This is the hitherto-untold story of Gandhi’s greatest friend and benefactor, Dr Pranjivan Mehta (1864-1932). It was to Mehta that Gandhi first revealed his newly-found philosophy of life in a London hotel in July-September 1909. According to Gandhi’s own admission, his seminal work, Hind Swarajya, first published in the Gujarati columns of the Indian Opinion, on 11 and 18 December 1909, was a faithful record of the conversations he had with Mehta earlier in the year, recollected and recorded in the tranquillity of the voyage back to South Africa, between 19 and 22 November 1909. Mehta was the first person who recognized in Gandhi both the mahatma and the future liberator of India. He encouraged and enabled Gandhi to return to his native land in January 1915. Himself a versatile man, Mehta, throughout his life, provided Gandhi with great material and moral support. Gandhi said in 1925 that Mehta’s was a personality which deserved to be widely know. This book is a bleated and modest attempt to fulfil Gandhi’s wish.
Dr S.R. Mehrotra is former Professor of History, Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and Maharshi Dayanand University, Rohtak. He had also taught at the universities of sagar, London, Wisconsin, and Rabindra Bharti. He was a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, and a Visiting Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge. He is the author of India and the Commonwealth 1885-1929 (1965), The Emergence of the Indian National Congress (1971), The Commonwealth and the Nation (1978), Towards India’s Freedom and Partition (1979), and A History of the Indian National Congress: Volume One, 1885-1918 (1995). In 2010 he wrote an ‘Introduction’ to a centenary edition of Indian Home Rule [Hind Swaraj].
Professor Mehrotra is currently writing a second volume on the history of the India National Congress, dealing with the period 1919 to 1947. He is editing, in collaboration with Professor Edward C. Moulton of the University of Manitoba, the papers of Allan Octavian Hume (1829-1912), and a second volume, dealing with the years 1867 to 1879, is expected to be out later this year. He is also editing with Mr Dinyar Patel, a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University, the papers of Dadabhai Naoroji (1825-1917).
This is a story of friendship between two Kathiawadis which forms an important episode in the history of the Indian freedom movement. One of them is Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who is known all over the world, and about whom more has been written than about any other person in modern times. The other is Dr Pranjivandas Jagjivandas Mehta, who is hardly known, and about whom virtually nothing has been written. Yet, according to Gandhi’s own admission, Mehta was his greatest friend. Their month long conversations in a London hotel in 1909 resulted in the publication of Hind Swarajya. Mehta was the first Indian to write a book on Gandhi in 1911, titled M.K. Gandhi and the South African Indian Problem. Without Mehta’s financial assistance the Satyagraha Ashram, which Gandhi described as his greatest creation, and without which satyagraha in India was not possible, would not have come into existence. Gandhi said in 1925 that Mehta’s was a personality which deserved to be widely known. This book is a belated and modest attempt to fulfil Gandhi’s wish.
It has not been easy to write this book. No Mehta papers as such have survived. As per Mehta’s own instructions, for many years Gandhi used to destroy his letters after reading them. Very few of the letters exchanged between Gandhi and Mehta are to be found in the Gandhi paper preserved in the Sabarmati Sangrahalaya, Ahmedabad. It has been difficult even to procure the publicshd writings of Mehta.
Besides telling the story of Mehta and his friendship with Gandhi, this opens a small window on Gandhi which had so far remained closed.
I regret the multiplicity and length of quotations in the book, but I hope they have imparted an air of authenticity and contemporaneity to my account and may prove useful to those who do not have access to the sources which I have consulted.
Never, perhaps, did any author owe so much to so many as I did in writing this book. For translating the Gujarati material into English this book. For translating the Gujarati material into English I am indebted to Justice T.U. Mehta, Dr Tridip Suhrud, Dr Kalindi Randeri and Mrs Purnima Hutheesing. I should like to thank the staff to the following institutions for their help and courtesy: the National Library and the West Bengal State Archives, Kolkata; the Visa Bharati Central Library, Santiniketan; the National Archives, the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, and the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Memorial Trust Library, New Delhi; the Gujarat Vidyapita Library and the Sabarmati Sangrahalya, Ahmedabad; and the Rashtriya Gandhi Sangrahalaya, New Delhi. I must not fail to thank my friends – Dr David Taylor, Mr Dinyar Patel, Mrs Momota Mehta, Dr Prabha Ravi Shankar, Mr Vasantbhai Khokhani, Mr Ambesh Upmanyu, Mr Jai Sen, Mr Hardik Mehta, Dr N. Balakrisnan, and Ms Dipa Bhatnagar- For nobly responding to my many calls for help. Shri Rameshbhai Thaakar of Rajkot not only provided me with some rare photographs included in this book, but also gave me much useful advice and information. For Photographs my thanks are due also to use following: Prof. Sudarshan lyengar, Vice-Chancellor Gujart Vidyapith, Ahmedabad; the Embassy of Belgium in New Delhi; Shri Arvind Acharya of Wadhwan; Shri Jitendrabhai Thakkar of Geeta Studio, Morvi, Shri Anil Suthar of Rajeshree Studio, Idar, Snehlata Khandwala Khandwala and Kirit Jasani.
I am grateful to professor Bipin R. Desai of the University of California, Riverside, USA, a grandson of P.J. Mehta, for taking an enlightened interest in my work and favouring me with much useful advice. My greatest debt of gratitude, however, is to another scion of the Mehta family, shri Arun K. Mehta, a great grand nephew of P.J. Mehta, who first encouraged me to write this book and then undertook to publish it.
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