Kesaveloo Goonam – ‘The world came to Scotland!’

Primary source material reproduced from Kesaveloo Goonarathnum Naidoo, Coolie Doctor (Hyperbad, 1991)

I was absorbed in the great melee of young people from all parts of the world – every tinge of black, yellow and white; Indians from India, Trinidad, Mauritius, Fiji and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Africans from the vast number of African States as well as Egyptians, Arabs, Chinese and Japanese. The world came to Scotland! […]

[By 1929,] eighteen months had passed since my arrival in Britain. I completed the requirements for the university entrance exam, enrolled at medical college and looked out for new lodgings closer to the university. I scanned the advertisements on our College Board and in the The Daily Statesman. Most landladies were not keen on taking black students. I, on my part, was choosy about the landlady and the rooms she offered. The search was thus doubly difficult. Fortuitously, Aunt Mary and I found each other […] My landlady was Miss Mary Dewar, six feet in height with china-blue eyes; she captivated me. Jack, her brother, was approximately seven feet tall […] They were a well educated, cultured family from the Scottish Highlands. They had sold their country home and moved into the city…Aunt Mary was a fountain of knowledge on the Scottish past, Scottish traditions and Scottish literature.

[…] Most important to me was the Edinburgh international student community which made a deep political impression on me. The most compelling influence was that of the Indian students who were intensely patriotic, highly critical of the British and passionately supportive of Gandhi. It was very easy to feel kinship with them for I, too, was Indian. Though closeted in the Grey Street complex [in Durban, South Africa], and sheltered on my idyllic Umgeni bank where I had rarely come face to face with the indignities of racism, I understood what it was and responded wholeheartedly to their arguments against the British empire, and their commitment to freedom. Winds from the world blew around me and ideas of justice and injustice, freedom and exploitation began to excite my imagination and awaken my political consciousness. I was attracted to the firebrands in the college and came to feel a strong affiliation with India. I attended political protest meetings and applauded the rhetoric against tyranny and the British empire.

They rarely indulged in light-hearted chitchat or frivolous laughter. They were grimly set on one pursuit and that was their books – huge, big ones […] I am sure they found me immature and somewhat irresponsible, but they made time for me, invited me to go out shopping with them, and best of all, offered to cook a good curry for me.