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G G Parikh’s ‘something for Yusuf’, brings Meherally to life

Yusuf Meherally Centre aims to provoke commitment to India, even as it works for material development

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Dr G G Parikh, aged 82, sits ram-rod straight in the front seat of the Sumo as it moves fairly swiftly through Mumbai. It's the Republic Day, 2006 and streets are free. Mangla Behn, his wife sits with a gentle smile in the back seat. She is about two years younger than him. They are headed for Panvel from Grant Road, where they live. It's a 2 hour long haul even on holidays; they have done the 90 km weekly run for 35 years with rare exceptions.

Just past Panvel, the car slows down at Tara, an Adivasi village. A few women stand at the edge of a dusty road, in their formal best, with platters of flowers, kumkum, lit oil lamps and an arati for the Parikhs. A brass band of school children strikes up. A spindly-legged marching platoon of boys escorts the car slowly, through the bedecked, wet-eyed village to a 3 acre clearing. Here suddenly is a generously laid out school. It is one of Dr Parikh's realised dreams. There is a large gathering to honour G.G. - as he is fondly addressed- and Mangla Behn.

G.G. doesn't show his emotions; his are the only dry eyes. The man is determined and seems set to deliver his message at the meeting. From the conversation during the ride, it is clear it will ring with a passion that is said to belong only in the young. He half turns and whispers: "You see, forty years ago JP wanted to do something for Yusuf".

Then he walks slowly but firmly, using a stick, through the silently admiring crowd towards the dais.

The 'Socialist' tag:

Yusuf Meherally Merchant, to give the full name, was born in a wealthy Gujarati family in 1903. But he had no stomach for business. In fact disowning mercantilism, he dropped his surname. He trained as a lawyer but could not enrol as an advocate because of his record of agitation against the British.

Yusuf Meherally was a sensitive man and an aesthete. He bewitched and befriended everyone he met. His passion for the humanist ideal made people swarm around him. He was a frail man who kept bad health, but that did not abate his fire. He was of the crop of young men that dreamed of a just India after the British left. 'Communism' was a banned label then and so 'socialism' —for which there was then no working model— became a flag of convenience.

Acharya Narendra Deva, Achyut Patwardhan, Ashok Mehta, Prof Dantwala, Jaya Prakash Narayan [JP], Sane Guruji, Minoo Masani, N G Goray, R M Lohia and of course, Yusuf Meherally were the early socialists. To some of them, it was an economic idea, to some a reformist one, to others a violent revolution and to all, a passionate commitment to India. Most of them did not marry. They were driven, talented men, with a firm eye on the egalitarian India they wished to realise, but Gandhi kept emphasising on the importance of the means to that end.

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