Gokhale was very anxious that I should settle down in Bombay, practice at the bar and help him in public work. Public work in those days meant Congress work, and the chief 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 straightway 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 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 finger-tips and that 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 appeals, which were successful. 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 to the judge.
The appeal of which I am talking was to be heard at Veraval where plague was raging. I have a recollection that there were as fifty cases daily in the place with a population of 5,500. It was practically deserted, and I put up in a deserted dharmshala at some distance from the town. But where were 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 submitting the application, 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 fear 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 not 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, 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, in spite of 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. In spite of 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 fund 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.
Though I had hired chambers in the Fort and a house in Girgaum, God would not let me settle down. Scarcely had I moved into my new house when my second son Manilal, who had already been through an acute attack of smallpox some years back, had a severe attack of typhoid, combined with pneumonia and signs of delirium at night.
Manilal was restored to health, but I saw that the Girgaum house was not habitable. It was damp and ill-lighted. So in consultation with Shri Ravishankar Jagjivan I decided to hire some well-ventilated bungalow in a suburb of Bombay. I wandered about in Bandra and Santa Cruz. The slaughter-house in Bandra prevented our choice falling there. Ghatkopar and places near it were too far from the sea. At last we hit upon a fine bungalow in Santa Cruz, which we hired as being the best from the point of view of sanitation.
I took a first class season ticket from Santa Cruz to Churchgate, and remember having frequently felt a certain pride in being the only first class passenger in my compartment. Often I walked to Bandra in order to take the fast train from there direct to Churchgate.
I prospered in my profession better than I had expected. My South African clients often entrusted me with some work, and it was enough to enable me to pay my way.
I had not yet succeeded in securing any work in the High Court, but I attended the ‘moot’ that used to be held in those days, though I never ventured to take part in it. I recall Jamiatram Nanubhai taking a prominent part. Like other fresh barristers I made a point of attending the hearing of cases in the High Court, more, I am afraid, for enjoying the soporific breeze coming straight from the sea than for adding to my knowledge. I observed that I was not the only one to enjoy this pleasure. It seemed to be the fashion and therefore nothing to be ashamed of.
However I began to make use of the High Court library and make fresh acquaintances and felt that before long I should secure work in the High Court.
Thus whilst on the one hand I began to feel somewhat at ease about my profession, on the other hand Gokhale, whose eyes were always on me, had been busy making his own plans on my behalf. He peeped in at my chambers twice or thrice every week, often in company with friends whom he wanted me to know, and he kept me acquainted with his mode of work.
But it may be said that God has never allowed any of my own plans to stand. He has disposed them in His own way.
Just when I seemed to be settling down as I had intended, I received an unexpected cable from South Africa: ‘Chamberlain expected here. Please return immediately.’ I remembered my promise and cabled to say that I should be ready to start the moment they put me in funds. They promptly responded. I gave up the chambers and started for South Africa.
An Autobiography, (1959), pp. 178-83.