Beach wear, shorts and skirts made of khadi at ethnic wear store — Swatva; Gandhi Thali that includes coarse flour chapati, makke di roti, cow ghee, corn halwa, jaggery and khichdi-kadhi at Karma Cafe; and an exhibition gallery Satya — these keep the Navjivan Trust complex off Ashram Road in Ahmedabad in tune with the times.
Swatva is one of the many initiatives of the Navjivan Trust, which prints and publishes writings of Mahatma Gandhi, to reinvent itself to draw the young generation towards the Gandhian ideology. Apart from the ethnic wear shop, the trust, over the years, started the Karma Cafe and Satya to be relevant to the contemporary times.
Having roots in a Gujarati weekly, Navjivan, started by Mahatma Gandhi in September 1919 to bring an awakening among Indians against the British rule, has come a long way now. Originally, Navjivan ane Satya was a Gujarati monthly owned by veteran freedom fighter and close associate of Gandhi, Indulal Yagnik. Yagnik gave the rights of the monthly to Gandhi and the latter started Navjivan, a weekly, from September 7, 1919.
During the freedom struggle, it turned into a publication house and witnessed lots of ups and downs while changing its locations from Khajuri in Pol to Bala Hanuman localities in old city of Ahmedabad to the current building of its own off Ashram Road near the Sabarmati river. Apart from Navjivan, it also published landmark publications by Gandhi like Young India, Harijan, Harijan Bandhu and Harijan Sewak during the freedom struggle.
In February 1940, Gandhi, in his will, declared to give publishing rights of all his writings to Navjivan. Till 2009, Navjivan enjoyed exclusive copyrights over Gandhi’s writings. But after this period, the trust felt a need to be relevant to the contemporary trends among young generation following which it came out with a plan to start these initiatives like an ethnic wear shop, a cafeteria and an exhibition gallery while maintaining the Gandhian element in it.
“The main function of Navjivan had been only printing and publication of books. However, people’s interest in reading books is decreasing. So, we were considering ideas on how to bring young generation to Navjivan and get them to read our books. And so, we launched these three initiatives of ethnic wear shop, a cafeteria and an exhibition gallery in 2014,” says Vivek Desai, managing trustee of Navjivan. A professional photographer, Desai has been a personal photographer for Narendra Modi when he was the chief minister. His photos were used in Modi’s published collection of poems in Gujarati — Ankh aa Dhanya Chhe and Sakshi Bhav.
Digitised, audio books
In its core area of publishing and printing, Navjivan is planning to have more than 300 digitised books on and by Gandhi in the form of a tablet very soon. Along with that, a project on having Audio Books is also on the anvil.
“The tablet containing more than 300 books will be launched soon. Whereas, the Audio Books project is also in advance stage and we are planning to have various abridged versions of the books related to Gandhi in that format,” says Desai.
Navjivan has also started the facility of printing and publishing books of other writers on demand. “We have got printing technology that can even print only five books on demand,” Desai says.
Among outside books published by Navjivan include Gujarati version of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Exam Warriors’, a handbook for students.
On the occasion of 150th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, Navjivan has decided to ensure that no major book published by it is out of print. “There are 500 such books and we are going to print at least 50 copies of such books and put them into circulation. If their demand comes from the market, we will print more copies,” says Desai.
Read at cafe
The Karma Cafe allows one to browse through the books published by the trust. “The cafeteria is the only of its kind in Ahmedabad where you can access the books on and by Gandhi. The cafeteria is WiFi-enabled and people can scan whatever they want from the books,” Desai adds.
The cafeteria also presents limited number of Gandhi Thali on weekends. The dish provides vegetarian Gujarati food.
Dinesh Chavda, is a student who is doing his masters in psychology in Ahmedabad. “I love reading books. This place provides books and peaceful atmosphere. Whenever I feel hungry, I visit this place. It satiate my appetite for both food and reading,” he says.
The ethnic wear shop – Swatva – has designer khadi clothes on sale. “In this shop, we sell designer khadi clothes which are contemporary in style. People do want to wear khadi but they want style in it. We are providing it. We have four designers who design khadi clothes as per contemporary styles and trends,” says Desai.
“And it was this churning about keeping up with the times that we came across the idea of having beach wear, shorts and western outfits made of khadi. If somebody wants to have beach wear or a sleeveless kurti of skirt made of khadi, why not?” asks Desai.
Gallery, diploma course
The exhibition gallery, Satya, is a platform for artists to exhibit their creations, while also greeting their visitors over a cup of tea at the cafeteria. Earlier this month, Navjivan has also started a Diploma in Journalism course in its campus.
Desai says, “We are already running a similar course in Sabarmati Jail as part of Gandhian ideology of Prison Reforms. In continuation of that, and to fill the dearth of quality proof readers, we have started this diploma course with affiliation to Gujarat University. In the very first month, we have got 18 students.”
According to Desai, “Initially, people used to criticise our initiatives while saying that we are deviating from Gandhian values. We did not budge. My argument is that nowhere Gandhi has said that we cannot do the things that we are doing. In fact, we are only promoting Gandhian values in a different manner, which is relevant to the current trends. And we are getting the results. Young generation has started coming to visit our cafeteria and buying designer khadi clothes from our shop. On weekends, we get around 800-1000 visitors.”
Jigar Patel, 30, a young businessman from Vadaj area, who is doing a private job in a finance company. “I come here regularly. The place is peaceful and away from the hustle and bustle of the busy Ashram Road. And the very feeling of Gandhi’s presence at the place during the freedom struggle gives an exciting feeling.”
Asifa Mansuri, another student from Gujarat Vidapith, says, “I have come here only second time. I feel very peaceful here. It has a feel of modernity while staying with the books on Bapu.”