M. K. Gandhi: Indian Patriot in South Africa/Chapter 16

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Two enterprises will always be associated with Mr. Gandhi's name and work in South Africa. One is the propaganda, commenced in 1903, among his own people, by means of a weekly journal called "Indian Opinion"; the other, that little Tolstoian Colony in Phœnix, where "Indian Opinion" is now published. Both of them have exerted a great influence on the Indian community.

Mr. Gandhi is a dreamer. He dreams of an Indian community in South Africa, welded together by common interests and common ideals, educated, moral, worthy of that ancient civilization to which it is heir; remaining essentially Indian, but so acting that South Africa will eventually be proud of its Eastern citizens, and accord them, as of right, those privileges which every British subject should enjoy. This is the dream. His ambition is to make it a reality, or die in the attempt. And this is the motive that forms the foundation of all his efforts to raise the status of his people, and to defeat everything that would tend to degrade his brethren or hold them in a servile condition.

But Mr. Gandhi is a practical dreamer. As his life-work took shape, he realised that his plans could only be materialised by the creation of some medium of constant intercourse with Indians throughout the South African Colonies, and after mature thought "Indian Opinion" was launched.

A printing-plant was already at work in Durban, under the direction of Mr. Madanjit, a Bombay schoolmaster. In view of possible developments, Mr. Gandhi had contributed a large proportion of its cost. This printing-plant was now available. Mr. M. H. Nazar at once volunteered to act as unpaid Editor. He was a man of culture, an undergraduate of Bombay University, a trained journalist, and one whose character was tried. His death, two years later, was a profound loss to the community. Mr. Nazar's offer was accepted, and on the understanding that Mr. Gandhi should contribute certain funds, and write constantly for the English columns, the first number was issued.

The enterprise was necessary, but it proved to be very costly. At first, being a novelty to the community, its value was not realised. The majority of the Indians were not inclined towards literature, and time was needed to arouse interest. Then, too, its production involved considerable initial expense, as it was published in English, Tamil, Gujarati, and Hindi, with a very limited circulation.

Its mission appeared, however, to Mr. Gandhi to be so essential to his dream, that during the first twelve months he supplied for its working expenses about £2,000 from his own income. Fortunately, at a critical moment, £1,600 of this amount had come to him from the Municipality of Johannesbug, through costs awarded in a succession of law-suits.

Since then, "Indian Opinion" has done very fine service to the Indian community. Undoubtedly, Passive Resistance would have been impossible without it. It has been a wonderful educational force, and under the able and cultured editorship of Mr. Polak its influence promises to be still greater. But at the close of the first year, as the deficit was so large, it became necessary for Mr. Gandhi either to close the venture or to assume the entire charge himself. He decided on the latter course, and has borne the responsibility ever since. It has, however, been a constant tax on him, as "Indian Opinion" has never paid its way.

In 1904, Mr. Gandhi dreamed another dream. This is his own account of it. "After the plague I paid a flying visit to my cousins at Tongaat, in Natal. I saw their store, but what attracted me most was the acre of garden ground at the back were some fruit trees were planted. These looked so beautiful, and the possibilities of the land appeared to be so great, that the idea appeared to me that my cousins were wasting their time in the store when so much beauty lay around them. They simply employed labour to cultivate the garden, and it was done poorly. Why could they not labour themselves and do it well? I had been reading Ruskin's "Unto This Last" on my way down, and the influence of the book clung to me. Surely such a dream might be realised.

Mr. Chhaganlal Gandhi, his brother, and another store-keeping cousin from Stanger were also present, and between them the idea was discussed.

The new dream induced by that acre of fruit trees and "Unto This Last" was this. The handful of men already employed in the issue of "Indian Opinion" should form the nucleus of a colony of workers. They should take land in the country, transfer the printing press to new buildings to be erected there, vow themselves to poverty, work for "Indian Opinion" and Indian education, cu!tivate the ground themselves, and draw only a small salary from the press. They would, in this way, be able, Mr. Gandhi thought, to free themselves from the temptations of city life, and develop such a settlement as might prove an object lesson in simplicity, and an incentive to others.

Mr. Gandhi's enthusiasm is marvellously contagious. He put it as a practical matter to Mr. Chhaganlal who at once agreed. He submitted it to the cousins of the store, and they promised to break up their homes and attempt to materialise his dream. Then he returned to Durban to put his scheme before Mr. A. H. West, an English friend, who was then managing the Press, and who has since as joint-manager with Mr. Chhaganlal done yeoman service to the Indian cause. Mr. West, too, accepted it. The issue of it all was, that, within ten days, Mr. Gandhi had bought a piece of ground in his own name at Phoenix, suitable for a settlement. Within a month, an iron building, belonging to Mr. Parsee Rustomji, had been erected there, and the whole press transferred from Durban to its new quarters without the interruption of a single issue. Since then, a little colony has formed around that centre. Houses have been built, land has been cultivated, a school commenced, and the value of a simple life abundantly demonstrated. The village is situated at about two hours distance from Durban, on the hill-sides of a rich grassy country, with trees at intervals, and well-cultivated gardens showing brightly between. Mr. Gandhi’s home is here, and in brief intervals of harassing toil in Johannesburg, he finds complete rest in returning to the settlement and working as others work.

The settlers of Phœnix are divided into two classes—the “schemers” and the paid workers. The “schemers” are those who have a personal interest in the scheme. They are gratend an acre of ground with a building, for which it is understood they are allowed to pay when they are able. Besides this, they draw £3 per month from "Indian Opinion," with a right to divde the profits, if any. The others are simply paid for what they do.

So far, these dreams are realised, but they have absolutely impoverished the dreamer. What "Indian Opinion" has not required, Phœnix has. To meet these demands, however, is part of his conception of duty, and in such self-sacrifice, bringing poverty with it, he is true to his ideal.