Gokhale was very anxious that I should settle down in Bombay, practise at the bar and help him in public work. Public work in those days meant Congress work, and the chief work of the institution which he had assisted to found was carrying on the Congress administration.
I liked Gokhale’s advice, but I was not overconfident of success as a barrister. The unpleasant memories of past failure were yet with me, and I still hated as poison the use of flattery for getting briefs.
I, therefore, decided to start work first at Rajkot. Kevalram Mavji Dave, my old well-wisher, who had induced me to go to England, was there, and he started me straightaway with three briefs.
Two of them were appeals before the Judicial Assistant to the Political Agent in Kathiawad and one was an original case in Jamnagar. This last was rather important. On my saying that I could not trust myself to do it justice, Kevalram Dave exclaimed: ‘Winning or losing is no concern of yours. You will simply try your best, and I am of course there to assist you.’
The counsel on the other side was the late Sjt. Samarth. I was fairly well prepared. Not that I knew much of Indian law, but Kevalram Dave had instructed me very thoroughly. I had heard friends say, before I went out to South Africa, that Sir Pherozeshah Mehta had the law of evidence at his fingertips and that was the secret of his success.
I had borne this in mind, and during the voyage had carefully studied the Indian Evidence Act with commentaries thereon. There was of course also the advantage of my legal experience in South Africa. I won the case and gained some confidence.
I had no fear about the successful appeals. All this inspired a hope in me that after all, I might not fail even in Bombay. But before I set forth the circumstances in which I decided to go to Bombay, I shall narrate my experience of the inconsiderateness and ignorance of English officials.
The Judicial Assistant’s court was peripatetic. He was constantly touring, and vakils and their clients had to follow him wherever he moved his camp. The vakils would charge more whenever they had to go out of headquarters, and so the clients had naturally to incur double the expenses. The inconvenience was no concern of the judge. The appeal of which I am talking was to be heard at Veraval where the plague was raging.
I have a recollection that there were as many as fifty cases daily in the place with a population of 5,500. It was practically deserted, and I put up in a deserted #dharmashala# at some distance from the town. But where the clients to stay? If they were poor, they had simply to trust themselves to God’s mercy. A friend who also had cases before the court had wired that I should put in an application for the camp to be moved to some other station because of the plague at Veraval.
On my applying, the sahib asked me. ‘Are you afraid?’ I answered: It is not a question of my being afraid. I think I can shift for myself, but what about the clients?’ ‘The plague has come to stay in India,’ replied the sahib. ‘Why dear it? The climate of Veraval is lovely. [The sahib lived far away from the town in a palatial tent pitched on the seashore.] Surely people must learn to live thus in the open.’ It was no use arguing against this philosophy.
The sahib told his shirastedar: ‘Make a note of what Mr Gandhi says, and let me know if it is very inconvenient for the vakils or the clients.’ The sahib of course had honestly done what he thought was the right thing. But how could the man have an idea of the hardships of poor India? How was he to understand the needs, habits, idiosyncrasies and customs of the people?
How was one, accustomed to measure things in gold sovereigns, all at once to make calculations in tiny bits of copper? As the elephant is powerless to think in the terms of the ant, despite the best intentions in the world, even so, is the Englishman powerless to think in the terms of, or legislate for, the Indian.
But to resume the thread of the story. Despite my successes, I had been thinking of staying on in Rajkot for some time longer, when one day Kevalram Dave came to me and said: ‘Gandhi, we will not suffer you to vegetate here. You must settle in Bombay.’ ‘But who will find work for me there?’ I asked. ‘Will you find the expenses?’ ‘Yes, yes, I will,’ said he. ‘We shall bring you down here sometimes as a big barrister from Bombay and drafting work we shall send you there. It lies with us vakils to make or mar a barrister. You have proved your worth in Jamnagar and Veraval, and I have therefore not the least anxiety about you. You are destined to do public work, and we will not allow you to be buried in Kathiawad.
So tell me, then, when you will go to Bombay.’ ‘I am expecting a remittance from Natal. As soon as I get it I will go,’ I replied. The money came in about two weeks, and I went to Bombay. I took chambers in Payne, Gilbert and Sayani’s offices, and it looked as though I had settled down. ~ SETTLED IN BOMBAY