– Dr Rohit Barot
The Gujarati Sahitya Academy has organised national literary conferences from 1979. These conferences have become an important forum for discussion of linguistic, literary and social issues which affect Gujarati speakers living in European countries. The focus of these meetings is no longer confined to Britain. Now the Academy invites Gujaratis from from India and Pakistan, South Africa, United States and Canada to attend its main literary meetings. In developing this international focus, the Academy has faced tension between desire for the widest possible international representation of Gujaratis on the one hand and the national interest of the Gujarati writers and poets who live in Britain.
The purpose of this description is to provide a detailed account of 1991 conference of Gujarati Sahitya Academy and to outline some of the main factors which appear to influence development of literature and language among Gujaratis resident in European countries. This conference was held to mark the passage of four hundred years since the birth of the Gujarati poet Akho (whose Sanskritic name Akshaya (meaning indestructible) may have been rendered into Akho. This desanskritisation of his name is, perhaps, most appropriate for him for the kind of more folk and earthy poetry that he wrote.
Whenever the conference organisers single out a venue for the meeting, they invariably choose a location where many Gujarati people live. From the point of view of conference participants, this is most desirable as the conference has a distinctive Gujarati atmosphere. Tea, coffee and lunch between the sessions turn into social gatherings for the participants who enjoy the construction of a gentle, hospitable and relaxed atmosphere of a Gujarati community. A remarkable feature of 1991 conference was that it was orgniased in Sparkbrook in Birmingham which, as a classical inner city area, was a subject of John Rex and Robert Moore’s study Race, Community and Conflict : A Study of Sparkbrook. Oxford University Press published it for the Institute of Race Relations in 1967. Rex and Moore describe the area in the second chapter of the book titled The Three Sparkbrooks. There is a map of Sparkbrook at the beginning of the chapter which shows Henley Street hemmed in on one side by large factories. At the junction of Henley Street and South Road, Gujarati Arya Kshatriya Mahasabha – a UK based caste association of Gujarati Mochis has constructed a large hall to hold their prayers and social gatherings.It is called Shree Bhikubhai Parmar Hall built in the memory of a Mochi who must have pioneered the settlement and organisation of his community in Sparkbrook. In traditional Gujarat, Mochis are leatherworkers who specialise in making shoes. In the traditional division of labour, the belief in in the efficacy of purity and pollution defines themn as being low, unclean and beyond the boundary of purity. Although the occupational name of the group survives along with residues of the ideology. Little else does as Mochi men and women in UK are involved in a diverse range of occupations. It is relatively rare for other Gujaratis to identify them with any explicit and open reference to pollution. It was they who provided their hall as well as a cadre of volunteers to make this conference possible and there was no question of pollution being relevant among more modern and progressive Gujaratis. Mochis seem to have organised themselves tighlty throughout the United Kingdom. One of their leaders Chotubhai Chauhan presented me a copy of their beautifully produced glossy copy of 1990 directory. They call themselves Gujarati Arya Kshatriya Mahasabha – UK. Their position in Britain, progress they have made and their relationship with different groups has to be a subject matter for a separate study.
We reached Shree Bhikubhai Ramji Parmar Hall at about 9-0 in the morning. As soon as we entered the hall, it was obvious that most of the key conference participants were already there and the the first session had already started. A short man in the traditional Indian costume welcomed us warmly. There was a registration desk where we were given our badges and asked to wear them. Volunteers conveyed a feeling of self-confidence, warmth and efficiency. In order to provide an accurate account of the conference proceedings, it is best to concentrate on what happened on each day. First of all there is a detailed ethnographic account of the conference. Some of the major themes which emerged during the conference are identified. Finally, an attempt is made to explain these themes in terms of self-consciousness of the participants as well as in terms of concepts of migration, settlement and social change.
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SATURDAY 4TH MAY 1991
At the entrance of the hall, besides registration desk, a bookstall had been set up to sell a variety of Gujarati titles. On one side, a small art exhibition had been mounted showing various drawings by children associated with the Academy. On the stage where a panel was already conducting the morning proceedings, Ram Bhakta who specialises in decorating Indian temples in Britain, had put up colourful panels on the stage as well as at various points in the hall. The decoration was not without religious flavour. Given the strong religious disposition of the Birmingham Hindu community, perhaps it was not unusual that a shrine was installed on the stage on everyday of the conference. These shrines were different and it could be that the reception committee wanted to convey an impression of religious diversity within the local Hindu population. It was, however, remarkable that religion featured as a theme throughout the conference. At times, the theme seemed very much ill at ease in with language and literature.
The conference proceeding had started with a talk by a Birmingham-based Education officer of North Indian Muslim background. He reviewed the progress of language teaching and said that the quality of teaching for Urdu and Punjabi had improved. Gujarati teaching, however, had declined and that it was a matter of concern. He did not explain clearly the causes of this decline.
Acharya Yashwant Shukla, a noted literary figure from India saw language development as nourishing the roots of Gujarati culture and literature. The Sanskrit contention sarva bhasha sarasvati implies importance of all languages and that unity of world lies in common languages of communication as well as in rich lingusitic diversity. Shukla’s appeal was for the kind of universality in which linguistic and cultural heritage of particular people had an important part to play.
Pranlal Sheth set the question of Gujarati language and literature in the wider context of Tory educational reform and change and bleak prospect for minority languages in the national curriculum. He also reminded Gujaratis to concern themsleves with what was going to be their position in the post cold war Europe of 1990s. He recommended that a committee should be set up to investigate the state of Gujarati and make practical suggestions about how best to improve the prospect for the language and literature. He also felt that it was best not to combine religion and language and emphasised that there was a place for all religions in Gujarati. He concluded by quoting the Gujarati poet Umashanker Joshi’s dictum that Gujarat has no boundaries and it is everywhere where Gujaratis are.
The theme of the first morning session concerned the relevance of Akha’s values for Gujarati devotional worship in the West. All the speakers were academics. Dr. Purshottam Mistri, a linguist from California State University in Fresno chaired the session. The author introduced Akho in the historical context of colonisation and migration and argued that Akho’s tejabi or acidic strictures against caste differences and hypocrisy are as relevant today as they were in 17th century Gujarat. In his eloquent presentation, Dr. Jagdish Dave developed this theme further to offer a critique of religious belief underpinned by dubious theories of incarnation coupled with egoism and self-golrification. Dr Dave argued that Akho’s own spiritual values were more concerned with inner self-development. No doubt Akho would have criticised some of the contemporary sectarian ideas and practices and especially those who style themselves as godmen.
According to the procedures followed by Gujarati Sahitya Academy, each session is followed by questions and individual comments from the audience. Besides the main talks, this is one of the most important sections of the conference when individual men and women from the floor have an opportunity to raise questions for the speakers and to make comments on the theme of the session. Jaher sabha or public debate as it is termed is lively and stimulating. It allows speakers to raise literary and linguistic issues as well as social issues of more general kind. The questions concerned the nature of Gujarati language as it was spoken in the “middle” period and its contemporary rendition, Akho’s reaction to Gujarati classes run in UK community schools, whether or not Akho was a man of devotion or knowledge, the reforming zeal inherant in his religious message including a proposal from a South African Gujarati for a written script without traditional diacritical marks.In concluding this session, Dr Purshottam Mistri focussed on the nature of linguistic change in Gujarati from “middle period” and argued that the language use had not changed all that much in last four hundred years. For the European and North American context of Gujarati, he quoted an example from a Canadian city where the local Muslim community has built two mosques instead of one. After saying that there is only one mosque in the village of their origin, they proudly assert that they have two mosques in their Canadian settlement. The argument he put forward was that the migrants may decide to express their culture much more assertively to sustain thier religious and cultural identity. To put it in a vernacular medium, savai Gujarati is a Gujarati plus a quarter to emphasise the importance attached to sustaning Gujrati identity.
THE AFTERNOON SESSION
Current Gujarati literature and its future from Karachi to Washington was the theme of the afternoon sessions. Priti Sengupta, a woman speaker from New York gave a brief account of Gujarati literature in North America. Although there are orgnisations like Gujarati Sahitya Vartul and Gujarati Sahitya Academy of North America, She gave a systematic account of some of the recent literary creations but emphasised that social and cultural activities played a more significant part than any deeply felt concern for literature. She was explicitly critical of US Gujarati preoccupation with making money and antithetical relationship between wealth creation and Gujarati literature. She was pessimistic about the future of Gujarati language and literature in the United States and expressed strong disapproval for a hybrid language which may evolve out of the current situation. A Gujarati writer and a poet Dipak Bardolikar talked about the state of Gujarati language and literature in Pakistan where there is a significant Gujarati and Kuttchi speaking Gujarati Muslim population. Although Gujrati writers and poets have remained active since 1947 when Pakistan came into existence as a state, they have found it increasingly difficult to publish in Gujarati. They have mainly used newspapers and weeklies to serialise their stories. Indian publishers have shown no interest in Gujarati writers from Pakistan. Their cold reaction may have something to do with the traditional division between Hindus and Muslims. The dominance of Urdu has also affected Gujarati. Diapk Bardolikar’s own presentation demonstrated this clearly as his Gujarati exposition contained many Urdu and Arabic words. He was, like Priti Sengupta, concerned about the future of Gujarati language in Pakistan. The Third speaker was Vinay Kavi from Leicester. He was sharply critical of both the quality and meagre output of Gujarati literature in Britain. He argued that there was a lot of hot air about literature without much susbstance and what was produced was lacking in creative and critical qualities. In the jaher sabha or the public debate that followed, a number of speakers responded to Priti Sengupta’s pessimistic outline of future of Gujarati in the United States. Although Sengupta was concerned with the situation in North America, it was assumed that the criticism was meant to apply to the situation in Britain. The British Gujaratis responded to this alleged criticsim. They asked Sengupta not to be so pessimistic. As Popatlal Jariwala pointed out, Gujaratis had come a long way since the early sixties and had established a proper basis for sustaining Gujarati language and literature in Britain. While Pranlal Lakhani from South Africa was pessimistic about the state of Gujarati literature in South Africa, for East and Central Africa, Dahyabhai Patel, a well-known poet said that a small number of Gujaratis in Kenya and Uganda were always involved in producing literary works. He referred to his own work and that of T. P. Suchak and Bhojani. He also pointed out how dominant was the English language even in the state of Gujarat. In his own village Sunav school boys were being discouraged to speak in Gujarati as it might spoil English they were learning. He also gave an example of a Gujarati play in Ahmedabad which was introduced in English and deplored lack of interest in supporting and honouring the tradition of Gujarati writing. Vasantbhai Chauhan, a leading member of the local Mochi community pointed out that Gujarati was going to live and that the attendance of 400 pupils at Sparkhill school was a good demonstration of the way Gujarati was going to live.
Just as this discussion was about to end, Professor Meghnad Desai who teaches at the London School of Economics arrived in the hall. As the title of lorship had been conferred on him days before the conference, he was warmly welcomed by the conference participants. With a profusion of greying curly hair, he looked charismatic. He walked upto the stage where Vipoolbhai Kalyani introduced him to the audience. He was garlanded several times by individuals representing different organisations as in the traditional Indian situation. He responded by saying that he would be always prepared to listen to what Gujaratis had to say and help them whenever he could.
The early evening session was entirely devoted to recital of poems. Acharya Shree Yashwant Shukla commenced the session by inaugurating Gajanand Bhatt’s collection of poems titled Layvilaya. An aged person who live in an old people’s home in Leicester, in my opinion, Gajananda Bhatt is a poet of extraordinary sensitivity to life and suffering. He led the session of by reciting the first poem from his collection. Panna Nayak, a woman poet who lives in the US led the remaining session. In all, 17 poets recited their poems to a responsive audience. Many poems reflected continuity with the tradition of writing in India. However, there were several poets who rendered their British expereinces in their poems. Dr. Jagdish Dave’s poems which juxtaposed London and Gujarat was most acute and evocative in showing how do creative and sensitive poets reconcile different values, world views and discourses into a unitary framework. His was a vision of synthesis not hybridity and schizophrenia which is typical of some of the modern writers. In multitutes of different experiences, the poet discoveres and rediscovers the quintessence of his Gujarati self which is more than its lingusitic component. Surati’s poem titled Bus gave a touching and humorous portrait of problems of catching buses in Birmingham.
Birmingham Gujarati community extended its traditional hospitality to the conference delegates. The local families provided accommodation to all the outside delegates and the local Hindu temple in the inner city was the venue for evening meals and entertainment to follow. For the first evening, the Academy had specially invited Vitthaldas Bapodra from Bhavnagar in Gujarat to sing haveli sangeet. The tradition of haveli sangeet is a part and parcel of Vaishnavite form of devotional worship.It has evolved over a period of 500 years since the beginning of Pushtimarg sect in Gujarat. For Vitthaldas Bapodra, this form of devotional singing is a part of his traditional heritage handed down from one generation to other. Accompanied by a percussionist and a harmonium player, he sang a variety of songs for nearly three hours. He also explained to his audience the intricacies of various melodic and rhythmic forms and the kind of devotional content which went with it.
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SUNDAY 5TH MAY 1990
When we reached Shree Bhikubhai Ramji Parmar hall in the morning, the next session was about to start. This morning a Swaminarayan shrine of Shree Pramukh Swami associated with Shree Akshar Purshottam Sanstha. A small group of Swaminarayan boys from Birmingham sang the prayers before the beginning of the session
The morning session was concerned with the theme direction Gujarati education should follow in Britain. Gulzar Kanji, the woman chairperson is a distinguished educationist with a wide range of experience of educational institutions. Currently she is an inspector for H.M. Education Inspectorate. A woman speaker Sarayubahen Patel has been associated with development of Gujarati classes in West Bromwich since 1985. The second speaker Ramanbhai Nayak is a local councillor in Greenwich and a regular contributor to the astrology page in the Gujarati paper Garvi Gujarat.
Saryubahen Patel survyed biligual teaching in the context of Education Acts from 1944 to 1988. She raised the question of shortage of trained teachers, proper teaching material and insufficient opportunities for children to use Gujarati as a medium of communication. She suggested various ways in which transmission of Gujarati to future generations can be improved. In talking about training centres, exhibitions, research, Gujarati writing competition, publications, special visits involving Gujarati language themes, she presented a project for which the Academy has limited and insufficeint resources. It would have been better to restirct her suggestions to something practical and feasible that can be undertaken locally or nationally by the Gujarati Sahitya Academy.
Ramanbhai Nayak gave one of the most entertaining talks. He was critical of the main political parties for their lack of interest in the languages and cultures of the minorities and highlighted monolingualism as a distinctive British ideology. In talking about Britain as one language society, he cited the example of Welsh language and the restrictions Welsh speakers have been subjected to for a long time. He argued that similar attitudes were equally expressed against speakers of South Asian languages. He also referred to misallocation of Section 11 funds which did not benefit minorities in every instance. In using a story of a lion who employed an eagle to teach his son, Nayak pointed how how did the eagle want to teach a lion prince how to build nests for lions on trees! The example was intended to criticise teachers and teaching methods inappropriate and harmful to teaching of Gujarati. He also talked about the kind of reception which Gujaratis of today may receive from their descendants after they return to visit them from heaven. The ancestors would find their distant offsprings in a pub where they would make a toast to their stupid ancestors for making money and doing little else. The plea to money minded Gujaratis was that they ought to do something seriously about sustaining their language and culture.
Members of the audience responded with some vigour to this topical theme. Bhadra Kapadia referred to the disadvantage bilingual children can face when they do their 7+ tests in primary schools. She added that she had acted as an interpreter for one particular child and was able to ensure that a higher and better performance was recorded for the child. Popatlal Jariwala made an important distinction between mother tongue (the way Gujarati is spoken in Gujarat), the language of translation (the emphasis in the GCSE Gujarati examination) and the language of heritage which is what most British Gujaratis, he argued, are concerned with. Gujarati as a language of heritage does not have the same status as mother tongue. For many if not majority of Gujarati children are likely to be more fluent in English than Gujarati and that most people would like to see Gujarati taught to preserve the language and heritage, a function which is more unique than conventiionally normal teaching of Gujarati. Yesuben Amlani whom we have known from Bristol suggested that there should be a separate school for Gujarati Childlren for them to learn everyting (?). She runs a Saturday morning school for Asian children to teach them their respective monther tongues and something about their particular culture of the subcontinent. Being inovlved in this form of education, she has a special interest in sustaining it as a proper alternative for childlren of South Asian background. Complaints were voiced about those who were incapable of teaching Gujarati properly. Bardolikar pointed out that teaching of Islamic faith in mosques did not necessarily bring about improvement of language, implying that it was erroneous to associate religion and language in mosques as it had been contended by one of the speakers.
An 11 year old girl came to the stage with a prepared speech in which she criticised the present genertion of Gujaratis for doing very little for young people like herself. She spoke excellent Gujarati and demonstrated that the language is alive and well-taught. Her talk made a stong impression on the audience. Rameshbhai Patel insisted that every Gujarati should write letters in Gujarati and that none of the Gujarati visitors from India should communicate in English so that interpreting jobs can be created for Gujaratis in Britain. In view of instrumental and mercantile attitude of Gujaratis, Gaurang Dave said that it ought to be brought to businessmen’s awareness that sustaining Gujarati is good for business. There was a call for for a special conference for younger people and to raise the level of Gujarati teaching at a comparable standard with English. Gulzar Kanji finally concluded this session by urging the delegates not to despair and to make every effort to transmit knowledge of Gujarati to their children. She argued that there was a case for using a variety of audio-visual sources and children’s literature to improve Gujarati teaching and learning. The problem is there, she said, but the solution to this problem lies in our hands. A number of women who were sitting next to us began talking to me. One of them, Nirmala Sodha from Nottingham showed me a copy of her book on multicultural games which she had persuaded her local council to publish. She said that she and other Asian women had to contend with racist attitudes and much hostility. They had to struggle on in order to do the kind of educational work they believed was most appropriate for Gujarati children. The little girl who had criticised the pioneering generation for making insufficient provision for Gujarati language teaching received a cash prize from a committee member of the Academy. She was also garlanded for the excellence of her effort.
The afternoon session consisted of an extempore play in which leaders of the Academy were being prosecuted for stirring up interest in Gujarati language and disturbing peace. With a judge, prosecuting and defending counsels, defendants and witnesses, the participants including the main organisers of the Academy were able to convey with much effectiveness the importance of Gujarati language and literature. They were also able to convey that literary and linguistic activities of the Academy were absolutely vital for a proper evolution of Gujarati language and culture in Britain. From the point of view of use of language, it was not surprising that several participants spoke the kind of Gujarati language which must be nearly natural to them – which was to use mixture of Gujarati and English and break into English sentences. This caused much mirth and laughter as they were constantly being reminded to use Gujarati words only. This theme ran through the play and highlighted the hegemony of English language and its penetrating influence on the languages of minorities in Britain. At the same time there were constant references to Gujarati schools in Birmingham. There were a number of references to Indian Education Society which has been going on for 28 years. It runs three schools and has between 800 to 900 Gujarati pupils. Many of them now appear for Gujarati Literary Society language examination and acquire proficiency in what Popatlal Jariwala has classed as the language of heritage. This late evening and Saturday schools are successful and the Indian Education Society has a waiting list of 500 boys and girls.
During the later part of the afternoon, Shree Bhikubhai Ramji Parmar Hall was fully packed. It is possible that there were up to about 500 men, women and children present in the hall. The afternoon was almost entirely taken up by entertainment programme. There were between 12 to 14 items presented by children coming from different community groups including sectarian organisations. Two young boys from the Swaminarayan Hindu Mission (Shree Akshar Purshottam Sanstha) presented a play which entirely concentrated on how important was it for children to learn Gujarati. Lack of knowledge of Gujarati put a little boy in a very difficult situation when he had to summon a doctor to attend to his father down with vomiting and diarrhoea. He did not not Gujarati words for this condition nor did he know the word diarrhoea in English. He phoned the doctor and ended up saying, “Doctor! my father is vomiting from two sides”. This caused much laughter and drove the point home about the kind of priority Gujarati language ought to take. The children also sharply referred to the relationship between the knowledge of English and skin colour. One of them said no amount of English is going to change the colour of your skin. It is always going to be kathai, brown. The implication was that the Gujarati minority status was much more determined by colour than by English language proficiency. Infants from Spark hill Gujarati Shala sang a children’s song nani mari ankh which was very sweet indeed.
The Academy then conferred a special honour on Dhanjibhai Atwala who had founded Indian Eduction Society in 1964 to teach Gujarati. Academy’s main guest from India, Mr. Yashwant Shukla presented him with a shawl and a coconut to mark the auspiciousness of the occasion. It was touching to see Yashwant Shukla helping Dhanjibhai Atwala to wrap the shawl around his shoulder. What was most significant was that the honour was conferred in a traditional Gujarati fashion. Atwala recalled his arrival in Britain in very cold winter of 1956 when one earned about œ 4.00 a week. He described his feeling of distress when he was invited to what his Indian associates called a temple. It was their local pub. In early days of immigration, it was not unusual for men to resort to drink and women to make life bearable. However, Atwala resolved to constrct a context for Hindu religion and morality in what he called a soceity cursed with many evils. Now he is very proud that his religious movement has seen the contruction of Leicester Hindu temple in the 80s with four properties belonging to the temple trust.
Vipool Kalyani also introduced Mirabahen Dwiwedi (a very obvious Brahmin name) who has been broadcasting in Gujarati on BBC Radio Leicester on a regular basis. She felt that it was vital for Gujaratis to sustain their music, especially children’s songs in order so that they developed their Gujarati identity. She also presented some Hindu philosphical books by Tadrupanand Swami to the Academy. As she explained it, before he went through renunciation, Tadrupanand Swami was her brother.
Acharya Shree Yashwant Shukla concluded this meeting by dwelling on the Gujarati word asmita in relation to the Gujarati identity. The word refers to being and becoming and has a distinctive connotation of consciousness which has an autonomous substance. He felt that Gujarati Sahitya Academy had made a major contribution in sustaining the Gujarati sense of being and becoming and thus giving a specific reference to the Gujarati identity. He said it was his wish to see good Gujarati literature produced in Britain which would enjoy high esteem amongst people of Gujarat. He specially thanked Mirabahen Dwiwedi for her concern with Gujarati songs and asked people to look at Umashanker’s Joshi’s songs.
Finally, Vipoolbhai Kalyani made a further appeal for a fund. An amount held in the name of the Academy which would earn sufficient interest to enable the Academy to offer prizes and support to Gujarati writers and pupils.
For the evening entertainment, the Academy had invited a traditional story teller called manbhatt. He uses a large metal pot upon which he creates complex rhythmic patterns by using a number of metal rings on his fingers. At the same time he tells a traditional story. This tradition of telling religious stories in towns and cities must go back to several hundred years and may have come into existence before the beginning of 16th Cetnry. In Gujarat as well as in othr parts of India, traditional story telling has declined with the rise of cinema, radio and now television. Hence it is now relatively uncommon to come across these traditional story tellers in big cities. However, the traditiona is being revived and some effort is being made to train young man in the art of using a metal pot for telling stories.
Shree Dharmiklal Chunilala Pandya, the story teller, comes from the family of manbhatt who specialise in this traditional performance. He is also running a small centre in Baroda to train pupils in this art. Although he has passed his skills to his two sons, none of them can support themselves by story telling only (as they would have in more traditional times). One of his sons works in a Bank but has also sustained deep interest in the family tradition of reciting stories. Shree Dharmiklala Pandya had been specially invited by the Academy to give this recital. He began his extraordinary performance by saying that he was going to tell the story of Kunverbai to the audience. What he did was to breach the boundary between this story, his personal life and the reality as he came to see it in Britain. This superb blending of discourses and his energetic and tender style of singing gave the most unusual flavour to his performance. His finger beats on the metal pot with rhythmic sway of his body had a magical effect which it is difficult to describe. In my opinion. it was a most authentic traditional Gujarati performance I had seen in many years. It was tremendously enjoyable as it combined such a variety of qualities and feelings.
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MONDAY 6 MAY 1991
The topic for the third day of the conference was Today and tomorrow of Gujarati self-consciousness in Britain.Ms Bhadra Patel who is an ethnic minority librarian for Wandsworth began by defining the word asmita. She explained it as active consciousness of self. Although she did not spell it out explicitly, the distinction between universal consciousness and more restricted consciousness based on particular social groups, was inherant in her analysis of Gujarati consciousness in Britain. According to her, this consciousness was increasingly restricted to consideration of caste and religion. In her personal observations, not only was Gujarati self-consciousness was restricted but it was also reduced in awareness of youg Gujarati men and women growing up in Britain. Apart from Gujarati Literary Society which brought together Gujarati speakers from diverse social, religious and cultural backgrounds, there were no pan-Gujarati organisations in Britain. Then she referred to Gujarati contribution to life in Britain since the election of Parsi Gujaratis to British Parliment at the beginning of this century. She also talked about leading part Gujaratis play in the British national life. Some of her comments contained the kind of ambiguity which is not uncommon in a migrant community. I think it stems from the intellectual problem of reconciling universalism and particularism which most thinking people have to cope with. She emphasised British and Gujarati bicultural identity of Gujaratis growing up in Britain in which the question of colour and discrimination associated with it would always have a part to play.
Pravin Luka, who is a race relations officer in Leicester offered a critical analysis of Gujarati consciousness in Britain. He talked about his personal experience of Gujarati workers in NALGO and their unwillingness to take part in campaigns against racism. He felt that perhaps Gujarati did not see fighting against racism in their economic self-interest but such was a myopic view. Having lived in East Africa, he compared the relationship between economic success and political power. He felt that the Gujaratis had been successful in businesses and professions but not in politics. Gujaratis had to get more involved in politics to secure their civil rights. But divisions within the Gujarati population are many and deep and there is some indifference towards the needs of the younger generation. He quoted the example of Kantibhai Patel who has converted to Jehovah’s Witness (sp?). He urged the Gujaratis to follow the example of Jews who have managed to secure for themselves both economic prosperity and political influence in Britain. Indian and Gujarati efforts to create wider organisations were not being successful. Confederation of Indian Organisations in UK and the National Congress of Gujarati Organisations had been ineffective in mobilising their respective constituencies.
As for the future of Gujarati consciousness in Britain, Pravin Luka presented a number of issues. Gujarati settlement in Britain had worsened the position of the elderly in the community. Many young couples are more and more unwilling to shoulder responsibility of their parents and grand parents. The number mixed race children involving Gujaratis was increasing and there was general unwillingness amongst the Hindus to adopt them or to adopt other Hindu children left in local authority care. There were issues relating to drugs and Aids to which Gujaratis needed to pay some attention. Following the tradition Akho had developed, he felt it was appropriate to let out these “acidic lashes” at the Gujaratis.
A lively debate jaher sabha followed this discussion. Councillor Kanta Patel spoke out passionately about her fight against racism and threats against her. The Asian elderly poet Gajananda Bhatt pointed out that Indian parents who often wanted to live in an old peopl’s home faced a special dilemma when they had to declare that they were homeless. They would feel ashamed at having to make a public statement about unwillingness of their sons to look after them. Such action would be incompatible with the traditional norms of Gujarati families. There was a comment about how Pakistanis now proudly wear their national costume as an expression of pride in thier national origins. Gujaratis and Indians should likewise wear their own constumes. He himself had a pair of trousers and an open neck short-sleeved shirt tailored in the Indian style. Gaurang Dave (whom I had met nearly 18 years ago in Bristol) emphasised the importance of action against mere talk. Several speakers noted the absence of British born Gujaratis in the conference. It was suggested that the Academy should organise a special literary and cultural event for the children. J P Patel from Swaminarayan Hindu mission proudly annouced that the Mission had a well-trained cadre of 19 female and 9 male teachers. According to Dr. Gnyandev Sheth, there was a need to bring principles and practice together with more emphasis on doing. Someone suggested that there was a greater need for intercommunal and inter faith dialogues and bridges which need to be built between communities.
In conclusion, Bhadra Patel pointed out that it should be recongnised that many elderly people preferred to live alone, implying that changes in the family were inevitable. Pravin Luka suggested that it was difficult to make any predictions about the state of future Gujarati consciousness in Britain without firm foundations of this awareness in present. In summing up, the chairperson Praful Amin made a useful distinction between language and culture and suggested that the history of Jewish people shows that they have been able to preserve their religion and culture in many different languages in different parts of the world. He also gave the example of Father Wallace, a Spanish priest who made Gujarat his home and wrote and published works in Gujarati langauge. He ended his summing by saying that Gujaratis had to be vishwamanavi universal men as well as members of thier particular communities of affiliarion.
By Sunday afternoon, the conference had reached a high pitch and people were beginning to disperse. I was unable to attend the final concluding session.
This ethnographic account may convey the impression that the Academy was able to mount a very successful and enjoyable conference on the poet Akho and some of the themes of his life relevant for the Gujaratis in Britain today. Although the conference was immensely successful, it was not entirely free from some expression of dissent and strong difference of opinion. The editorial in Gujarat Samachar of 3 May 1991 (Volume 19, Issue 51, p. 3) pointed out that there were a number of UK-based Gujarati writers and poets who were not taking part in the conference proceedings, which it suggested was a matter of concern. In the same issue the paper gave some space to dissenting voices. There was a letter from Yogesh Patel, who had been an important official of the Academy. He had resigned from the literary organisation just before the beginning of the conference. In an open letter in Gujarat Samachar (3 May 1991 p.5, Volume 19, Issue 51) in response to his absence at the conference, he referred to his resignation from the academy. According to his view, if the Academy was able to provide material support to literary figures from outside Gujarat, then there was a very good case for the Academy to support the local literary figures much more. Who would provide support for the publication of literary material which the writers like Balwantbhai Nayak and Jaymangal had prepared. What about the air-fare needed for his own travel to Gujarat to organise publication of his books. However, the argument was presented to convey as if the position of literary figures in Gujarat and England was relatively identical. Nor did the argument account for the degree to which it is more difficult for literary figures from the Third World countries to travel to the West than it is for the Third World writers who have a professional Western European economic and social base. In any event, the presence of a well-known literary figure from Gujarat was intended to benefit all Gujarati speakers associated with the Academy. The extent to which Gujarati writing in Britain could provide qualitatively similar input of Gujarati writing to literary groups in India was a question which remained unanalysed. Balwant Nayak, another Gujarati writer raised the question of building bridges between literary figures who live in Gujarat and those who have settled in England. He pointed out that “one way traffic” was not reciprocal and that Gujarati writers based in Britain were not welcomed in the same way as those who visited Britain from India. It is possible that the leaders of the Academy saw free distribution of copies of Gujarat Samachar offering a critique of the Academy as an expression of unreasonable protest. As a consequence, in the final and concluding session of the conference, Gujarat Samachar and its editorial policies were criticised. This public criticism brought into sharper focus the difference of opinion between the Academy on the one hand and its previous members and Gujarat Samachar on the other. As a result, Gujarat Samachar published a statement on Friday 17th May 1991 in Volume 20, Issue 2, p.3. which criticised the Secretary of the Academy for his unreasonable comments as being similar to “squeezing a lemon in milk”. The phrase was used to imply that the Academy had spoiled good relationship with Gujarat Samachar and that the paper did not regard the Academy as worthy of its support any more. The paper also expressed its dissatisfaction with the fact that the same individual has occupied the position of the Secretary for past sixteen years. The editorial urged the Academy official to take appropriate steps in view of what it regarded as a serious problem. Prominent appearance of this item in Gujarat Samachar prompted further correspondence. Gujarat Samachar of Friday 31st MaY 1991, Volume 20, Issue 4 p.5 carried a number of letters and a feature on the Academy. A community leader Dhanjibhai Tanna criticised the Academy and its secretary for being unreasonably critical of Gujarat Samachar when the paper has extended consistent support to the institution. He reminded the readers that the campagin for a building fund had been launched at Gujarat Samachar premises. He feared loss of confidence in the Academy and the collapse of its many fold activities. In a short feature titled Individual and Institution, Balwant Nayak wrote a critique of individuals who continue to hold position and power in institution for a long period of time. He reiterated how undesirable and counterproductive this practice was. Although the feature names no individuals or institutions, it was obvious that the criticism was directed against the Academy and its senior office holder, the secretary. Gujarat Samachar of 7th June 1991 (Volume 20, Issue 5, p.5) had a letter from Himatbhai Radia of Wembley thought it was disrespectful for the Academy to criticise the paper which had supported it for a long time. The editor also provided a brief summary of letters he had received which supported th paper and referred to “serious illness” affecting the Academy. Although the Academy has enjoyed wide spread public support, in view of the position taken up by Gujarat Samachar, it was unlikely that information about letters of support for the Academy would have been forthcoming.
Voluntary associations among the Gujaratis involve ambitious individuals who strive to advance the cause of their associations as well as their personal interest.When associations provide resources, competition for these resources may occur between conflicting demands and priorities The demand for resources far outstrips what is available. For those who aspire to authority and status within the Academy, competition for scarce resources is inevitable. . No doubt that there are disputes between individuals who jockey for position and influence within the Academy. In the circumstances, it is not unusual that the differences perceived and expressed by members should find opening in public.What is most significant is that caste and sectarian affiliation has little or no relevance in the activities of Gujarati Sahitya Academy. Issues about language and literature concern a variety of individuals who participate in the activities of the Academy. Many writers and poets are concerned with personal advancement. Many would like to see their work in print and in circulation. It is doubtless that a successful publication in Gujarati is a matter of pride and personal satisfaction to many. Therefore it is not unusual that the individuals should invest considerable energy in their activities so that they can mobilise support from an organisational nucleus like the Academy. However, the expression of dissatisfaction with the way in which the Academy is run does not reveal any deep running cleavage which could potentially threaten Academy’s future and its activities. It is to be hoped that different opinions and constructive criticism should improve the organisation and advance the main aims of the Academy more effectively.
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