Gujarat loses its most active contemporary historian

Gujarat loses its most active contemporary historian
By Japan K Pathak
Ahmedabad, 8 March, 2011

While all Gujarat based publications and politicians are portraying former Gujarat assembly Speaker Kundanlal Dholakia(90)’s demise just as a ‘death of former Speaker’, I think this is not justice to him. Yes Dholakia was Gujarat assembly speaker, but he was on that post for merely five years. While as a society we are generally known for our inclination towards posts and positions, in Kundanlal Dholakia’s case we need to realize that he was not just a former Speaker. Dholakia’s more valid identity according to me was that he was the most active contemporary historian of Gujarat. And this word ‘active’ has nothing to do with individual’s age. Dholakia was active in penning down contemporary political history of the state even at the age of 89.

About 14 years back when I wanted to understand Gujarat’s Kutch district, the first book I came across was ‘Shruti ane Smruti: Kutch’, a wonderful book on Kutch’s recent history written by Shri Kundanlal Dholakia. If you want to understand Kutch, you can’t miss this book(and also another book by him: ‘Kutch na antarango’). When I visited Kutch for the first time, I wanted to visit three persons: Former MP and Roya family vetern Himmatsinhji, Kutchhmitra daily’s editor Kirti Khatri and Shruti and Smruti:Kutch’s author Kundanlal Dholakia. While I could meet Kirtibhai and Himmatsinhji in detail, Shri Kundanlal sadly denied me entry in his house as it was afternoon and it was his resting time. I couldn’t find an opportunity to meet him again in all these years.

Kundanlal’s contemporary history writing was not limited to Kutch. His major contribution to contemporary history was his book ‘Samayne sathvare Gujarat.’ This is most probably the only book that narrates Gujarat’s political history between 1952-2009 in continuing chapters. Dholakia’s this book was first published in 1991. But Dholakia didn’t stop there. After every few years he would add another chapters on recent political affairs. Thus the subsequent editions with added chapters were published in 1994, 2005 and finally in 2010.

To know about medieval history, we refer the books written by medieval historians today, but in future, anybody needing to know about Gujarat’s history of 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s or 2000-2010, he/she would definitely prefer to read Kundanlal Dholakia’s writings.

Writing something about too-old history is comparatively easier, because all you need is some reading and then re-production. Late Shri Keka Shastriji used to tell me that researchers are called ‘researcher’ because they just do re-search what somebody had already searched much before. However writing contemporary history is very difficult, because you need to create something original on the basis of your experience, knowledge, and unorganized records. Even after that, practicing objectivity while writing the things and the people around you is bit challenging.

Dholakia was from Congress party, but he didn’t rescue himself from writing something against Congress Chief Ministers of Gujarat while penning down contemporary history. Late Chief Minister Amarsinh Chaudhary had tendency of giving up to agitators and powerful people. Kundanlal rightly pointed out in his book that Chaudhary was a weak Chief Minister. Likewise there are many examples in his book that speak about his objectivity when criticizing someone or even when praising someone. Though I don’t agree with Dholakia’s all inferences and opinions narrated in his book, I can smell overall honesty and integrity in his writings.

A decade back when I met Shri Bramhkumar Bhatt, I requested him to write a book on his experiences and recollections of yesteryears of Gujarat. He said he had an idea of publishing a book already on this theme, and asked me to wait. He later came out with a book: ‘Tyare ane Atyare.’ Last year during international heritage conference’s dinner evening at Umang Hatheesingh’s Haveli I told Shri Ashok Bhatt to pen down his version of recent history of Gujarat. He was agreed and perhaps he and prof. Rizwan Kadri had started some work in that direction, but unfortunately he passed away.

We actually need many Kundanlal Dholakia, and many books on contemporary history. I don’t know whether it is relevant in modern Google search age or not, but future generation will need authentic history of yesteryears.