Narayan Desai is the son of Mahadev is the son of Mahatma Gandhi, from 1917 to 1942. Born on Christmas Eve, 1924, Narayan spent his first twenty years in Gandhi’s ashrams.
Since that time, Narayan has dedicated himself to Gandhian movement including Basic Education, and the Land Gift – Bhoodan – Movement. From 1962 to 1974 he directed Shanti Sena – Peace Army – which specializes in quietening urban riots through non-violent action.
He was close associate of Jayaprakash Narayan. Today Narayan is recognized as one of the foremost figures in the Gandhian movement. He currently heads the Institute for Total Revoltion – Sampoorna Kranti – at Vedchhi, Gujrat, India, a training centre in Gandhian activism. He also co-directs Peace Brigades International, a new organization dedicated to Shanti Sena type action in international conflicts.
Narayan has been elected Chairman of the World War Resisters’ International. At the instance of Gandhiji, Dr. Rajendra Prasad first represented India at an earlier Meet of this body when he was elected Vice-Chairperson, which he resigned when he became the President of India.
Narayan is well versed in many Languages and a master of diverse skills, including spinning and weaving and folk dancing. He has written twenty books in Indian languages and several in English including Towards a Non-violent Revolution, about Shanti Sena,
The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan—that Institute of Indian Culture in Bombay—needed a Book University, a series of books which, if read, would serve the purpose of providing higher education. Particular emphasis, however, was to be put on such literature as revealed the deeper impulsions of India. As a first step, it was decided to bring out in English 100 books, 50 of which were to be taken in hand, almost at once.
It is our intention to publish the books we select, not only in English but also in the following Indian languages: Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam.
This scheme, involving the publication of 900 volumes, requires ample funds and an all-India organization. The Bhavan is exerting its utmost to supply them.
The objectives for which the Bhavan stands are the reintegration of India culture in the light of modern knowledge and to suit our present-day needs and the resuscitation of its fundamental values in their pristine vigour.
We seek the dignity of man, which necessarily implies the creation of social conditions which would allow him freedom to evolve along the lines of his own temperament and capacities: we seek the harmony of individual efforts and social relations, not in any makeshift way, but within the frame-work of the Moral Order; we seek the creative art of life, by the alchemy of which human limitations are progressively transmuted, so that man may become the instrument of God. and is able to see Him in all and all in Him.
The world, we feel, is too much with us. Nothing would uplift or inspire us so much as the beauty and aspiration which such books can teach.
In this series, therefore, the literature of India, ancient and modern, will be published in a form easily accessible to all. Books in other literatures of the world, if they illustrate the principles we stand for, will also be included.
This common pool of literature, it is hoped, will enable the reader, eastern or western, to understand and appreciate currents of world thought, as also the movement of the mind in India, which though they flow through different linguistic channels, have a common urge and aspiration.
Fittingly, the Book University’s first venture is the Mahabharata, summarized by one of the greatest living Indians, C. Rajagopalachari; the second work is on a section of it, the Gita by H.V. Divatia, an eminent jurist and student of philosophy. Centuries ago, it was proclaimed of the Mahabharata: “What is not in it, is nowhere.” After twenty-five centuries we can use the same words about it. He who knows it no, knows not the heights and depths of the soul; he misses the trials and tragedy and the beauty and grandeur of life.
The Mahabharata is not a mere epic: it is a romance, telling the tale of heroic men and women and of some who were divine; it is a whole literature in itself, containing a code of life, a philosophy of social and ethical relations, and speculative thought on human problems that is hard to rival: but above all, it has for its core the Gita which is, as the world is beginning to find out, the noblest of scriptures and the grandest of sages in which the climax is reached in the wondrous apocalypse in the Eleventh Canto.
Through such books alone the harmonies underlying true culture, I am convinced, will one day reconcile the disorders of modern life.
I thank all those who have helped to make this new branch of the Bhavan’s activity successful.
“One evening I watched Mahadev Desai spin”, wrote Luis Fischer, the American biographer of Mahatma Gandhi. Fisher told Desai that he had been listening carefully to Gandhi and studying his notes “and wondering all the time what was the source of his hold on people; I had come to the tentative conclusion that it was his passion.”
“That is right,” Desai said.
“What is the root of his passion?” Desai explained, “is the sublimation of all the passions that flesh is heir to.”
“Sex?” and anger and personal ambition…Gandhi is under his own complete control. That generates a tremendous energy and passion.”
Mahadev Desai, succinctly summing up Gandhi as well as such a one ever can be, had served Gandhi devotedly for 24 years as secretary and son.
Because a Mahatma Gandhi or a Jesus of Nazareth or a Socrates of Athens can never be put in a single book it is fortunate that in this writing age we have so many different views describing the multi-dimensional Mahatma Gandhi.
In this case Narayan Desai, son of Mahadev Desai and one of the living heirs of Gandhi’s thought and spirit, concretely conveys to us in these two intelligent, intimate memories what it was like to grow up not in the shadow of a great man but in the light and love of a man whom he knew as Bapuji (father)
I have not yet been fortunate enough to write the reminiscences of my long association with Bapu — Mahatma Gandhi. However, I am glad to have had opportunities to read the reminiscences by many others who had intimately known and worked with Bapu. I found each of them had a flavor of its own. There is a reason for it. To each one, Gandhi seems to have presented himself in a unique way.
Shri Krishna, in the capacity of a Universal Teacher, says: “I respond to each one as per his or her individual approach”. That is how Gandhi was, and even now is, different to different people.
This particular book of very vivid yet incisive memories by Narayan is of a class by itself. It covers a most crucial period in India’s modern history during which slave India was catapulted into Freedom.
The two central figures in the narration are : one who was hailed as the architect of India’s Freedom by Lord Mountbatten who himself played a mid-wife’s role in the process; and the other who grew from childhood to maturity – not in the shadow, but in the effulgent, ennobling aura of the Mahatma.
The third important aspect of this story is that Narayan has been able to recapture the atmosphere of his boyhood and youth in the company of one whose spirit was able to transform “men of dust into hereoes” in the battle of Right over Might.
The author, Narayan Desai, has not been an idle acolyte admiring his early days with the Mahatma of many hues. He had the privilege of being actively associated with Gandhi-oriented socio-economic work in India and to be in close touch with great personalities like Acharya Vinoba Bhava and Loknayak Jayprakash Narayan.
Narayan Desai has started a comprehensive institution to train people for a total nonviolent revolution – Sampoorna Kranti – in human affairs. Narayan’s reminiscences are to be read in this perspective so that the multi-dimensional personality of Gandhi is not merely to be wondered at, but also to be realised as that of one who could give a new direction to souls seeking Light amidst the encircling gloom of today.
Incidentally, “Bliss was it to be young with Gandhi” brings to my mind my days in Hindulja jail where Mahadev Desai (Kaka), father of Narayan was a co-prisoner. I remember Mahadev sending his English translation of Anasakti Yoga (Yoga of Selfless Action) to me!
The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan has published several books by and on Gandhi, including the 24-volume Pocket Gandhi Series, being selections from the Mahatma’s speeches and writings, edited and arranged subjectwise by Shri Anand T. Hingorani, such as Gold is Truth; Law of Love; The Message of Jesus Christ; Law of Continence (Brahmcharya); The Role women; Service Before Self; etc; The Life of Mahatma Gandhi by Louis Fisher, Mahatma Gandhi—A New Approach by R.R. Diwakar, Gandhian Alternative to Western socialism by Dr. V.K.R.V. Rao; Satya Shodhanam (Sanskrit version of Gandhiji’s My Experiments with Truth) by H.N. Shastri; Bapu—A Unique Association, Vol. I to V by G.D. Birla.
This book, original brought out in Gujarati in 1969 in the Gandhi Centenary Year, is a welcome addition to the Gandhian Literature published by the Bhavan.
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