MY REMINISCENCES OF KUMARAPPA - KAKA KALELKAR

How I first met Kumarappa comes back to my mind. Gandhiji was sitting under the shade of a tree on the river bank in the Satyagraha Ashram, Sabarmati. I was sitting with Gandhiji talking to him about the Gujrath Vidyapith, of which I was the Principal. I had finished my work with Gandhiji and was about to go away when a brisk young man, dressed in pucca European style, and with clear beaming eyes, came up to Gandhiji. He was a Chartered Accountant in Bombay and was doing good business, but he was keen on doing something to help Gandhiji in his great work for India. Gandhiji gave him time and listened to him. Gandhiji suggested that the young man should see Sri Shankerlal Banker, who was then the Secretary of the A. I. S. A., and, if necessary, go also to the Gujerath Vidyapith. Gandhiji turned to me and said to me in Gujerathi that I might give the young man some good work to do. I have no recollection if Gandhiji formally introduced us to each other.

Sometime later, Kumarappa wrote to me expressing a wish to join the Gujerath Vidyapith. I sent him a reply warmly welcoming him to the Vidyapith. There was something in the eyes of Kumarappa which had given me the impression that there was a strong and determined idealist behind his western make-up and style. I was, therefore, agreeably surprised when Kumarappa came to the Vidyapith with a Gandhi cap on his head and dressed in a Khadi Kurta. Neither fitted him well and his appearance was somewhat ludicrous. In those days inter-dining among different communities was rare. The Professors and students in the Vidya pith were all Hindus and Kumarappa was a Christian. I thought it a good chance to start inter-dining in the institution. Usually took my food in my own room, but when Kumarappa came I sent word that he and I would go and have food with the students. I knew my students and, therefore, apprehended no difficulty. The cooks were surprised but raised no protest. When we all went into the common dining room, I thought Kumarappa, with his European training, would find it hard to squat on the floor like the rest of  us. I, therefore, got a table and chair for him near me. Kumarappa however, insisted on sitting on the floor with the rest of us. I told him not to stand on any formality but make himself comfortable on the chair. Kumarappa retorted he was not yet so old as to be unable to change from the chair to the floor. He did, therefore, sit on the floor but not cross legged like others. He sat twisting the whole body in the shape of an irregular N. We had the go manners not to burst into laughter.

I soon discovered that Kumarappa was full of fun and frolic. His conversation was replete with tit-bits and humour anecdotes. He would crack jokes often at my expense. I  knew I could give it back to him but I let the one way traffic of his jokes go on for sometime. We became good friends and had many talks on the situation in India and Gandhiji's new programmes. Kumarappa had joined the Vidyapith as a Professor. He would accept no salary saying that he had put by some  money and as long as that lasted he would take no salary for  his work. I told him it was not necessary for him to wait till his money ran out and that he could take his pay from the very first day. After all, what did we give to our professors in the Vidyapith, hardly Ks. 100/- per month, if I remember right.  But Kumarappa kept his resolve.

But what was he to teach ? He knew neither Hindi nor Gujerathi and I did not want him to teach in English. I asked him to teach me Tamil since he came from Madras. Then I discovered that Kumarappa did not know even his mother tongue well enough. Kumarappa shrewdly remarked I wanted him to teach me Tamil so that I could teach him Gujerathi. Kumarappa never seriously tried to learn Hindi or Gujerathi and I refused to give him any class to teach. He was thus a Professor without a class. But I found a way out.

Gandhiji had asked us not to accept current economic theories as gospel truth. He had asked us to study Indian conditions afresh. He wanted a fresh survey of economic conditions in India and to strike out on new lines to deal with economic problems. Kumarappa had already written a thesis entitled, "Public Finance and our Poverty". We published the thesis. It was a brilliant exposure of how British policy was impoverishing India. I asked Kumarappa whether he would undertake the economic survey of a taluka in Gujarath with the help of some of my students. He agreed. So, with Jhaverbhai Patel and another student, he went to the Matar Taluka and conducted an excellent survey. It was a very valuable report that he produced. He also got his first insight into the real conditions in the villages of India. He trained the students under him in the scientific methods of regional survey. But he learnt no Gujerathi.

The next commission which Kumarappa received was from the Indian National Congress. He was appointed the Secretary of a Committee to enquire into the Public Debt of India. The result of the enquiry was a document of great national importance, and when this was published, Kumarappa's name came out prominently before the Indian public. People began to look up to him expecting great things from him. The Bihar earth-quake gave Kumarappa another opportunity to prove his mettle. Babu Rajendra Prasad was in charge of the extensive relief work. Kumarappa and Rajendra Babu came close to each other and Kumarappa was put in charge of all the accounts connected with the relief operations. The whole of India had contributed many lakhs of rupees and these were spent spread over numerous item of relief work. Kumarappa kept the accounts with scrupulous care and took care of every pie. He would not even feed Gandhij and his party except on payment.  He worked day and night to keep accounts up to date. When the relief work was finally closed Kumarappa was able to account for every pie that was spent. Gandhiji himself paid unstinted tribute to Kumarappa for the work he did in Bihar.

When Gandhiji wanted to organize village industries on a proper basis he wanted someone to shoulder the heavy burden. It was Mrs. Lilavati Munshi who suggested to Gandhiji that Kumarappa was the man for the work. Gandhiji agreed that there could be none better for the the job and thus the All India Village Industries Association was started, with Kumarappa as the Secretary. During some 15 years, when Kumarappa was the Secretary of A. I. V. I. A., he not merely experimented with and organized village industries, training workers for the same but he gave a scientific interpretation to the whole theory of village economics as expounded by Gandhiji. Upon Kumarappa fell the mantle of the interpreter and organizer of Gandhian economics of non violence. Kumarappa's books and writings on economics have considerably molded the mind of young India and specially of Constructive Workers. Gandhiji gave his ideas on economics to young India. It was Kumarappa, however, who gave scientific interpretations in a manner acceptable to the educated community.

Economics and religion are one for Kumarappa. Production, distribution and consumption of worldly goods should fit in with the moral teachings inherent in religion. Religion should include economics. That is why Kumarappa the Christian, found himself  in conflict with the Metropolitan. Kumarappa challenged the Metropolitan to prove the moral validity of the Metropolitan's support to British rule in India and his indifference to the righteousness of the Satyagraha movements in India under the leadership of Christ-like Gandhi. This controversy attracted considerable public attention. Kumarappa's -name emerged from it as that of one wedded to uncompromising truth and out-spokenness.

Kumarappa's two books on the teachings of Christ  i.e. “Practice and Precepts of Jesus " and " Christianity Its Economy and Way of Life"  breathe the depth of his sincerity as a true Christian. He agreed with me when I once chaffed him by saying that he would have been canonised as a saint if only he could shed his puckish humour and laughter. " That is my only escape from sainthood " was his characteristic retort. But my quarrel with him stands. He has not yet learnt Hindi. I have sometimes also said that in one sense we have all had a good escape because of his ignorance of Hindi . If he knew Hindi well he would have long ago set fire to the country with his extremist views in politics and economics. For let there be no mistake about it, Kumarappa is a revolutionary, though thanks to Gandhiji, a non-violent revolutionary.

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*Reproduced from S.K.Geoge and G.Ramachandran(Edr.): “The Economics of Peace- The cause and the Man”, A  JC Kumarappa Centenary Edition, Peace Publishers (India),New Delhi,1992.