MK (‘Mahatma’) Gandhi, born in Porbandar (Gujarat) visited London in 1906. He spent the first two days of his stay at India House, the hostel in Highgate founded in 1905 by Shyamji Krishnavarma (born in Kutch, now part of Gujarat). Gandhi did not see eye to eye with Krishnavarma and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who was living in India House. These extracts from my book “IDEAS, BOMBS, and BULLETS” describes Gandhi’s meetings with Krishnavarma and Savarkar.
During October 1906, India House received one of its most well-known guests. On the 20th of that month, MK Gandhi arrived at Waterloo Station, having recently disembarked from a ship that had carried him from South Africa. He was met by the father of Henry Polak (Gandhi’s South African associate), Lewis Ritch, and others of his followers. They travelled together to India House, where Gandhi spent two nights. After that, he moved to the now long-since closed luxurious Cecil Hotel, which used to stand in the Strand. During his stay in London, he attended at least three of the Sunday evening meetings held every week at India House. These meetings were to discuss matters connected with India, to celebrate Indian festivals, and to allow Indians in London to socialise…
… Savarkar was not friendly to Gandhi when he visited India House in 1906. He strongly disapproved of this visitor’s thoughts and actions throughout his life. It is said that on one of Gandhi’s visits to India House, Savarkar, who loved prawns, offered some to the vegetarian visitor, who politely refused them. Savarkar said to Gandhi:
“Well, if you cannot eat with us, how on earth are you going to work with us? … this is just boiled fish … we want people who are ready to eat the Britishers alive…”
Incidentally, Shyamji Krishnavarma was, like Gandhi, a strict vegetarian. He preferred cooked food and had his favourite food, mung dal (a lentil preparation), sent from India. Also, he avoided onions and chillies. Regarding food at India House, especially as it reached its final year, Asaf Ali wrote:
“Within a fortnight of our stay in India House, Rauf [Ali’s brother] and I decided to move out of it. For here food served there defied description. And here were Madrasis, Mahrattas, and Punjabis, each so far apart in tastes…”
Gandhi had not come to Highgate to discuss eating habits with the young revolutionary Savarkar. The future Mahatma, who had praised the work of Shyamji, wanted to confront and argue his case with Shyamji, who had been very critical of the assistance that he had offered the British during their war with the South African Boers.
On one of his visits to India House (Sunday 21st October), Gandhi spent the whole day there. During the day, he spent time talking to young Indians. In the evening, he spoke with Shyamji. One of the matters that particularly concerned Shyamji was the forthcoming election of the President of the Indian National Congress. BG Tilak, whom Shyamji admired, was one of the candidates. The ‘moderate’ Indian nationalists favoured Dadabhai Naoroji. Shyamji tried to persuade Gandhi to dissuade Naoroji from standing. However, Gandhi felt that Naoroji was the right man to be President. In November 1906, Shyamji wrote an article in Indian Sociologist, condemning Naoroji. He made comments such as:
“We have ample evidence to show that Mr. Dadabhai Naoroji is ever ready to oblige his Anglo-Indian friends at the cost of his country … Mr. Dadabhai is allowing the great reputation he made in the past to damp down the aspirations of the Indians of today … How long does Mr. Dadabhai Naoroji expect that the Indian people will continue to be hoodwinked by him? ”
Three years later, Gandhi published a booklet called Hind Swaraj. It was, in part, a thinly veiled criticism of the extremists like Shyamji and Savarkar.
End of extracts
“IDEAS, BOMBS, and BULLETS” by Adam Yamey may be bought here:
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Picture shows Krishnavarma on a book by Hitesh Bhansali