top of page

"Sir Lallubhai Samaldas - A Portrait", by Aparna Basu, National Book Trust, India (2015)

On the occasion of the celebration of 150th Birth Anniversary of Sir Lallubhai Samaldas at Vishwakosh Hall, Ahmedabad

Narayanbhai Desai, son of Shri Mahadev Desai - who served as Mahatma Gandhi's personal secretary - was considered as the tallest Sarvodaya leader in the country after Vinoba Bhave and Jayprakash Narayan. He passed away on 15th March, 2015 at Surat (Gujarat).

“By inviting me here for this occasion, you have now ‘officially’ included me in the extended and loving Family of a Perfect Gentleman, and for this I am grateful to three generations. I shall begin by the middle generation. For my father, Mahadevbhai Desai, before he joined Gandhiji, the greatest crisis in life was this: 

In his Intermediate exams, if he did not get a scholarship, he would have to stop further studies. This has been referred to in his own book as well. However, there might be a little difference in oral rendering of a biography. Still, I would like to tell you about the incident. I have heard from Mahadevbhai himself that in that exam, Vaikunthbhai got first rank and Mahadevbhai got second rank. Now Vaikunthbhai, the perfect son of a perfect gentleman, thought of asking his father on this issue. When he asked Lallukaka, he said that this boy is from Surat, he is very intelligent and even handsome. He has come second in the class. If you permit, I shall let go of my scholarship now, as then it would go to him.’ He wanted the opinion of his father.  What does the father advise? ‘Do what you think is right.’

So the son withdraws from the scholarship, and it is allotted to Mahadevbhai, and he could complete his entire college education with help of that scholarship. This left the greatest impression on his life. When I was writing the biography of Mahadevbhai, along with it I also came across the lives of Vaikunthkaka (his eldest son) and a little of Lallukaka too.  From this I found that even Lallukaka had passed through a similar experience earlier in his life. He too had let go of his scholarship for one of his co-students. But he never boasted of this to his own son and he did not say that since I have done this, you too should do this or that. He merely told the son to do what he thought was right, that is all. He allowed him to take his own decision.

After the rebellion of 1857, our country passed through a new phase, a phase of resurrection, renaissance. During this period, we find that something new is being done in all fields of life.  The new steps are taken mostly through certain specific personalities, and Lallukaka is one of them. In his entire life we find that this phase of changes, resurrection is reflected. What has been achieve is not just in co-operative activity, or agriculture, or administration or shipping, but in totality all of the many fields he touched, there is some connection and reflection of this Resurrection, renaissance.

Another point I want to make here – and mind you, this word is not found in the book anywhere, and yet I am going to speak of it very often in my speech – is that of ‘Revolution’. Any revolution has two aspects to it – positive and negative.

The second Revolution of France, the one that students led, had a leader who made a very good statement. I do not know French, but the translator has translated that statement beautifully – Revolution has two functions: one is ‘razing to the ground, and the other is raising from the ground’ – he writes. There is a difference in the spellings of the main terms, and are spoken almost alike. One means to destroy a certain order, while the other means to build a new order from the ground. I think that the vision of the so-called ‘revolutionaries’ leaves out the second aspect of revolution viz. to build a new order from the ground. They have a clear idea as to what order they want to destroy, absolutely clear. They are determined that that order just has to go. We have to get rid of the British, that is all, and then to bring back a ruling system that would make the British look good as rulers!! If we want to do just that, it is not a revolution. But not just remove the British, but instead prepare for an alternative – whoever could do this, must have an idea of the creative, constructive aspect of the Revolution. I believe, when we talk of national struggle for freedom, we find that Gandhiji did this, the entire nation followed him. He then talked increasingly of its constructive aspect, but even his own followers did not follow him much in it, barring some honourable exceptions.

Without using the word, Lallukaka followed this aspect of revolution in all of the various fields of his activities – in insurance, shipping, co-operation, etc. This is one aspect for bringing about a revolution. He also has sufficient respect also for the British and so accepts the ‘knighthood’ of their ruler in 1926. This can be done only by a person who is a ‘perfect gentleman’. Without being such, no one would have such liberality. ‘This is my thinking, unlike yours; but what you do you may go ahead and do, with my blessings, and not just blessings but even my support.’ The support is given forever, but the next generation does not feel that support as a burden. I do not think the earlier generation ever gives this kind of support. This is a characteristic of a gentleman.

Syed Abdullah Brelvi

Syed Abdulla Brelvi, Editor, Bombay Chronicle

(Motilal Nehru called him Sir Lallubhai’s 4th son)

Yet another characteristic of a gentleman is to enter another person’s heart. Vinoba-ji puts this slightly differently. He uses a simile for it. He says that one can enter another’s heart just as he enters his home.  When you want to enter someone’s home, you use the door. When someone enters through the door, he is welcomed as a guest by the host. however, if he enters through the wall, he is welcomed as a thief!! A man’s good-hearted qualities are the doors to his heart, which can receive thoughts from all over the world. The walls keep you away from others, and you turn narrow-minded. But a good quality never passes through the walls, it enters through the doors of the heart. Lallukaka was able to perceive some good in everyone, including those of opposing camp even. They may have differences of opinion, but he looked for the good qualities, and so he entered his heart. This process of entering even the hearts of the people of different opinion was therefore successful for him. This process is perhaps the most tender and non-violent process. And is in its true sense a revolution.

In a way I found that his development, even with the risk of repetition I would say it. In our culture we have a place – respectful place – even for ‘repetition’ or Japa of Name – so I do not mind if I repeat myself. I feel that there must be some concord, some unity, among an individual, the society and the universe. In other words, there must be some ‘harmony within the individual’ ‘harmony within the society’ and ‘harmony with Nature’. When this happens, a person can begin to look for the path of Harmony. And I find in the life of Lallukaka this search for harmony. In these three steps, harmony of one person with another, harmony with even unknown people, and as has been said, not only with the world but also with the Creator of the world. Only that person can connect with such harmony who is looking for it. Therefore, the words ‘perfect gentleman’ as I have used are in accordance with this meaning, and that is what I have tried to portray before you all.

Thank you.

- Narayan Desai

Biography launch event

Launch of biography (first edition) of Sir Lallubhai Samaldas (Oct 2013)

(L-R) Aparna Basu (author and grand-daughter of Lallubhai), Chief guests Shri Narayan Desai and Shri Kumarpal Desai,

Sudha Mehta (translator) and Nikhil Mehta (youngest grandchild of Lallubhai)

bottom of page