I feel honoured to be able to write ‘a few words’ in this publication on the life of the late Shri Ramjibhai Kamani, and I welcome this memorable book.
After the mid-nineteenth century, there was an agitation in the lives of the Indian people. Indians developed self-awareness. In the beginning of the twentieth century this movement took a concrete form and became widespread and as self-respecting people, the nation took its fate in its hands and started to move towards an (independent) India. We are now in the middle of the twentieth century. India is trying to find a way out from disappointments, threats, difficulties, callousness, irresponsibility, ventures and poverty.
Recently, Shri Dharmapal wrote a book on science and technology in eighteenth century India. He has written this book using original reports and literature, written by Englishmen, and taken from the British Library and the Indian Library in London, from the time the English made inroads into India. It is worth teaching an abridged version of it in Indian colleges in the second half of the twentieth century.
There is a wealth of common sense based on the truths and sacrifices of a society that is thousands of years old. We have a lot to learn from the West. But if we want to rebuild keeping in mind our own character and self pride, then there is no denying the solutions offered through these truths and sacrifices. Amongst those whose common sense bloomed, based on the strengths of these truths and sacrifices, was Shri Ramjibhai.
Industrialists and businessmen are interested in earning wealth, but Ramjibhai himself always remained firm on two or three main issues, namely, that he would be adventurous in business ventures and look into new industries. It is possible to earn a lakh (of Rupees) one day and lose a lakh (of Rupees) the next, but he would not get disturbed. ‘I ahavm very creditable.’ Shri Chunibhai Saraiya is the king of silver in Mumbai. It is very difficult for such a person to survive if he is not given importance by others. This also applies to Shri Narottam Morarji. One will find a number of examples of such businessmen. After one’s own creditability people want to make donations to show other people. Selfishness is not the trait of a businessman. Money doesn’t remain in one place. Today you have it and tomorrow you don’t. ‘On every morsel of food, God has written the name of the person who will consume it.’ If you receive – you should give! When you give, you should give with grace. After ‘creditability’ and ‘charity’ the third point is that because of his own liabilities he is not ready to enter into any confrontation, and when the safety of his sisters and daughters is affected, he will feel ‘this is not the place for us,’ and will move away to another place like Mumbai, Calcutta, Rangoon or Africa. If the morals of the place do not fit it with the essence of his code of behaviour he will be ready to leave. Because of these three virtues, a businessman, whether he is a broker, a grocer, a big businessman or an industrialist is known as a ‘Mahajan – a reputed man.’
Jamnalalji, Ramjibhai, Jivanlalbhai, Nanalalbhai, Nanjibhai and many such reputed businessmen, were associates of Gandhiji and supported him in all his works. If anybody sees only selfish tendencies in the lineage of these great people, rather than their greatness and culture it is like judging the character of Ramchandraji in Valmiki’s Ramayan based only on the episode of Vali. Many businessmen were, and are, selfish. But the majority of the descendents of these ‘reputed businessmen,’ fulfilled and are still fulfilling their duties.
In this book reference has been made to an exhibition arranged at a farmers’ meet during a session of the Saurashtra Seva Samiti in the year 1936. It was my good fortune that I saw Ramjibhai for the first time in Amreli, albeit from afar, during this exhibition. His face was radiant, he didn’t speak much but patiently listened and explained things. He had no desire for publicity or recognition. I believe Shri V.T. Krishnamachari was also present. In the premises of the exhibition a small lump of salt was hung near the wooden dowels to which the cows were tethered, for the cows to lick. Ramjibhai was explaining the scientific reason behind this. He was also explaining the history of the ‘Madhubindu’ papayas that grew in his garden and how much and in what way the buyers should help the farmers. I also saw Shri Punamchandbhai there along with his younger brother, who was still a youth, but his father’s radiance was conspicuous on his face and in his eyes. I saw Jadhavlaxmiben at that time too. A disciplined life, was reflected on her face and in her manner.
Luckily, from the book, we come to know a lot about Ramjibhai’s association with Gandhiji. Without any exaggeration I can say that neither Bapu nor Panditji had any negative feelings regarding private ventures. People’s thoughts and lifestyles might be different, so they might lay emphasis on different things, but Pujya Bapu never believed that everybody would become a saint and live on Rs. 500. Panditji also believed that India could not exist without a mixed economy. That is why, even as followers of Bapu, Jivanlalbhai could work for farmers and Harijans and take an interest in industry, the late Ramjibhai could work for farmers, Harijans and others and also work in industry, Nanalalbhai Jasani could work in the khadi industry and work for Harijans as well as engaging in the jewellery business – Pujya Bapu had no objections. Jamnalalji used to help in the work with cows and also deal in cotton. Whatever work a person was engaged in, Pujya Bapu only looked to whether his intentions were right and whether he used his strengths so that the nation and the nation’s work acquired the maximum benefit. Just as Pandit Jawaharlalji gave the nation the word, ‘non-alignment,’ so he also gave it the word, ‘mixed economy.’ He was also more concerned about the intentions of the businessmen. This leadership only expected their middle class followers to be feel secure in their thoughts and move forward according to their ability. As a result the nation progressed steadily. In his efforts to expand his industries, Shri Ramjibhai had Bapu’s blessings Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had openly given his good wishes to the ‘Kamani Group.’
I have written about this generation of reputed men before and after India gained independence, so that when the new generation reads about the ‘life of Ramjibhai,’ this history is there for them.
I will now describe two or three incidents in which I was personally involved. The Congress Party was ready to accept Nanalalbhai Jasani, Mohanlal Motichand, Jivanlalbhai, Ramjibhai Kamani, and some others as social reformers, but not as revolutionaries. From this book one will come to know, how many times Ramjibhai and others like him, left their thriving businesses and jumped at the chance to work for Harijans, for khadhi and in agriculture. They not only gave all these activities a standing because of their status, but gave them direct support too. There was a lot of common sense (and practicality) in their way of working, which cannot be described theoretically.
Once Shri Ramjibhai was sitting in (his office in) Kamani Bhavan. He was swinging gently on a swing and talking about the progress of people. I was the chief minister of Saurashtra. Practical Ramjibhai was asking: “Bapu talks about one way of development, Jawaharlalji another way and society’s aims are different. All these are not compatible. Nanabhai Bhatt is making efforts, but how much impact is he making on people?” And then he spoke a sentence combining all the qualities – a businessman’s foresight, the compassion of a reputed man and righteousness of a virtuous person, and said, “Oh! It is the king who shapes destiny. What is the point in discussing it? If the government changes its viewpoint, things will change tomorrow. A businessman only knows how to do business. If he does not realize his limits he will be nowhere!” Mostly, Mohanbhai Gaddhawala was also present at that time. I don’t remember the whole episode, I can just convey the main points. His focus was on the problem, its solution and his limitations; not on analyzing the problem or the philosophy behind it.
On another occasion: There was a problem between Ramjibhai and his partners. I came to know of this through Prabhakar who had come on a visit to Delhi. Then when I came to Mumbai, as per my nature, I briefly mentioned to Ramjibhai, “Is it not possible that the loss is for the benefit of the Kamani family?” Punamchandbhai remembers this incident. The next minute Ramjibhai’s anxiety vanished. He forgot about that money. After that incident I have been seeing, from afar, the increase in the prosperity of the Kamani Group.
The third occasion: Once I had gone to meet him. I am a Brahmin. A lot of my time goes in asking for donations for various institutions. The late Ramjibhai was in his office. He said, “Dhebarbhai, now I am retired.” Such a person’s idea of retirement was his total creditability, and a belief in donating to charity and living a satisfied life. These three essential, traditional virtues – good qualities – have also come down to Ramjibhai’s followers, who absorbed them like a flowing river absorbs drops of water, this gave Ramjibhai a lot of satisfaction. Such a great person does not don a sadhu’s clothes. His external life did not change, he was satisfied. He instilled culture and traditional values in his children and left behind a large, happy family and a stimulating atmosphere – this was the real wealth of his life. From this point of view, his biography is truly welcome.