Father Carlos G Valles, the Jesuit priest who left an indelible mark in Gujarati literary world, passed away at his home in Madrid, Spain on Monday. He was 95. He was showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s for the past few months.
“He passed away at 2 am local time in Spain and 5 am Indian Standard Time. Just a few days ago, on November 4, he had celebrated his 96th birthday. He was enjoying good health overall, save the symptoms of Alzheimer’s that he had had for the past three-four months,” Father Vinayak, vice-principal of St Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad told The Indian Express.
Father Valles taught mathematics at the St Xavier’s College fore more than 20 years and his popular image is of the author-teacher who lived with ordinary families in the walled city area of Ahmedabad and would cycle his way to college and back.
While teaching mathematics, he also established himself as one of the best essayists in Gujarati, winning the state government’s award for best essayist for five years in a row and forcing the government to put a limit on the number of times a person can be given the prize. He was awarded Ranjitram Suvarnachandrak, the highest literary award in Gujarati in 1978. He was the first foreign recipient of the ward.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the nation in paying tribute to the departed author by tweeting, “Father Vallés endeared himself to many, especially in Gujarat. He distinguished himself in diverse areas such as mathematics and Gujarati literature. He was also passionate about serving society. Saddened by his demise. May his soul rest in peace.”
Paying tribute to Father Valles, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani said: “Though he was not a born Gujarati, Father Valles became a savaya Gujarati (better than Gujarati) by his contribution to Gujarati literature which included a number of books, essays, travelogues etc. His demise has left a huge void in the Gujarati literary world.”
All India Congress Committee treasurer Ahmed Patel and Gujarat Congress president Amit Chavda also condoled Father Valles’ death. “Gujarat has lost a savaya Gujarati who was not born in Gujarat but made Gujarat his karmabhumi (place of activity) and made contribution of highest order to Gujarati literature,” Patel said.
Father Valles was born in Spain in 1925 and his father was a known Spanish engineer after whom a dam is named there. After Carlos Valles took the holy orders, he was sent to India in 1949 and around a decade later beame a mathematics teacher at St. Xavier’s College in Ahmedabad.
“… I had realised that English, however much extended in the academic field, was a foreign language in India. It was enough to teach mathematics, but not to reach the hearts. The heart is reached through the mother tongue. In my region that was Gujarati, which also was Mahatma Gandhi’s mother tongue. I studied it during the “language year” prescribed for all Jesuit seminarians,” Father Valles’ website elaborates as to how he was drawn towards Gujarati language.
While teaching mathematics at St Xavier’s College and at the department of mathematics in the Gujarat University, he also wrote mathematics text books in Gujarati and gave terms like Gan for sets and mandal for ring.
He also started writing essays in Gujarati, touching a range of subjects including spirituality, simplicity, religion, youth, education, and morality. He wrote more than 70 books in Gujarati, including best sellers like Tarunashram, Utkrushtana Panthe, Sanskartirth, Ek Rashtra Ek Shikshak and Gandhiji ane Navi Pedhi.
Sitanshu Yashchandra, author who was president of Gujarati Sahitya Parishad till recently, said he saw similarities between Father Valles and Sir Alexander Kinloch Forbes, an East India Company administrator who had become close friends of Gujarati poet Dalpatram and who founded Gujarati Vernacular Society in Ahmedabad.
“Though he was a foreigner, Sir Alexander was a teacher for Gujarat. So, was Father Valles. Sir Alexander had a political mission as he was a servant of the East India Company and Father Valles had a religious mission. But both of them transcended their missions and became missionaries of different kinds.”
In 1995, he received Acharya Kakasaheb Kalelkar Award for Universal Harmony and in 1997, the Ramakrishna Jaidalal Harmony Award. In between teaching mathematics and writing essays and books in Gujarati, he also represented India thrice at World Congress of Mathematicians.
“Despite being an European, he overcame hurdles of culture and languages and achieved heights in Gujarati literature. His particular achievement was sprinkling deep thinking and sensitivity in humour,” Prof Jignesh Upadhyay, professor of Gujarati at DH Arts College, Rajkot said.
“As his father and elder brother had died, he returned to Spain in early 1990s to take care of his mother. However, he used to visit Gujarat regularly. His last visit was in 2016,” Father Vinayak said.