Published in 1916, Nandshankar Jeevan Chitra, Vinayak Mehta’s biography of his father Nandshankar Tuljashankar Mehta (1835–1905), Gujarat’s first novelist and an eminent educationist and administrator, is the earliest modern father-son biography in Gujarati.
Written at a time when the advent of English education had led to a turbulent new stream of reform, agitating the old world of Surat, the period 1860–1880 was also the high tide of creativity when the young Nandshankar, along with luminaries like Narmadashankar, Navalram and Mahipatram, dominated the Gujarat literary scene. Vinayak narrates Nandshankar’s eclectic life against the backdrop of Surat, a vibrant cosmopolitan port, and its changing political fortunes between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He creates a composite picture of the rich cultural life of the period from fragments: remembered conversations, songs, poetry, witty anecdotes, and sketches of eccentric teachers, inept physicians and alcoholic judges.
Vinayak presents facets of his father’s life: his boyhood shaped by British schoolmasters, Nandshankar as administrator, and Nandshankar as author of the historical novel Karan Ghelo. Drawn against a vivid and colourful backdrop of a changing culture, Nandshankar is presented as a man who navigated the disruptive aspects of modernity with grace and integrity. The biography, the outcome of historiography and historical craft combined with Vinayak’s literary and aesthetic sensibilities, reveals a work of astonishing eloquence, erudition and foresight.
In her nuanced, scholarly and meticulously researched translation, Radhika Jayakar Herzberger traces a hundred years of Surat’s social history, while carefully unravelling concerns important to the biographer and his times, and gently reading between the lines to uncover the hitherto unknown and untold story of his father’s life.
Vinayak Nandshankar Mehta (1885–1940) was born in Surat. He was educated at Elphinstone College in Bombay (now Mumbai), at Kings College of Cambridge University, and briefly at Heidelberg University in Germany. He is the author of Nandshankar Jeevan Chitra, and Ko Jagari. As a member of the Indian Civil Service posted in Eastern United Provinces (present-day Uttar Pradesh), he wrote an important report on the peasant revolt of 1919–1920. Two articles on the ‘Agricultural Sayings of the United Provinces’ (1916 and 1917), a treatise on rural reconstruction Gram Sanghatan (1936), and a recently recovered paper on famines sum up his concern for the peasants of India. He died in Allahabad (now Prayagraj) in 1940.
Radhika Jayakar Herzberger is an Indologist, educationist, writer, and former Director, Rishi Valley Education Centre, Chittoor District, Andhra Pradesh. She is the author of Bhartrhari and the Buddhists: An Essay in the Development of Fifth and Sixth Century Indian Thought (1986, 2011).
Chapter I Dawn
Chapter II Midday: The Teacher
Chapter III Midday: The Administrator
Chapter IV Midday: The Writer
Chapter V Sunset
Appendix: In RemembranceBibliography