abdulla Sheth was not the man
to let me sail without a send-off. He gave a farewell party in my honour at Sydenham.


It was proposed to spend the whole day there. Whilst I was turning over the sheets of some of
the newspapers I found there, I chanced to see a paragraph in a corner of one of them under the
caption, 'Indian Franchise'. It was with reference to the bill then before the House of Legislature,
which sought to deprive the Indians of their right to elect members of the Natal Legislative
Assembly. I was ignorant of the bill, and so were the rest of the guests who had assembled there.


I inquired of Abdulla Sheth about it. He said: 'What can we understand in these matters? We
can only understand things that affect our trade. As you know, all our trade in the Orange Free
State has been swept away. We agitated about it, but in vain. We are after all lame men, being
unlettered. We generally take in newspapers simply to ascertain the daily market rates, etc. What
can we know of legislation? Our eyes and ears are the European attorneys here.'


'But,' said I, 'there are so many young Indians born and educated here. Do they not help you?'
'They!' exclaimed Abdulla Sheth in despair. 'They never care to come to us, and to tell you the
truth, we care less to recognize them. Being Christians, they are under the thumb of the white
clergymen, who in their turn are subject to the Government.'


This opened my eyes. I felt that this class should be claimed as our own. Was this the meaning
of Christianity? Did they cease to be Indians because they had become Christians?


But I was on the point of returning home and hesitated to express what was passing through
my mind in this matter. I simply said to Abdulla Sheth: 'This bill, if it passes into law, will make our
lot extremely difficult. It is the first nail into our coffin. It strikes at the root of our self-respect.'


'It may,' echoed Sheth Abdulla. 'I will tell you the genesis of the franchise question. We knew
nothing about it. But Mr. Escombe, one of our best attorneys, whom you know, put the idea into
our heads. It happened thus. He is a great fighter, and there being no love lost between him and
the Wharf Engineer, he feared that the Engineer might deprive him of his votes and defeat him at
the election. So he acquainted us with our position, and at his instance we all registered
ourselves as voters, and voted for him. You will now see how the franchise has not for us the
value that you attach to it. But we understand what you say. Well, then, what is your advice?'
The other guests were listening to this conversation with attention. One of them said: 'Shall I
tell you what should be done? You cancel your passage by this boat, stay here a month longer,
and we will fight as you direct us.'


All the others chimed in: 'Indeed, indeed. Abdulla Sheth, you must detain Gandhibhai.'
The Sheth was a shrewd man. He said: 'I may not detain him now. Or rather, you have as
much right as I to do so. But you are quite right. Let us all persuade him to stay on. But you
should remember that he is a barrister. What about his fees?'


The mention of fees pained me, and I broke in: 'Abdulla Sheth, fees are out of the question.
There can be no fees for public work. I can stay, if at all, as a servant. And as you know, I am
acquainted with all these friends. But if you believe that they will co-operate, I am prepared to
stay a month longer. There is one thing, however. Though you need not pay me anything, work of
the nature we contemplate cannot be done without some funds to start with. Thus we may have
to send telegrams, we may have to print some literature, some touring may have to be done, the
local attorneys may have to be consulted, and as I am ignorant of your laws, I may need some
law-books for reference. All this cannot be done without money. And it is clear that one man is not
enough for this work. Many must come forward to help him.'


And a chorus of voices was heard: 'Allah is great and merciful. Money will come in. Men there
are, as many as you may need. You please consent to stay, and all will be well.'


The farewell party was thus turned into a working committee. I suggested finishing dinner etc.
quickly, and getting back home. I worked out in my own mind an outline of the campaign. I
ascertained the names of those who were on the list of voters, and made up my mind to stay on
for a month.


Thus God laid the foundations of my life in South Africa, and sowed the seed of the fight for
national self-respect.


NEXT : 17. SETTLED IN NATAL


Continues...

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