Maniba and the art of true giving

Maniba and the art of true giving

She went on to talk with a calm firmness. If freedom and feminism were combined as the second breath within them, then khadi was second skin. He wrapped the cloth enthusiastically, yet thrifty. Believing that one pair of cloths was sufficient (he hand-spun these with bedsheets from Ru, cotton, which was then woven into cloth), Maniben Chandulal Nanavati had two sets. A couple of white khaddar sarees were added only because the monsoon humidity did not allow it to dry in time for the next use.

Widely known as Maniba or Khadi Mata (spinning thread daily, she stitched thousands of garments for underprivileged children, whom she even schooled), Maniben hardly stopped at being an independence patriot. Nirbheek Sevika has significantly enabled the rural poor, especially women, to earn a living after training in her network of ashramshalas.

as a young servant

Born on February 27, 1905, in Vijapur near Ahmedabad, in the family of textile merchant Chunilal Zaveri, Maniba lost her parents in life. He and his sister Kantaben were raised by their uncle, Lallubhai, whose pearl trading venture extended to Europe.

Maniba attended primary classes till the third grade at Mangrol Jain Girls School in Bombay. In those years what were considered only cultured girls, who were adept at household chores and read religious scriptures, also got married at the age of 18. Fortunately the difference was that her in-laws proved to be philanthropists and educationists following the path of simple living and high thinking.

Maniben’s grandson Shachin Nanavati and wife Himadri at Maniben Nanavati Women’s College

Chandulal Nanavati, her husband, was a close associate of Gandhiji, who was deeply immersed in his teachings and principles. His father, Dr. Balbhai Nanavati, was the appointed physician to the Maharaja of Baroda, Sayajirao Gaekwad. Chandulal’s brother, Manilal Balbhai Nanavati, deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of India, co-authored the seminal book, The Indian Rural Problem, with JJ Anjaria.

“My grandfather wanted to have his own business. Commercially in coal bunkering—our firm, The Eastern Bunkers, later became a subsidiary of the Scindia Steam Navigation Company—is strongly motivated to contribute to Nanavati society,” Maniba’s grandson is called Shachin Nanavati.

on the spinning wheel

The visionary Chandulal was keen to bequeath an educational trust, a dream Maniba realized in 1954 with the Chandulal Nanavati Vinayamandir in Vile Parle. Three years before this, he held the founding trusteeship of Dr. Balabhai Nanavati Hospital, inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1951.

The suburb was a “cantonment”, the camp where plans for independence took shape. Says Shachin, “Veterans like Vallabhbhai Patel and Jamnalal Bajaj used to visit our house regularly. “Ville became Parle Ba’s Karmabhoomi. Gandhiji Na Rang Thi Rangayat Badha – Everyone was influenced by Gandhiji’s teachings.

Granddaughters Aabha Mathan and Himadri Nanavati at Khadi Temple, Vile Parle. Photos/Shadab Khan

Maniba was naturally attracted to this cause, their activities under close and constant scrutiny of the British. On asking the Mahatma what is the best way to serve the country, he was advised to undertake a crusade for the development of Khadi. Inspired, she joined a band of satyagrahi women led by Swami Anand and started spinning in remote villages. The Vile Parle Khadi Temple, opened in 1934, is still managed by women, apart from which Maniba was the honorary secretary of the Maharashtra Khadi and Village Industries Board.

Shachin’s wife Himadri recalls, “From pieces of old ties, a bandi vest for Adivasi and Dalit children.” “Wake up at 5 in the morning, she used to take bath and pray in the Jain temple. After darshan, she kept sewing till 11 o’clock. Breaking her fast, she went to the station, boarded a local for Churchgate and went to the Khadi store in the fort. Working there till 4 pm, she returned by train again and Jain had an early dinner. The evening prayer was done, she spent at least another hour needlepointing buttons and eyes on the clothes she stitched in the morning. Our house was always full of activists, social workers from Bardoli, Dharampur and across the country whom they sheltered and guided. ,
Although unable to complete her schooling, Maniba clearly understood the tremendous impact of education. She did not want women to be bound by limitations. “Baa never felt inadequate, but decided to help women who did so. She created diverse opportunities and facilities to ensure that they were not tied to the kitchen,” says Shachin.
“It was these highly practical business skills that kept her from her background,” says Maniba’s granddaughter Abha Mathan. His mother Arunaben Purohit, Maniba’s daughter, was in Arthur Road Jail during the freedom struggle. Whenever the Mahatma announced the movement or Jail Bharo, satyagrahis gathered at his house to have food before starting the movement.

“My grandmother made financial independence a priority, especially for girl child and doubly so for tribal girls in districts like Dang,” says Mathan. “Baa knew that when a woman has an additional source of income, her position in the family equation changes. She can direct the dynamism of her family, expelling them from stereotypes, prejudices and social evils. I accompanied him on several tours of ashramshalas. The children here got a chance to study in a relevant curriculum and acquire beneficial skills. With a core belief in education as a prime motivator towards betterment, Baa did not make a misfit in these residential schools set up across Gujarat. Learning skills for cottage industries such as charkha spinning, sewing, pottery and local crafts provided them economic uplift. Married or not, women could fight with confidence
For yourself.

“Baa didn’t utter jargon or hollow doctrines that burn on nerves. He just did[the work]. It was part of his essential spirituality – not the orthodox, morally superior Jainism you see today which is a source of wealth. Shows off. He had true spiritualism, an unwavering belief in Gandhian ideals. The missionary zeal is deeply ingrained in all of us, seeing education as the most important vehicle of change.”

Incidentally, Abha’s husband, filmmaker John Mathew Mathan, dedicated the peak in 2005 to Maniba, who often spun khadi for her. Beyond the environmental catchphrase of “getting the currency of global warming and deforestation, this film summed up Ba’s philosophy. It drew from seeing her as a force of compassion. She influenced life as a whole. A didactic word.” Without saying, he embodied the phrase ‘dignity of labour’ and showed that there is no shame in cleaning your plate after eating, whether with servants, or in taking care of loved ones through illness. Is. “
Echoing Mathan’s view, Shachin recalls teaching by example. “Baa was a silent worker, not a talker. She didn’t tell us about getting arrested for protesting the salt law while pregnant with her third child. We heard these incidents narrated by our father [mountaineer Jagdish Nanavati] and Auntie. He decided to travel the country in three-tiered unreserved train coaches, all the way to Bihar and Orissa, where he offered relief and rehabilitation to flood victims. The Oriya was originally a fish eater, the blisters in his mouth remained on rice for more than three months.

“In the 1980s, we got a very good and clear idea of ​​his humanity. I wanted to set up a factory on our one acre of land in Marol, which was being encroached upon. Fearing that some 200 settlement residents would also be used by builders. Will be homeless, Ba called his representatives. They were stunned when he handed them the gift deed for the plot. Overwhelmed by his gesture, he gratefully and touchingly collected R2 lakhs for him in return, undoubtedly, by him. To donate to a charity supported.”
Maithon recalls how Maniba wholeheartedly welcomed John, a Malayali Syrian Christian. “Baa was very nice, saying, ‘Hoon church ma zaroor avis tara lagan maate – I am definitely coming to your church wedding.’ Neither his religion mattered nor his non-vegetarianism. Rejecting such man-made divisions, ‘Ishwar e Nathi Banavya’, he believed. Because of his so broad-based thinking, the rest of the family would line up. Gone. Baa had a great sense of humor and was involved in our lives in a fun way! She doesn’t hold herself to some strict ‘I’m matriarchs and everyone should address me like that’ stature. Hot, Friendly, available at any time, she was fine with the fact that from college we had come to Khadi Bhandar in the middle of her workday to give her a kiss and run away for a movie.”

Maniba died in 2000 at the age of 95. Four months from now, in June, Maniben Nanavati Women’s College celebrates its golden jubilee. As principal, Dr. Rajshree Trivedi said, “We need not step out in search of a role model for our mission-women empowerment. That is where the college is named, Hamari Apni Maniba.”

Writer-publisher Mehr Marfatia writes fortnightly on everything that makes her love Mumbai and love Bombay. You can contact him at



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