The 20 best years of my life were spent in Gujarat. I have been a mill employee, a lecturer and a reporter in Ahmedabad, living in Gujarati localities, learning to speak the language fluently, and finally marrying a Gujarati, who takes pride in reminding me she’s a Bombay-born Gujarati. As a callow youth seeking a future in the 1960-70s, I found people at all levels going out of their way to help me—or anyone who needed help, for that matter. There was no discrimination of any kind. As a reporter, I covered vast areas of the state. My impression of the state is that of a peace-loving, helpful people. That is why I am distressed at the hatred, religious animosity and intolerance that was on display in 2002 in my beloved Gujarat. Even so, the state has many plus points. It has had no senas; the Sardar Sena, which demanded special rights for Gujaratis, made no impact.
The thread, net and blankets department at Calico Mills, Ahmedabad, one of the best, professionally managed units in the country, was started by a highly qualified and experienced Kerala Brahmin, K.R. Vishwanath. He gathered workers and technicians for this department from thread and net units in the south. Soon, it was packed with Dharmarajans, Subramanians, Bhaskarans, Krishnaswamys—almost 95 per cent of the employees were Keralites. The department made huge profits and no one complained against the “Madrasi” department; instead, Gujarati traders lined up to bag dealerships for its products. Feelings of tolerance and cooperation were disturbed only during the decline of the textile mills, which began around the mid-1980s. This was as much a result of mismanagement as of competition from powerloom units in the south, which had equipped themselves with modern, automated machines.
Gujarat has had the advantage of vast resources and also men and women of vision to match. No wonder it was the first to set up, mainly on the initiative of wealthy mill-owning families, institutions like the IIM, the Physical Research Laboratory, space research centres and the Ahmedabad Textile Industries Research Association. Since the state was not known for academic brilliance, local students found it hard to enter these institutions. This appeared strange to me because, in the past, Gujarat produced some of the best doctors, surgeons and chartered accountants in India, but Gujarat University hasn’t made much of an impact. However, Gujaratis never agitated for preferential treatment of locals and the academic environment was not disturbed.
Gujarati adoration for local leaders, especially those associated with the freedom movement, is ardent. Generations of Gujaratis were taught to believe that Jawaharlal Nehru was nothing compared to Sardar Patel, who should have been India’s first prime minister. Nehru’s international flavour and his citizen-of-the-world vibes were held against him. He was accused of being open to foreign influence; his friendship with Lady Mountbatten was looked upon with suspicion. Narendra Modi played on these Gujarati notions during the 2014 election campaign, making comparisons in which Nehru is disparaged and the Sardar held up as superior.
The Gujarati discourse over the ages also distorts history to project Muslims as evil plunderers and destroyers of temples. Indeed, the state has faced the attacks of Muslim raiders, but those stories are resurrected to evoke resentment towards Indian Muslims of these times. This has nurtured a volatile atmosphere, in which riots are waiting to happen. Among the worst riots was the one of 1969 in Ahmedabad. In the 1960-70s, the Jan Sangh, and in later decades, the BJP created pockets of communal tension in areas like Khadia and Raipur in Ahmedabad. Godhra and the post-Godhra riots of 2002 created such a polarisation that it has proved advantageous to Modi in his long stint as Gujarat chief minister and ultimately fuelled his prime ministerial campaign.
Gujarat will be a richer state if the prosperity evident in certain sections spreads to cover the entire population. Living there for 20 years, speaking the local language and marrying a local girl contributed to my understanding of this great state. I was at first puzzled by the chandlo tradition, in which guests attending a wedding reception make a cash gift, an amount used to offset a part of the wedding expenses. People who contribute do so in the certainty that, when there’s a wedding in their family, they too can expect such windfalls. Another Gujarati custom that surprised me was of two or three people sharing a cup of tea. For business people who have to do this frequently through the day, the advantage is that they can not only order fewer cups for guests, they can also avoid acidity since they have no more than a sip of tea each time guests drop by.
Gujaratis are widely travelled but their minds strangely remained closed to anything but conservative and traditional ideas. Gujarati NRIs who have lived for years in the US still believe that Muslims are the worst enemies of India. Will they ever change? The Gujaratis, both within and away from India, could contribute much more besides money to Modi’s development dreams. But that development has to be free from prejudices of all sorts and cover every section of our population.
(The writer has worked in Gujarat as a textile mill worker, college lecturer and a newspaper reporter.)
Of all the north Indians, the Gujaratis get along the finest with south Indians, and to a large extent explains V. Gangadhar’s positive experiences (The Gujarat I Lived in and Loved). Gujaratis also blend in the south Indian milieu better than other north Indians, generally speaking. It surely has at least something to do with diet (vegetarian vs non-vegetarian) but it’s more the mentality of respecting mind over matter, spirit over material, intellect over brute force, and non-violence over violence.
Varun Shekhar, Toronto
For once, V. Gangadhar reads quite delectable. The long-settled Gujaratis of Mattanchery were extremely well-mannered, though every one of them was a quintessential bania. Jalebi and gaanthia are eternal favourites during Diwali. As you approach Kochi, crossing the Mattanchery bridge, the legendary Patel talkies welcomed you on the left. At night, one could see the Patel sign in neon reflect beautifully on the backwaters.
Col C.V. Venugopalan, Palakkad
There are many myths that the RSS and BJP are trying to propagate. One of them is that Gujaratis are vegetarians!
Nasar Ahmed, Karaikudi
"The entire races which have been exterminated, which have been humiliated....
The person who said these seeing the state in his life time?? GURU NANAK."
Good one. Nanak, not Babur, was the greatest Indian or Indian figure of the 15th and early 16th century. Not Babur. British and Western historians in general tend to praise Babur, because they have a very specific geo-poiltical agenda of praising and upholding empire and domination. India is an obstacle in that effort, so best to laud a bloody marauder who damaged India in the 16th century, while establishing an empire.
""That was the way things were chronicled in those days in that culture"
Two quotes from a chronicler.
"Having lifted Islam to the head, You have engulfed Hindustan in dread....
Such cruelties have they inflicted, and yet Your mercy remains unmoved....
Should the strong attack the strong the heart does not burn.
But when the strong
crush the helpless, surely the One who was to protect them has to be called to account....
O' Lord, these dogs have destroyed this diamond-like Hindustan, (so great is their terrothat) no one asks after those who have been killed,
and yet You do not pay heed...."
And the second.....
Hindus have been forbidden to pray at the time of the Muslim's namaz, Hindu society has been left without a bath, without a tilak.
Even those who have never uttered "Ram", even they can get no respite by shouting "Khuda,
The few who have survived Babar's jails wail....
The desolation which has come over the land....
The entire races which have been exterminated, which have been humiliated....
The person who said these seeing the state in his life time?? GURU NANAK.
"That was the way things were chronicled in those days in that culture"
And what about these days, now, in the same culture or area? Are you suggesting that if I go to Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan and Libya, the Islamic invasions and violence of history, is thoroughly condemned? By both the common people, as well as those in power?
I'm pretty sure that the invasions and violence, are, if anything, glorified.
>> the chroniclers of these invasions for wealth, loot and power glorified and justified the actions of the marauders....
That was the way things were chronicled in those days in that culture. To derive food for your hate mill from those chronicles is silly.
"but the conquests were for loot, wealth and power.
That's very reassuring, particularly as seeing that the chroniclers of these invasions for wealth, loot and power glorified and justified the actions of the marauders, citing religious difference between the invaders and invaded, and scriptural sanction.
Moreover, unless I've missed something, not a single Moslem majority country, or Moslem majority area, has denounced those invasions or even bothered to view the invasions from the perspective of the victimised country or culture.
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