The Congress was over, but as I had to meet the Chamber of Commerce and various people in connection with work in South Africa, I stayed in Calcutta for a month.
Rather than stay this time in a hotel, I arranged to get the required introduction for a room in the India Club. Among its members were some prominent Indians, and I looked forward to getting into touch with them and interesting them in the work in South Africa.
Gokhale frequently went to this Club to play billiards, and when he knew that I was to stay in Calcutta for some time, he invited me to stay with him, I thankfully accepted the invitation, but did not think it proper to go there by myself.
He waited for a day or two and then took me personally. He discovered my reserve and said: ‘Gandhi, you have to stay in the country, and this sort of reserve will not do.
You must get in touch with as many people as possible. I want you to do Congress work.’ I shall record here an incident in the India Club before I proceed to talk of my stay with Gokhale. Lord Curzon held his darbar about this time.
Some Rajas and Maharajas who had been invited to the darbar were members of the Club. In the Club I always found them wearing fine Bengalee dhotis and shirts and scarves. On the darbar day, they put on trousers befitting khansamah and shining boots. I was pained and inquired of one of them the reason for the change.
‘We alone know our unfortunate condition. We alone know the insults we have to put up with, so that we may possess our wealth and titles,’ he replied. ‘But what about these khansamah turbans and these shining boots?’ I asked. ‘Do you see any difference between khansamah and us?’ he replied, and added, ‘they are our khansamah, we are Lord Curzon’s khansamah.
If I were to absent myself from the levee, I should have to suffer the consequences. If I were to attend it in my usual dress, it would be an offence. And do you think I am going to get an opportunity there of talking to Lord Curzon?
Not a bit of it!’ I was moved to pity for this plainspoken friend. This reminds me of another darbar. At the time when Lord Hardinge laid the foundation stone of the Hindu University, there was a darbar.
There were Rajas and Maharajas of course, but Pandit Malaviyaji specially invited me also to attend it, and I did so. I was distressed to see the Maharajas bedecked like women – silk pyjamas and silk achkans, pearl necklaces around their necks, bracelets on their wrists, pearl and diamond tassels on their turbans and besides all these swords with golden hilts hanging from their waistbands.
I discovered that these were insignia not of their royalty, but their slavery. I had thought that they must be wearing these badges of the impotence of their own free will, but I was told that these Rajas needed to wear all their costly jewels at such functions. I also gathered that some of them had a positive dislike for wearing these jewels and that they never wore them except on occasions like the darbar.
I do not know how far my information was correct. But whether they wear them on other occasions or not, it is distressing enough to have to attend viceregal darbars in jewels that only some women wear.
How heavy is the toll of sins and wrongs that wealth, power and prestige exact from man! ~ LORD CURZON’S DARBAR