Ahmedabad-based historian Rizwan Kadri often spends his Sunday mornings in Gujari Bazaar, the more than 600-year-old flea market on the banks of Sabarmati river. With his discerning eye, he has often discovered precious wares among the more commonplace junk on sale, but there is one purchase that is most dear to him: artist Chhaganlal Jadhav’s sketchbook chronicling Mahatma Gandhi during the Dandi March that he found in the market over a year ago. “I was surprised to see these drawings,” recalls Kadri.
While he was familiar with Jadhav’s oeuvre and had met the artist a couple of times, he wasn’t certain that this sketchbook belonged to him. “I went home and checked all the dates, that’s when I realised that these were priceless sketches,” says Kadri. For authentication, he turned to Gujarati litterateur and a close friend of Jadhav, late Professor Niranjan Bhagat, and artist Amit Ambalal. “Both of them recognised the book as his. Amit Ambalal said there was also a diary with the book, which would have helped understand the sketches and his memoirs better,” says Kadri, adding, “These document the Dandi march.”
Published in the coffee table book Unseen Drawings of Dandi March by Kadri last October, Jadhav’s original sketches now feature in the exhibition titled “Dandi Yatra” at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in Delhi. Part of the yearlong celebrations commemorating the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhi, the exhibition also comprises works by stalwarts such as Nandalal Bose, Ramkinkar Baij and Upendra Maharathi. At the onset is an installation that charts the route from Sabarmati to Dandi, and the more famous works include the iconic linocut of Gandhi by Bose and Baij’s plaster of Gandhi walking with his stick. Polish sculptor Fredda Brilliant’s bronze model of Gandhi is also enclosed in glass.
Jadhav’s pencil sketches of Gandhi and several others who joined the 390 km march from Sabarmati Ashram in March 1930 dominate the display. “It is important that these sketches are shared with the public,” says Kadri. Among others, we see a solemn Gandhi after “the final prayer at the ashram” in July 1933. His associates include social activist and author Jugatram Dave at the Dandi Camp, Dhirajlal Dahyabhai at the Karadi Camp and activist and poet Sarojini Naidu. “Chhaganlal was one of the volunteers who were part of the Arunoday Tukdi. They marched ahead of the satyagrahis as an advance party to make necessary arrangements,” says Kadri. To thwart the success of the Dandi march, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Kadri says, was arrested by the British just before the march. “But Sardar Patel had planned the route so well that it was still successful,” says Kadri. The historian feels that Patel would have perhaps been a better Prime Minister for independent India. “In 1946, during the election for the Congress party president, 12 out of 15 Pradesh Congress Committees nominated Patel. It was known that the president would become the first Prime Minister of India. Gandhi had already quit the Congress but he supported Jawaharlal Nehru. Why was his opinion considered while taking the decision? Why did Patel withdraw his candidature?” questions Kadri. In response to similar questions that were raised at that time, Nehru, says Kadri, had tried to put journalists under the scanner. He shows a clipping of a statement issued by Nehru in National Herald on April 29, 1946, in which he says: “I have been surprised and distressed by some news services and journalists giving currency to fantastic and utterly wrong speculations and inferences which have no basis in fact.”
Browsing the sketches on the walls at the NGMA, Kadri notes that it was Gandhi who had spotted the talent in Jadhav, when the Dalit artist was a student at a night school founded by Gandhi in Kochrab. Gandhi also offered him a job at Gujarat Vidyapith and introduced him to artists Kanu Desai and Ravishankar Raval. Further scholarship enabled Kumar to travel to Indore to work under renowned artist NS Bendre in 1933.
The sketches in Kadri’s collection also comprise Jadhav’s observations in the Nashik jail, where he was imprisoned with Gandhi in 1930 — from the kitchen to the security arrangements. “These give glimpses into the life they led in jail,” says Kadri. Through the exhibition, he hopes that Jadhav gets his due as an artist who closely witnessed and chronicled India’s freedom struggle.