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Issue No.: 550 | April 2013
 

My Mother Pramila

R. C. Saxena
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Anything to do with Gandhi, and Khadi in particular, was an anathema. In this background how could the future bride of the royal physician to the State of Jasdan be a staunch Gandhian and, more deplorably, be clad in khadi?

Born in 1921 and eldest of the brood of eight children, Pramila grew up in the walled city of Ahmedabad. Her father, a businessman, broker and speculator, introduced child Pramila to the stories of Gandhiji’s ahimsa (non-violence movement) and satyagrahas in South Africa and India. By the time Pramila entered her teens, she was swept under the Gandhi wave, as was most of the city of Ahmedabad. The family, whole of it, took to wearing khadi, a fabric made out of hand-spun cotton yarn, as a proud symbol of self reliance, strength of character and nationalism. Leaving school after matriculation, as most of her peers did, Pramila devoted her time fully with spreading, as a volunteer, the message of Gandhiji. She would attend the clandestine meetings of fellow volunteers, distribute pamphlets, sing in the "prabhat feris” (the pre-dawn processions), and attend lectures by senior ladies from the educated and business class of Ahmedabad. She did all this despite her onerous responsibilities at home such as looking after her siblings, the youngest being Udayan for whom she was virtually a mother, besides helping her mother in the daily chores. Pramila being fully immersed in the Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence and satyagraha took a vow to always wear khadi.

Crossing her age of adolescence, and the natural human instincts allowing, she fell for Chandrakant, a recently graduated medical doctor. Chandrakant was from a small princely state of Jasdan ruled by the Khachar dynasty. Chandrakant was under a personal obligation of the Jasdan rulers as they had procured a seat for him in the medical college in Bombay and paid for his fees for medical education as well. He would soon be the royal physician to the ruling Khachar dynasty.

When Pramila’s father went to Jasdan carrying a proposal of marriage of Pramila with Chandrakant but was severely disappointment. Chandrakant’s family at the behest of the Jasdan rulers refused the proposal for reasons both political and emotional. At that time the Jasdan State was, like many other States, under the supervision of the British Residency. Though well intentioned, the Jasdan royalty did not wish to displease the British Resident in charge. The British loathed Gandhiji’s freedom movement and had warned the princely states of dire consequences if they, directly or indirectly, supported Gandhiji’s movement. Anything to do with Gandhi, and Khadi in particular, was an anathema. In this background how could the future bride of the royal physician to the State of Jasdan be a staunch Gandhian and, more deplorably, be clad in khadi? The marriage proposal was, at the threshold, shot down.

Pramila, seeped as she was in the Gandhian courage of conviction, and liberal values, was not the one to give up easily. Chandrakant meant the whole world to her. She sought a personal audience with the senior Khachar and confronted him with the virtues of Khadi. After parleys of serious meetings, the defiant Pramila eventually relented and agreed to give up khadi. However, and this is where Gandhi’s character building along with liberal values came out in full flow, Pramila convinced the senior Khachar agree to a trade off. Pramila agreed to give up khadi only, and only, if the women of the Khachar family, in particular, as well as women of Jasdan, in general, started to stop covering their faces in "ghunghat” (veils). The senior Khachar, a liberal himself, reluctantly agreed. The rest is history. The women of the royal household stopped covering their faces in public and the rest of the Jasdan women gradually followed suit.

Pramila is now 92 years old and lives with her son, the author of the article, in Baroda

R. C. SAXENA is a member of ILG and a practicing advocate at Vadodara
 
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