A man of courtesy

Bapu was always the soul of courtesy towards young and old, rich and poor. An incident illustrative of this side of his character was described by Giralda Forbes in the Catholic World of Calcutta.

She had never met Gandhiji before. She had arrived in Bombay from England and learned that she was to proceed to Lahore by the next train. The following afternoon she went to the station to board the train. A porter carried her roll of bedding and luggage. There had been some delay on the way and she arrived to find the train pulling out.

As is well known, trains in India have separate coaches for men and women. There was a single women’s second class coach in the train, but all the five berths were occupied. She hurried frantically up and down the platform looking for room; there was none. Her eyes fell on an empty coach. It was marked first class, but she decided to pay the difference and looked around for the guard to make the arrangement. She did not notice in her hurry that a large placard hung from the door at the other end of the coach showing that it was ‘Reserved’.

The narrative proceeds: “A knot of Hindu gentlemen were standing talking in front of the door, and they turned to look at her. One of them stopped her on her flight and asked if she was in need of help. He was little, very unprepossessing, and had a toothless mouth that made his smile look ghastly. The train gave a warning shriek. The little man turned abruptly and made a gesture of authority, and the guard, who was about to wave the flag, blew his whistle instead. The harassed missionary explained her predicament, and the knot of Hindu gentlemen crowded around and showed signs of consternation. The little man fumbled in the folds of cloth around his waist and produced a ticket. He pressed it into her hand, and asked for hers. Instantly howls of protest rose on every side. The little man hushed them, and a crowd collected. The station master came running to see what the matter was. The little man explained and motioned to the coolie to put the luggage of the new occupant in the coach, and take his out.

‘You see,’ he said to her, ‘I did not want to travel first class; but my friends bought this accommodation without telling me. I am delighted to make the exchange. I am going to Lahore, and you are going to Lahore, so it is all right.’

Too dazed to make any protest, the missionary accepted the situation and the toothless one led the way chuckling to the rear of the train, utterly indifferent to the furious protests of his friends, while the crowd shouted and laughed, and the station master pleaded frantically that he must start the train.”


Leave a Reply