Navajivan Trust: continuing the Gandhian tradition since 1929

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The contribution made by Navajivan Trust in the freedom of our nation cannot be undermined. Founded by Mahatma Gandhi, the father of our nation, this premier institution has been working towards spreading Gandhian thoughts and their publications have gone beyond the national boundaries. Jitendrabhai Desai, managing trustee and chairman of Navajivan Trust, who recently passed away, discussed the various facets of Navajivan in conversation with JR Chokshi. Excerpts. Navajivan Trust Throughout the country, in all leading bookshops, you will find a copy of An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth at a price any literate person can afford. An all time bestseller, neatly printed on 60 gsm white creamvove, 448 pp crown 1/16 size book is offered to its reader at Rs 30 per copy. On the imprint page of the book it is mentioned that price of this book is subsidized by Navajivan Trust. You will find similar inscription also on some other titles of Navajivan Publishing House. Most of the titles so subsidized are Gandhiji’s original works. More recently, US president Barack Obama visited the Gandhi Museum in Mumbai where a few of Gandhiji’s book published by Navajivan Trust were on display.

Founded in the year 1929 by Mahatma Gandhi, Navajivan Publishing House or Navajivan Prakashan Mandir, is one of the leading publishing houses of India. It is ably managed by Navajivan Trust.

The founding stone….

When Mahatma Gandhi returned to India in 1915, the Indian political sky was overcasted with clouds of despair and dismay. People turned to Mahatma Gandhi to salvage them from the abyss of despair. A meeting of some prominent citizens from Ahmedabad was held at Satyagraha Ashram. The Satyagraha pledge was drafted and signed. Mahatma Gandhi needed his own media of communication to reach out to the masses. As the movement proceeded, he began to feel the need for a journal for the effective exposition of the inner meaning of Satyagraha. Umar Sobani and Shankerlal Banker, who were editing Young India, placed it at his disposal. Mahatma Gandhi assumed its editorship.

Besides, Indulal Yagnik was then publishing his Gujarati monthly Navajivan Ane Satya with the financial backing of Umar Sobani and Shankerlal Banker. They placed this journal too at his disposal. It was converted into a weekly. Navajivan was being published from Ahmedabad and Mahatma Gandhi suggested that Young India too should be brought out from Ahmedabad.

The press laws then in force were very oppressive, that no existing presses would ever risk of publishing views which sharply criticized the Government. Very soon an old press was acquired for Rs 10,000 and rechristened as the Navajivan Mudranalaya.

This was the genesis of the Navajivan Institution which was later named The Navajivan Trust- The Navajivan Karyalaya, The Navajivan Press and The Navajivan Publishing House collectively known today.

Navajivan and Young India were being printed in Navajivan Mudranalaya and were published from Ahmedabad. In ten years time, about Rs 1,00,000 were accumulated as surplus from the publishing of these two journals. Since Gandhiji did not believe in personal property, Navajivan Trust was registered on November 26, 1929.

The freedom movement…

The story of the Navajivan Institution is a startling chapter in the epic of India’s non-violent struggle for freedom. The Navajivan papers became part of Gandhiji’s life as they were the organs through which he shaped and influenced the life of Indian people, injected nationalist spirit in them and directed and fought many a battle in diverse spheres – political, social and economic. Through these, he guided the people by giving them his messages. These publications reflected Gandhiji’s mind. In fact they represented the new spiritual urge.

The books…

Publishing of books, compiled from Gandhiji’s writings, had started even before the Trust was registered. In the year 1929 the Hind Swaraj was published in Gandhiji’s own handwritings in a book form. This historical small book was first published in Gujarati Language in 1910 in South Africa. It is interesting to note that this small booklet was prescribed in India by the Government of Bombay on March 24, 1910. Year 2010 has been a centenary year of Hind Swaraj and Navajivan also published its commemorative edition which carries the Gujarati text in Gandhiji’s handwritings and also its translation into Hindi and English on the same pages. Even after hundred years of its first publication, this small book is considered a key book to understand Gandhiji and his ideology in present context.

The Navajivan Publishing House has been rendering useful service to the nation by making available to the people Mahatma Gandhi’s works in English, Gujarati and Hindi. It has also published the works of Mahadevbhai Desai, Kakasaheb Kalelkar, Kishorelal G Mashruwala and other Gandhian scholars. The Navajivan Trust has so far published 350 titles in English, 275 in Hindi, 450 in Gujarati and about 30 books in Marathi as well. Mahatma Gandhi’s An Autobiography tops the list of publications in the world. It has seen fourteen editions so far. More than 16,25,000 copies in English edition and 4,96,000 copies of Gujarati edition have been sold.

Originally written in Gujarati, An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth, has been translated into Assamese, Bengali, English, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Tamil, Telugu, Manipuri, Urdu and Sanskrit. Konkani version of the book will be released in December 2010 to coincide with the golden jubilee of liberation of Goa. The same has been authenticated to be published in various foreign languages numbering about 36 languages.

While asked how do they manage to subsidise the price of the book and do they get any grant from the Government, Jitendrabhai Desai, managing trustee of the Trust said that the Trust does not receive any grant from Government nor it accept donations. The settler of the Trust, Mahatma Gandhi has laid down in the Trust deed that all the activities of the institution will be conducted on the basis of self-reliance. It is only thoughtful planning and deployment of resource i.e. income from royalty of Gandhiji’s writings, income from rent of the property that we have developed and interest of the corpus of the Trust has made this possible.

“Once when Morarjibhai was chairman, he specifically instructed me that we may make any changes in fixing price of any publications barring An Autobiography. So far, there has been no change in its pricing policy,” he added.

The accolades…

Gandhi Bapu was awarded ‘Best Book for Children Award’ by Govt of India in the year 1965. While Tolstoy-ni Vartao was awarded as the ‘Best Book in Translation’ category by Sahitya Academy. Also, ‘Best Contribution in Regional Language Book Publishing Award’ was given by Federation of Indian Publishers, New Delhi, in between 1993-94.

The future plans…

On asking about future projects, Jitendra Desai said that the main activity of the Trust would be to propagate An Autobiography and few other titles at subsidized price. “It is An Autobiography, that attracts new young readers and after reading it they go for other compilations of Gandhiji’s writings. Secondly, we propose to make basic reference literature i.e. files of Young India, Harijan and if possible Indian Opinion available for the scholars who wish to go for research on Gandhiji and different aspects of his ideology. Hence on one hand we want to reach to young generation through An Autobiography and on the other hand we want to provide files of original writings of Gandhiji to the scholars. We shall explore e-book media and digital technology also for such reference material,” he added.

There is also a plan to develop Mahatma Gandhi Cultural and Research Center. This will have a bookshop where all books published on and by Mahatma Gandhi will be readily available. There will be a small auditorium where functions like book-release and seminars on different aspects of Gandhian thoughts and its relevance could be organised.

But, Jitendrabhai Desai, chairman of the Trust passed away recently at the age of 73 years. While interacting with him for this feature, he said, “I have spent best 52 years of my life with Navajivan. Building new team to take forward the institution in coming years is a challenge but that too will be met with.” We hope that his plans would be taken up successfully at the Navajivan Trust.


A tribute to Jitendrabhai Desai

Jitendrabhai Desai, managing trustee and chairman of Navajivan Trust passed away recently at the age of 73. His contribution to the society with teachings of Gandhiji ‘truth and non-violence’ will always be remembered. May his soul rest in peace!

It is unfortunate that Desai would not be able to read his write-up which we developed a few days back. It was slated to be printed in our last issue, but due to some reasons, it could not feature in that issue.

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