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An Under Rated Man of Letters

Tushar Bhatt
Some people are like an iceberg; only one-tenth of their person-ality would be visible. Krishnalal Shridharani, who would have been only two years short now of centenary, had he been alive, is a prime example.
Known to Gujarat mostly as a very sensitive poet of the freedom struggle vintage, he is also vaguely recalled as having been a jour-nalist. Even in the city of Bhavnagar that boasts of him as one of its own, most think of him as Kavi Shridharani, a poet in Gujarati. Yet, this was only one part of his warm, vibrant, radiant and multifac-eted totality.
Though little remembered today, Krishnalal's lasting contribution in the world beyond the boundaries of Gujarat, was in his pioneer-ing efforts at explaining Gandhi and his tactics of fighting the British Empire, to the world at large in English, through writing and books. He was a follower of the Mahatma in strangely contrary ways. He did not believe in aping the Mahatma in his outward appearance and style; he loved pipe-smoking, was always nattily dressed and could easily pass off as a pucca Brown Sahib. But he was not. At heart, he was an Indian, who understood Gandhi and opted to tell the world about the Mahatma through words, rather than through clothes. In the process, he acquired the Western idiom, but re-mained a staunch Indian in values.
It is perhaps ironical, as also symbolic of his home state, Guja-rat, hardly anyone seemed to think of Shridharani, the youngest participant in the epoch-making Dandi March in 1930, save in Bhavnagar.
The city Bhavnagar appears to particularly revel in nostalgia in a general way, and in remembering those who made a name for themselves in arts, literature and culture. It boldly takes pride, pleasure and initiative in reminding itself and others of the greats it had produced.Shridharani's alma mater, Dakshinamurti, the Bhav-nagar Sahitya Sabha, his friends and admirers unfailingly think of the man, with gratitude and affection, on his birthday in September, something the rest of the State too ought to do, at least to erase the stigma that it is a land of the forgetful and the ungrateful.
Although he studied at Dakshinamurti and Gujarat Vid-yapeeth,Shridharani was apparently not cut out to be a conven-tional khadi-clad.He struck his own path and went to Shantini-ketan.Rabindranath Tagore was highly impressed by the sensitive Gujarati and urged him to travel to the West. It was to be a mo-mentous journey; it changed the course of his life.Gujarati literature was perhaps the only loser.
Late Harindra Dave, another sensitive soul, poet and journalist, once introduced Shridharani as a man who would swim against not just the current but also the flood. Anybody can make speed with the current, but only those with a rare force of soul could do so against the flow. At Karadi, just before reaching Dandi for the salt satyagrah, Krishnalal wrote a piece, Saput, and earned Gandhiji's affectionate rebuke for spinning yarn instead of the wheel.
His lifelong passion was writing. He was a journalist par excel-lence and an equally perceptive radio commentator, and in those days one of the rare breed of those who would wield their pens with facility both in Gujarati and English.
His books in English, including his auto-biography, My India My America, became best-sellers in the early 1940s.Long before he went abroad and began writing in English; Shridharani had won recognition as a poet and dramatist in Gujarati.
Born on September 16, 1911, at Umrala, Krishnalal's childhood passed mostly in Umrala, Bhavnagar and Junagadh. He lost his fa-ther, Jethalal, a lawyer with a roaring practice, when Shridharani was barely eight. The man that grew up did not remember much about his father, but a lot about his mother, Laheriben.
Krishnalal wrote about his mother in a poem, Maari Baa

Aradhanaman smarun roop Baanu,
Ne Baane smarine Prabhuroop pamun.

In 1957,in the revised edition of Kodiyan, Krishnalal noted that the first thing he would see while doing dhyan, just before getting up and when retiring for the day, was that instead of Om,his mind will show him the image of his mother.
His early days carried vivid memories of Girnar, the Gir, its flora and fauna. He joined an innovative educational institution, Dakshi-namurti in Bhavnagar. The schooling, full of experiments, proved beneficial for Krishnalal. He would not only take interest in poetry, but also took a hand at painting. When he was hardly 12,he wrote a raasdo, a folk song ,Halya Talakchand Sasare Lo.He penned in-numerable such things while in school, but his critical faculty was so sharp that he never included many of these in his collections published later, rejecting them as containing little of poetic ele-ments. But some were really brilliant, such as when he wrote about Gandhi, Daahbhari aankhon Matani,tenu tun aansu tapakyun. His love for painting reflected in his poems too.
Way back in 1941, Balwantray Thakore thought that Krishnalal's poetry was markedly different from that of either Umashankar Joshi or Sundaram, both tall poets. How and in what specific way,Thakore could not pinpoint but he underlined the language and art as having achieved a fusion in Krishnalal's poems.His dic-tion, other critics judged , was superb and the sensuousness of his poetry reminded a reader of Keats.
Poetry was not all. Shridharani also did considerable work in drama.
He joined Gujarat Vidyapeeth and was with Mahatma Gandhi during the Dandi March. For his part in the freedom struggle, Krishnalal served a term in jail. He also spent a couple of years at Shantiniketan and was one of the Gurudev's favourite pupils. He then went to the U.S. for studies ,and during his 12 years there took PhD in Sociology and Political Theory at Columbia University.
He continued writing at a breakneck speed in America, and the outcome was spectacular. In 1939, he gave a book in English, War Without Violence, explaining to the materialist West,the spiritual onslaught of the satyagrah, a non-violent and yet deadly weapon against repression and injustice. In 1946, he returned to India and made Delhi his home, joined the External Affairs Ministry, then un-der Jawahar Lal Nehru as an officer on special duty. But the poet did not fit in with the Babu culture of government and left the job to become a journalist, writing for the Amrita Bazar Patrika, travelling all over the country and world. In those days Delhi was not as crowded as it is today, and certainly not the madhouse of busybod-ies that it has become in the past three decades. He used to pen a column for the Gujarati daily, Sandesh too.
He married Sundari, artist daughter of noted Sindhi writer,philosopher and nationalist,Dayaram Didumal,in March,1950.He had wide ranging contacts and was very friendly with a lot of leaders including Nehru, Mrs Indira Gandhi, her hus-band, Phiroze Gandhi,and Dr S.Radhakrishnan,as also a host of foreign dignitaries.
When in Delhi and not doing anything else, he would potter around his flower-beds and lilly-ponds and read stories to children.
His contribution to the Gujarati literature was immense, mainly as a poet and dramatist. Yet, he was recognised rather belatedly only. Even Gujarat did nothing. It was only in 1958, Krishnalal was suddenly discovered by the literary establishment. He was named for the Ranjitram gold medal for services to literature.

Krihsnalal died unexpectedly on July 23,1960,when he was hardly 49. It was not an age to go and considering what he had al-ready written, much more was yet to come. That was not to be.
Among the noteworthy literary creations of Krishnalal, besides Kodiyan, are Punarpi, Vadlo, Sonapari and three plays, Piyo Gori, Morna Inda and Padmini. His English books include My India,My America, War Without Violence, Warning to the West, The Big Four of India, The Adventures of the Upside-Down, The Journalist in India, Smiles From Kashmir and the Mahatma and the World.
All his works in both languages have a common thread; all re-veal him to be a highly sensitive and equally perceptive person. My India,My America won Shridharani ecstatic reviews in the American Press. Thomas Sigrue writing in the New York Herald Tribune hailed it as a "fascinating mixture of autobiography, biography, po-litical analysis,philosophical exposition and fine writing." The 646-page book's writer was described by others as a young man who has the wisdom of the ages of his people.
On his return to India, he kept on writing. His four portraits in words of Nehru,Rajendra Prasad,Rajaji and Sardar Patel,as also his monograph on journalism show him as a journalist far ahead of his time,in his style of wrting, his assessment of people and events and his perception of the future.He wrote of India's first prime min-ister,Nehru , as a man who seldom had intimate friends who was most of the time,"mangificently and dangerously aloof.The passing away of the Mahatma and Patel had removed from the Indian scene the last men who could admonish Nehu."Every individual,in order to keep his sanity, must have some people who can tell him when the occasion arises that ' you are making a fool of yourself'. The man who occupies too high a pedestal for anybody to stand on equal level with him,runs the risk of losing his sense of proportion", Krishnalal observed.Of Sardar Patel whom he called a practical man,Krishnalal said: "The death of Patel marked a sharper turning point in the infant career of independent India than did the martyr-dom of Mahatma Gandhi....Gandhi left a universal void; the void created by Patel's passing away is purely national, and so it is felt more intensely...Patel was a strong man, and now India is without a strong man.The passing away of a strong man always creates a serious situation.For,when a strong man dies, he not only creates a void,but he also removes the lid. Pent-up, seething forces begin to find expression." These portraits were illustrated by caricatures drawn by late cartoonist, Shankar, who later started the celebrated, and now defunct Shankar’s Weekly, a world class cartoon journal.
Most of Shridharani’s English books are not available now. Those few copies that are there are the possessions of pride for their owners.That Krishnalal Shridharani should have passed away so early in his life was a tragic loss not only to literature but also to journalism.The best way to commemorate his memory would be to republish some of his unavailable literature and scan the family ar-chives to see if there was anything unpublished left behind.


  1. Very lucid description , though a bit long for the net.
    His brief profile -

  2. Students of Gujarati literature will never forget Dr. Shridharani. Thank you for helping me revisiting a great poet-writer from my home town, Bhavnagar.






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