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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Rohit Mehta, A Gujarati philosopher Ahead of His Time

 Tushar Bhatt
Rohit Mehta, who died at the age of 86 at Varanasi on March 20, 1995, is remembered differently by different people. Some recall his cogently thought and delivered lectures on philosophy. Some talk of him as a man with legendary memory who could quote flawlessly from Sri Aurobindo,Upanishad,Gita as also Marx, a teacher with a vast repertoire and a subtle sense of humour and a prolific writer,and a man of unfailing kindliness.

Still some  others think of him as a charismatic personality, donned most of the time in spotlessly white dhoti and yellowish khadi-silk kurta,slightly stocky in build,and wearing a black-framed pair of spectacles over deep penetrating eyes.He was brilliant, but never flamboyant, solid but never seeking recognition, an original thinker who could easily and without showing any burden mix with the most ordinary.

An unusual man who was extra-ordinary in many respects, and yet strove to conceal all this under modesty and nonchalance

Remembered Late Prof.P G Mavalankar, former M.P. and a well-read man himself: “Rohitbhai was a five-in-one personality - a thinker,philosopher,interpreter, writer and speaker, clear in thought and precise in language and eloquent in delivery. All these took him to the top.” He was all this, and much more.

A many spleandoured man,Rohitbhai as he was universally known was not just a run-of-the-mill freedom-fighter,a socialist-turned-spiritualist. He was in the world class, a thing about which he never had to seek certificates or to boast. Yet, he was so self-effacing that one would have to hunt for a photograph of his.

How tall was he could be measured from the fact that he was one of the pioneers of the Socialist Forum within the Congress in the early 1930s .He went to prison repeatedly, starting from student days and would have gone far had he stuck to politics. It was Rohitbhai who introduced a then young Morarji Desai to the youths during the freedom struggle.

He quit it in 1935,and was never to regret it.

He penned more than 25 books on philosophy, delivered thousands of lectures all over the world and sought to interpret the coming world far ahead of his time to his contemporaries. He was an able interpreter of his friend and philosopher,J.Krishnamurti,of Gita,of Upnishads and Yoga.

Yet, he was no parochial a preacher. His vision could embrace technology and spell out its impact on society and mankind far ahead of his fellow human beings.

What he diagnosed in 1950 in one of his early volumes, The Intuitive Philophy,rings so prophetic after 59 years today,as if it has been foreseen in minute detail by him.He said: “Ever since the industrial revolution of the early 19th century, there have appeared such factors in our society as have led to rapid and revolutionary changes in the socio-economic structure of the world. This tendency towards rapid changes has been considerably intensified by the scientific advance in the course of the last 100 years and more. Large-scale economic production and the breaking down of the barriers of space have been the two most outstanding features of the social and economic revolution which began in the 19th century and which still continues its onward march.”

“The new means of transport and communications, moving at terrifically increasing speeds, have eliminated distances between countries and have thus brought the peoples of all nations suddenly together. Along with this advance there has been an enormous increase in the scientific and mechanical skill as applied to economic production. This scientific technique is becoming more and more perfect so that there is today production of economic goods on a colossal scale. These goods must be sold and one country is too small an economic unit for the absorption of commodities produced on a mass basis. This factor of large-scale economic production, coupled with the elimination of distances, has tended to break down national barriers. Economic life has become international, for economic trends during the last years have moved in the direction of world unity.”

He perceptively observed: “But this economic currents have been obstructed in their progress by political forces. While the world is becoming one on the economic plane, it is kept divided on the political level. The idea of complete national sovereignty does not leave its hold on the minds of the people.”

He said:” One of the major contradictions of our age is this: the trend towards unity in the economic sphere and the maintenance of national sovereignty on the political plane. ... This is one of the paradoxes of our civilisation that while we desire for peace, we work for war !”

“Man’s psychological inability or refusal to adjust himself to the requirements of technological revolution has created an immense problem for our human civilisation...We cannot stop the advance of science producing continual changes in the material conditions of life, nor can we stop the activity of the mind which makes every change in the objective conditions too dangerous for the very existence of human civilisation. It may sound strange to say our generation is mentally tired while it has reached new heights of mental development through scientific advance.”

He thought specialisation and over-specialisation was the craze of the modern age, which had enabled us to create a wall between the real problem of life and us, the real problem being the increasing mental tension in the life of the individual. The problem of the individual, according to Rohitbhai, was to discover the fundamental value of life. Today the subjective life of man has been rendered extremely poor while the objective conditions are changing at a terrific pace. Man is trying to cover up his inner poverty by erecting huge mansions for social, political and economic activities. But these activities, instead of providing relief, gradually create greater and greater psychological tension in the life of the individual. Probably at no time in human history was the gulf between the subjective and objective factors as great as it is today. Unless harmony is established anew between these two factors, the human crisis is likely to move towards a deepening horror, the result of which will be complete destruction of our civilisation. We must discover a philosophical approach that would enrich the subjective life of man.” Prophetic words, coming from a man then in his early forties, and that was ages before Alvin Toffler had dreamt of his Future Shock.

Rohitbhai was born on August 3,1908 at Surat in the family of Hasmanram,who used to be a professor in physics at the Elphinstone college,Bombay.The bright child was destined to do unusual things from the early age. At the age of 18,he led a student strike in the Gujarat college in Ahmedabad against the dictatorial behaviour of its principal F.Shiraz.His two other associates were Jayanti Dalal, writer and Nirubhai Desai,who later became a famous journalist and author.Shiraz had ordered that no student shall participate in any political activity.The strike continued for three months at the end of which the young Rohitbhai was rusticated from the college and the Bombay university, according to Dr Bhaskar Vyas of Baroda.

 Between 1926 and 1934,the young man was sent to jail five times for his activities in the freedom struggle, making him a blue-eyed boy of Mahatma Gandhi. He had already been an avid socialist by then, a core member of the group believing in socialism within the Congress in those days. During the floods in 1927-28,Rohitbhai did a lot of work for the poor.

He went to jail during the salt satyagraha too and in 1934,Rohitbhai was handed a two-year term of hard labour, and sent to Ahmednagar.The heat and hard work in breaking stones there led to a terrible illness. He suffered a sun-stroke and then was partly paralysed. The alarmed authorities rushed him to the KEM Hospital in Bombay under the care of Dr Jivraj Mehta, who was to later become the first chief minister of Gujarat.

Rohitbhai had refused even to go on parole but the Mahatma intervened. According to Prof Bababhai Patel, a Congress worker,Jamnadas Dwarkadas took J.Krishnamurti to see the ailing Rohitbhai. Krishnamurti kept his hand on the parts of the sick man’s body wherever it was paining. The therapeutic touch is said to have cured Rohitbhai completely. He walked next day, and was discharged from the hospital soon.

Rohitbhai who was in the freedom struggle along with Jaya Prakash Narayan ,was a sort of maverick. He invited Subhaschandra Bose to Gujarat,ignoring Vallabhbhai Patel’s orders.

But the spiritual bend of his mind had already started asserting over his rebellious political mind. He had begun to realise the “soullessness” of politics and plunged into studying the works of theosophy and Krishnamurti.

Leaving “the dunghill of politics”, he took to spiritualism and philosophy for life. He explained in 1937 his transformation in a volume called, A new world of theosophical socialsim,predicting the eventual downfall of the Soviet Union.

In 1941,Rohitbhai went to Adyar in Tamil Nadu to act as recording secretary of the theosophical society,and soon became the international secretary. He explored the ideas propounded by many and yet did not subscribe to any one idea completely. This however was not out of an intellectual arrogance but out of modesty. He was to be later given a doctorate in philosophy by the Swiss University at Lugeno.Among the books he wrote were many notable ones such as Yoga-the Art of Integration, The Nameless Experience, From Mind to Super-Mind,The Call of the Upanishads,the Intuitive Philosophy,the Play of the Infinite, the Dialogue with Death,the Being and the becoming, the Eternal Light,the Creative silence,Seek Out the Way,the Search for Freedom, the New World of Socialism, the Science of Meditation, and the Journey with Death.

in 1936,Rohitbhai was married to Shrideviben,a decade younger to him. She used to sing very melodiously. At his lectures, recalled Prof P.G.Mavalankar, Shrideviben would sing bhajans and hymns appropriate to the theme of his talk.” People would appreciate these after listening to Rohitbhai since the talk would make them understand the bhajans and hymns and their meaning all the better”, Mavalankar said. Prof.Mavalankar and his wife used to know the Mehta couple well and fondly remember Rohitbhai’s request at his talks (he would call them talks, rather than lectures): “You cannot leave while Shridevi is singing the bhajan. However,you can leave when I am talking.” Hardly anybody would go.

He used to live in Varanasi,when not travelling or lecturing around the world and the country.He used to come to Ahmedabad at least once a year for a series of lectures,which would start at 6.30 p m in the lawns of the late Rambhai Amin’s house in Gulbai Tekra,on the Labh Pancham day .Prof.Mavalankar remembered having seen around 2,000 people listening to Rohitbhai in rapt attention.When his health started giving in, he used to come every alternate year.

Remembered Mavalankar:” Rohitbhai had good diction,and he would speak neither fast nor slow,quoting with ease from a variety of works.His sense of humour would peep through in subtle manner every now and then.He was an optimist and knew the future lay in re-discovering India.This could be done by reviving its great culture which has been showing strands of decadence.”

Rohitbhai was a widely travelled man,having lectured at various places in Europe,the U.S.,Africa and Asia.He could talk fluently in English, Hindi and Gujarati.”

Dr Bhaskar Vyas of Baroda, who knew him for more than two decades remembered of an attempt by himself and Dr D V Nene at doing a biography of Rohitbhai. He read some chapters Vyas had written and recommended: “Tear them up”. Apparently, to Rohitbhai ideas were more important and lasting than the man who thought them, even if it was Rohit Mehta.

Despite his tall stature in the world of philosophy,Rohitbhai always preferred to remain the shadows, shunning the limelight. In 1993,a greeting card he sent to his friends said:” The mind that is constantly renewing itself never grows old. It is constantly on a voyage of discovery. It never arrives. It moves on towards an endless journey. And the secret of life is found not by one who has arrived, but by one whose journey never ends.”

In January,1994,he came for the last time to Ahmedabad.Shrideviben’s younger brother, Late Devendra Oza, a veteran journalist and humour writer in Gujarati,under the pen-name of Vanmali Vanko had lined up an interview for this writer. Hours before the meeting,Rohitbhai developed fever and the meeting was put off to a future date. That date would now never come. He has moved on to an endless journey of no return.



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