Speech at the Victoria Public Hall, Madras on 21 April 1915
Mr. Chairman and Friends, – On behalf of my wife and myself I am deeply grateful for the great honour this you here in Madras, and may I say, this Presidency, have done to us and the affection that has been lavished upon us in this great and enlightened – not benighted – Presidency.
If there is anything that we have deserved, as has been stated in this beautiful address, I can only say I lay it at the feet of my Master under whose inspiration I have been working all this time under exile in South Africa. (Hear, hear). In so far as the sentiments expressed in this address are merely prophetic. Sir, I accept them as a blessing and as a prayer from you and from this great meeting that both my wife and I myself may possess the power, the inclination, and the life to dedicate whatever we may develop in this sacred land of ours to the service of the Motherland. (Cheers). It is no wonder that we have come to Madras. As my Friend, Mr. Natesan, will perhaps tell you, we have been overdue and we have neglected Madras. But we have done nothing of the kind. We know that we had a corner in your hearts and we knew that you will not misjudge us if we did not hasten to Madras before going to the other presidencies and to other towns. But, Sir, if one-tenth of the language that has been used in this address is deserved by us, what language do you propose to use for those who have lost their lives, and therefore finished their work on behalf of your suffering countrymen in South Africa? What language do you propose to use for Magappan and Narayansawmy, lads of seventeen or eighteen years, who braved in simple faith all the trials, all the sufferings, and all the indignities for the sake of the honour of the Motherland (Cheers). What language do you propose to use with reference to Valliamma, that sweet girl of seventeen years who was discharged from Maritzburg prison, skin and bone suffering from fever to which she succumbed after about a month’s time (Cries of shame).
It was the Madrasis who of all the Indians were singled out by the great Divinity that rules over us for this great work. Do you know that in the great city of Johannesburg, the Madarasis look on a Madrasis as dishonored if he has not passed through the jails once or twice during this terrible crisis that your countrymen in South Africa went through during these eight long years? You have said that I inspired these great men and women, but I cannot accept that proposition. It was they, the simple-minded folk, who worked away in faith, never expecting the slightest reward, who inspired me, who kept me to the proper level , and who inspired me by their great sacrifice, by their great faith, by their great trust in the great God, to do the work that I was able to do. (Cheers). It is my misfortune that my wife and I have been obliged to work in the lime-light, and you have magnified out of all proportion (cries of ‘No? No?’) this little work we have been able to do. Believe me, my dear friends, that if you consider, whether in India or in South Africa, it is possible for us, poor mortals-the same individuals, the same stuff of which you are made if you consider that it is possible for us to do anything whatsoever without your assistance and without your doing the same thing that we would be prepared to do, you are lost, and we are also lost, and our services will be in vain, I do not for one moment believe that the inspiration was given by us. The inspiration was given by them to us, and we were able to be interpreters between the powers who called themselves the Governors and those men for whom redress was so necessary. We were simply links between those two parties and nothing more. It was my duty, having received the education that was given to me by my parents to interpret what was going on in our midst to those simple folk, and they rose to the occasion. They realised the might of religious force, and it was they who inspired us, and let them who have finished their work, and who have died for you and me, let them inspire you and us. We are still living and who knows whether the devil will not possess us tomorrow and we shall not forsake the post of duty before any new danger that may face us, But these three have gone for ever.
An old man of 75 from the United Provinces, Harbart Singh, has also joined the majority and died in jail in South Africa; and he deserved the crown that you would seek to impose upon us. These young men deserve all the adjectives that you have so affectionately, but blindly lavished upon us. It was not only the Hindus who struggled, but there were Mohamedans, Parsis and Christians, and almost every part of India was represented in the struggled. They realised the common danger, and they realised also what their destiny was an Indians, and it was they, and they alone, who matched the soul-forces against the physical forces. (Loud applause.)