M. K. Gandhi: Indian Patriot in South Africa/Chapter 3

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CHAPTER III

A COMPACT

This morning, as usual, the sanctum was full of Indians when I entered, discussing earnestly the latest phase of the Asiatic difficulty. When, however, it became clear that Mr. Gandhi and I wished for a quiet chat, with the well-bred instinct of Orientals they silently left the room. Mr. Gandhi swung round on his office-chair and faced me, his dark eyes alert and watchful, his hair a little more silvered, I thought, than yesterday, his whole attitude alert and expectant.

"My friend," I began, "I want to ask you a strange question—how far are you prepared to make a martyr of yourself for the good of the cause?" He looked a little surprised, but said quietly, "I think you should know that by this time". "No." I said, "candidly I do not." "Well," said he, his face kindling, "it is a matter with me of complete surrender. I am nothing, I am willing to die at any time, or to do anything for the cause". "Take care," I rejoined, "perhaps I shall ask something too great." "You cannot do that," he replied, calmly. Then I saw my opportunity, and drew the toils about him. "Listen," I said. "It appears to me that what we are doing now is merely tinkering at the Asiatic settlement—our fight with this Government is only part of a much greater fight, to be fought out on a larger battlefield. "The question of the status of British Indians throughout the whole Empire will have to be solved, and in the settlement of that vast problem, you should have much to say. The question is—how can we best prepare for that future?" He nodded in his own quick, incisive way. I proceeded: "You know very well that, with us Europeans, character and personality are of the first importance. It is so here, and it must be at home. You yourself are the chief asset of the Indian cause. It is a great thing to know and trust the leader of such a movement." He was about to speak, but I stopped him. "Let me continue," I said. "Your position as leader makes your personality of great importance to the cause. It has occurred to me that if I could write a short book—bright, graphic, and reliable—making your personality real to the people of England, it might do something to help the cause in the great struggle that is to come." The emphatic nods became appreciably weaker, but they did not altogether cease, so I went on: "You will see, however. that my power to do this depends altogether upon yourself. You must tell me about your childhood and youth, allow me to picture your personality, and depict your character, and if I know anything of you, to submit to this will be the severest kind of martyrdom that you can suffer." "Ah," he said, as my purpose dawned upon him. "You have caught me completely." "But," said I, "would this help your people?" He thought a moment, and then replied, "Yes, in England." "Well, can you go so far?" "For the cause, I can," he said. And then, "What do you want me to do? You don't want me to write anything, do you?" "No, I replied, not a word: just let me question you about that Indian city where you were born, that beautiful home of yours far away in the East, the very thoughts of your heart, your struggles and sacrifices and victories. What you cannot tell me, others will help me to discover." So silently, with a grip of the hand, we confirmed the bond, and this is how this story was born.