Mahadev Desai was an Indian independence activist and writer best remembered as Mahatma Gandhi’s personal secretary. He has variously been described as “Gandhi’ Boswell, a Plato to Gandhi’s Socrates, as well as an Ananda to Gandhi’s Buddha”.
Mahadev Desai was born on 1 Jan, 1892 in the village of Saras in Surat District of Gujarat. He was educated at the Surat High School and the Elphinstone College, Mumbai.
Mahadev Desai first met Gandhi in 1915 when he went to meet him to seek his advice on how best to publish his book (a Gujrati translation of John Morley’s English book On Compromise).
He joined Gandhi’s Ashram in 1917 with her wife accompanied him to Champaran that year. He maintained a diary from 13 November 1917 to 14 August 1942, the day before his death, chronicling his life with Gandhi.
In 1919 when the colonial government arrested Gandhi in Punjab, he named Desai his heir. Desai was for the first time arrested and sentenced to a year in prison in 1921.
Desai took over as editor of Navajivan in 1924 and from 1925 he began the translation into English of Gandhi’s autobiography and its serial publication in the Young India.
He took part in the Bardoli Satyagraha along with Sardar Patel and wrote a history of the Satyagraha in Gujarati which he translated into English as The Story of Bardoli.
For his participation in the Salt Satyagraha, he was arrested and imprisoned but following the Gandhi- Irwin Pact, he was released from jail and accompanied Gandhi to the Second round Table conference.
After second round table conference when Gandhi launched civil disobedience movement in 1932, Desai was arrested again and sent to prison with Gandhi and Sardar Patel.
Following his release in 1933, he was re-arrested and detained in the Belgaum Jail. It was during this time in prison that he wrote Gita According to Gandhi which was posthumously published in 1946.
Desai’s final prison term followed the Quit India Declaration of 8 August 1942. He was arrested on the morning of 9 August 1942 and, till his death of a massive heart-attack six days later, was interred with Gandhi at the Aga Khan palace. Desai was 51 at the time of his death.
When Desai stopped breathing, Gandhi called out to him in agitation: “Mahadev! Mahadev!” When he was later asked why he had done so, Gandhi answered: “I felt that if Mahadev opened his eyes and looked at me, I would tell him to get up. He had never disobeyed me in his life.
He was posthumously awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1955 for Mahadevbhaini Dayari.