“It was from here that a long journey began which transformed course of history”

Taking the journey back in time that transformed the course of history, President Pratibha Patil on Monday took the same steam locomotive that a young Indian lawyer (Mahatma Gandhi) travelled by on June 7, 1893 before he was pushed out of the train at the Pietermaritzburg station for refusing to move from a non-white compartment.

Ms. Patil took the symbolic journey from the Pentrich station. Still running on the narrow gauge track so reminiscent of the past, the heritage train began its journey with the traditional blowing of the whistle, and traversed along a scenic hilly terrain. As the locomotive pulled hard, billowing thick plumes of smoke and soot which hit the eyes of many passengers, the nostalgia associated with the journey came out in all its glory.

It took the train about 15 minutes to reach Pietermaritzburg, often referred to here as “the birthplace of non-violent resistance.” Here Ms. Patil got off the train, unveiled a plaque and saw the waiting room where the Mahatma had spent a night in the cold.

Following his experience on the train, Mahatma Gandhi noted: “I was afraid for my very life. I entered the dark waiting room. There was a white man in the room. I was afraid of him. What was my duty? I asked myself. Should I go back to India, or should I go forward with God as my helper, and face whatever was in store for me? I decided to stay and suffer. My active non-violence began from that date.''

The Pietermaritzburg station has remained largely unchanged since the time Mahatma Gandhi made that historic journey. Several plaques now line the main entrance hall, commemorating the event that left a lasting impression on Gandhiji's mind and made him even more resolute to take on the discriminatory regimes of the day.

In her message too, Ms. Patil said: “The bitter experience of being pushed out of a train at the Pietermartizburg railway station and spending a night in the waiting room, cold and shivering, sowed in the mind of Mahatma Gandhi a determination and a resolve to fight against injustice and discrimination.”

On how the event changed him, she wrote: “It was a new incarnation of a would-be Mahatma. It was from here that a long journey began which transformed the course of history. It led to the freedom of India and awakened people living under suppression of colonial rule to raise their voices for justice and equality.”

At a more personal level, the President, who is concluding her farewell tour of South Africa, said: “Being here for me is a special honour and a special event in my life. It fulfils a lifelong desire to pay homage and my respects on the South African soil to Gandhiji, who came here as a Barrister and returned to India as a Mahatma.”

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