Glimpses of places in England and South Africa which have the honour of being associated with the Mahatma
Gandhiji’s experiences during his early years in England and South Africa had a great impact on his life.
Years in London
Gandhiji was barely nineteen when he sailed to England in 1888 to study law. He lived at 20 Baron’s Court Road in London. During the first few months, he tried to adopt ‘English’ customs. He took lessons in French, dancing and public speaking. However, he soon realised the foolishness of his ways and gave up the needless pursuits. The building today bears a blue plaque indicating its historical significance.
Life was not easy for a vegetarian in a cold foreign land, but Gandhiji firmly adhered to the promise he had made to his mother to abstain from meat and wine. He sought out vegetarian restaurants, even if they were far from his home. At one such restaurant, Central, he bought a copy of A Plea for Vegetarianism by H. S. Salt. After reading it, he decided to become a committed vegetarian and joined the Vegetarian Society.
Efforts are on to get the London Corporation to recognise the restaurant’s Gandhi connection.
When Gandhiji took up a job offer in South Africa in 1893, little did he know that it would be the turning point in his life.
The stint was meant to last only a year, but he ended up staying back for 21 years, emerging as a champion of civil rights for Indians in South Africa.
Within a few days of his arrival, Gandhiji suffered the indignities of racial discrimination. The most cited incident is that of him being unceremoniously thrown out of a first class carriage at Pietemaritzburg station just because he was not white. Today, a memorial plaque on Platform No-1 at the station marks the historic spot and a bronze statue of Gandhiji stands tall in the city centre.
During his stay in South Africa, Gandhiji founded two colonies for Indians outside Johannesburg — Phoenix Settlement (1904) and Tolstoy Farm (1910). Here, he put his principles of simple living and high thinking to the test. The families living in the settlements laboured together to produce their own food, make their own clothes and construct homes. Gandhiji’s newspaper Indian Opinion, which created awareness about inequality, racism and other human rights issues, was printed at the Phoenix Settlement.
The Phoenix Settlement continues to highlight Gandhiji’s undying legacy through its library and museum. The Settlement and the immediate surrounding area are presently collectively known as Bhambayi (Bombay). In 1993, it celebrated the centenary of Gandhiji’s arrival in South Africa.
The Tolstoy Farm was originally gifted to Gandhiji by one of his ardent followers, Herman Kallenbach. Once abuzz with activity, the settlement fell into disuse in the 1970s and all that remains today are its foundations. The Gandhi Centenary Council in South Africa is trying to restore it.