Kripalani was approaching fifty when he decided to marry Sucheta. “We had no intention but to live as companions. That is all we have been doing.” But living together without formal wedlock would have only caused loose tongues to wag. However, Gandhiji would not bless the marriage. He was afraid he would lose a tried and trusted colleague like Kripalani. It was only v.hen Sucheta assured him that, in their marriage, he would be gaining a new hand (Sucheta’s) that he gave his blessings.
Nor did he hesitate to make fun of his dear friend, the Acharya. “Kripalani was morose formerly because I thought he was not married. But even when he is married and has a very good partner in life, his mood haunts him,” he wrote early in 1942.
When Gandhiji suggested Kripalani for Congress President in 1946, Syed Mahmud and Yunus — who were staying with Nehru — opposed. Nehru himself opposed on the ground that Kripalani had a temper. Gandhiji countered: “But how about your temper?”
That clinched the issue. Kripalani presided over the Meerut session of the Congress. It was the period of transfer of power and Gandhiji said that Kripalani was “going not only to ear a crown of thorns but also lie on a bed of thorns. It is a much more difficult place than even the Cabinet members are filling.”
But within months Kripalani resigned because the Congress ministers, Nehru and Patel, would not consult the Congress President even on major issues.
Gandhiji told Sucheta on that occasion that Kripalani was going to play a bigger role in national affairs. He was right. From 1947 to 1977, Kripalani became the conscience of the country.
Gandhiji’s relations with Acharya Gidvani were equally dear, except that the latter died too soon, in 1935. Gidvani resigned as principal of Ramjas College in Delhi, to head the Gujerat Vidyapeeth. Gandhiji said of him that he was “not only a scholar but, on the touch-stone of character, gold.”
The Sikhs were agitating in 1923 against t,.e deposition of the patriotic prince of Nabha. Nehru,Acharya Gidvani and K. Santhanam went to observe the scene and were arrested, sentenced, and then sent out. When the atrocities continued, Motilal wired Gidvani to go and see on the Nabha border what was happening. On one occasion not only was a satyagrahi shot dead, his child, who was being breast-fed, was also shot dead. Gidvani thereupon rushed to the scene of firing just inside the Nabha state border. He was immediately pounced upon and kept in jail for almost a year. Writes Nehru in his Autobiography: “I felt inclined to go to Nabha myself and allow the (British) Administrator to treat me as he had treated Gidvani. Loyalty to a colleague seemed to demand it. But many friends thought otherwise and dissuaded me. I took shelter behind the advice of friends and made of it a pretext to cover my own weakness.”
Gandhiji noted: “He did not even wilfully cross the Nabha border. His humanity pushed him in.” And when Gandhiji heard from Shrimati Gidvani after an interview that Gidvani was locked, his clothes were dirty, he looked much reduced as he had fasted for seven days,” he wrote: “The whole of the civil resister rose in me and I felt like giving battle. But I realized my powerlessness and hung my head in shame. With an India cut up into warring parties and torn with Hindu-Muslim squabbles, civil resistance seems to be an impossibility. One’s only comfort is that Acharya Gidvani is a brave man and well able to undergo all the suffering he may be subjected to. May God give him the strength to go through the fire!”
When Gidvani died prematurely, Gandhiji wrote: “Such servants of humanity never die. They live through their service.” He collected a Gidvani Memorial Fund and built Harijan Hostel in his honour at Kheda in Gujerat.
Nor did he forget the Gidvani family. He greeted Ganga Behn as “the brave wife of a brave husband” and gave her a letter of introduction that helped her set up an insurance business and bring up her young children.
Years earlier, Gidvani had told Gandhiji not to worry about petty personal things. But Gandhiji had told him: “The personal things you call petty are of as much interest to me as Bardoli, for I have to know all about co-workers.” And he had added- “Tell Ganga Behn not to forget her Gujerati!”
Gandhiji had known Prof. Malkani since his stay with him in Muzaffarpur. Malkani was teaching at Gujerat Vidyapeeth when, in 1927, under pressure from his wife and persuasion from N.V. Thadhani — then Principal, D.G. National College, Hyderabad Sindh — he left Ahmedabad without consulting Gandhiji.
Gandhiji was shocked into penning some of the more moving letters of his life. He wrote to Malkani on 26 June: “I do not mind what happens to the Mahavidyalaya, but I do mind hat happens to a man. May God help you and me.”
Gandhiji wrote to Kripalani, then principal of the Vidyapeeth on 10 July: “It (the news) nearly broke me to pieces. For I regarded Malkani to be one of my unbreakables.”
And in a long letter to Principal Thadhani on 19 July he wrote: “Malkani standing at the helm of his sinking ship in Gujerat, himself starving, his wife and mother-in-law looking daggers at him, and his friends howling at him in indignation for his madness, would have been an ideal professor for your boys and a noble lesson for India.”
He went on:”My life has been a witness of many such institutions (like the Vidyapeeth) arising and falling, with some of which I have myself been intimately concerned. For me, their worth has consisted in their having thrown up heroes and thus finished their task.” He concluded: “I may inform you that I have not yet got over the shock. Bardoli never disturbed me; but Malkani does.”
Gandhiji admired Sindh for giving so many excellent professors to the country. Referring to the Sindhi professors at the Gujerat Vidyapeeth as “the treaty made between Gujerat and Sindh”, he asked the Gujerat students to go as flood relief workers to Sindh and repay “the debt to Sindh”.
However, perhaps his sweetest relations were with Jairamdas. At the Amritsar session of the Congress, 1919, acute differences had arisen on the reforms resolution between Gandhiji on the one hand and Tilak, C.R. Das and Mohammed Ali on the other. Recalled Gandhiji years later: “Jairamdas, that cool- headed Sindhi, came to the rescue. He passed me a slip containing a suggestion and pleading for a compromise. I hardly knew him. Something in his eyes and face captivated me. l read the suggestion. It was good. I passed it on to Deshbandhu. ‘Yes, if my party Will accept it’ was his response. Lokmanya said, `I don’t want to see it. If Das has approved, it is good enough for me.’ Malaviyaji (who was presiding anxiously) overheard it, snatched the paper from my hands and, amid deafening cheers, announced that a compromise had been arrived at.”
When Gandhiji was launching the “Salt Satyagraha” in 1930, he wrote to Jairamdas, who was then member of the Bombay Legislative Council: “I have taken charge of the Committee for Boycott of Foreign Cloth. I must have a whole-time secretary, if that thing is to work. And I can think of nobody so suitable like you.” Jairamdas immediately resigned his seat, took up the new charge, and made a tremendous success of the boycott of foreign cloth.
When some Muslims alleged that Jairamdas was communal, Gandhiji told them: “I swear by Jairamdas. Truer men I have not had the honour of meeting. He is not anti-Muslim. I decline to think of him — or of Dr. Choithram — as anything but pro- moter of Hindu-Muslim unity.”
In 1941, when Dr. Choithram, President Sindh PCC, consulted Gandhiji on a particular issue, the latter told him: “Do as Jairamdas advises. My ,faith in his wisdom is a constant factor.”
Nor did Gandhiji confine his interest to leaders. He never forgot that he had disappointed the people of Padidan in 1919 by falling asleep at the time. He made it a point to visit that place when he visited Sindh ten years later! And he wrote any number of letters to and about Anand Hingorani and his wife Vidya, concerning their health, work, welfare. When Vidya died and Anand started worshipping her, Gandhiji wrote to him: “Vidya was good but cannot take the place of God. I am an iconoclast. If you can forget her easily, do so. Then Vidya will rise and also you.”
Gandhiji’s humour infected even the Congress dames. He jokingly asked Ganga Behn Gidvani, who was doing insurance business, in 1936, to “insure” his life. She joked back: “No, I will not insure an old man like you.” After a meal with Malkani. he asked Shrimati Malkani for dakshina. And the tatter returned: “I have given Malkani to you. What more dakshina do you want?”
All this interest in individuals was not only intensely human; it was calculated to promote the causes dearest to him. And these apart from Swaraj, were Khadi and Hindi. He was delighted when Acharya Gidvani draped Guru Granth Sahib, not in the customary silk or satin, but in Khadi. This, he said, was a great example to those who draped even the Puri idols in foreign cloth.
However, Gandhiji noted in 1924 that the Sindhis did not take Khadi seriously. He found Sindh yarn “a sorry affair”, with “little trace of practised spinning”. Even years later he noted that “with a few honourable exceptions, they are not interested in Khadi. Want of faith is the father of an innumerable brood of doubts.” He found that Kotri had only 20 Congress members, whose number would be reduced to two, if Khadi-wearing was insisted on. What surprised him most about Sindh’s neglect of Khadi was that it had an abundance of cotton — and lot of poverty. As proof of Sindh’s poverty, he quoted the large number of pies he got in his collection. “Apart from Orissa, I have never found so many pies in my collection as in Sindh. In one place I found even cowries among the collection. (The old rupee had 64 paise; one paise was equal to three pies; and five cowries made one pie). This could not be attributed to miserliness. Stinginess I have never experienced in Sindh. A people who gave over Rs. 70,000 in 12 days (for the Rs. 5-lakh Lala Lajpatrai Memorial Fund) could not be considered unwilling.”
Gandhiji was particularly upset when Jamshed Mehta, the mayor of Karachi and a great Congress sympathiser, moved a resolution in 1928, to rescind the earlier 1924 resolution of Karachi Corporation, prescribing Khadi uniforms for Corporation peons and scavengers. Jamshed’s argument was that during the preceding three years, the Corporation had spent one lakh rupees on Khadi, 85 per cent of which was a waste. Khadi, he said, soiled sooner and wore out faster — and the poor chaps were entitled to only two dresses a year. Said Jamshed: “I tell you it is really a cruelty. The stuff we are now giving our peons is enough to bring tears in one’s eyes.”
Gandhiji wrote: “Jamshed Mehta is rightly accepted as the – truest man of Karachi. Almost every good public movement there claims him as its own…. His honesty and independence areas unquestioned as his patriotism.” But Jamshed’s judgement on Khadi “is very like that of a delicate lady, judging the appetite of her weather-beaten guests by her own.”
Of course poor Jamshed had already withdrawn that resolution on the objection of the Congress corporators. But a few years later, Gandhiji himself adopted the argument of Jamshed — on the subject of Harijan housing in Karachi. Replying to the Address of Welcome, he told the Karachi Corporation in 1934: “The city fathers should see to it that not a single Harijan was housed in quarters in which they themselves would not consent to live.” Later he told a public meeting in Karachi: “It does not redound to Karachi’s credit that a single Harijan within its limits should be compelled to live in a house which the tallest .of its citizens would not gladly occupy.”
Jamshed had not been seeking anything different — for their clothing!
During this same visit in 1934, Gandhiji met the Karachi press. When K. Punniah, the editor of the Sind Observer asked him about -the separation of Sindh from Bombay, Gandhiji excused himself and said: “Now you are taking me out of my depths.”
When asked about his impressions of Sindh, he said: “My impressions of Sindh have been very happy. I should have been happier if I could get more money.” Thereupon the pressmen happily collected 30 rupees on the spot. Gandhiji said: “I do not want to rob you of what little you get. At least give me your pencils.” And so Gandhiji took both 30 rupees and the pencils, amidst general laughter.
Again and again Gandhiji was asking the leaders and their wives and their children — and whoever else would listen — to learn and use Hindi. He even wrote to Sucheta in 1945 to ask Kripalani to “write to me in Hindi or Urdu or Sindhi. Why does he write in English? Is it because he is a `professor’?”
And he was quite-horrified by the Sindhi custom of “Deti-Leti” (Dowry) particularly among the Amils. He told the D.J. Sind College students in 1934: “Here they try to imitate the sahibs and the Parsis. When I saw the girls during my first visit to Sindh, I wondered how there were so many Parsi girls around. Later on I came to know that they belonged to the Amil class. I was familiar with the name “Bhai-band” (the business community). But I was rather scared by the name “Amil”. I wondered what kind of people they would be. When I saw the Amils I found them exactly like the Sahibs.”
Gandhiji added: “The Amils of Sindh are probably the most advanced community in that province. But in spite of all their advance, there are some serious abuses of which they seem to have monopoly. Of these the custom of Deti-Leti is not the least serious…. The parents should so educate their daughters that they would refuse to marry a young man who wanted a price for marrying and would rather remain spinsters than be party to the degrading custom.”
When Malkani informed him that he had spent only 2000 rupees on the wedding of his daughter Mithi, Gandhiji wrote back on 4 October, 1928:
“If it was not tragic, I should have a hearty laugh over yourconsidering the expenses of Rs. 2,000 a little thing. Ramdas’ marriage cost me probably one rupee, that is one or two coconuts and two taklis for the bride and the bridegroom, two cop- ies of the Gita and two copies of the Bhajanavali. Rs. 2,000 in Gujerat will be considered a fairly large sum even outside the Ashram limits. I do not think that even Jamnalalji spent Rs. 20,000 over Kamala’s wedding two years ago. But I know that if I measured Sindh by Gujerat footrule, it would be a hopelessly false measurement. I suppose for you it is progress from Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 2,000. You will perhaps have to renounce your mother-in-law and to have a divorce from your wife. Considered from that point of view, Rs. 2,000 is perhaps not a bad; bargain.”
It was left to Hassanad Jadugar (magician) to set an example in dowry-less marriage. He gave his daughters only five Ch’s: charkha (spinning wheel), chaadi (milk-churner), chakki (grinding-stone), chulha (native stove) and chaunri (metal buc- ket).
When Muslim League minister Khuhro was charged with the murder of Allah Bux, the former nationalist Premier, he tried to engage Jinnah to defend him. But Jinnah refused. (Incidentally, it was a Sindhi, Vasant T. Kripalani, who persuaded Jinnah to take up his last case in life — and that too only in a city magistrate’s court in Agra! — vide. The Indian Express, 27 March 1983.) Khuhro then approached Bhulabhai Desai, who agreed. Dr. Choithram protested to Gandhiji about it. Gandhiji thereupon wrote to Bhulabhai: “I do not hesitate to request you that if after examining the papers of Khuhro’s case you feel that he is -innocent, you should fight for him, but if you feel that he is guilty, you should advise him to plead guilty or ask him to relieve you.” Bhulabhai went out of the case but Khuhro was saved from the gallows by a Hindu lawyer, Dialmal. Immediately after, Mr. Wells, Sessions Judge, who had tried the case, retired prematurely in mysterious circumstances, and left for UK.
Way back in the Nineteen-Twenties, Gandhiji reported: “I have just received from Dr. Choithram the alleged facts of an attempted forcible conversion of a Hindu in Sindh. The man is said to have been done to death by his Muslim companions because he will not accept Islam. The facts are ghastly if they are true.” Gandhiji referred the matter to Sir Abdullah Haroon, a Muslim leader of Sindh, who alleged suicide, promised to inquire, and then sat silent over the matter.
When violence gripped Sindh from 1939 onwards, Gandhiji raised his voice against it. He warned that “what happens in India, whether good or bad, in one part, must ultimately affect the whole of India.”
His “real remedy” for the Hur menance was that the Congress MLAs should resign their seats and the Allah Bux ministry should resign and all of them should “form a Peace Brigade and fearlessly settle down among the Hurs”. The Sindhis did not think it quite practicable, one MLA, Seth Sital Das, having already been shot dead. One press correspondent even wrote to Gandhiji: “Instead of asking the Sindh MLAs to resign and go to the Hurs, why should you not send a ‘company’ of your trained satyagrahis and try the luck of your doctrine?…. Or i8 it your case that your satyagrahis will meet the danger only when it reaches the Ashram?”
When the Hindus complained of continued systematic violence against them in 1939, he told them to “learn the art of defending themselves”. And “if they do not feel safe, and are too weak to defend themselves, they should leave the place which has proved too inhospitable to live in.” He returned to the subject in January 1940 and wrote: “I have suggested hijrat. I repeat the suggestion. It is not unpractical. People do not know its value. High and mighty have been known to have resorted to it before now. The Second Book of the Old Testament is known as Exodus. It is an account of the planned flight of the Israelites. In exile they prepared for a military career. There is, therefore, nothing wrong, dishonourable or cowardly in self- imposed exile. India is a vast country. Though poor, it is well able to admit of inter-migration, specially of those who are capable, hard-working and honest.”
And when in 1947 the Sindhi Hindus did begin to leave, Gandhiji wrote: “If even a single Sindhi leaves Sindh, it will be a matter of shame to Mr. Jinnah as Governor-General.” He added: “The Sindh Hindus are first-class businessmen. Why are they running away to Bombay, Madras and other places? It will not be they who will be the losers, but Sindh. For they will make money for themselves, wherever they go. One finds Sindhis in South America. There is hardly any place in the world where Sindhis are not found. In South Africa they were making big money and gave of it liberally to the poor.”
Although the Sindhi leaders had the sweetest of relations with Gandhiji, be it said to their credit that they did not hesitate to speak up when they thought him wrong. Jethmal Parasram described the Khilafat as “aafat” (catastrophe). And when Gandhiji asked Choithram in 1930 what Jethmal thought of the proposed “Salt Satyagraha”, he told him: “Jethmal says that in 1920 you wanted freedom with balls of yarn; now you want it out of ladoos of salt.” Choithram reported that Gandhiji visibly slumped at the remark.
Gopinath had shot an Englishman, Mr. De. The AICC draft resolution condemned Gopinath’s action. An amendment praised Gopinath’s heroism. When Gandhiji opposed the amendment, Motilal Nehru and C.R. Das walked out. Gandhiji won the point, but in view of the walk-out, he said the amendment might be taken as passed. Thereupon, Choithram stood up on a “point of order” and asked: “How can a rejected amendment be taken as passed?” Gandhiji was shaken. With tears in his eyes, he said: `Choithram, who is like a child to me, is now raising points of order with me. Today I stand alone.” The point of order was drowned in the tears of Gandhiji, Choithram and Mohammed Ali, who now placed his cap at Gandhiji’s feet.
When there was an attempt on the life of Lord Irwin,. Gandhiji wanted the AICC to condemn it. Swami Govindanand opposed. In the vote that followed, Gandhiji won by only 38 votes in a house of about 700. Gandhiji graciously conceded: “the moral victory was with Swami Govindanand.”
In the AICC meeting in October 1934, Gandhiji moved an amendment to the Congress constitution, renaming the United Provinces as “Hind”, and the Central Provinces as “Mahakoshal”. Dr. Choithram opposed the amendment and said that UP could not be called “Hind”, which was the name cf the whole country.
Shri C. Rajagopalachari supported Choithram.
Gandhiji said that he had agreed to the change only because people complained that they had no Indian name for UP. Now that there was an objection he was withdrawing his amendment. However, the members pointed out that they had no objection to CP being renamed Mahakoshal. Gandhiji accepted the new amendment and said amidst general laughter: “You seem to grudge poor Jawaharlal, who is inside the Naini Jail. It was he who had suggested that UP should be called Hind.”
During his last days, Gandhiji had P.B. Chandwani, former deputy general manager of North-Western Railway, staying with him in the Birla House. On 20 January 1948, a bomb exploded during prayer-time, and tore away a section of the compound wall of Birla House. At the end of the prayer meeting, Gandhiji said he thought it was only some military firing practice in the distance. Thereupon, Chandwani said: “Bapu, that is neither truth nor non-violence.” Perhaps only a Sindhi ashram-mate could be that blunt.
When Partition came in spite of Gandhiji, he persuaded the Government of India to do everything for the refugees. He spoke to the Maharao of Kutch and got Kandla land for the Sindhu Resettlement Corporation. He told a Sindhi delegation, led by Dr. Choithram, on 30 January, 1948: “If there can be war for Kashmir, there can also be war for the rights of Sindhi Hindus in Pakistan.”
Professor Malkani met him only an hour before Gandhiji was shot. Malkani had been just appointed Additional Deputy High Commissioner to organise the migration from Sindh. Gandhiji gave him a resounding blessing-pat on the back with the words: “Take out everybody. See that you are the last to come out. And tell Khuhro I want to visit Sindh to re-establish peace. Let him consult Jinnah and inform me telegraphically.” When Malkani told him how the Hindus in Sindh had to wear “Jinnah Cap” and carry about an Urdu paper or Dawn to pass off as Muslims, for security reasons, he said he would mention it in his prayer meeting that evening. Alas, he died before he could visit Sindh — or expose `the excesses there!