Friday, Mar 24, 2023

Rare Books From Pre-Independent India At Prinseps Nationalism Book Auction

Rare Books From Pre-Independent India At Prinseps Nationalism Book Auction

Featuring 85 slots, the online sale comprised a rare catalogue of first-edition books printed from the pre-independence to the post-independence era in India, most of which were appearing at an auction for the first time ever.

Books at the auction.
Books at the auction. Outlook

“My dear Jawahar, My love to you. It was all done bravely. You have braver things to do. May God spare you for many a long year to come and make you his chosen instrument for freeing India from the yoke.” 

The lines were part of a letter Mahatma Gandhi wrote to Jawaharlal Nehru after the latter led a peaceful protest against the Simon Commission in Lucknow in 1928. 

The protest that is best remembered by its slogan, “Simon, Go Back” was organised in Lahore and Lucknow to demonstrate India’s disagreement to have a commission for constitutional reforms in the country without a single Indian on board. It was the violence inflicted by the British during these protests that resulted in Lala Lajpat Rai’s death (Lahore). 

Gandhi’s letter was part of a rare collection of mixed pre-independence correspondence by and to Nehru that was preserved and compiled by the first Indian prime minister into a book titled, “A Bunch of Old Letters” that was currently up for grabs at the ongoing “The Nationalism Book Auction”, offered a rare glimpse into pre-independence in India, the period which gave rise to freedom fighters, ideologies, revolutionaries and renowned leaders.

The sale went live on January 25 and continued till January 26 evening. 

Featuring 85 slots, the online sale comprises a rare catalogue of first-edition books printed from the pre-independence to the post-independence era in India, most of which were appearing at an auction for the first time ever.

All lots were estimated at Rs 30,000 - Rs 50,000.

Also making the collection rare was the fact that the books were printed in India between the pre-independence to the post-independence period, and came from a difficult period to source, with few copies that have survived. 

Talking about the greatness of Gandhi is a biography by French author Romain Rolland, where he describes the father of the nation as “a small weak man, with a lean face and tranquil brown eyes, and with spread-out big ears. He wears a white headdress; a coarse white cloth covers his body and his feet are bare. His food consists of ice, fruits and water; he sleeps on the floor; he sleeps but for a short while; and he works untiringly.”

The excerpt from the book adds how the bodily appearance was irrelevant for a man who “stirred to action three hundred millions of men, shaken the British Empire, and inaugurated, inhuman politics, the more powerful moral movement since nearly two thousand years.”

Originally written in French in 1924, the book was later translated into many languages. 

“The auction brings a rare collection of first-editions or limited editions that can be considered as irreplaceable in today’s age. To our good luck and efforts, the books are in an exemplary condition having been preserved with the utmost care,” said Brijeshwari Kumari Gohil, Vice-President and Curator.

Also, part of the sale was a collection of 100 poems of 16th-century mystic Kabir translated by Rabindranath Tagore. 

One of the translations read:

“I laugh when I hear that the fish in the water is thirsty:

You do not see that the Real is in our home,

And you wander from forest to forest listlessly!

Here is the truth!

Go where you will, to Benaras or to Mathura;

If you do not find your soul, the world is unreal for you.”

“This is one of the hundred poems of great poet Kabir published in 1953. The mystical poet’s works were translated by Tagore - a sympathetic interpreter of Kabir’s vision and thoughts. It is based on the printed Hindi text with Bengali translation done by Kshiti Mohan Sen; who gathered and curated a large collection of poems and hymns by Kabir,” according to Prinseps. 

Dadabhai Naoroji in his Congress Presidential Address in Lahore in 1893 had said, “Certainly, no one requires to be taught that no great cause or object can ever be accomplished without great sacrifices - personal or pecuniary. We can never succeed with the British people by mere declamations. We must show that we believe in the justice of our cause by earnestness and self-sacrifice.” 

The complete address is part of a comprehensive collection of speeches and writings of Naoroji, the first Indian to be elected to Parliament in Britain and lovingly addressed as “the grand old man of the nation” that is also on offer at the sale. 

The first part of “Dadabhai Naoroji’s Speeches and Writings” comprises his speeches and addresses that he delivered before the Indian National Congress, the second part comprises statements made to the Welby Commission and other questions of Indian administration.

Other key highlights of the sale include the comprehensive, and thoroughly up-to-date edition of “Speeches and Writings of M.K Gandhi” by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1922);  “India and the World” by Jawaharlal Nehru (1936), a collection of Nehru's political writings comprising his presidential addresses, followed by some shorter essays written in prison.

Also featured in the sale were “Consequences of Pakistan” by K.L Gauba (1946); The problem of Minorities by Dhirendranath Sen (1940), and “Young India” by M.K Gandhi (1922).