A Glimpse of Aden

On the 13th January, 1935, when MN Victoria of Llyod Triestino called at Aden on her way to Europe from Bombay, some Indian residents of Aden arrived and invited me to accept their hospitality for a few hours. I did so with great pleasure. When I went ashore in their company, there was an agreeable surprise for me. I had seen Aden last in 1919 on my way to England, but what a pleasant contrast! Now there were beautiful roads (probably asphalted), street-lighting with electricity and many imposing buildings to greet the eye. On enquiry I learnt that the population of Aden was over 50,000 and the Indian population well over 2,000. The Indian settlers were businessmen and the majority of them hailed from Kathiawar. Aden is a flourishing port and trade-centre and the volume of trade is steadily on the increase. Raw materials like hides, as well as articles like coffee, are brought from the interior and shipped to Europe. Manufactured foods, including textiles, which are symbols of so-called civilisation, are imported from Europe and sent into the interior of the Arabian peninsula. The administration is British in personnel in the higher grades. In the lower grades, the employees are partly Arab and partly Indian. At present Aden is under the administration of the Government of India.

The problem that has been worrying the Indian settlers in Aden is the proposed separation from India. They are genuinely afraid that their interests will suffer greatly if they are cut off from India and thereby lose the support of public opinion in India. I tried to find out what was at the back of the mind of the authorities in launching this proposal. So far as the Indians were concerned, they were of opinion that the motive was political. The Government wanted to convert Aden into a colonial possession, so that even if India got Swaraj at some time in the future, Aden would be safe in their hands. Aden and Singapore were the two naval gateways of India and these two gateways were to be kept under full imperial control. There were some Indian regiments in Aden formerly, but they had been sent back and there were only British troops, numbering about 2,000, left there. There was also a strong contingent of the Royal Air Force stationed at Aden. The territory within a radius of 25 miles from Aden was under British protectorate and beyond that was independent territory.

Besides the strategic importance of Aden as commanding the entrance to the Red Sea, the place is also interesting because of its picturesqueness. Aden is sheltered in the bosom of some rocky hills. The major portion of the town is situated at the foot of the hills but some of the nicest buildings are built high up and there are winding roads, quite modern in construction, leading up to them. Tunnels have been built through some of the hills with a view to improving communications.

Rainfall is very scanty in Aden and hence the acuteness of the problem of drinking water. This problem was solved by the Arabs long long ago in a clever way. The rain falling on the hills used to be collected in a huge stony reservoir constructed out of natural rocks lying at the foot of the hills and throughout the year, water used to be drawn from the reservoir for drinking purposes. Besides this supply of water, there were very deep wells, of the same sort that one would find in Indian villages. The day we reached Aden, there had been a heavy shower and the reservoir was pretty full.

I was glad to find that the Indians in Aden were keenly following events at home. They asked me for the latest information. At the group meeting - after giving me all the information I wanted about Aden - they requested me to speak on the Congress programme. I delivered a short address on the constructive programme adopted at the Bombay Congress and on the Khadi movement in India. The meeting over, light refreshments were served and I was then driven round the town. A pleasant farewell ceremony took place at the jetty and I then returned to my boat MN Victoria. By midnight we were once again on the high seas.

It would encourage the Indians in Aden greatly if prominent Indians take the trouble of landing at Aden and meeting their fellow-countrymen there. They remembered gratefully the visits paid to them by Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya. There is also considerable room for cultural propaganda among Indians there and any Indians visiting Aden for that purpose arc sure to be warmly welcomed. At present Pandit Kanahya Lal Misra of Benares is engaged in that work there, but he is to leave soon.

It is the desire of Indians in Aden that there should be a strong agitation in India against the proposed separation. Whatever may ultimately happen, there is no doubt that public opinion in India on this question should make itself heard without delay.