The immense pavilion and the volunteers in the stately array, as also the elders seated on the dais, overwhelmed me. I wondered where I should be in that vast assemblage.
The presidential address was a book by itself. To read it from cover to cover was out of the question. Only a few passages were therefore read. After this came to the election of the Subjects Committee.
Gokhale took me to the Committee meetings. Sir Pherozeshah had of course agreed to admit my resolution, but I was wondering who would put it before the Subjects Committee, and when. For there were lengthy speeches to every resolution, all in English to boot, and every resolution had some well-known leader to back it. Mine was but a feeble pipe amongst those veteran drums, and as the night was closing in, my heartbeat fast.
The resolutions coming at the fag end were, so far as I can recollect, rushed through at lightning speed. Everyone was hurrying to go. It was 11 o’clock. I had not the courage to speak.
I had already met Gokhale, who had looked at my resolution. So I drew near his chair and whispered to him: ‘Please do something for me.’ He said: ‘Your resolution is not out of my mind. You see the way they are rushing through the resolutions. But I will not allow yours to be passed over.’
‘So we have done?’ said Sir Pherozeshah Mehta. ‘No, no, there is still the resolution on South Africa. Mr Gandhi has been waiting long,’ cried out Gokhale. ‘Have you seen the resolution?’ asked Sir Pherozeshah. ‘Of course.’ ‘Do you like it?’ ‘It is quite good.’ ‘Well then, let us have it, Gandhi.’
I read it trembling. Gokhale supported it. ‘Unanimously passed,’ cried out everyone. ‘You will have five minutes to speak to it Gandhi,’ said Mr Wacha. The procedure was far from pleasing to me. No one had troubled to understand the resolution, everyone was in a hurry to go and because Gokhale had seen the resolution, it was not thought necessary for the rest to see it or understand it!
The morning found me worrying about my speech. What was I to say in five minutes? I had prepared myself fairly well but the words would not come to me.
I had decided not to read my speech but to speak extempore. But the facility for speaking that I had acquired in South Africa seemed to have left me for the moment. As soon as it was time for my resolution, Mr Wacha called out my name.
I stood up. My head was reeling. I read the resolution somehow. Someone had printed and distributed amongst the delegates copies of a poem he had written in praise of foreign emigration.
I read the poem and referred to the grievances of the settlers in South Africa. Just at this moment, Mr Wacha rang the bell. I was sure I had not yet spoken for five minutes. I did not know that the bell was rung to warn me to finish in two minutes more.
I had heard others speak for half an hour or three-quarters of an hour, and yet no bell was rung for them. I felt hurt and sat down as soon as the bell was rung. But my childlike intellect thought then that the poem contained an answer to Sir Pherozeshah.
There was no question about the passing of the resolution. In those days there was hardly any difference between visitors and delegates. Everyone raised his hand and all resolutions passed unanimously.
My resolution also fared in this wise and so lost all its importance for me. And yet the very fact that it was passed by the Congress was enough to delight my heart, The knowledge that the imprisonment matur of the Congress meant that of the whole country was enough to delight anyone. ~