A selection of letters written and received by Mahatma Gandhi, and a piece of khadi spun by him and signed by, besides the Mahatma himself, Sarojini Naidu and Gandhiji’s private secretary Pyare Lal, were among the memorabilia presented on Wednesday to President Pratibha Patil by Curry King Sir Ghulam Noon and NRI entrepreneur Nathu Ram Puri.
The letters were sold by the London auction house Sotheby’s on July 14, 2009 for a total of £ 17,500, and Ms. Patil received them at a simple function in the Indian High Commission here. In a voice choked with emotion, Mr. Puri said he felt privileged to have been able to secure the letters.
The items were sold in three lots. Included in the first were three autographed letters to Maulana Abdul Bari (1878-1926), an Islamic scholar, leading figure in the Khilafat movement and close friend of the Mahatma. The purple-bordered khadi cloth, signed by the Mahatma in Gujarati, came in the second lot. The khadi piece was a gift from Gandhiji to South-African born actor Moira Lister, and was sold at an estimated price of £ 2,000-2,500. The third lot contained two autographed postcards addressed to Urdu poet Hamidullah Afsar.
The letters to Maulana Bari reflect the tensions of the time, and contain many references to Hindu-Muslim relations. In one of the letters, the Mahatma expresses gratitude for the gift of cotton for spinning. In a second letter, he thanks Maulana Bari for his mohabbat bhari khat (letter of overflowing love) and hopes the two can continue to have open and frank conversations in the future. The Mahatma speaks of hosting Khilafat leaders, Ali brothers (Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar and Maulana Shaukat Ali Jauhar), and says the three of them spent a lot of time discussing Hindu-Muslim relations.
Most of the letters are in Urdu, and in one of them, the Mahatma, in characteristic wry humour, chides Hamidullah Afsar for writing an unstamped letter. “Hamidullah Saheb, I got your letter, but I do not reply to unstamped letters,” the Mahatma says, obviously irked that he had to bear the cost of the unstamped letter.
This is the third time Sir Ghulam and Mr. Puri have bought Gandhi letters at an auction. Fifteen years ago, Sir Ghulam, in partnership with Lord Raj Kumar Bagri, bought another set of letters for £ 14,000. In 1998, Sir Ghulam and Mr. Puri bought some more Gandhi letters at a Sotheby’s auction for £ 21,000. These letters are in the National Archives, where the third set is also expected to be lodged.
In her speech, Ms. Patil described Gandhiji as more than an individual; his spirit cut across the world and crossed the seas and the mountains. She said his leadership and vision had inspired world leaders from Martin Luther King to Nelson Mandela, and his message of Ahimsa moved the United Nations to declare October 2 a day of non-violence.
Later speaking to the press, Sir Ghulam said it did not matter that the Indian government had not exerted itself to acquire the Gandhi letters. “It does not matter who bought them. I am thankful for having got the opportunity to do my bit to keep his memory alive.”