It was after he left New Zealand—to the great sorrow of us all—that he made history. And, characteristically, he did it in such a way that, to this day, very few people realize the effect of his behaviour on world affairs.
He settled as minister at Johannesburg; and it so happened that, shortly afterwards, Mr. Gandhi went to South Africa as the legal representative of the Indian population, who, just then, were involved in a serious clash with the authorities. Mr. Doke's sympathies were with the Indians, and he immediately got into touch with Mr. Gandhi. Each were astonished at the other's diminutive stature. They did not look like a pair of champions. Mr. Doke says that he is expected to see ‘a tall and stately figure and a bold masterful face’. Instead of this, ‘a small, little, spare figure stood, before me, and a refined, earnest face looked into mine. The skin was dark, the eyes dark, but the smile which lighted up the face, and that direct, fearless glance, simply took one's heart by storm. I judged him to be about thirty-eight years of age, which proved correct. But the strain of his work showed its traces in the sprinkling of silver hairs on his head. He spoke English perfectly, and was evidently a man of great culture.’
On the wall of Mr. Gandhi's office hung a beautiful picture of Jesus; and the moment that Mr. Doke's eyes rested upon it, he felt that he and his new friend were bound by a most sacred tie.
‘I want you,’ he said to Mr. Gandhi, ‘to consider me your friend in this struggle. If,’ he added, with a glance at the picture on the wall, ‘if I have learned any lesson from the life of Jesus it is that one should share and lighten the load of those who are heavenly laden.’
The days that followed were full of anxiety and even of peril. Indeed, they almost culminated in a tragedy that would have shocked the world.
‘I distinctly remember,’ Mr. Doke says, ‘that, as I went through the streets that morning, I was led to pray that I might be guided completely to do God's will; but I little thought what the answer would be.’ A few minutes later, a young Indian dashed up, gesticulating excitedly: ‘Come quick!’ he cried. ‘Coolie, he hit Mr. Gandhi!
Following the Indian's footsteps, Mr. Doke found Mr. Gandhi lying in a pool of blood, looking half dead. It turned out that a party of Pathans, taking it into their heads that Mr. Gandhi was seeking to betray the Indian cause, had plotted to destroy him. After bathing and bandaging his wounds, Mr. Doke asked the wounded man whether he would prefer to be taken to a hospital or to the manse. Mr. Gandhi gratefully accepted the latter alternative.
‘Mr. Doke and his good wife,’ writes Mr. Gandhi, in telling the story, ‘were anxious that I should be perfectly at rest. They therefore removed all persons from near my bed. I made a request that their daughter, Olive, who was then only a little girl, should sing for me my favourite English hymn, Lead kindly Light.
Mr. Doke liked this very much. He called Olive and asked her to sing in a low tone. The whole scene passes before my eyes as I recall it. How shall I describe the service rendered me by the Doke family?’
‘Every day marked an advance in our mutual affection and intimacy. Naturally, after I was injured, all classes of Indians flocked to the house, from the humblest street-hawker, with dirty clothes and dusty boots, to the highest Indian officials.
‘Mr. Doke would receive them all in his drawing-room with uniform courtesy and consideration. The whole family gave their time, either to nursing me or else receiving the hundreds of Indian visitors who came to see me. Even at night Mr. Doke would twice or thrice tiptoe into my room to see if I wanted anything.’
Some years later, J.J.D. having died in the interval, Mr. Gandhi revisited South Africa in the company of the Rev. C. F. Andrews. ‘As we approached Johannesburg,’ says Mr. Andrews, Mr. Gandhi turned to me and said: “Charlie, I want to take you on a pilgrimage.”’'
“What do you mean?” I asked him, not following his line of thought.
“I want you,” he said, “to go with me to the house of Mrs. Doke, where I was nursed back to life.”
When we came to the house it was difficult for him to restrain his emotion, as he for the first time saw Mrs. Doke in her widow's dress and tried to comfort her. She, on her part, treated him with all the tenderness of a mother, forgetting her own sorrow in her anxiety about his health and that of Mrs. Gandhi, who was very ill.
F W Boreham, Lover of Life: F W Boreham’s Tribute to His Mentor (Eureka: John Broadbanks Publishing, 2007), 25-28.
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Images: Mahatma Gandhi resting at the Doke home; Cover of Lover of Life.