Mahatma Gandhi or Bapu as he was endearingly called by millions of Indians, was arrested several times in his lifetime. In the history of British India and free India, one family had its tryst with Bapu the Bilimorias. When India was still under British rule, it was sometimes the task of senior police officer Dhanjisha Bilimoria, great grandfather of Hyderabad-born Cobra Beer founder, Lord Karan Bilimoria, to arrest ‘Bapu’ and escort him to jail.
“My great grandfather had to experience some awkward moments in his career as a police officer. He had to arrest Mahatma Gandhi three times. It was an unpleasant job. They all took place in Gujarat where he was posted. He eventually retired in a place called Balsar,” says Lord Bilimoria. In one such arrest in 1930, it was the duty of Dhanjisha to escort Bapu to Sabarmati jail. On the way to the jail, Gandhiji wanted to visit his friend Dr Kanuga at Ellis Bridge in Ahmedabad for a few minutes and sought the consent of Dhanjisha for the same. When Dhanjisha relented, Gandhiji turned around and asked him jokingly, “But, if I escape?” Dhanjisha replied that it was a matter of trust.
“Since then, my great grandfather Dhanjisha Bilimoria and Gandhiji developed a great sense of mutual trust and respect,” Lord Karan Bilimoria told TOI. While Dhanjisha, the ‘Khan Bahadur’, had to arrest Bapu thrice in his career as a police officer in British India, his son Colonel Noshir Faridoon Bilimoria (grandfather of Lord Karan Bilimoria), was posted to protect Gandhiji in post-independence India when Noshir was in command of his battalion in Calcutta (now Kolkata). “This was difficult because Gandhiji never wanted to be protected from his own people,” Lord Bilimoria recalls his grandfather’s anecdote.
But Noshir would insist that it was part of his duty to protect him. The story goes that Bapu remarked to Noshir Bilimoria, “Is it not strange that your father arrested me in 1930 and the son comes back to look after me in 1947!” “There’s a photo of my grandfather next to Gandhiji at the time of India’s independence,” says Lord Bilimoria. Noshir Bilimoria later retired as Brigadier.
“My grandmother Rati Bilimoria was, in fact, at a tea party in the house next to Birla House in Delhi when Mahatma Gandhi was tragically assassinated and heard the gun shots and then saw people jumping over the wall to where she was,” recalls Lord Bilimoria. In fact, Lord Karan Bilimoria was part of a seven-member Gandhi Statue Special Advisory Panel chaired by UK’s culture secretary Sajid Javid. The nine-feet bronze statue of Bapu was only the 11th statue in Parliament Square, the 10th one being of Nelson Mandela. “To this day, Bapu’s statue in Parliament Square is the best among the 11 in the Square. Mahatma Gandhi was not just for India he was for the world,” says Lord Bilimoria with pride.
“I have known Gopal Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, from the time I started Cobra Beer in the early 1990s, when he was the director of The Nehru Centre, the cultural centre of the Indian high commission, based in London. I kept in touch with Gopal over the years and he made the most brilliant, touching and moving speech at the unveiling of the Mahatma Gandhi statue in Parliament Square on March 14, 2015, actually looking up to the sky and addressing his grandfather in his speech. It is something I will never forget,” Lord Bilimoria adds.