At the age of thirty one, an age that was really too young for retirement, Ramjibhai decided to stop working and came to Amreli with the intention of settling down to a simple, traditional householder’s life. However, at that time Amreli and its surrounding villages were in the grip of an epidemic of influenza. Many people were dying of the disease. Death had taken such a heavy toll of people from the area that the cremation ground was overflowing with bodies, leading to severe problems in performing the last rites and cremating the bodies. Ramjibhai, with his compassionate nature, could not stand to see this state of affairs. There was no end to his sorrow. He could not bear to see people dropping like flies before his very eyes. To simply be a silent witness to this situation, without doing anything was totally against his nature.
Ramjibhai said to his neighbour and friend, Tribhovandas Motichand Shah, “It is not right that we should just bear mute witness to the fact that influenza is causing the death of so many of our people. It is a blot on our humanity. We should do something about it.”
At that time, two Ayurvedic doctors, Nrusinhprasad and Krishnaprasad, were famous throughout the area, so Ramjibhai met with them to discuss the problem. As per their advice, large quantities of medicines were prepared and arrangements were made to send this to the houses of the sick persons. The two doctors made up large quantities of potions containing special herbs like Kadu, Kariyatu, Garmalo, Ardusi, pepper, etc. Their families also supported and helped them in this humane work. They would wash the bottles and caps and fill them up with the medicine, so that it could be delivered to people who needed it. Amreli Sevak Mandal also joined in, in this activity, with its students taking up the responsibility of delivering the medicine to far flung villages.
Every morning, Ramjibhai along with Dr. Tapidas, would set out in a horse drawn carriage to deliver the medicine to nearby villages. Often he would spend the whole day, without food or drink, in disease afflicted areas. After returning he would have his dinner and then would plan his work for the following day until late in the night. If the sick persons required milk he would see that it was supplied to them. He used to give both the milk and medicine to the patients free of cost.
Initially, this kind of social service was difficult for Ramjibhai, but as time passed he not only found it easier but actually started to find it interesting and began to like the work. He put his heart into serving humanity and did so to the best of his physical and financial capabilities, which gave him great joy and extreme satisfaction, especially, the fact that he could physically help people who needed his services.
Ramjibhai’s humanitarian work left a deep impression on peoples’ minds. Ramjibhai helped innumerable people in Amreli and its surrounding villages, in many ways. He would give ploughs to farmers. If students needed fees or books, they could be assured that they would get them from Ramjibhai. Ramjibhai would try his level best to help any teacher or employee who was looking for a promotion, and was facing a problem regarding this. He was always ready to help anybody to solve any kind of problem. Ramjibhai never wanted any recognition for the work he did. He himself never publicised his work and frowned upon others doing so. But the impact of his silent service was so powerful that within no time Ramjibhai enthroned himself in peoples’ hearts. Not only did all the villagers appreciate the services rendered by Ramjibhai with all their hearts, but Sevak Mandal (a charitable organisation), organised a special function and presented him with a gold coin for the work he was doing. At this function, Ramjibhai announced a donation of Rs. 10,000 for poor students. In addition he offered interest free financial aid to poor teachers for their routine household needs. In those days, hardly anybody offered this kind of help and seeing this Ramjibhai was the first to take a step in this direction. At this function, the people of Amreli got a glimpse of the great love Ramjibhai had for education. After this Ramjibhai donated generously to the Amreli Kamani Forward High School, and set up a science college, giving a concrete form to his belief in education.
In the book, “Vastrasvalumbanni Dishama Majal Paheli,” (roughly translated as, “The First Step Towards Independence in the Garment Industry,”) which he published in 1933, along with the lawyer, Harilal Govindji, who was the then head of the committee for the redevelopment of Kathiyavad villages, Ramjibhai wrote, “When I retired and came back to the village I had no thoughts of going in for any form of social service to the people or the nation. I just had the desire to live the simple but cultured life of an ordinary householder. A cultured life should reflect the acceptance of good qualities from the dominant strengths of the age in one’s daily activities. However, during the years from 1920 – 1922, a great movement of soul searching and nationalism arose. The atmosphere was so charged that it could affect even the greatest of sages. In such a case how was it possible for me, a simple, straightforward householder, to remain unaffected?”
For many years he had had a great desire for products, especially khadi, from his homeland. These ideas took root because of a particular incident.
One day a person from Kathiyawad arrived in Calcutta. He wore a white cap on his head and a short dhoti. His upper body was mostly unclothed except for a long scarf thrown over his shoulder. He was a thin person. When this person came to the door of the factory where Ramjibhai manufactured aluminium vessels, there was great excitement amongst the workers. A large, embroidered mattress was spread out for him, and soft pillows were arranged on it. The workers bustled about making preparations to welcome him. They requested him to sit on the mattress, but would he sit on it? He stood there looking around him and then spreading his shawl on the floor sat on it, saying, “I do not use any material except khadi.” This extraordinary person was none other than Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Witnessing this incident, a wave of nationalism washed over Ramjibhai and he immediately sent a message to Jivanlal saying, “We should start the production of indigenous goods in Amreli. Some people are making home spun cotton, but these activities should be channelized and carried out under proper guidance. The time is right for this and we can take care of anything else that is needed.”
Jivanlal liked Ramjibhai’s idea. He informed Gandhiji of his enthusiasm to start the production of khadi in Amreli. He came to Amreli, along with Thakker Bapa and Shastriji, who was the President of the “Servant’s of India Society.” They discussed the production of khadi and put it into practice. Thakkar Bapa stayed in Amreli for eight months for this reason. When he left, the hum of the spinning wheel could be heard in homes throughout Amreli and the surrounding villages. The venture picked up so fast that even a daily supply of 100 maunds (1 maund is approximately 15 kgs.) of cotton was not enough to supply the sixty or seventy khadi production centres. Amreli became a main centre for the production of khadi. They then started to estimate how this activity, began by Amreli Sevak Mandal, could be extended to the whole of Kathiyawad, how helpful it would be to the villagers, how much income it would generate for them and how much the villagers needed this income. They also estimated the cost of such a venture. After gathering this information Ramjibhai wrote to Jivanlal conveying all the facts. He added the four lines, given below, as some information:
“It was due to the presence of Thakker Bapa, that the production of khadi picked up so fast. During this time he experienced Kathiyavad’s warm hospitality. Thakkar Bapa eats only jowar rotis with a little ghee, but he realised that, “ Kathiyawadis always have more than enough food for their guests, they feed them heartily, but the guests are able to digest it all.””
Since Amreli was the first place to start this kind of work, Jamnalal Bajaj and people from other states, who were interested in the production of khadi, came there. Every week a meeting was held in the office, during which any questions that arose were discussed and solutions were found. Damodar Seth, who was considered a parsimonious spender, invested Rs. 10,000, in the production of khadi in Damnagar which was a great incentive to the industry there. The production of khadi took root in Amreli and new centres flourished like branches and leaves on a tree. But fine, flawless khadi that was pleasing to the eye could not be produced. The result was that not much khadi was being bought and within a year or so large stocks of khadi piled up, leading to the workers getting less work.
However by a stroke of good luck, Shri Vithaldas Jerojani, who was a complete believer in khadhi, came to Amreli. He clearly saw the state of the khadi industry and found a practical solution to the problem. Shortly, a convention of the Congress party was to be held in Amdavad (Ahmedawad) and he used the khadi, which had piled up in Amreli, to make the canopy under which the delegates were to sit. The immediate problem was solved. But seeing the life going out of the khadi industry, Ramjibhai’s heart was filled with sorrow. He immediately wrote to Jivanlal about the whole situation. On the basis of this letter, Jivanlal gave Rs.1.5 lakhs to help the khadhi industry. Further, Manuben Gandhi’s father, Shri Jaysukhlal Gandhi, came and stayed in Amreli. Gandhiji’s son, Ramdas, also came there and so did Harakhchand, Jivanlalbhai’s brother.
Exactly at this time, Gandhiji had set out on a tour of Saurashtra. After visiting various places, he came to Amreli and stayed at Ramjibhai’s house. He studied the khadi production in Amreli minutely, and was satisfied with the work that was being carried out. Gandhiji also grew to respect and love Ramjibhai. A khadi centre was being set up in Mumbai and he included Ramjibhai’s name for this centre. In addition he praised Ramjibhai’s work in the production of khadhi in the magazine “Navjeevan.”
Gandhiji shifted his residence and entourage from Ramjibhai’s house to Gopaldas’s village, Dhasa. From there he went to Chalana. Ramjibhai accompanied Gandhiji on these travels. The Congress party’s convention was held in Ahemdavad, which Ramjibhai also attended. Ramjibhai was now known as a staunch supporter of khadhi. Gandhiji said to him, “A lot of good has come from the fact that you have given the production of khadi the status of a business. Seeing this has made me very happy. Khadi should be worn as a moral duty, if you do this it will give me great pleasure.” That one sentence was all it needed, and from that day onwards Ramjibhai wore only khadi for the rest of his life. He encouraged the production of khadi in all of Amreli’s centres that were involved in indigenous activities. Ramjibhai studied the financial implications of khadhi in detail, and the more he studied the greater was his conviction in the use of khadi. Slowly other indigenous products were produced along with khadi. From these activities, the “Amreli Svadeshi Vastu Bhandar,” was established, where people could buy everything they needed from slates and slate pens at reasonable prices.
In 1922, a convention of the Congress party was organised in Kokonada. Both Ramjibhi and Jivanlal attended this convention. There Ramjibhai put forward a proposal to Jivanlal: “Now the production of khadi and other indigenous products is my main or rather my only activity. So it is only right that you discontinue my partnership in the aluminium factory.” Perceiving the resolve in Ramjibhai’s voice, Jivalanlabhai, albeit reluctantly, had to accede to Ramjibhai’s wishes and after some time he settled the account.
These activities involving khadi and other locally produced items continued uninterrupted until 1925. In 1924 Gandhiji fell sick. At the same time new changes were sweeping across the country, and due to this the production of khadi slowed down. In 1925 Ramjibhai was afflicted by an illness. Up until then he retained a passionate and intense interest in khadi. But after this his direct involvement with the khadi industry came to a halt for some time.