London duo hand over Gandhi letters to Patil – a gift to India

By Dipankar De Sarkar, IANS,

London : Describing Gandhi as a “spirit, not an individual,” President Pratibha Patil Wednesday accepted the gift of Gandhi memorabilia on behalf of India from two leading members of the Indian diaspora in Britain.

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“I feel that Gandhi was a spirit, not an individual – ‘vyakti nahin, shakti’,” Patil said departing from her prepared speech after accepting a series of letters written by Gandhi and a piece of khadi cloth signed by him.

Businessmen Nat Puri and Ghulam Noon, who jointly bought the items at a Sotheby’s sale in July for 17,500 pounds, made the gift to India at a ceremony in the Indian High Commission – completing a unique hat-trick of similar presents made to the nation.

“Gandhi was a spirit which went across not only in our own country, but crossed the world, crossed the mountains and crossed the seas and reached many countries, and many leaders like Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela,” said Patil.

“What he has done is not only for India, but for humanity at large.”

Puri, a philanthropist who founded the Purico Group, and Noon, founder of Noon Products, have gifted Gandhi documents and letters on two previous occasions in a gesture of gratitude to India that was started off by former London Metal Exchange chairman Lord Raj Kumar Bagri.

Puri and Noon gifted three lots of items: the first comprised three autographed letters from Gandhi to Maulana Abdul Bari, an Islamic scholar and a leading figure in the Khilafat movement, written in Urdu.

The letters refer to Hindu-Muslim relations, including communal tensions in Lucknow, and their personal friendship.

One letter, written from a prison thanked Bari, who worked closely with Gandhi from 1918 onwards, for the gift of cotton for spinning.

He signs the letters ‘Mo. K Gandhi’.

The second lot comprised a piece of khadi cloth – the size of a small scarf – signed by Gandhi and said to have been woven by him. The hand-woven cotton piece with a purple border is signed by Gandhi and four others, including Pyarelal and Sarojini Naidu.

The cloth was a gift from Gandhi to South African-born actress Moira Lester, a friend of the late Maharani Gayatri Devi.

The third lot has two autographed postcards addressed to Hamid Ullah Afsar, a prominent Urdu-language poet, in Urdu.

The function was attended by a select gathering of Indian-origin invitees, including Conservative peers Sandeep Verma and Lord Sheikh, Labour peers Swraj Paul and Adam Patel, academic Bhikhu Parikh, Belfast-based industrialist Daljit Rana, former Tata director Manek Dalal, Liberal Democrat peer Naveneet Dholakia, Cobra Beer part-owner Karan Bilimoria, industrialists Srichand and Ashok Hinduja, Loomba Group chairman Raj Loomba, the leader of the Conservative Party in the lower house, Sailesh Vara, Indian High Commissioner Nalin Surie and the British High Commissioner to India Sir Richard Stagg.

“We can talk and talk about Gandhi,” said Noon, “but I’ll say only one thing: Gandhi said that there is no greater sin than to oppress innocent human beings in the name of god, which is what is happening everywhere in the world, not only in India.”

Puri exhorted other wealthy Indian-origin Britons to make similar contributions to India, saying: “It’s not just us, it’s an opportunity for all of you to replicate similar things. In the meantime, we will go on doing what we can.”

Gujarat-born Labour peer Adam Patel said it was a revelation to him that Gandhi could write fluently in Urdu.

“I came to know only today that Gandhi could write in Urdu. To me that says it all: Gandhi learnt the languages and scripts of India with the aim of integrating and developing all the communities. He remains supremely relevant to today’s India,” Patel told IANS.

Patil in her speech said: “Gandhi was a master of many languages. Though he belonged to India, he is not only India’s property, but the property of the entire world – a boon to humanity.”