A MAN EXTRAORDINAIRE: ARUNBHAI GANDHIby Saroj Satija May 25 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins, 56 secs
She worked with him for twenty years and he remained a friend till his last days. Saroj Satija remembers Arun Gandhi in this tribute to the great man who lived each day of his life by the ideals of the Mahatma.
Our dear friend, Arunbhai, as we called him, entered our lives sometime in the early sixties, when he was appointed to head the Information Bureau of the Times of India, Bombay, where we worked together for almost 20 years! Arunbhai had come to India a few years earlier from South Africa. He had grown up there and educated in true Gandhian principles at the Phoenix Ashram under the guidance of his father, Shri Manilal Mohandas Gandhi, who had shepherded the Ashram since the time his father Mahatma Gandhi left for India.
After coming to India, Arunbhai spent the appropriate family time with his father and then went to his uncle, who was a head honcho in a newspaper group. Under his tutelage, Arunbhai was put through his paces as a journalist and then he joined the Times of India as a trainee.
Those were tumultuous times in the Times of India, when a lot of changes were taking place. Besides there was much hurry and flurry in the office, which was typical of a busy newspaper office those days. Arunbhai came out like a breath of fresh air and stood out in his Khadi clad stance. With his calm demeanour he managed to exude an aura of calm and peace. In fact we hardly ever saw Arunbhai ruffled, angry or irritable.
He started his journalistic career with a handicap of not having formal degrees to his name as he had his early education in the Phoenix Ashram in South Africa, according to the Nai Taleem perpetuated by his grandfather, yet by the dint of his hard work in freelance writing, he carved his niche as a writer in the world of journalism. His forthright and forceful dispatches were well received and carried in Indian and foreign publications. He was slowly, yet surely inching up the journalist ladder and being recognised as a writer of great worth.
Apart from honing his writing skills, Arunbhai also found time for active community work. He worked passionately for the cause of finding homes for orphans. Both he and his wife Sunanda worked ceaselessly in this field and most often played hosts to adoptive parents in their small flat in Santacruz Bombay.
Arunbhai’s compassionate nature and his deep concern for the common good was rather infectious, so some of us even got inspired enough to join him in his endeavours and shared the trials and tribulations, which he faced with equanimity and a wry smile. I remember one instance when I accompanied him to donate blood, which he did regularly. He was given a cup of hot milk after the donation and asked to go, while my volunteering effort was rejected due to low haemoglobin count! So I had to do without the ‘prize-of hot milk’! For quite some time he used to tease me about it.
Our admiration for Arunbhai grew as the days passed. And, with his generous and affectionate nature he became more a friend than a boss. Especially after the Information Bureau closed down and Arun bhai took over the reins of Times of India’s ‘Directory and the Year Book and Who’s Who’. Another colleague and friend Roopa Desai and I joined him as his assistants.
It was a purposeful assignment and we enjoyed the exercise of streamlining this century old publication of the Times group. We spent some happy times there. Lunch hours were spent in hot discussions of the state of affairs of the nation and mankind, and how to improve them apart from consuming vast quantities of food. To our horror we found that each of our tiffin boxes were packed for the consumption of three persons! Needless to say that we swapped each other’s tiffin boxes. While I drooled over Sunanda’s Handvo and pooranpolis, Roopa’s Muthias and khandvis, Arunbhai and Roopa relished my Punjabi grub of Aloo parathas or sometimes mutton koftas! Yes, those were happy times.
We all left the Times of India with a nagging void in our lives! Arunbhai and Sunanda relocated to the US but returned every year to spend some time in India with their son Tushar Gandhi and family and, of course, to visit other relatives. I must say to Arunbhai’ credit, that they always scheduled a rendezvous with us and kept our decades long friendship alive.
At the end of his visit he would always joke (the incurable foodie that he was) and say, “I only come to India to collect my Farsan.” It was always lovingly prepared and packed by their old house-help Krishna, who had become like a member of the Gandhi family.
We looked forward to Arunbhai‘s annual visits to Bombay. His and Sunanda’s proverbial hospitality even extended to his home in Memphis, USA, where he was based. He invited us to visit them there and we had a memorable visit at their home, which was replete with warmth of Indian accoutrements, apart from their love and affection. Not to forget the inevitable Farsan!
It is heart-warming to see that the same attribute of love, warmth and hospitality has been inherited by his children, Tushar and Archana. On one of our visits to Rochester USA, we called Archana, who was also residing there, to ask her if she could come to see us in the student digs of our nephew with whom we were staying. Archana lovingly chided us for roughing it out in students’ digs when she had a large enough place to accommodate us. She arrived soon after and took us, bag and baggage to her large house and immediately set up a party-line call to her parents in Memphis for us to speak to them. It was an unforgettable visit.
After Sunanda’s passing away, it was heartening to know that Arunbbai relocated to Rochester, and lived close enough to Archana’s home. It goes to the credit of Archana and her family to have daringly, but under strict medical supervision, brought him to India in spite of his failing health, to spend some of the last days of life blissfully amidst his whole family. And, to enable him to enjoy the landmark celebration of his grandson’s wedding reception.
It was probably heavenly orchestrated that he should have breathed his last at the idyllic surroundings of the Home for Destitute Girls, which he has set up near Kolhapur and where the children and staff loved and pampered him to his last day.
It was a privilege to know and love Arunbhai. He was one of those people easy to like and difficult to forget. My husband Yatish and I shall always miss his presence as well as absence in our lives. Rest in Peace Arunbhai.