Monday, March 16, 2015

Veteran Gandhian Narayan Desai passes away// Narayanbhai spent the last decade of his life narrating the story of Mahatma Gandhi

One of the country’s noted Gandhians, Narayan Desai, known for his rendition of Gandhi Katha — stories on the Mahatma’s life — passed away at a private hospital in Surat on Sunday at the ripe age of 90. “Narayanbhai Desai will be remembered as a scholarly personality who brought Gandhi ji closer to the masses. Sad to hear of his demise. RIP,” the Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote in a condolence message on Twitter.

In 2004, Desai started a lecture series on Gandhi called ‘Gandhi Katha’, which he took across the world and received much acclaim for it. “The biggest loss is of the ‘Gandhi Katha’ which was uniquely his own creation because of the way he presented the stories on Bapu. People will remember him the most for it. His scholastic ability was in defining Bapu in the modern times,” Tushar Gandhi, great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, told The Hindu.

Ideas of truth and non-violence were inculcated in Desai at an early age by his father Mahadev Desai, long-time personal secretary and diarist of Gandhi. Desai served as the Chancellor of Gujarat Vidyapith from July 23, 2007, but resigned from the post last November. Born in Valsad in Gujarat, he grew up at the Sabarmati Ashram and Sewagram Ashram in Wardha. Inspired by Following Vinobha Bhave’s Bhoodan movement, Desai travelled through Gujarat urging the rich to distribute land among the landless.

Desai has several awards to his credit including the Sahitya Akademi Award for Gujarati in 1993 and the Jamnalal Bajaj Award in 1999 and the UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence in 1998. He was also associated with anti-nuclear activism. On December 10, he slipped into a coma, but later recovered. He is survived by his daughter Sanghamitra and sons Nachiketa and Aflatoon Desai. His last rites were performed on Sunday afternoon.

Narayanbhai Desai was often called India’s tallest Gandhian. The mention of his name conjures up the lasting image of a balding, bespectacled man sitting at a podium for three hours at the stretch, narrating tales of the Father of the Nation. Desai who was famous for his Gandhi Katha ‒ recitals of incidents from Gandhi’s life to promote his message ‒ passed away on Sunday at the age of 90.

Desai was the son Mahatma Gandhi’s personal secretary Mahadev Desai, and lived his early life in the Sabarmati and Sewagram ashrams. As a young man, he was associated with Vinobha Bhave’s Bhoodan movement and inspired by Jayprakash Narayan’s idea of total revolution. But Desai will always be remembered for continuing to spread the word of Mahatma Gandhi even in the 21st century.

Desai is the author of possibly the most comprehensive biography of Gandhi, Maru Jivan Ej Maru Vani, a four-volume book in Gujarati that has been translated into English as My Life Is My Message. After the 2002 riots in Gujarat, Desai realised his work was far from done. In 2004, Desai started performing Gandhi Kathas. He would tell the story of Gandhi’s life, covering all the major episodes that shaped the man and India’s freedom movement and also his everyday interactions with the people of the country. The Kathas were five-day discourses during which Desai would spend three hours every evening telling stories in an intimate and captivating narration. Desai has held more than a hundred Gandhi Kathas in more than a dozen states in India and even in the US, UK and Canada.

In a newspaper interview in 2010, Desai said, "I spent one third of my life with Bapu and the rest of my life, living according to his teachings." Here are two videos of Desai at a Gandhi Katha telling the story of Gandhi’s objection to the salt tax imposed by the British and his struggle to keep the peace during the Partition... view videos:

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NB - It was a privilege to have met and talked with Narayanbhai on a few occasions. Attending his Gandhi katha in Delhi in 2012 made me feel as if in the presence of history unfolding. His 4 volume biography of the Mahatma, My Life Is My Message is a massive contribution to modern Indian historiography. He was a stalwart worker in the struggle for communal harmony and social uplift of the downtrodden. And he was a great human being. Rest in peace, Narayanbhai.