It was no easy thing to issue the first number of Indian Opinion from Phoenix. Had I not taken two precautions, the first issue would have had to be dropped or delayed. The idea of having an engine to work the press had not appealed to me.
I had thought that hand-power would be more in keeping with an atmosphere where agricultural work was also to be done by hand. But as the idea had not appeared feasible, we had installed an oil engine. I had, however, suggested to West to have something handy to fall back upon in case the engine failed. He had therefore arranged a wheel which could be worked by hand. The size of the paper, that of a daily, was considered reduced to foolscap size, so that, in case of emergency, copies might be struck off with the help of a treadle. In the initial stages, we all had to keep late hours before the day of publication.
Everyone, young and old, had to help in folding the sheets. We usually finished our work between ten o’clock and midnight. But the first night was unforgettable. We had got out an engineer from Durban to put up the engine and set it going. He and West tried their hardest but in vain.
Everyone was anxious. West, in despair, at last, came to me, with tears in his eyes, and said, ‘The engine will not work, I am afraid we cannot issue the paper in time.’ ‘If that is the case, we cannot help it. No use shedding tears. Let us do whatever else is humanly possible. What about the handwheel?’ I said, comforting him.
‘Where have we the men to work?’ he replied. ‘We are not enough to cope with the job. It requires relays of four men each, and our men are all tired.’ Building work had not yet been finished so the carpenters were still with us. They were sleeping on the press floor. I said pointed to them, ‘But can’t we make use of these carpenters? And we may have a whole night of work. I think this device is still open to us.’ ‘I dare not wake up the carpenters. And our men are too tired,’ said West. ‘Well, that’s for me to negotiate,’ said I. ‘Then we may get through the work,’ West replied. I woke up the carpenters and requested their co-operation.
They needed no pressure. They said, ‘If we cannot be called upon in an emergency, what use are we? You rest yourselves and we will work the wheel. For us, it is easy to work.’ Our men were of course ready.
West was greatly delighted and started singing a hymn as we set to work. I partnered with the carpenters, all the rest joined turn by turn, and thus we went on until 7 a.m. There was still a good deal to do. I, therefore, suggested to West that the engineer might now be asked to get up and try again to start the engine so that if we succeeded we might finish in time.
West woke him up, and he immediately went into the engine room. And lo and behold! the engine worked almost as soon as he touched it. The whole press rang with peals of joy. ‘How can this be? How is it that all our labours last night were of no avail, and this morning it has been set going as though there were nothing wrong with it?’ I enquired. ‘It is difficult to say,’ said West or the engineer, I forget which. ‘Machines also sometimes seem to behave as though they required rest like us.’ For me, the failure of the engine had come as a test for us all, and it’s working in the nick of time as the fruit of our honest and earnest labours.
The copies were despatched in time, and everyone was happy. This initial insistence ensured the regularity of the paper and created an atmosphere of self-reliance in Phoenix. There came a time we deliberately gave up the use of the engine and worked with hand-power only. Those were, to my mind, the days of the highest moral uplift for Phoenix. ~ THE FIRST NIGHT