A photograph of Mahatma Gandhi stands above a fire place in the home of the great paywright George Bernard Shaw at Ayot St Lawrence in Hertfordshire. Gandhi, born in Porbandar in Gujarat, met Shaw in London in 1931.
Both of these great men were vegetarians. Shaw said: “Animals are my friends . . . and I don’t eat my friends.” And Gandhi said: “To my mind, the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being. I should be unwilling to take the life of a lamb for the sake of the human body“.
While Gandhi never visited Shaw at his home, Jawaharlal Nehru did in 1950.
In the UK, Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour politician, is also a vegetarian. I wonder what Shaw would have thought of him and whether he would have put Corbyn’s photograph on his mantle-piece.
In Porbandar, the city where Mahatma Gandhi was born, we found a small tea-stall.
As we drank our tiny cups of milky, spiced tea, we watched the chaiwallah filling narrow, cylindrical plastic tubes with hot tea. When these thin-walled short cylinders are almost filled, they are tied closed and handed to customers to drink elsewhere. Later, we learned that these popular thin plastic containers of ‘take-away’ tea pose a potential health hazard because the hot drink leaches toxic chemicals from the plastic.
The picture above, which was taken in Ahmedabad, shows a portion of take-away tea in a bag rather than a tube.
Just as in the UK, take-away and home delivery foods and drinks are becoming popular in India. There are many mobile ‘phone ‘apps’ that allow the customer to order the food or drinks in advance. Often, motorcyclists deliver what is ordered. In India, the Swiggy company does the same kind of work as Deliveroo does in the UK. However, hot tea in a plastic bag is a product yet to arrive on the British ‘scene’.
Sand drifts relentlessly up from the seaside towards the gracefully decaying, rambling Huzoor Palace in Porbandar (Gujarat), the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi.
Prior to 1947, what is now the State of Gujarat was divided up into more than 200 ‘independent’ Princely States. Many of the rulers of these states were wealthy. Most of them built elaborate palaces like this one built in the early 20th century by Nawarsinhji Bhavsinhji Sahib Bahadur, who ruled from 1908-48 and was a first-class cricketer, who played for India in a Test Match in England in 1932.
Mohandas K Gandhi, the Mahatma, was born in Porbandar (Gujarat) on the 2nd of October 1869. The house in which he was born still stands, and is now part of the Kirti Mandir memorial complex in the centre of Porbandar. Here are some photos of Gandhi’s birthplace that Adam Yamey took in March 2018:
During our eight weeks of travelling through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu, we made much use of public transport. We used mainly buses. As in other parts of India, some buses are run by private companies, and other by the local state, in our case Gujarat, which operates under the name ‘Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation’ (‘GSRTC’). At the outset, we made the assumption that privately-run buses are bound to be better than those run by the state. It was only near the end of our travels that we discovered that we had made an erroneous assumption.
Here are some extracts about buses in Gujarat from my book “Travels through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu”:
On a private bus between Junagadh and Porbandar:
“Our vehicle stopped frequently. Whenever the conductor saw someone standing by the side of the road, he leaned out of the open passenger door, shouting our destination repeatedly: “Porbandar! Porbandar! Porb…” More and more people boarded our small bus. All the seats became occupied as did the space at the front of the vehicle around the driver. As the bus picked up even more people, even the standing room became used up. People were jammed against each other and their arms and baggage invaded the seated passengers’ space. A lady began resting her bag on Lopa’s head. When she objected, the woman said: “Where else can I put it?” Another person almost sat on Lopa’s lap.
There was hardly any room for the conductor. He spent most of the journey leaning out of the passenger door. When Lopa asked him whether this was dangerous, he responded cheerfully that it was part of his job. After about an hour, when the bus was already incredibly crowded we stopped in a village where a large group of people were waiting for our arrival. The bus driver told the conductor that there was no room for any more people. The conductor ignored him and squeezed many new passengers on board.
Our fellow passengers were a varied crowd. They included men with curling handle-bar moustaches wearing turbans and loose-fitting white kurtas with baggy trousers. Their clothes were often stained probably because they were worn whilst doing work on the land. At many rural stops, women wearing colourful garb boarded. Many of them were tattooed on whatever parts of their bodies that could be seen and probably also on parts that were not visible in public…”
On a GSRTC bus between Diu and Bhavnagar:
“We boarded a bus belonging to the Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation (‘GSRTC’). This and other buses belonging to the state-run bus company are superior to any of the private busses we had travelled on. The GSRTC vehicles: are cleaner and more comfortable than the private ones; only stop at bus stands with good facilities; do not tout for business at random wayside stops; and do not admit more passengers than there are seats to accommodate them. We wished that we had not assumed, wrongly, that privately-run buses would be better than those run by the state.”
On a GSRTC bus to Ahmedabad:
“We boarded the newest and most comfortable bus of our trip at Baroda bus stand. Part of the GSRTC fleet, it was a Volvo vehicle. These buses are held in high regard by Indians. As far as buses in India are concerned, they are regarded as Maharajahs amongst the myriad of road transport vehicles. The coach driver asked Lopa her relationship to me. She replied that I am her husband. The driver shrugged his shoulder and replied in Gujarati: ‘It happens’.”
Whether the bus is privately, or state operated, a ‘back-seat driver’ like me cannot avoid being aware of the adventurous driving of the bus drivers:
“Our driver sped along the good roads leading towards the eastern edge of Saurashtra. He overtook frequently and usually hazardously. Often, he had his head turned towards the conductor sitting left of him, chatting with him, rather than looking ahead along the road in front of him. He also made frequent ‘phone calls to people with whom he was doing business, buying and selling vehicles.”
We left our hotel in Porbandar before dawn and joined people waiting in the darkness at a ticket agency on MG Road. Several coaches were waiting nearby, but not ours. Two of them left, partially filled with passengers. Soon after they had gone, a man with baggage appeared. He had just missed one of the buses that we saw departing. The woman manning the desk at the agency hailed a passing autorickshaw, and then hurried the late passenger into it before making a ‘phone call to the driver of the bus that had gone. She told him to wait for the auto to catch up with the bus so that the tardy person could embark. I could not imagine this happening at London’s Victoria Coach Station.
Our bus arrived. It was the same model as the one in which we had travelled from Junagadh. Moments before the driver climbed into his seat, a uniformed policeman entered the bus and placed two garlands with yellow flowers close to the steering wheel. Then, he disappeared on his motorcycle. The driver boarded. Before starting the engine, he arranged one of the garlands on two hooks above the centre of the windscreen so that it was draped around the rear-view mirror, and he placed the other around a small Hindu idol housed in a transparent Perspex box on the centre of the dashboard. Finally, he lit two agarbatti, which he stuck in a holder near the deity. A piece of plastic was stuck above the central rear-view mirror. It had words in Urdu script written on it. A sign behind the driver’s seat and facing the passengers was written in Gujarati script. My wife read this, and then told me that the words on it expressed (in Urdu transliterated into Gujarati script) Islamic sentiments of good intent. This bus was owned by the same people who operated the bus on which we had travelled from Junagadh, a Muslim family. Our driver was Hindu. The first aid box on the bus looked familiar. It was dirty and broken and hung at an odd angle from one of its hooks above the driver’s seat. When I saw this …
Read more about Adam Yamey’s adventures and discoveries in Gujarat, Daman, and Diu, either in a lovely paperback (buy a copy HERE) or on your Kindle (download a copy HERE )
On the 15th of August 1947, India won its independence from the British Empire. Independence was achieved through the efforts of many men and women in the Indian sub-continent. The best-known of these is a Gujarati born in Porbandar, MK Gandhi, later known as the Mahatma.
At the precise instant when India became independent, moments after the 14th of August had ended, Gujarat was still divided into many so-called Princely States, and the small enclaves of Daman and Diu were still Portuguese colonies. Through the efforts of the Gujarati Sardar Vallabhai Patel, the more than 500 Princely States of India were ‘encouraged’ to give up their autonomy to become integrated into the newly independent India. Daman and Diu only became part of India in 1961.
Sardar Vallabhai Patel in Ahmedabad
Independence Day is celebrated throughout India. I have been in India several times on the 15t h of August and been privileged to watch flag-raising ceremonies that celebrate the important day when after centuries of foreign rule, the people of India were at last ruling themselves. Of these celebratory occasions, one stands out in my memory.
Back in 2008, we were travelling through northern Kerala on the 15th of August when I spotted a rural school amidst the palm trees close to the sea. The outer walls of the school were covered with colourful paintings including a map of India. We stopped so that I could take photographs of the pictures.
Doorway in the house where Gandhi was born, Porbandar
When I got out of our car, a teacher invited the three of us to enter the school where Independence Day celebrations were being held. We walked into a courtyard filled with school children standing in rows. The teacher invited us to join the school’s director and other teachers on a podium. Flower garlands were draped around our necks.
The director gave a speech and then introduced me as a “special guest from England”. Totally unprepared, I was then asked to address some words to the assembled school and its staff. Although I say so myself, I believe that I was able to improvise a short speech suitable for the occasion.
I felt honoured that I had been invited to give this speech, and gratified when the pupils mobbed me to shake my hands and even to take pictures of me.