Prince of Gujarat by Rajmohan Gandhi
Rajmohan Gandhi, the author, grandson of both Mahatma Gandhi and C Rajgopalachari tells the story of Prince Gopaldas Desai of Kathiawad. He was also a leading participant in the freedom movement. Must admit I had never heard of Gopaldas Desai. I do not remember any school books mentioning his name or a few books that I read on freedom struggle. I picked up this book Prince of Gujarat, to read when I met Rajmohan Gandhi at the Goa Arts & Literary Festival, he signed my copy.
Rajmohan Gandhi begins by talking about his journey for writing this book. The limited resources that he had, even though, he had access to two of the living sons of his protagonist. He refers to the material that he found in Gujarat. And earlier works that have documented Gopaldas and his times. The earlier part of biography focuses on the complex family structure. And how his maternal grandfather adopted Gopaldas. And hence inherited his estate. He talks about the education the children from elite families used to get during the growing up years of Gopaldas. His not so easy journey towards coronation. And then the rise of the British in the region makes an interesting reading. After that begins the push and pull of freedom struggle. And dealing with the British till India gains independence.
Gopaldas’s story is like India’s freedom movement from the perspective of a small princely state. I never realized that the Raj impacted them too in a big way. They lost their estates and became ordinary citizens. Though many of them took to politics as the natural progression. The British Raj impacted them. How their powers were limited even if their titles remained? The book talks about, how Gandhi had a huge influence on them. And could make them live rather simply after living a privileged life? How a Prince and his wife live some of the prime years of their life in various jails while their children were growing up?
The author mentions, how did they begin breaking established social norms with intent to build an equitable society? How the idea of freedom possessed the people of that era. And the extents to which they would go to get closer to it. Having said that, the book pretty much stays within the confines of current day Gujarat. And makes only passing references to the events outside. The portrayal of Bhaktilaxmi, Gopladas Desai’s second wife and mother of his 4 sons is enlightening. As they say, women have been an equal part of evolution but rarely a part of the written history.
Rajmohan Gandhi has reconstructed the story by stitching together very limited material available to him. He very truthfully mentions his assumptions wherever he has made them or wherever the information may not be absolutely accurate. However, it happens so many times that it comes in the way of the flow of the book. Language wise I found it rather average – or maybe I was expecting a bit more. It gets boring when the author mentions too many names without a context. I think the title of the book is a misnomer. Gopaldas was the prince of a very small princely state in Kathiawad. And Gujarat did not exist as a region in his lifetime. So calling Prince of Gujarat is not fair but I guess the current day winds probably will make the book more marketable.
Read Prince of Gujarat, to know the journey of a Prince when India was walking towards is freedom.