About the Book
Nine years younger than Gandhi, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, or Rajaji, was described by him as his ‘conscience keeper’ and, at one time, as his ‘only possible successor’. As his southern general, Rajaji campaigned for freedom, promoting khadi and prohibition. Though they shared nearly thirty years of colleagueship, hardship, friendship and kinship-when daughter Lakshmi married Devadas Gandhi-Rajaji remained throughout a man of his own mind.
The eighty-odd largely unpublished letters from this contrarian statesman to his leader Mahatma Gandhi, and those to his son-in-law Devadas Gandhi and to his grandson that are presented here are from family archives and public repositories. The letters span the years between 1920 and 1955, in the run-up to Independence and its early years. Described are the struggles and endeavours, large and small, made in the public arena, besides the inner world of friends, Q£ home and hearth, with both spheres coalescing seamlessly. Frank, brave, at times bitter, the letters are remarkably free of recrimination or anything that could diminish the dialogue. Observed always is a healthy respect for the freedom to differ, to persuade, to agree to disagree, but never to let down or part.
Compiled, edited and annotated by Gopalkrishna Gandhi, in a manner he believes his father, Devadas, would have approved, these letters are accompanied by a deeply felt and illuminating introduction. They offer us a rare glimpse into the lives of two of the tallest Indians of our age, when idealism rode strong but was also challenged.
About the Author
Gopalkrishna Gandhi was born in 1945, when Rajagopalachari was sixty-six. Over the next three decades, he over aw his grand on’s education, reading and commencement of a career in the Indian Administrative Service. Gandhi was High Commissioner for India in South Africa and in Sri Lanka, Secretary to the President of India and Governor of West Bengal.
Gandhi has written a novel, Refuge, on the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka that first appeared in 1987 and a play in verse, Dara Shukoh. His other books are The Essential Gandhi and Of a Certain Age, a collection of his biographical sketches on twenty notable Indians.
Chakravarti Rajagopalachari was a man of letters in more senses than one. He was a man of books, both as an attentive reader and a writer of masterpieces. But it was in the writing of letters that he spent the largest part of his affair with pen and ink. He seemed to enjoy both the substance and the form of correspondence, with brief letters drawing the best from the effervescence of his wit and the longer ones, from the ripeness of his wisdom. When those two talents-wit and wisdom-combined and drew from the dictionary of trenchant words, we got what may be called ‘vintage CR’.
If Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi had an addiction, it was to the same universe of written communication. Few have written letters as prodigiously as Gandhi, fewer with his thrift, cogency and clarity, his letters remaining, mostly, strait-laced and serious, but sometimes bursting into a laugh. There were days when Gandhi did not eat, when he did not speak. There was scarce a day when he did not write a letter.
This volume of letters from CR to Gandhi is therefore one of letters between two men of similar age (CR was nine years younger. to Gandhi) who were devoted to the art of letter-writing as much as they were close to one another. They also happen to be letters written by two men who shared four grandchildren between them. Above all, the volume presents letters sent by a political disciple, CR, who had (in his own words) surrendered his heart to his ‘Master’, but never fully his mind or his choice of method of struggle in their common cause-the freedom of India from British rule and her emancipation from the chains tied round her by the follies of her own children.
CR and Gandhi shared about thirty years of colleagueship, hardship and friendship. Letters or postcards written on handmade paper and posted from different locations and also from wayside railway stations sustained the association no less than time spent together.
Even when most other limbs of British India ‘polluted’ by the imperialist ego were boycotted by Congress, the postal system was not. It was not only not disassociated from but actively patronized by these eminent rebels. Legislatures were to be shunned, law courts abjured, colleges and schools run by the government declared noxious and out of bounds for the patriotic, but not so the post offices of the Raj and its systems of collection and delivery.
From 1919 until Gandhi’s assassination in 1948, postal correspondence linked CR to his leader. It did the same with others as well, and the pace and volume of correspondence between Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad and Gandhi were no less substantial. But, as any reader of the letters in this volume will see, there was to the CR-Gandhi line of postal talk a quality and a spirit that was its very own.
During these three decades CR was based in India’s south-either in Madras or in his ashram at Tiruchengodu, in the parched part of Madras Presidency’s Salem district. And Gandhi was wherever his two feet and a million concerns carried him, restless and composed, agitated and at peace, ever giving and ever demanding of trust. Not for nothing did CR get to be known as Gandhi’s southern warrior, his flag-bearer. And, by some, as a barrier between them and the Mahatma, a wall that Gandhi leaned on for support and as a protective guard for his own spiritual sustenance.
Whenever Gandhi came to the south, CR was the visit’s pivot and its ‘petrol’. Not surprisingly, CR’s access to Gandhi, intellectual more than physical, did not fail to occasion resentment. On his part, CR joined him often enough but always fleetingly. He was frequently at Gandhi’s two ashrams, Sabarmati and Sevagram; dropped in on him in his great march to Dandi; was by his side in Bombay and in Delhi; at Congress sessions all over the country; at the sites of his incarcerations in Poona; for the longest spell they ever spent together-in a tour of Ceylon in 1927; and, finally, in Calcutta where the two were both present when India became free and divided-CR as the state’s first Governor, and Gandhi as the Father of a Nation at once triumphant and torn.
The gaps between their meetings had to be and were much longer than the meetings themselves. On these spaces of time and separation grew the correspondence that is offered in this book.
Well over a hundred letters each way, at least, must have gone from one to the other. I give this conservative figure of’ over a hundred’, for no more than that number survive. They lie preserved, among other venues, in family archives nurtured by Devadas Gandhi; in the excellent record room in Gandhi Ashram, Sabarmati, Ahmedabad; the Gandhi Smarak Museum at Rajghat, New Delhi; the National Archives, New Delhi; and among CR’s papers lodged at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, along with those of Devadas Gandhi and Pyarelal.
A substantial number of their letters are reproduced in this volume. Wherever required for completeness of dialogue, Gandhi’s communication-either as a ‘cause’ for CR’s letter, or, more often, by way of a reply or response to one from him-is also given with the CR letter. The Collected Works if Mahatma Gandhi set has altogether 160 letters written by Gandhi to CR.
This volume carries eighty-eight entries in the main section that contains CR’s letters to Gandhi. There are twenty-five each in the sections containing CR’s letters to his son-in-law Devadas Gandhi and to his grandson, being me.
As the volume’s compiler and editor I have written the head notes for the entries in the first and second sections, and provided footnotes. The footnotes are meant to offer at first glance some information supports to the reader who mayor may not require them, but could find them useful as aids to contextualization. When they refer to individuals, I have tried to make them comprehensive because each of those persons was a player, often definitionally so. Ellipses in the letters reflect illegibility in the original or elisions dictated by my editorial judgement as to relevance or suitability.
The letters to Gandhi are of value as the intellectual and never unemotional outreach of Gandhi’s ‘conscience-keeper’-the Mahatma’s oft-used term for CR. They are also a cardiograph of the national struggle for freedom and for social reform, as recorded on the sensitive disc of CR’s observations. But, above all, they are the testimony of an age when idealism had never been stronger and, ironically, when it had never been under more formidable strain. India’s sense of destiny wrangled with a callous state’s indifference towards Indian self-esteem and also with several weaknesses within itself that ran the idealism to the ground and made the struggle both protracted and complex.
CR’s letters to Gandhi are like a family diary in which truth must be told but without jeopardizing the family’s pride in itself or its future in dignity. They are frank, they are brave. They are often bitter.
The letters from CR to Gandhi show the evolution of a relationship between leader and follower that leaves both free to differ but not to part, free to berate but never to let down, free to persuade but never to dominate. That was the basis on which their lasting comradeship was founded.
The section containing CR’s letters to Devadas Gandhi, the Mahatma’s youngest son and his own younger son-in-law, speak of another relationship in which Gandhi figures prominently and yet does not dominate proceedings. Devadas’s esteem for CR amounted to an obedient respect next only to that which he had for his own father and mother. CR’s affection for Devadas equalled if not surpassed that which he had for his own children. The last of his children, Lakshmi, was to marry Devadas after a celebrated courtship and an equally celebrated serving of injunctions upon the love-struck couple by their doting if cautious fathers.
The third section is there because the letters are there. CR happened to write a few more letters to me than to my siblings for a sombre reason. When my father died in 1957, I, the youngest of his children, was twelve. CR felt, quite typically, that he had to fill in for my father, and since he was in Madras and I, with my widowed mother, lived in Delhi, a kind of ‘distance education’ exercise commenced between ‘Anna’ (the Tamil word his grandchildren used for ‘Nana’) and ‘Gopu’. With fewer disruptions of home life than those of my sister and two brothers, I managed to preserve the letters from Anna, whereas my siblings, who were to move house and sites of work far oftener than I, were unable to do so.
The twenty-five letters of CR to this grandson take his letter- writing engagement with the Gandhi household, which started in 1919, to 1971-a half-century and more. The engagement is about struggles undertaken, privation suffered, love lavished, hope entertained, prayers offered, love of ‘high’ literature and of ‘good language’ taught. It is also a sequence of wise counsel given, intelligent caution administered, dark fears expressed, huge setbacks endured, high office entered upon with humility and relinquished with dignity. And overarching all this, a faith kept, flickeringly firm, in a benign power that all but loses out against the visitations of personal tragedy, political reverses and self-doubt.
‘Come back,’ CR writes to the Mahatma on 16 June 1920, ‘and give us life.’
Is that a prayer or an admonition? Counsel or a subtle warning?
Is it an individual’s appeal or a collective pleading? Perhaps the words are a blend of all that and more. I believe they are written by one whose faith in his leader did not indemnify the object of his faith from misjudgements, error or even folly. Can faith be judgemental? The writer addresses Gandhi as ‘Master’. Can one admonish one’s Master? Not usually. But then CR is not ‘usual’.
CR was never ‘usual’.
Acknowledged in later years as a master of Tamil prose, possessing a very distinct speaking and writing style in that tongue, he managed to actually fail in his Tamil BA paper set in January 1896 by the University of Madras. Recognized as a deft user of the English language and, in fact, an adept in it, he was placed in the second division in the English test the same year. Celebrated during all his years as a politician and statesman as something of a phenomenon in argument and reasoning, CR passed the Bachelor of Law examination in January 1900 not in the first, not in the second but in the third division.
And yet, this non-medallist, non-topping, unremarkable student’s was the only hand raised when a visiting Swami Vivekananda asked his student audience at Ice House by the Marina Sands in Madras, in January 1897, if anyone could tell him why Krishna is painted blue. ‘Why?’ asked Vivekananda. Replied young Rajan: ‘Because the sky and the ocean, symbols of infinity, are blue.’
Under three years of that question being put and answered, CR was married and established as a lawyer in Salem alongside the politically minded C. Vijiaraghavachariar. If his fees soared to a thousand rupees per case, his mind turned increasingly to the national question. CR went in 1906 to the Congress’s session in Calcutta presided over by Dadabhai Naoroji. He became an ardent Tilakite in the Congress’s division between moderates and extremists at the Surat Congress, which he attended in 1907.
He had the identity of a Congressman with extremist views if not programmes of personal involvement when, in 1907, an Indian deported from South Africa called Asari met CR in Salem and told him of an Indian fighting for Indians’ rights in that far-off land. The man was described as ‘small in size’ but possessed of a heart ‘bigger than the Shevaroys seen from Salern’. Three years later, his practice peaking, and his extremist views being reconsidered as a result of the growing cult of the bomb, CR got to read Gandhi’s Hind Swara). The little tract’s multiple messages coalesced with his own innate sense of social reform and self-reliance for India.
Gandhi’s accounts of his three jail terms in South Africa published by Modern Review in Calcutta and a new biography of the man, An Indian Patriot in South Africa, by the Revd J.J. Doke gave CR just the example he was looking for, of someone seeking a goal larger than professional success, and working for that goal through self- denial and suffering.
Unbeknownst to his future leader, CR reprinted the text of Gandhi’s South African jail experiences and, in an introduction, the thirty-four-year-old Salem vakil asked for public funds to be sent to Gandhi with the following words: ‘Shall we sit happy in our homes, or shall we give only tears? It is not given to all to exhibit the strength of M.K. Gandhi. He must be ranked with the Avatars .. .’ The appeal led to the modest collection of fifteen hundred rupees which CR sent to Gopalkrishna Gokhale in Poona, who in turn sent it to the Indian patriot who was to ‘discover’ the fundraiser some six years later, in Madras.
This volume begins with a handwritten letter written just after that first meeting of Gandhi’s with the forty-year-old advocate, now a widower with an ailing father and five children, who has moved from Salem to Madras.
Politics dominate most of the letters, as they would-inter- se politics within the Congress; inter-party politics between the Congress and the Swaraj Party, the Nationalist Party, Madras’s Justice Party; and, of course, the larger politics of Congress vis-a-vis the British Raj. Letters sent by CR from behind prison bars strongly reflect the political pulse with beats missed and beats found, fresh reading done, new interests, even new talents discovered.
Portholes to the Letters
CR to Mohandas K. Gandhi
CR to Devadas Gandhi
CR to Gopalkrishna Gandhi
Art & Culture (738)
Emperor & Queen (491)
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