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Home arrow Sociology arrow Cosmopolitan Lives on the Cusp of Empire: Interfaith, Cross-Cultural and Transnational Networks, 1860-1950

Friendships and Collaborations

Polak entered into friendly and collegial relationships with a number of Indian leaders, Gandhi being only the first. His ‘affective cosmopolitanism’ saw these relationships maintained over decades. He positioned himself as learning from these men, as a ‘friend alongside’ rather than being a commanding white man.

Many of my closest Indian friends have been older than myself... I have learnt (or tried to learn) so much from their more mature experience.82

Indeed, Gandhi advised him on the eve of his first Indian visit ‘to place himself unreservedly under [Gokhale’s] instructions’.83

Unlike Collett, he could share domestic and familial spaces. But sensitive to Brahminic customs, he noted later that when he met Natesan,

In those days, hospitality to an Englishman in a Brahmin home was somewhat difficult; so Natesan arranged for my accommodation, as his guest, first at the Y.M.C.A., and later at a nearby hotel,84


on a later visit to Madras I had the privilege of enjoying the hospitality of Mr and Mrs Natesan, and so learnt something of the beauty of family life in South India.85

Later, he hosted Natesan and many other Indians, including Gandhi, in his London home.86 Polak and Gandhi always maintained a mutual interest in each other’s family. In London in 1909, Gandhi was a frequent guest at the home of Polak’s parents. Polak’s father, J. H. Polak, became an enthusiastic member of the British support committee of the BIA.87 Polak’s sister, Maud, also worked with Gandhi and the BIA.88 As the correspondence between Gandhi and Polak diminished in the later 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, Gandhi still enquired about Polak’s parents, Millie, their children and extended family.89

Gandhi used Polak as an entry point into London and British connections, for a number of Indians visitors, thus advising G.K. Devadhar, a foundation member of the Servants of India Society and promoter of women’s and basic education,

Of course, Polak will be your guide, friend and philosopher. He will take you to all Englishmen I know politically.90

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