Dr. Geeta Radhakrishna Menon
Mahatma Gandhi 24 - Gandhiji In South Africa - Poem by Dr. Geeta Radhakrishna Menon
Gandhiji sailed to South Africa
And as the ship touched Durban,
He was received by Sheth Abdulla.
The first thing that struck him was that
Indians were not accorded due respect.
A snobbish air surrounded the port,
He was in a skin colour conscious country,
White was the aristocratic shade
And the white men ruled!
The blacks and browns were
Ill treated, insulted,
Condemned and trodden upon!
Indians in South Africa were of different groups
Who called themselves Arabs,
Who called themselves Persians,
A few Hindus who were
Neither here nor there!
The largest class was
Who spoke Tamil, Telugu
And north Indian languages!
They were called the ‘Girmitiyas from Girmit'-
The Englishmen called
the Girmitiyas, ‘coolies' or ‘samis'
‘Sami' a Tamil word means a ‘Master'
Added as a suffix to many names in Tamil Nadu.
But in South Africa this word was misused
As a term of contempt!
Majority of the Indians belonged
To this ‘coolie' or ‘sami' class!
Gandhiji came to be known as a ‘coolie' barrister
The merchants known as ‘coolie' merchants
The original meaning of ‘Sami' forgotten and
‘Coolie' became a common appellation for all Indians!
On the second day of arrival in Durban,
Sheth Abdulla took Gandhi to Durban Court
And seated him next to an attorney!
The magistrate kept staring at Gandhiji
And finally, asked him to take off his turban.
Gandhiji had worn a typical Indian turban-
An imitation of a Bengali pugree!
Gandhiji refused to take off his Indian turban
And left the court quietly!
This news was reported in the newspapers
Gandhiji was described as an unwelcome visitor
The incident gave him unexpected publicity in South Africa!
Gandhiji was a young man with a penchant
For attires and to be dressed with eloquence!
In England he wore a suit and a hat,
Back in India,
He he took interest in wearing a turban.
On arrival in Africa, Gandhiji debated on
The importance of wearing a turban!
If asked to take off one's Indian turban
Then it would amount to an insult.
He decided to do away with the turban
And wear an English hat
While in South Africa
But the idea of an English hat was disapproved,
Sheth Abdulla pointed out the repercussions
Or the bad effect on those aspiring
To wear Indian turbans
Besides, Sheth Abdulla opined,
Indian turban sat well on Gandhiji's head.
If he wore an English hat
He would pass off as a waiter.
Though Gandhiji agreed to this wisdom of turban
With a mild scent of patriotism in it,
But disagreed with the ‘waiter' portion of the comment,
A kind of narrowness in Sheth's attitude.
Well, the long and short of the turban story-
Gandhiji never abandoned his Indian turban
Till the end of his stay in South Africa!
What happened thereafter -
Is a story worth knowing and studying!
Why and when he gave up his entire attire?
The trip to South Africa,
A turning point in his life,
From where began a fight for justice,
An experiment with truth and non-violence,
A mind that gained fearlessness,
A spirit that resolved to do or die!
A pair of spectacles
The lone embellishment;
A bald head that
Contained the wisdom of India,
A stick that directed the millions in India
To tread on a path of truth alone,
To fight for one's own rights
With non-violence as the only weapon!
Clad only in a dhoti
Yet, head held high with fearlessness,
He became the father of the nation
With abundant love of the people!
Poet's Notes about The Poem
Gandhiji had tremendous inner strength to face any situation.
It is his indomitable spirit that made him the father of the Nation.
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