Gujarat is observing a rare celebration. It is the 125th birth year of popular literary stalwart late Jhaverchand Meghani while his son Mahendra Meghani will enter the 100th year of his life on June 20.
It’s a rare coincidence where celebrations are being carried out together for a father-son literary duo.
Jailed in 1930 for his poetry collection ‘Sindhudo’, Jhaverchand Meghani was honoured with the title of ‘Rashtriya Shayar’ (national poet) by Mahatma Gandhi. His adaptation of Tagore’s poems made people believe them to be Gujarati folk songs.
He also served as an editor of ‘Phulchhab’ magazine, which is still getting published from Saurashtra.
Jhaverchand Meghani roamed around in the internal villages of Gujarat and brought folk tales and folk songs to the mainstream literature. He did a great work on the documentation of oral tradition.
He has more than 25 collections of folklore, over 10 collections of folk songs, four dramas, travelogues, more than 12 short story collections, over 17 novels, and around 17 biographies and poetry collections to his credit. He was considered an outstanding journalist, whose writings used to inspire youth to protest against British rule, and join the freedom movement.
Similarly, Mahendrabhai Meghani, the eldest son of Jhaverchand Meghani, is a revered literary artist in his own right. After returning from New York, he started ‘Milaap’, India’s first vernacular monthly digest. He formed the Lokmilaap Trust post visit to Eurasian countries as a reporter and a delegate with erstwhile Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. He visited all the five continents and hosted book fairs to spread awareness about India and Indian books in 1969 and the centenary celebration year of Mahatma Gandhi.
Mahendrabhai published ‘Ardhi Sadini Vachanyatra’, a choicest collection of literary works curated from his vast experience of 50 years as a reader, at the start of 21st century. Over 2,00,000 copies of four volumes of these voluminous books were sold only at Rs 75 in an unimaginably short time. He has authored more than 12 books, including collections from his ‘Vachan Yatra’ series, and poetry collections.
Urvish Kothari, a columnist and writer of the book ‘Mahendra Meghani’, shares his views on Jhaverchand Meghani’s literature, and says, “If you think about his literature, you will realise that he has simultaneously worked in almost all literary forms, in all the directions and how concrete that was. With popular art forms he also wrote sharp articles with the concern for the common person of some remote village. You can think of any writing style and Jhaverchand Meghani has worked with it in an excellent way. He was not just a writer of folk songs and folk tales. His letters in ‘likhitang hun avun chhun’ are so insightful, that they are prolific in all manners and relevant even today. His writings are so eternal that the subjects he chose in those times are still relevant. If we put his poetry as it was, nowadays people would consider it as communist.”
“If I talk about Mahendrabhai, then he and his family have kept the literature and tradition created by Jhaverchand Meghani alive. Without the efforts of the Meghani family, Jhaverchand Meghani’s literature would have been limited to folk music and would not have reached us in this manner and in these many forms. There might be some controversies around Mahendra Meghani’s summaries but the mammoth work he has done for the Gujarati Literature’s editing is beneficial even for the upcoming generations,” Kotheri adds.
Sanjay Bhave, a professor of English and an award winning translator as well as columnist, pens down a note on Mahendra Meghani for IANS. He writes, “while Mahendra Meghani’s unparalleled work for the promotion of the book-culture is widely accepted and respected in Gujarat, his gestures of dissent and protest are lesser-known. Way back in the early 1950, he took up cudgels against Akashvani for the royalty for using his father and literary stalwart Jhaverchand Meghani’s works. The battle was not so much about the meagre amount, but it was about the autonomy of the writer. He opposed the press censorship imposed by the Indira Gandhi government during the emergency in 1975, and had thereby invited the closure of the press by the authorities.
Mahendrabhai’s anguish against the right wing violence in Gujarat following the Goddhra carnage is indicated by his Guajarati translation of an English article titled ‘General Dyer ni Gaurav Yatra’ in September 2002. During the turbulent period post-Godhra, Mahendrabhai translated portions of Pyarelal’s account of Gandhi’s peace mission during the partition. By this, the translator wanted to sensitise the reader and the society showing the violent parallels between Noakhali in 1947 and Gujarat in 2002.”
Mahendrabhai also led the signature campaign in Gujarat against the move to give a ten-year extension to the Vishvabharati University on the copyrights of Rabindranath Tagore’s writing. Before the 2017 poll for the Gujarat Assembly, Mahendabhai had taken up a voters’ awareness campaign wherein he appealed to the citizens to demand from the candidates a pledge from the candidates that they will not indulge in any misbehaviour during their tenure as elected representatives. Examples of his concern for human rights and an egalitarian society from his numerous books are indeed a legion.
Himanshi Shelat, a well-known story writer, novelist, and retired lecturer from Surat — wife of Vinod Meghani, Jhaverchand Meghani’s son and Mahendra Meghani’s younger brother, says, “I was born in 1947, and Bapuji (Jhaverchand Meghani) passed away in 1947, so I could never meet him. I have met Mahendrabhai a few times, but I am much closer to both of them through their literature instead of family. The Meghani family’s honesty and integrity have always inspired me in my personal and professional life. Their total dedication is a value that everyone should try to imbibe. They are someone who dedicated themselves to any kind of activity completely and they can even bear to be ruined for it. I am a devotee of these two values of the Meghani family, you can find these values in all the Meghani brothers, Mahendrabhai, Nanakbhai, Mastanbhai, Jayant, Ashok, and Vinod. I am impressed with their values, it’s rare to find nowadays.”