The Glory of Patan : Book Review

Deepak B. Mehta

The Glory of Patan by K.M. Munshi, translated into English by Rita and Abhijit Kothari. Penguin Random House India Pvt. Ltd., 2017. xxxi, 343 p. hard cover, Rs. 499

Munshiji’s was a multi-dimensional and multifaceted personality. He was a giant of his time, both in life as well as in letters. He was a leading lawyer of his time. He actively participated in the freedom struggle between 1915 and 1947. He held important portfolios in the Bombay Government before independence, and in the central cabinet after independence. He, very ably led the police action against the Hyderabad State and brought it under the Indian Union. His contribution to the framing of the Indian Constitution was substantial. But above all, he was a writer par excellence. As a writer, he was a bilingual. He wrote a large number of books in Gujarati (56) as well as in English (36). He wrote his longest and most ambitious novel ‘Krishnavatar’ not in Gujarati, but in English. It was then translated in to Gujarati. Munshiji has written about culture, history, politics, education, religion, society, etc., but average Gujarati reader knows him chiefly as a master novelist. He has given us some interesting social novels as well, but his forte is Historical novel. Some of his Gujarati novels have been translated earlier into English (e.g. ‘Gujaratno Nath’) with varying degree of success. Now, his first historical novel, ‘Patanni Prabhuta’ is very ably rendered into English under the title ‘The Glory of Patan’ by Rita and Abhijit Kothari.

The original Gujarati novel was first published in 1916 by the Gujarati Printing Press, Mumbai, but not for sale. Copies were to be given as a free gift (bhet pustak) to those who pay annual subscription of the ‘Gujarati’ weekly in advance. This was a common practice in those days. Those were the days when Munshiji was still struggling to establish himself as a lawyer at the Bombay High Court. As a lawyer, he must have been fully aware of the legal implications of what he was doing, but somehow he sold copy rights of ‘Patnni Prabhuta’ to the Gujarati Printing Press for less than one hundred rupees. It was after his death in 1971 that the rights were repurchased at a much higher price from the descendants of the owner of the Gujarati Printing Press.

‘Patanni Prabhuta’ is the first novel of Munshiji’s trilogy on the history of Patan. It was succeeded by ‘Gujaratno Nath’ (1917) and ‘Rajadhiraj’ (1922). Many years later he added two more novels to this series – ‘Jay Somnath’ (1940) and ‘Bhagna Paduka’ (1955). ‘The Glory of Gujarat’ is set in the 12th – 13th century Patan, the Capital of the Chaulukya Kingdom. At the time, Patan’s authority extended across almost all of the modern day Gujarat. When the novel opens, the kingdom of Patan is facing an ominous future. King Karnadev lies on his death bed. His son, Jayasingh, is too young to ascend the throne. Rumours abound of scheming war loards intent on establishing their own independence and powerful merchants plotting to wrest control from the Patan fort. There is also a powerful monk who is trying hard to fulfil his vision of bringing Patan under the umbrella of Jain religion. The characters include members of the royal family like Sidhdharaj jayasingh and his mother Minaldevi. But the person chiefly responsible for extending Patan’s authority over almost entire Gujarat is Munjal Mehta, the Chief Minister of Patan. Hence the credit for the glory of Patan largely goes to him. Fast paced action, larger than life characters, razor sharp dialogues, and uninterrupted flow of narration – these hallmarks of Munshiji’s novels are present in his first historical novel as well.

The first Gujarati novel, Karanghelo (1866) by Nandshankar Mehta, too was a historical novel. By the time ‘Patanni Prabhuta’ was published, quite a large number of historical novels were published in Gujarati. But most of them have been forgotten by now. But ‘Patanni Prabhuta,’ published a hundred years ago, is being read by successive generations of readers till date. Munshiji was, no doubt, best seller author of his time, but he has also remained till date, one of the very few long seller Gujarati authors.

Gujarati language has a rich literary tradition, but not many people outside Gujarat know much about it. This is mainly due to the fact that not many good, readable translations of Gujarati works are available in English. No doubt, some attempts have been made to fill this void. But quite often the translations display more enthusiasm and less professionalism. But in this case, the translators have done a thoroughly professional job. As a result, their translation does not read like a Gujlish work. They have also taken care to incorporate genealogy of the kings of Anhilwad Patan in Gujarat and a map of medieval Gujarat at the beginning of the book and a glossary and notes at the end. In their Introduction, they have provided sufficient background material for a reader not familiar with the Gujarati literature. However, some minor inaccuracies are found in the Introduction. Anyone and everyone (including the present translators) who has written about Munshiji has blindly followed what he has said in his autobiography (Adadhe Raste): That his first short story was published in 1912 in a periodical named Stree Bodh (published from Mumbai) and that too under the pseudonym ‘Ghanshyam Vyas’. Munshi’s memory somehow failed him while writing about his first short story. Because, in fact, this short story was published in a periodical named Sundari Subodh, published from Ahmadabad, and that too, under Munshi’s name. Similarly, title of Munshi’s article published in his college magazine was ‘Gujarat: Grave of Vanished Empires’, and not ‘Grave of Vanished Empires’ as given in the introduction. Quoting Ajay Skaria, the translators have referred to Munshiji keeping himself away from the Mahagujarat movement. But Munshiji had very ably put forward his arguments for supporting the bilingual state of Bombay. He did so in a book published in 1948, titled Linguistic Provinces and the Future of Bombay. In 1970, when the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra were celebrating a decade of their formation, in one of the ‘Kulpati’s Letters’ published in Bhavan’s Journal, he lamented that linguistic states were endangering the unity of the country. Munshiji is rightly credited with coining the term ‘Asmita’ for Gujarat. Munjal Mehta, in this trilogy, propounds this ideal. But in the very next novel, Gujaratno nath, Munshiji, through the character of Keertidev, propagates the ideal of Bharatni asmita. Expansion of his notion of asmita was also responsible for his founding Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in 1938. At the time of formation of linguistic states, Munshiji’s may have been a lone voice, but many subsequent events have proved that his was a sane voice.

Some time back, Tulsi Vatsal and Aban Mukherji gave us a very readable English translation of ‘Karan Ghelo’ and now Rita and Abhijit Kothari have come up with equally readable translation of ‘Patanni Prabhuta’. It is a welcome addition to a small and limited body of readable English translations of Gujarati creative works.  

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features

Sardar Patel, a shared inheritance

Gopalkrishna Gandhi

The Congress’s de-option of Patel was an error, Hindutva’s co-option of Patel is an execration

Vallabhbhai Patel (1875-1950), whose birth anniversary it is today, is sorely missed. He has been, ever since he died at the none-too-great an age of 75, in 1950. He was the keel that the boat of the freedom struggle needed so as never to tip over, the ballast that the ship of state required to stay steady, move safe.

This is because he was, first and last, a patriot. A Congress patriot. And then, a man who knew India. The India which the Congress was seeking to define for itself, for India.

What was that India? Let us have Gandhi answer the question. In 1931, the year that Patel, for the first time, became Congress president, Gandhi went as the Congress’s sole representative to the second Round Table Conference in London. He defined at that Conference, the nature of the party, and explained to that gathering how the Congress represented the entire country. He explained, in fact, their inextricable oneness.

Under a big tent

In Gandhi’s words: “In as much… as I represent the Indian National Congress, I must clearly set forth its position. In spite of appearances to the contrary, especially in England, the Congress claims to represent the whole nation and most decidedly the dumb millions among whom are included the numberless untouchables who are more suppressed than depressed, as also in a way the more unfortunate neglected classes known as backward races…”

And again, at the Conference’s Minorities Committee: “…if you were to examine the register of the Congress, if you were to examine the records of the prisons of India, you would find that the Congress represented and represents on its register a very large number of Mohammedans. Several thousand Mohammedans went to jail last year under the banner of the Congress… The Congress has Indian Christians also on its register. I do not know that there is a single community which is not represented on the Congress on its register…even landlords and even mill-owners and millionaires are represented there…”

Serving the nation through that party representing ‘the whole nation’ and its various communities, strengthening that party at its plural grassroots, shaping the resolutions and decisions of its Working Committee and helping it form ministries in eight of the 11 provinces in the elections of 1936-37, Patel then guided it as it took over the reins of the Government of India in 1947. Working for and through the Congress was the Alpha and Omega of Patel’s political career.

That made him what he was, the ‘indomitable’ iron man of India. That also made the Congress, in very great part, what it was — an all-India organisation.

Congress was Patel’s life

No Patel, no national Congress. No Congress, no Sardar Patel. Congress patriotism was his patriotism; Congress politics was his politics.

No one, howsoever anxious to wrench his legacy off from that of the Congress, can dispute and much less deny that basic and incontrovertible fact. No one, howsoever desperate to annex his legacy to that of another body, cultural or political, like the Hindu Mahasabha or the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or the Bharatiya Janata Party, can succeed in staging so ridiculous a trapeze show.

Sardar Patel was the Congress’s spine. The Congress was Sardar Patel’s life.

Does that mean that the Sardar’s membership, leadership and stewardship of the Congress was free of tensions? Of course not, because he was human and his party was led and peopled by other humans, each with tempers and temperaments that were distinct. Despite Gandhi’s pre-eminent position in it and in the hearts of the people of India, the Congress was not a hegemonic party and its most charismatic leader, Jawaharlal Nehru, was, by instinct, self-training and practice, its most natural democrat. Nehru’s was a lunar luminosity in Gandhi’s Congress. Nehru’s glow could brighten and lessen, and on a moonless light plunge the party in inky gloom. Patel, with his seven great skills — resoluteness, clarity, direction, focus, loyalty, grounded-ness and guts — was the party’s saptarshi, its Ursa Major.

The Congress not only accommodated personality and political variations, it regarded itself as their natural home. It was a place to which people belonged, not a place in which people assembled for a drill. Its sifat, to use a Persian word that stands for essence or ethos, was its diversity. And its Working Committee embodied that sifat. It had, Gandhi apart, Nehru the socialist and agnostic, Patel the conservative, C. Rajagopalachari the liberal, Rajendra Prasad the traditionalist, Abul Kalam Azad the scholar, J.B. Kripalani the scoffer. At different times it had Subhas Chandra Bose the nationalist, Sarojini Naidu the poet. Each Congressman and Congresswoman was himself or herself first, and then a soldier of the party. Each person was ‘rare’. Which is why, describing Acharya Narendra Deva in his obituary speech in Parliament, Nehru spoke of him being “…a man of rare distinction — distinction in many fields — rare in spirit, rare in mind and intellect, rare in integrity of mind and otherwise.” The Congress’s ranking leaders, as indeed its countless ‘file’, differed, debated, wrangled and even warred, but stayed true to the party’s sifat, because the party gave them that ‘play’, not as a policy but as an inherent personality trait, India’s trait.

The mutual differences between Nehru and Patel are no secret. The Congress did not believe in secrecy. Their mutual trust was no secret. The Congress believed in trust.

Their differences are not to be exaggerated. They are not to be minimised. They are to be contextualised. In the democratic spirit of that plural party.

Sardar Patel led a party as its Ursa Major that was anything but a homogenising factory. It was as plural as it was because it saw itself in the words Gandhi used to describe its eclectic rolls in London in 1931.

‘India first’

Gandhi, who knew the meaning and action of political variegation, encouraged and succeeded in getting Nehru and Patel to work with coordination and cooperation if not coalescence. And for this, the realism of both leaders has to be thanked. Their realism, and their sense of ‘India first’.

India first was part of their idea of India. And ‘India first’ was integral to their sense of patriotism, their Congress patriotism.

Four days after Gandhi’s assassination, in a letter to his senior in politics, in the party and in age, Nehru wrote: “With Bapu’s death everything is changed… I have been greatly distressed by the persistence of whispers and rumours about you and me, magnifying out of all proportion any difference we may have.”

Patel replied on May 5, 1948: “ I am deeply touched…We both have been lifelong comrades in a common cause. The paramount interests of our country and our mutual love and regard, transcending such differences of outlook and temperament as existed, have held us together.”

The very previous day, addressing the Congress Party in the Constituent Assembly, Patel described Nehru as “my leader” and said: “I am one with the Prime Minister on all national issues. For over a quarter of a century, both of us sat at the feet of our master and struggled together for the freedom of India. It is unthinkable today, when the Mahatma is no more, that we should quarrel.”

The Congress’s rank and file should ponder these observations of Nehru and Patel and rectify years of neglect, post-Nehru, of the Sardar’s legacy at the false altar of political cronyism. That neglect has lubricated the crassly opportunistic co-option of Patel by the Hindu Right which has no right, logical, political or moral, to that legacy. What the Congress squandered, Hindutva is shovelling in.

The Congress’s unwitting de-option of Patel was an error, Hindutva’s calculated co-option of Patel is an execration.

‘India first’ believers should be aware of both.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and Governor

courtesy : "The Hindu", 31 October 2017

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features