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Significant Highlights of the Book

Dr Pranjivan Mehta on Gandhi

'During my last trip to Europe I saw a great deal of Mr Gandhi. From year to year (I have known him intimately for over twenty years) I have found him getting ... more and more selfless. He is now leading almost an ascetic sort of life - not the life of an ordinary ascetic that we usually see but that of a great Mahatma and the one idea that engrosses his mind is his motherland.'
P.J. Mehta to G.K. Gokhale, 8 November 1909.

'In my humble opinion, men like him [Gandhi] are born on very rare occasions & that in India alone. As far as I can see, it seems to me that India has not produced an equally far-seeing political prophet like him during the last five or six centuries and ... if he was born in the 18th century, India would have been a far different land to what it is now & its history would have been altogether differently written.'
P.J. Mehta to G.K. Gokhale, 28 August 1912.

Gandhi on Dr Pranjivan Mehta

'I wrote the entire Hind Swaraj for my dear friend Dr. Pranjivan Mehta. ...
I wrote down the discussion as it took place.'
Gandhi at Malikanda, 21 February 1940.

'Dr. Mehta's is a personality which deserves to be widely known.'
Gandhi at Gujarat Vidyapith, Ahmedabad, 14 January 1925.

'I had no greater friend than Doctor [Mehta] in this whole world ...'
Gandhi to Manilal R. Jhaveri, 4 August 1932.

'[Dr. Mehta was not only] the pillar of the [Satyagraha] Ashram. Without him the Ashram would not have come into existence at all.'
Gandhi to Narandas Gandhi, 9 April 1933.

'The Doctor's purse was always at my disposal.'
Gandhi to Manilal and Sushila Gandhi, 19 October 1936.

'If I had been free... Doctor would have drawn his last breath in my lap.'
Gandhi to Chhaganlal Mehta, 4 August 1932.

Dr Pranjivan Mehta and Gandhi

'Pranjivan Mehta was to Mohandas Gandhi what Friedrich Engels was to Karl Marx: at once a disciple and a patron, who saw, very early, that the friend of his youth had the makings of the heroic, world-transforming figure he was to later become.'
Ramchandra Guha, Gandhi Before India (2013), pg420.

Review by Mr. M. V. Kamath

Who first recognised Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi as a Mahatma? H. S. L. Polak? Dr Pranjivan Mehta? Rabindranath Tagore? Or someone else? Credit is always given to Tagore with a lot of justification. But actually, the real credit should go to Dr Pranjivan Mehta, one of Gandhi's earliest friends and whom Gandhi first met on September 29, 1888, following his arrival in England to study for the Bar. Dr Mehta, also a Gujarati hailing from a well-to-do Kamdar Jain family at Morvi had finished his own Bar examination much earlier and had heard of Gandhi who had also been given a Letter of Introduction to Dr Mehta. Their first meeting in London was the beginning of a long and fruitful friendship between the two.

From the very start, Dr Mehta - a remarkable man who had most strangely degrees in medicine and law but who had taken to jewellery business - was to become Gandhi's mentor and guide. They met frequently. There were times when Gandhi was Dr Mehta's guest at the latter's home whether in Mumbai or Rangoon, the Doctor being a close friend of Gopala Krishna Gokhale, to the point that Dr Mehta could write to Gokhale in high praise of Gandhi. As early as 8 November 1909, to Gokhale, Dr Mehta wrote: "During my last trip to Europe, I saw a great deal of Mr. Gandhi. From year to year (I have known him intimately for over 20 years) I have found him getting more and more selfless. He is now leading almost an ascetic sort of life, not the life of an ordinary ascetic but that of a great Mahatma..."

So deeply impressed was Dr Mehta over Gandhi's satyagraha efforts in South Africa that he offered him financial help whenever Gandhi needed it. Dr Mehta encouraged Gandhi to get his work Hind Swaraj published. Dr Mehta himself wrote a book on Gandhi entitled M. K. Gandhi And The South African Indian Problem. Dr Mehta was more than a doctor (a surgeon, too) and a lawyer besides. Additionally he was a social activist deeply concerned with the progress and prosperity of a free and independent India, and an eminent writer as well.

This book is not just about his links with Gandhi, but is a compendium of his own writings. There is one chapter on talks between him and Gandhi on Indian Home Rule which is very revealing indeed. Another is a presidential address given by Dr Mehta on Hindu Social Ideals that is heart provoking. A third - and an extremely relevant one - on Media of Instruction in Indian Schools and Colleges - in which he takes a revolutionary stand on instruction being given in the local language. As he argued: "Many of those who use English at every stage of life are indifferent altogether to their own language. They call themselves educated but they forget that their education is only skin - deep and, if anything, in many essential things harmful to their own country."

To pursue his point he wrote: "A nation's literature is the means of getting at the thoughts and ideas of the nation. If we wish to study the thoughts and ideas of our forefathers, we can get at them through the ancient literature of our country. But if we read only foreign literature without any reference to our own, as most of the English - speaking Indians do, we not only remain ignorant of what our literature contains, but we actually lose touch with the thoughts and ideas embodies in our own, and also with our own people.... One's whole nature is influenced by the kind of literature he studies..." It must have taken him some courage to say such things when it was fashionable for children of the upper classes to study in English, whether they were studying history, philosophy or plain mathematics.

He cared for the welfare of the poor migrants who took to the west, namely to South Africa and to places further away and to the east to Burma (now Myanmar). He wrote a scholarly thesis on vaccination and its relevance, drawing factual material from official sources. Practically he was here, there everywhere, a concerned man and an unremitting admirer of Gandhi.

Thus, in his work on Gandhi he wrote: "An ordinary man would have been cowed down by the troubles and sufferings of the kind that Mr. Gandhi went through in the Transvaal jails, but in his case they have made him the more determined in his aims and aspirations from the national point of view. He is always willing and ready to go through any amount of suffering for the sake of principles and in the interests of his country." And he added, almost as an afterthought: "He (Gandhi) had for a long time been seeking for some leisure to be able to ponder over the problems of life, but he could not get it anywhere until he was sent to jail and he was heartily glad to have it even in such an unearthly place as that."

Dr Mehta towards the end of his life was very sick of which Gandhi became aware quite early, but he couldn't go calling on his friend. Dr Mehta passed away in August 1932. It distressed Gandhi greatly because he owed practically everything in his life to Dr Mehta. As he once told a Gujarati audience in 1929: "We (Dr Mehta and Gandhi) had arrived at an agreement that he should make money to his heart's content and I should take money to my heart's content and work away to my heart's content...." The two were that close.

When Dr Mehta died, Gandhi was in jail. He wrote: "If I had been free... Doctor would have drawn his last breathe in my lap.... I had no greater friend than Doctor in this whole world...." A year later, still distraught at Dr Mehta's death He said: "Dr Mehta was not only the pillar of strength of the Satyagraha Ashram (in Ahmedabad) but without him the Ashram would not have come into existence at all."

The best comment on the friendship between Gandhi and Dr Mehta comes from Ramchandra Guha in his book Gandhi Before India. Writes Guha: "Pranjivan Mehta was to Mohandas Gandhi what Friedrich Engels was to Karl Marx: at once a disciple and a patron who saw very early that the friend of his youth had the makings of the heroic worldtransforming figure he was later to become."

For publishing this far-reaching and absorbing work one can't thank Vakils, Feffer and Simons Pvt. Ltd. enough. It takes us to another world few of Gandhi's biographers were aware of. To Dr Mehta himself, praise be.

Review by Dirk Collier

Very, very impressive. Historians for many generations to come will be indebted to (the book) for this wonderful effort!
Dirk Collier,
Author of The Emperor's Writings - Memories of Akbar the Great and
Paths to Peace - Religion, Ethics & Tolerance in a Globalizing World
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