In 1915 Gandhiji returned to India, but due to the success of his satyagrah in South Africa he was already famous. After travelling from place to place and gauging the situation, he started one movement after the other on a large scale for the upliftment of the people and the freedom of the country. These movements had a profound effect on the people and awakened the entire population due to which innumerable people decided to follow in Gandhiji’s footsteps, respecting his idealism and putting their faith in him. That the masses would come under the influence of an eminent leader, with a distinguished personality, like Gandhiji’s, was understandable, but even the intelligentsia and educated classes, and leaders in the fields of law and education and those of the business class were impressed by Gandhiji’s personality and accepted his strict lifestyle of renunciation as stated in the Upanishads and took up the constructive activities suggested by him. This was a great historical revolution and the sea tide of this revolution had a beneficial effect on some people’s lives - amongst them was Ramjibhai. In his notes, Ramjibhai writes about Gandhiji’s influence, “In 1920-21, a great storm of soul searching and nationalism arose. So intense was the atmosphere that even great sages were influenced by it. So how could an ordinary, simple householder like me remain unaffected?”
It was just as difficult for Ramjibhai to remain untouched by Gandhiji’s integrity, as it was for most people.
Gandhiji went to Calcutta. He had written a letter to Jivanlalbhai, but the latter was not in Calcutta at that time. So Ramjibhai had the good fortune of hosting Gandhiji. Ramjibhai arranged for Gandhiji to stay in his own house. He took him to see his factory. There they made a nice sitting arrangement with comfortable mattresses and bolsters. The air was festive. From the humblest of humble factory workers to the highest officials, reverence from the bottom of their hearts, for Gandhiji was almost palpable and filled the room like the fragrance of incense. Gandhiji arrived at the entrance of the factory. He saw the festive atmosphere overflowing with flowers and aso palav garlands. However, they gave him no pleasure. Nowhere in the factory did he see his beloved khadi. So looking meaningfully at the mattresses and pillows, he avoided them, spread his shawl on the floor and sat on it. Ramjibhai understood Gandhiji’s simple gesture and behaviour. His eyes were opened by this silent reproach and he adopted khadi from then onwards.
At the Congress convention in Ahemdabad, Gandhiji had been very pleased to see the whole pavilion decorated with khadi as a result of Shri Jerojani’s practical business sense. He said to Ramjibhai, “You have accepted khadi as a business, now accept it as a religion.” On receiving these instructions from Gandhiji, Ramjibhai at once stepped up the use of khadi considerably. Gandhiji also told him, “Ramdas will follow you.” Ramdas Gandhi settled down in Amreli and immersed himself in the production of khadi. Gandhiji was arrested and the production of indigenous goods slowed down. At the same time, Ramjibhai fell sick and went to his brother’s house in Jamshedpur to recuperate. In addition he also rejoined Jivanlal Company. When Ramjibhai informed Gandhiji about his first foreign tour, the latter gave him his blessings and said, “May you gain success in your business deals.” In this letter Gandhiji also wrote a lot about khadhi. In reply Ramjibhai proudly informed him of the facts, “The state of the khadi industry in Kathiyavad is truly unique. In no other part of the country can the production of khadi be as strong as it is there. How can one describe their love for khadi? There everyone grows cotton. Each person personally picks the cotton, separates the seeds from it, spins it in to thread and gets it woven into cloth for himself. I feel that this is the best way to develop khadi activities, and if one wants to make khadi popular throughout the country, then everyone should consider it his duty to take this path forward.” Gandhiji liked this idea a lot and referred to it in the magazine, “Navjeevan.”
After he was released from jail, Gandhiji toured the country. This was in the year 1932. At that time Ramjibhai was staying luxuriously in Calcutta in a spacious bungalow on 10, Elgin Road. At that time there were not as many (political) parties as there at present and neither were they mushrooming the way they are today. Then there were only two sides, one was for independence and the other for disobedience. The leader of this latter party was Shri Rajagopalachari, who had the keen intelligence of Chanakya. This astute person had visited Calcutta and had also blessed Ramjibhai’s house with his presence. At that time Ramjibhai had not even given a thought to indigenous products, let alone be predisposed towards them. He only used to wear clothes, both at home and elsewhere, made from imported material. All his household furniture and other items were also imported. Seeing all this Rajaji had even passed a subtle ironic remark. After some time Gandhiji also visited Ramjibhai’s house and saw his style of living. He asked him, “Sir, is this whole, building yours?” At that time Bapu did not say anything more, but as he was leaving he asked in a dejected voice, “Ramjibhai you also (live like this)?” Ramjibhai instantly understood Gandhiji’s pain. Gandhiji’s words pierced his heart like an arrow. As soon as the next day dawned, Ramjibhai saw that all the household furniture and items purchased from Army and Navy stores, Wightway Laidlo, and other foreign companies were removed. From the large khadi emporium in Calcutta he bought khadhi material and indigenous household furniture and other items. The house was scented with local fragrances. Ramjibhai’s change of heart also influenced Jadavben. As a devoted wife, she extended her whole hearted support to Ramjibhai and also took to wearing khadi. Khadi was being produced in Amreli, but the quality was not very good. The khadi was thick and rough. Who would buy such khadi? Besides, the whole mode of producing khadi made it expensive. Ramjibhai wrote a letter to Gandhiji describing these issues; after reading this letter, Bapu wrote back to him. His letter is given below:
I have read your letter carefully. The solution to the problems facing khadi can only be found after understanding its philosophy. It will not be found by pandering to people. Khadi has a big role to play in the time of famine. In such difficult circumstances people should be satisfied with the minimum requirements. If they have other means by which they can generate a larger income then one can supply them with a spinning wheel (for a side income).
Income generated from hand-made material cannot be given to people affected by famine. The khadi produced by people in drought afflicted areas should be purchased by the state or wealthy persons. Until wealthy people interact with the poorer classes, khadi has no role to play during the time of famine. Khadi produced during a famine can only be used by the wealthy people. The poor people can only wear the khadi they themselves have produced. The middle class would have already purchased the khadi they require from the market, so they will not have any extra requirements for khadi produced during a famine.
I will be writing more on this in ‘Harijan’ after some time, which you should read.
Wardha, 5-10-34 Bapu’s blessings
When Ramjibhai’s eldest son, Poonamchand had gone to Japan in 1936, a few businessmen and dealers had suggested to him that if he imported silk looms from Japan and installed them in India, he would make a good profit. Poonamchand also had some initial discussions on this, albeit unknown to Ramjibhai. Gandhiji came to know of this and he wrote a letter to Ramjibhai as given below.
Chhaganlal Joshi has written that you are going to import silk looms from Japan under your son’s name and install them in Amreli. He has written a letter to you pertaining to this matter. He has me sent a copy of that also. If this is true then please forgo this venture. There are many other businesses. However if your views on khadi have changed, it is a different matter. If this is the case, then I hope that you will discuss the matter with me. A dear friend like you would not change his views without giving the matter some thought.
Sevagaon – Wardha 26-6-37 Bapu’s blessings
In the use of the words, “a dear friend like you,” by Gandhiji, Ramjibhai saw the great love and trust Gandhiji had for him. By the very next post Ramjibhai wrote to Chhaganlal Joshi and Chhaganlal Joshi also replied to him immediately.
Respected Shri Ramjibhai,
I received your letter of the 27th. Seeing the humility you have shown in this letter, my respect for you has really grown.
Since you have already started corresponding with Bapuji on this matter and have advised Punamchandbhai to stop the work related to the Japanese looms, there is really nothing more for me to say. I will be eternally grateful that you were not offended by my letter, but on the contrary took me into greater confidence.
Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you. My regards to Poonamchandbhai.
With greatest respect from Chhaganlal Joshi
Ramjibhai had also written to Gandhiji immediately, clarifying the entire issue. Gandhiji replied to him at once.
I received your letter. I am pleased that Poonamchand has cancelled his plans to import artificial silk looms from Japan. But the manner in which this has come about bothers me. I do not want to bring any pressure on either you or Poonamchandbhai. The boundaries that you have drawn are perfectly correct. Grown up sons are just like friends. They are separate from their parents and so they have complete freedom in their thoughts and actions. I believe that parents cannot help them in this. There may however be a difference of opinion in this matter. If you and Shri Poonamchand have thought the matter over and postponed the import of the looms, then it is indeed good, but if you have complied because you feel there is pressure from me, then please understand that there is no pressure from me and rethink the matter. If there is any pressure from me and you succumb to it, it is a measure of your love for me. But how can I accept so much love? If I start accepting so much love I myself will become weak and whatever little compassion I have will vanish. Thus I always hope that people do whatever their minds and hearts tell them to do.
Ramjibhai accepted Gandhiji’s words with both his heart and mind, and Punamchand’s ideas regarding Japanese looms were put aside permanently.
During 1931-32, Gandhiji was in Yerwada Jail, Ramjibhai had gone to visit him. At that time Ramjibhai was the president of the ‘Kathiyavad Harijan Sevak Sangh.’ Gandhiji asked him, “Why is there no visible progress in the work concerning Harijans in Kathiyavad?”
In reply, Ramjibhai gave a complete picture of the adverse circumstances. He said, “There are small native kingdoms in Kathiyavad. The queens are not in favour of any work being done for Harijans. It is necessary to depute someone who can visit the queens’ quarters and explain to them the activities being carried out to help Harijans and discuss these activities with them.” Gandhiji immediately suggested the name of Shrimati Vijayalakshmi Pandit. At that time she was also in jail. After being released from Jail, Shrimati Vijayalakshmi Pandit came to Amreli. Ramjibhai, Shantaben Yodh and Mohanbhai Patel, went with her first to Bhavnagar, along with Manishankar Trivedi and Balwantrai Mehta amongst others. The Divan of Bhavnagar, Sir Prabhashankar Pattani, was not in favour of these leaders who were working for the state assembly. As a result, Shrimati Vijayalakshmi Pandit could not visit the queen’s quarters in Bhavnagar. From Bhavnagar the whole group went to Wadhwan. There they spoke to the Divan (of that state). Whether he was convinced of their suggestions or not is not known, but he arranged for Shrimati Vijayalakshmi Pandit to meet the queen. Shrimati Vijayalakshmi Pandit felt that the work was going very slowly. Shrimati Pandit wanted the maximum amount of work to be done as fast as possible and in the least possible time. So she said to Ramjibhai, “My brother Jawahar does all the work very fast.” Ramjibhai answered, “Here in Kathiyavad it is not possible to work so fast.” In Morvi, the Divan did not pay any heed to them and they all had to return to Amreli.
In the meantime there was a suggestion from somewhere to set up a Nehru Ashram in Amreli. However, Karsandas Chithalia, of Bhagini Samaj, who had agreed to donate the land for this purpose, insisted on including the name of Gokhleji. As a result, the talk of putting up such an ashram came to nothing, and the ashram was never built.
Now once again let us go back to Calcutta. The Bengal Pharmaceutical and Chemical Company, which is based in Calcutta, is well known throughout India. It is also well known abroad. In those days, Satish Babu used to manage the affairs of the company. He was an associate of Prafulchandra Ray (or Rai). In those days (in the 1930s), Satish Babu’s salary was Rs. 2,000 per month. He had an affluent lifestyle and had no problems of any kind. But after listening to Gandhiji’s words, he put in great efforts to fight for the nation’s freedom. He decided to give all this up and follow Gandhiji. He gave up a salary of Rs. 2,000 and devoted the rest of his life to establishing khadi and serving Harijans. He decided to devote himself to this work at the time Gandhiji undertook his first fast. Satish Babu’s name and work were familiar to Gandhiji. However, Gandhiji was not comfortable unless he knew the progress or decline of any work, based on his own belief system that was being carried out in the country. One of the reasons for this was that he believed that his convictions should not only become established but they should be firmly and widely entrenched throughout the country and their progress should be continued. So Gandhiji sent Ramjibhai to Calcutta to study in detail the work being carried out by Satish Babu in the khadi industry and for Harijans. Seeing the work being carried out for Harijans under the supervision of Satish Babu, Ramjibhai was truly overjoyed. Men and women from all castes (other than Harijans) were enthusiastically and happily doing the cleaning work of the Harijans. Ramjibhai did not see any disgust on the faces of the men and women, even in collecting the ‘night soil.’ Persons from all other castes were helping the Harijans in every way. Seeing all this, Ramjibhai had a clear picture of all the work being carried out for Harijans under the supervision of Satish Babu. He wrote an article entitled, “Sachi Harijan Seva, (Real Service of Harijans),” in an issue of the magazine, “Phool Chhab,” dated 1st July, 1932.
That Ramjibhai had completely accepted khadi, was due to Gandhiji’s awesome personality. The fact that he had also taken up service for Harijans, given it an important place in his life and continued to do so for his whole life, was also due to the influence of Gandhiji. It was also due to the inspiration of that great, righteous soul that Ramjibhai gave up his luxurious lifestyle and took to simple living. Ramjibhai treated everybody – from any caste or creed, household servants or factory workers - just like he treated his family members. Ramjibhai treated his own servants, attendants, cooks, clerks, chief accountant and managers just like he treated his own people. He not only overlooked their small mistakes but would forget about them. Ramjibhai would always guide each and every worker as to how they could increase their working capacity and progress further. Ramjibhai empathised with all those working under him and took good care of them, and ordered his managers, to be compassionate towards the people working under them and look after of them. He believed that by maintaining harmony and good relations, showing love and compassion, and showering hope and enthusiasm on all, one would achieve peace in life, at home, in the factory and in public. One can say that the change in Ramjibhai’s behaviour, both in his personal and private life, brought about by these new ideas and revolutionary thinking was due to the influence of Gandhiji. Ramjibhai firmly embraced the lifestyle he had chosen, as a result of which his dutiful, disciplined feelings always remained strong; not only this but they were the very foundation on which his life was based.
1. Shri Ramjibhai, coming down from the dais with Shri Jawaharlalji, when the latter visited the Kurla premises to inaugurate the Kamani Community Centre. Behind them are Shri Debherbhai, Shri Yashwantrao Chavan and Shri Poonamchand Kamani.
1. During the P.E.N. Conference in 1945, when Shri Jawaharlalji visited the Jaipur factory. Along with him are Shrimati Indira Gandhi, Shrimati Padmaja Naidu, Dr. Jivraj Mehta and Shri Harilal Shastri, amongst others.