On the 1st of May, 1927, Ramjibhai boarded a steamer to start his trip abroad. Throughout the journey he was accompanied by Shri Mohanlal Purohit and Shri Ratilal. At that time there were no facilities for air travel. So first they travelled to England. From there they went to Naples, where they alighted and proceeded to Switzerland via Rome. The export office of Mr. Bash was located on the border of Switzerland. There Ramajibhai stayed in the Grand Hotel, where he had already made a reservation. The staff of Bash’s Company extended a warm welcome to Ramjibhai. During the first three days his hosts took him to see the worthwhile sights of Switzerland, both of historical interest and natural beauty. Of course, all expenses for this tour were borne by Ramjibhai, not by the hosts!
“You should only wear khadhi, even abroad.” These words of Gandhiji constantly rang in his ears and respecting them, Ramjibhai wore only khadi. Comparing his native costume with the fashionable clothes of the people there, Ramjibhai often felt diffident and embarrassed. But, these were Ganghiji’s instructions! How could he disregard them? Still, taking his courage in both hands, Ramjibhai wrote to Gandhiji, “These clothes do not really suit the climate of these foreign lands, and I am not comfortable wearing them. With your permission I will have some clothes made from regular cloth, which will be more appropriate.”
Without thinking twice, Gandhiji sent Ramjibhai’s letter to Shri Jerajani, adding, “Please manufacture some cloth that will be suitable for Ramjibhai to wear abroad, and send it to him.” Shri Jerajani had high quality Kashmiri silk made and sent to Ramjibhai. Ramjibhai had a coat tailored from this material, but whether he was comfortable in it is not known. Maybe he was comfortable in it – anyway, for a long time this type of cloth was known as “Ramjibhai coating.”
Even when Ramjibhai was in India he had not been keeping too well and as his health did not seem to improve when he was abroad, he got himself checked up by a doctor in Interlaken. The doctor examined Ramjibhai and put him up in his own house. Ratilal Trivedi also stayed with him. Ramjibhai stayed at the doctor’s house for one and a half months and underwent treatment for dysentery. He had to take twenty-four injections of Amitin to be cured of dysentery. He also had to change his diet and could only eat the food prepared by the doctor’s wife. Under the proper care of the doctor, Ramjibhai was cured of dysentery and his health improved. In this foreign land, Ramjibhai had a truly memorable and happy experience of the extreme goodness of the people there.
During the time he was there, the world famous Leipzig fair was to be held. Mohanbhai had got two tickets for this fair. Actually they would require three tickets, but Mohanbhai had reckoned that they could visit the fair in turns. It was not that he was avaricious but rather his ‘Brahmin’ nature could be said to be thrifty.
All three of them boarded the overnight train to visit the fair. Ramjibhai put his wallet under his pillow instead of in his pocket. However, when they alighted from the train at their destination, he forgot to take the wallet. From the station they went to a restaurant and gave their order and immediately remembered the wallet. When they told their story to the manager of the restaurant, he suggested that they go to the unclaimed property office – where “unclaimed property was returned to the owners on production of proof of identity.” They went to the office and Ramjibhai got back his wallet exactly as he had left it, not a single pence was missing. Pleased, Ramjibhai started to offer a reward to the office clerk, but the clerk said, “Here, there is no practice of offering or accepting rewards.” Ramjibhai mentally thanked him, but he was so determined not to leave the office without giving the clerk something, that he finally convinced him to accept ten pounds for his children.
As per their prior arrangements, the three of them visited the exhibition in Leipzig and then went back to London. They invited Mr. Bash, and the representative from the London office to the Savoy Hotel for dinner, where Ramjibhai was staying. During the meal, Mr. Bash encouraged Ramjibhai to visit America, Japan and some other countries before returning home. To facilitate his journey, he informed Ramjibhai that the ship, the “Queen Mary” was to set sail within a day or two, and he (Ramjibhai) should leave on it. Ramjibhai liked this idea, but he had been away from home for a long time and felt that if he wanted to extend his stay abroad he should ask Jivanlalbhai, so he sent him a telegram and awaited his reply. Jivanlal replied immediately, “Mr. Bash and some other persons are visiting us in Calcutta to assess our situation; to prevent the latter from getting a complete picture - due to your absence - he has devised the strategy of suggesting that you visit America and Japan before coming home.” On reading the telegram, Ramjibhai understood the whole game plan, and on the 1st of November, 1927, set sail for India on a cargo ship. His health had improved during his stay abroad, and he had put on about 21 pounds (9 – 10 kgs) in weight. The cargo ship reached Calcutta later than Ramjibhai had estimated. Dr. Pranjivandas Mehta was at the docks to receive Ramjibhai. He had taken permission of the port authorities and sent a boat out to the steamer. Pranjivanbhai had a strong desire to build a relationship with Ramjibhai; this was also one of reasons why he extended this facility to him. The doctor put Ramjibhai up in his house that night; and the next day Ramjibhai went to his own house.
In the meantime Mr. Bash and the others had arrived in Mumbai. Jivanlal and Pathak had already initiated discussions with the English company regarding the purchase of Crown and Gold Mohur companies on a fifty-fifty partnership basis. In fact both parties had already agreed on these terms. Jivanlal had apprised Ramjibhai of all these facts. Bash came to know about this. His plan was different, he did not want to give them a fifty percent stake, so he immediately asked, “Why did you finalise everything before we arrived?” But the deal had already been done, so there was nothing he could do except agree to it.
At this time, Narbheram Pandya was working as a manager in Jivanlal’s firm in Mumbai. He took on the responsibility of explaining everything properly to Bash and his associates. He had great respect for both Ramjibhai and Jivanlal. To entertain Mr. Bash and his party, Harishankar arranged a hunting expedition in the Gir forest.
Bash had shown his readiness to invest Rs. 24 lacs and give royalties of Rs. 55, 000, and he stood by it. On his word, valuation of the factory and goods was carried out. Rai Saheb Aggarwal, an iron merchant from Calcutta, and McKenzie Lial took on the responsibility of this task. The four factories and all the goods were valued at Rs. 4 lacs. Bash gave Rs. 24 lacs. He had brought his own accountant with him. Ratilal Trivedi resolved to learn all the work under his guidance. It was proposed that the accounts would be sent to Calcutta from all the branches, where they would be consolidated, and on the 24th of every month, the complete accounts would be sent to America. This proposal was accepted. Once Ratilal Trivedi was familiar with all the work, and capable of handling it, Bash’s accountant returned to America.
All the formalities and procedures were completed in 1929. Now the question arose as to what the company should be named – should it be Jivanlal (India) Ltd., or Jivanlal (1929) Ltd.? Ramjibhai suggested the latter name, and this became permanent.
The office was shifted from Mehta Building to Clive Street. Ramjihai and Jivanlal came to stay in Mirza Street. Very few Gujaratis resided here. Ramjibhai and Jivanlal stayed (in the same building) on the first and second floor respectively. The college square nearby had good facilities for swimming. Ramjibhai, Jivanlalbhai and Harakhchand Pathak all took advantage of them to learn how to swim.
After sometime both Ramjibhai and Jivanlalbhai again changed their residence and came to live on Elgin Road. There was also a lake there and they took advantage of it to continue their swimming. The building where they were staying was larger and had more facilities (than their previous building), so they could give part of it out on rent to two people. One of them was Shantilal Trivedi and the other was Ramshankarbhai from Halvad. They were working for Jivanlalbhai. The building also housed a separate, spacious guest house, where Shri Gaganbhai Mehta got the benefit of staying. When Shri Gaganbhai and Saudaminiben came to Calcutta on their way to Rangoon, this educated and cultured couple were put up in this large room. Ramjibhai took them around Calcutta and showed them a lot of places of interest.
Another advantage of this building was that it had a large compound, where community and other types of meetings were held. The late Shri Pratapsingh Rao Gayakwad and Colonel Shivraj Singh had also left their mark here. Over and above, when the late Shri Vittalbhai Patel, came to Calcutta after resigning from the Indian Viceroy’s council, he was put up in the large room of the guest house in this building. Thus there were a lot of happy, memories associated with this building.
Both Ramjibhai and Jivanlalbhai were held in high esteem amongst the Gujarati Samaj in Calcutta. They were not only considered as renowned Gujarati citizens, but as social reformers. In fact they were considered leaders amongst the reformist society. Another leader was Tribhovandas; he used to warmly welcome his guests and serve them refreshments in fine china plates. Ramjibhai also enjoyed tea and snacks in the same crockery. In those days all crockery, except that made from metal, was considered unclean and it was thought that eating from such plates would make a person impure, so serving food in china plates was very forward thinking. At that time even though there was no ‘club life’ as we know it today, there was a ‘Bombay Club’ in Calcutta, which was a meeting place for well-to-do people. Tribhovandas was the main administrator of this club. Vaghjibhai -from Vankaner - used to come there and the responsibility of managing the club was assigned to him. The club used to host functions to honour royalty, high officials and other leaders and stage shows were also held once a year or so. Gujaratis living in Calcutta were always invited to these plays. The club also accepted donations from them and efforts were made to modernise the club as much as possible. The club’s members made Ramjibhai the president of the club. After Ramjibhai accepted the presidency, he introduced games like chess, chopat, etc., to increase the popularity of the club. Sometimes they would also invite the blind poet, Hansraj, from Amreli, to perform in the club. As long as Ramjibhai was president of the club, it went on well. When Ramjibhai came back to Calcutta in 1925, he saw that the standing of the ‘Bombay Club’ had considerably deteriorated. He tried hard to restore the club and bring new life into it. He collected donations of Rs. 1000/- from as many people as possible and moved the club to a good building. Shri Liladhar Premji, a wealthy gentleman from Calcutta, gifted his own billiard table to the club. In this manner the club was revitalized and it ran well for a year or so. In 1930, Vaghjibhai passed away and the management of the club passed into the hands of a Marvadi person and after some time, gambling with cards started and the Gujaratis’ enthusiasm waned.
In 1929 when Ramjibhai left Calcutta for Mumbai, this club gave him a warm send off.
Ramjibhai spent most of 1929 and 1930 in Mumbai. He lived on Sandhurst Road, which was situated in the central part of the city. He had rented a luxurious flat having eight or nine rooms for Rs. 250/-. In those days the paghadi system, which was prevalent amongst the wealthy class was not customary amongst ordinary people and so he was able to get the flat without any extra payment. At the time of writing this book (in 1971), such a flat with nine rooms, which was available for Rs. 250 to 300 could not be had for even Rs. 1500. The flat faced the road, and there were many pleasant memories attached to this beautifully engraved building known as Birla House. Shri Karsondas Chitalia, who was connected with Bhagini Samaj, held the association’s classes here. Girls from well-to-do and noble families used to come to study in these classes. The daughters of the late Shri Manubhai Nandshankar also used to come to study in these classes.
During this time a Kathiyavadi political conference was organised at the Royal Opera House in Mumbai. The conference was presided over by Shri Ramanand Chattarji, the editor of (the publication known as) the “Modern Revue.” For the duration of his stay in Mumbai he was put up in Birla House. In addition, other prominent officials from Kathiyavad, like Shri Manishankar Trivedi, Shri Fulchand Tamboli from Jamnagar, and other important persons were also put up at Birla House. Ramjibhai took on the responsibility of looking after all these guests. However, there was one sorrowful memory associated with this occasion; Shri Manishankar Trivedi passed away while he was giving a lecture, due to a massive heart attack.
In 1930 Gandhiji started his historical satyagrah (non violent struggle) for the production of salt in India, the government of Mumbai was declaring one ordinance after another. Due to this, Ramjibhai had to move from Birla House to Ghatkopar for some time. He also retired from Jivanlal (1929) Ltd. At this time Jivanlal was in Mumbai, and through him Ramjibhai came into contact with Jamnalal Bajaj. When Ramjibhai told him about his plans to retire to his village, Jamnalal Bajaj said, “You should get involved in some productive pursuit.”
Ramjibhai was an active person, but his aim was not just to make money. Gandhiji’s character and the great strides he was taking had made a lasting impression on Ramjibhai. Ramjibhai was himself a wealthy person and had a high standing in society, but he did not remain aloof from society. It was not in his nature to remain indifferent to the people. On the contrary, whenever the opportunity arose for him to do any kind of social service, he welcomed it enthusiastically and by doing whatever he could under the circumstances, he gained a great deal of satisfaction.