Mr. Gandhi’s First Biography : An Unknown Page of History : Prof. Mehboob Desai

The first movie of Mahatma Gandhiji was made by Richard Edenbarough. Similarly, the first Biography of Mahatma Gandhi was written by British priest named Rev. Joseph Dock. It was an Unknown page of Indian History. Very few Indian may know about it. The first biography of Gandjiji was published in A.D.1909. It was published by the editor of “Indian Chronicle” London, Mr.Nasarvanji M. Cooper. The name of that first biography depicting Gandhiji’s life was “M.K. Gandhi: An Indian Patriot in South Africa” M.K. Gandhi was in the centre in the journey of writing, publication, distribution and review. That event is worth knowing and surprising today even after 102 years. The author of Gandhiji’s first biography was Reverend Joseph J. Dock (1861-1913) a priest of Baptist sect. His first meeting with M.K.Gandhi took place during December 1907. One evening of December 1907(1), a priest came to meet Mr. M.K. Gandhi at his office in Joha. He wrote “Reverend” before his name on the chit of visit. M.K. Gandhi read and thought, ‘Several priests came to me with the intention of making me Christian or explain me to stop movement or to show sympathy towards movements. But Mr. Dock came in. He did not take much time while taking. In the meantime, I realized my mistake and apologized silently in my mind. From that day onwards, we became close friend.’
There after a man named Mir Alam attacked on Gandhi at Joha in South Africa on 10th February 1908. Gandhiji was wounded. At that time he had stayed at Mr. Dock’s home for treatment for eight or ten days. Mr. Dock had nursed Gandhi a lot. Remembering that incident Gandhiji told,
‘As long as my stay continued with Mr. Dock’s family, all his time passed in taking my care and in hospitality of hundreds of people who came to inquire after my health. Even during the night, he would invariably pip silently into my room to know my condition. I could never think in his home that it was not my home'(2)
Thus, Gandhi’s intimacy developed with Mr. Dock. Mr. Dock was also highly impressed by the thoughts of Gandhi. Because of these factors, during the course of Gandhi’s treatment itself, he put a proposal to Gandhi to write his biography. Even at that time also a pious man like Gandhi had no interest in self publicity. But explain To Gandhi Mr. Dock said,
‘First allow me to say completely. You carry a great importance as a leader of this movement (3) I fell that I may write a small book. In that book facts should be clear, description should be vivid and should be authentic. From that people of England would get real intimate acquaintance of your personality and also of your character. Then it would be somewhat helpful in a place in future'(4)
Mr. Gandhi realized this argument and he gave him consent of writing his biography. But Gandhi however, had not as much trust as Mr. Dock about the success of his biography. This truth can be seen through the stages of journey of this small biography. The writing of this first biography is the result of frequently meetings of Mr.Dock with Mr. Gandhi. Gandhi also had kept vigilance to provide authentic material of his own life. Such vigilance is found expressed in a letter written by Mr. Dock when the writing of this book was in progress.
‘I am writing this letter from the court. I had expected to send you something before I am sentenced, but I am extremely busy with other work'(5)
This reference to “sending Some thing” to Mr. Dock was about sending material related to his life. This could be known through examination of those supporting documents with such co-operation from Gandhiji , Mr. Dock could complete Gndhiji’s biography very quickly, with the completion of writing of the book, Mr. dock sent a manuscript to Gnadhiji . Gandhiji examined it and sent it the press.Ganshiji had selected Lord Ampthill to write the preface of his biography. Arthur Oliver Williars Russell Ampthill (1869-1936)had already worked as the Governor of Madras. He had worked as the Viceroy of Indian and the Governor General in 1904. He was taking active interest in the Indian Struggle of South Africa.He was the president of South Africa British Indian Committee. As soon as the proofs of the book were received, Gnadhiji sent a letter to Lord Ampthill on 7th August 1909. He wrote that,
‘The proofs of Reverend Dock’s book have now reached me somewhat later, I am very eager to see that the book should come out as early as possible. At the same time, I would say this much that advance money has been received from many customers for that book. I know that you are very busy with work. So I hesitate to lay the burden on you of written the preface after going through the proofs. Of course, you had given a promise to write it if you like the book afterseing the proofs. However, I am sure that you have a desire to do this work. So I hope that you will be kind enough to spare time to pay attention to this matter.'(6)
Giving respect to Gandhiji’s request, Lord Ampthil wrote the preface of the book on 26th August 1909, and sent it to Gnadhiji. This preface written by lord Ampltil had become an inspiring force for Gandhiji’s struggle for the Indian of South Africa. Lord Ampthil had written in the preface,
‘Indian community of Transvaal has been struggling to remove insulting condition and for the protection of their right .Can we blame them for it? Indians demand neither franchise nor their representative in parliament, so if we take away the path of beating and buffeting, violence, tumults and spread disorder, the only way open for them to express opposition was “Satyagrah”. They took it. Can we blame them for it? Led by selfishness, they do not oppose any taxation, nor have they tried to obtain any political right indirectly. They try to regain only that which has been snatched away by force from them – the self respect of their community. Will you tell me what will those people do who blame them in such circumstances? Is there any one among us who will continue to see without any objection to honor the law it their social status gets lowered?'(7)
All questions raised by Lord Ampthil in his preface point to crud policy of British rural of South Africa. This preface had played an important part in proving improper image of British rule in educated and deeply religious British society. Thus the fundamental aim behind writing Gandhiji’s biography had been fulfilled. From that point of view the personality selected by Gandhiji for writing preface of the book had proved successful at his test. In short, the arrow has exactly shot the target.
Even after sending the preface of the book to the publisher, Gandhiji had to wait long for the book. It could be seen from the letters written by him during that period. Gandhiji had began the planning of the distribution and sale of the book since the work of its publication was going on, Gandhiji had written in his letter of 16th September, 1909 to Henri Polok from London,
‘Mr. Dock’s book has not yet been published. It is likely to be published in the first week of October. For some reasons, which are not necessary to be informed? I go on thinking and that too not for anybody else’s but for the sake of Mr. Dack only. If this publication proves a farce, he would be very much disappointed. And it might also happen like that. The publisher has not worked pouring his heart into it and many of its copies will have to be sold free of charge. So it has been thought like this: I will have to do this work myself, putting my personal feelings aside. I supposed that if any loss would occur, Dr.Maheta(8) would take the responsibility of setting it. I have also done correspondence with him in this matter, so you be on the lookout of sucha bookseller as may purchase this book. Perhaps, the best way is that Kalyandas or Chhaganlal’s brother or both of them may go to many people with this book. Whatever may happen but do not give on credit the book to the bookseller on whom you do not trust completely.'(9)
This letter of Gandhiji makes two things clear. The indifference of the publisher of the book towards its publication and Gandhiji’s anxiety about its sale. Gandhiji was worried that Mr.Dack’s effort should not be wasted. After waiting for a long time, when the book was published, Gandhiji’s vigilance about the distribution of its copies was worth admiring. Gandhiji had written to the publisher N.N. Cooper that,
‘Kindly send the book of Mr. Dock as follows: 24 copies to Dr. Mahta, 14 Moghul Street, Rangoon, India.250 copies to Masers Co. Booksellers, Madras, India. 25 copies to the manager, International printing Press, Durban, Natal, South Africa (Postal address –Box 182, Durban, Natal)'(10)

After passing through the stage of the publication and distribution the author and the publisher keep mostly worried about its review. This is the usual tradition. Gandhiji was also passed through this stage. After the publication and distribution of his book, Gandhiji himself worried as a hero of this book. It can be known by the letter written by him to Henry Pollok,

‘Please find herewith a copy of the list sent as a gift copy to the news papers of India…I have come to the decision that gift copies should not be given to any public worker except the news papers. So we have not sent it to anybody. But if you fill that they should be sent anyone belonging to that side, you may distribute them after taking Dr. Mehta’s advice.Dr.Mahta has purchased 25 copies for distribution like this. You may either ask for a few copies for them or may take the required number of copies from Nateson after knowing the names of those to whom the copies have to be given, so that the same person may not receive two copies. I take it for granted that such arrangement will have been made with Nateson by which we may get money without dely. Eighty five gift copies have been distributed here. Review which may appear in the news papers may be clipped, and may please be sent to Mr. Dack.'(11)

After making arrangements to send the book for review to the news papers Gandhiji had kept vigilant eye on the note and review published in the news papers. He wrote to Henry Pollock again on 5th November 1909, ‘About 20 lines criticism has appeared in “Edinburgh Evening News” on Mr. Dock’s book. “The Times” has only acknowledged its review may have appeared at any other place'(12)Along with the vigilance towards the review of news papers in the press Gadhiji had sent its one copy to a well-known thinker Tolstoy and request to send his response, ‘I send herewith a copy of a book written by my British friend, who lives in South Africa. In that book facts of my life and the struggle of “Satyagrah” for which I have devoted my life have been presented. I am very eager to see that you may take active interest in it. I therefore believe that you will not feel it improper'(13)
Thus, Gandhiji had taken keen interest in the journey right from the birth till its distribution and review of his first biography written by Mr.Dock.Because Gandhiji’s feeling behind it was only to strongly establish a new idea in society, that idea for which Gandhiji had been fighting in South Africa and the first work of giving it the expressed form was done by an British priest. Mr. Dock has expressed the thought of Truth, Non-violence and Satyagraha in very simple and lucid style in this book covering totally 21 chapters. Many beliefs about Gandhiji with that thought have been usually become firm, that too seems to be cut off somewhere for example, Gandhiji did not know Sanskrit. Mr. Dock has refuted in a very simple way the matter that Gandhiji had studied “The Geeta” first of all in English. While doing it he has written,
‘They (two theosophist brothers) expressed the desire to read “The Geeta” with Gandhiji. Gandhiji agreed just to please them, but when he started reading it, he felt ashamed, because he did not know Sanskrit, and he had recited the text of “The Geeta”many times yet he could not understand its subtle meanings. Now he himself made up his mind to study “The Geeta” (14) Similarly, Mr. Dok has experimented the word “Dharana” with reference to “Satyagraha” That, too, is worth nothing. At the same time, handhiji himself does not believe that there is an effect of “Dharana” behind his invention of the clarified that matter also in his book. Moreover, the description of Gandhiji’s childhood of Porbandar of that period also as “White city: Porbandar” has been beautifully done in chapter-4.”
After the distribution of the book the response achieved by it proved Gandhiji’s fear he had felt deceptive. Giving expression to Gandhiji’s work, this first biography achieved wonderful reception in England, South Africa and India.This small book had done pioneering work to convey effectively Gandhiji’s initial thoughts of Truth, Non-violence and Satyagraha in India. Only due to growing popularity of this book Gandhiji’s intimate friend Dr. Pranjivandas mahta translated in to Gujarati in A.D. 1912. And then Gandhiji’s work of south Africa had reached the common people, crossing the line of intellectual calss of Gujarat.That was only great achievement of this small book of Mr. Reverend Dock. Gandhiji had taken note of this service of Mr. Dock while giving him an homage(15) He had written,
‘He has written a book of popular history of the story of the struggle of Satyagraha of Indians. Lord Ampthil has beautiful, admiring preface. For Mr.Dock this work was only the labour of love. He had faith in the issue of Indians, and this book was like a help among many kinds of help he had rendered'(16)
Today, 102 years have been completed since the publication of the book “M.K.Gandhi – An Indian Patriot in South Africa”. At this juncture, let all of us bow respectfully to the courage of an British Priest in annals of history.

Foot Note:
1 Dalal,Chandubhai Bhagvanbhai, Gandhiji ni Dinvari (2.10.1869 to 9.1.1915), Sabarmati Ashram Suraksh ane Smarak Trust,Ahmadabad,October,1976, P.75.
2 Gandhiji, Dakshin Afrika na Satyagraha no itihas, Navjivan Prakashan Mandir, Ahmadabad, April,2001,P175.
3 Leader of the Movement of South Africa.
4.Parekh,Babubhai,(Translator),GandhijinuCharite,Navjivan Prkasha Mandir,Ahmadabad,1970,P.14.
5. Gandhiji no Akshar Deh, Vol-9,1968, P.102.
6. Ibid, P.403.
7. Ibid, P. 635.
8. Dr.Pranjivandas Mahta.
9. Gandhiji no Akshar Deh, Vol-9, P.473.
10. Ibid, P.551.
11.Ibid, P.562.
12.Ibid, P. 573.
13.Ibid, P. 587.
14.Parekh,Babubhai, Gandhiji nu Phelu Charitr, P.48
15.Mr.Joseph J. Dock had died on 16 August,1913
16.Gandhiji no Akshar Deh,Vol-12,P.139

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