Item 125 - Circular letter by F. W. Pethick-Lawrence

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Circular letter by F. W. Pethick-Lawrence


  • 8 Nov. 1926 (Creation)

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3 sheets

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In the train from Bombay to Madras.—Describes the journey to India, and identifies some fellow-passengers. Gives his impressions of Bombay, and refers to meetings with Mrs Naidu and other Indians.

(Mechanical copy of a typed original.)



In the train from Bombay to Madras.
November 8th, 1926.

Though my wife and I have only been three days in India, so many crowded impressions have already been thrust upon us that I feel I must write them down at once for our friends at home before they are blurred by later images.

I must begin however with the voyage out, for our Indian education commenced almost immediately we stepped on the boat at Marseilles. It was a particularly full and representative ship for it was the most favoured date of the year for the return to India of those who had been fortunate enough to spend the “hot weather” in cooler climes than Asia.

Shipboard life makes for rapid acquaintanceship, and our shipmates included judges of the High Court of Bombay & Calcutta, soldiers of all commissioned ranks, civil servants, forest officers, traders, manufacturers, and commercial travellers. A score of Indians on board included Sir C. Ghose a High Court judge of Calcutta, Sir T. Vijagaraghavacharga (!) of Delhi who came straight from representing India with success in Canada, and Sleem {1} the famous lawn tennis player.

Social relationships between English and Indians are very often a little halting but my wife and I early got on to an excellent footing with all sections (Indian and English). In fact every one was not only very kind and friendly but most anxious to impress upon us their own point of view on Indian problems. Sometimes we could not help being amused by the anxiety, shown particularly by our English friends, lest we should come to hasty conclusions and publish them broadcast on our return.

A little later on when my experience has been amplified I will attempt to reproduce for you some of the principal views expressed and perhaps venture some criticism of my own, but for the present I will content myself with saying that we both felt that had we been obliged to return home immediately our ship reached Bombay the voyage would by no means have been wasted.

Our first sight of India was at sunrise on Friday morning, November 5, and before we could sit down to an early breakfast on ship board we were greeted by an old acquaintance in the person of Mr. Sheldon Bunting, son of the late Sir Percy Bunting, editor of the Contemporary Review. He told us at once that he intended us to stay with him during our time in Bombay—a most welcome proposition. After spending all the morning with us assisting us with purchases and arrangements he took us away in his car to his flat at the top of a very high building on a hill, and we spent the afternoon on his verandah overlooking the city.

Bombay has grown enormously since I was here 29 years ago, and has many modern streets and substantial modern buildings. It has also been subjected to a scheme of reclaiming land from the sea which is being at present warmly discussed in England. Part of this scheme consisted in erecting a colossal number of workmen’s tenements. We passed by a small section of them—rows and rows and rows of gaunt concrete blocks. The tragedy of it is that scores of thousands of these flats were put up without first ascertaining either that the people would like them or that the rents would be within their compass. Neither has materialised, and they stand to-day, empty, ugly,—and a heavy financial loss to the community;— {2} as pitiable an example of misdirected energy as it would be possible to find.

The day we arrived in India was the Hindu Festival of New Year {3}, and our host took us a walk in the early evening amid jostling crowds through highly illuminated streets. Afterwards all night through, fireworks and detonating Chinese crackers rent the air reminding us that at home on the same day (November 5th) Guy Fawkes’ day was also being celebrated in somewhat the same manner.

Next morning I had a long talk with one of the principal Labour men in India, widely acknowledged to be of great character and sincerity. I put him several searching questions relating to the effect of wider self government upon the position of the Indian workers. I found that though he fully realised the danger of the capitalist point of view prevailing under self Government, he held that this was a risk in the stage that India had to pass through. Moreover he maintained that the idea that the present British rule really safeguarded the worker against the capitalist had little foundation in fact. He urged however that a wide franchise should be given when the time came not the narrow one proposed in the India Commonwealth Bill.

In the afternoon after a most interesting talk with Mr. Solomon, director of the Bombay School of Art {4}, we both went to tea with Mrs. Naidu who presided last year at the Indian National Congress. She had invited to meet us nearly all the leading politically-minded people (other than Swarajists) in Bombay. We had a most interesting talk with them hearing their point of view, learning why some of them had left the Swaraj party and realising afresh that practically all the differences that divide parties among Indians are matters of tactics and that on principles they all stand unanimous in their demand for Dominion Self Government.

On Sunday {5} we lunched with Mrs. Naidu and this time she had invited her Swarajist friends to meet us and we found many points of contact with our militant suffrage agitation. One of the men was wearing the plain homespun cotton cap and tunic made by a village woman; explaining to us the idea underlying Gandhi’s crusade for the restoration of home industries.

Returning to the home of our kind host for dinner we completed our arrangements and set off at 10 p.m. on our 33 hour journey to Madras.



{1} Mohammed Sleem.

{2} The semi-colon and dash are typed one on top of another.

{3} The festival celebrated on this day was in fact Diwali, the so-called ‘festival of lights’. The date of the Hindu New Year, which varies throughout India, occurs either in March or April.

{4} William Ewart Gladstone Solomon (1880-1965), Principal of the Government School of Art at Bombay from 1919. (The School is also called by the name of its founder, Jamsethji Ji-jabhai. According to Who Was Who, Gladstone Solomon did not become Director till 1929.)

{5} 7 November.

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