In a sense, to celebrate Gandhi at numero uno, Vakils, Feffer & Simons and Observer Research Foundation timed the launch of their latest publication, The Mahatma & the Doctor - The Untold Story of Dr Pranjivan Mehta, Gandhi’s Greatest Friend and Benefactor by S R Mehrotra.
The book is a chronicle of Dr Mehta’s association with Gandhi as a mentor and a friend.
The launch was held in 2014 at the Harmony Hall, Nehru Centre, Mumbai by Sudheendra Kulkarni. Distinguished audience of more than hundred Gandhians, Sarvodaya activists, academics and progressives attended the book launch.
Interestingly enough, Arun Mehta of Vakils besides being a pedigree printer is also part of Sarvodaya International Trust – Maharashtra Chapter and is always looking to promote Gandhian ideals of truth, non-violence, peace and communal harmony. He is a relative of Pranjivan Mehta (also known as PJ Mehta).
Arun Mehta who has researched (behind the scene) for the book, stated: "History books have little to say about this associate of Gandhiji who had a profound impact on Bapu’s life and his Satyagraha movement. Mehta was one of the earliest to suggest to the Mahatma that he meticulously plan and launch a nationwide campaign against the British Salt Laws. This was almost a decade before Bapu undertook the Dandi March, in 1930."
Mehta said Prof Mehrotra told him about how, "Letters exchanged between Bapu and Mehta in 1920 make this clear."
The letters were discovered by S R Mehrotra, a retired historian of the Himachal Pradesh University who is a visiting fellow at St John’s College, Cambridge University. Mehrotra has also dug out references to show that it was Mehta who had insisted that Gandhiji demand complete independence. Mehta recounted how the octageniran from Simla walked into his cabin and asked Mehta if he related to Pranjivan Mehta.
That's how began "the Sherlock and Watson" search to discover Pranjivan Mehta's past.
Some of the findings were shared by Sudheedhra Kulkarni and later by Prof Mehrotra in an illuminating talk.
The highlights of Prof Mehrotra's talk were:
During a meeting in Malikanda (now in Bangladesh) on 21 February 1940, Gandhiji said: I wrote the entire Hind Swaraj for my dear friend, Dr Pranjivan Mehta. All the argument in the book is reproduced almost as it took place with him. I stayed with Mehta for (more than) a month (at the Westminster Palace Hotel in 1909."
The other trivia was, it was not Rabindranath Tagore who first called Gandhji a ‘Mahatma’. But Mehrotra referred to a correspondence letter that shows that it was Mehta who referred to Gandhiji with that title. This was letter to Gopal Krishna Gokhale in November 1909.
Mehrotra spoke about how he discovered that Mehta was born in 1864 in Morbi and was a pillar of support for Bapu throughout his life. “Besides knowing him for 20 years since his days in Alfred High School in Rajkot, Mehta supported Bapu in the worst of times even after his arrival in London as a student of law.
“After Gokhale’s death, the ‘Servants of India’ organisation had abandoned Gandhi," said Mehrotra. “He needed money to set up an ashram in Gujarat and, for that, he went to Burma to meet Mehta. Mehta opened his purse to Bapu and, for the next few years, offered him money that ran into lakhs.”
Mehta also donated Rs 1.5 lakh towards establishing the Gujarat Vidyapith. He died in Rangoon in 1932 due to a combination of diabetes, high BP and pneumonia.
Interestingly enough, 27 February was Pranjvan Mehta’s 150th Birth Anniversary. Mehta said, "Prof Mehrotra wanted a small function in Ahmedabad especially as he had dedicated the book to Chief Justice T U Mehta (retired) and is going strong at 99. He is a distant relation and his family too was closely associated with Gandhiji."
The Mahatma & the Doctor - The Untold Story of Dr Pranjivan Mehta, Gandhi’s Greatest Friend and Benefactor is 660 pages and priced at Rs 850.