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Prof. Tribhuvandas Gajjar (1863- 1920)

Tribhuvandas Kalyandas Gajjar was India’s great scientist and Gujrat’s first and foremost chemist. He was born in August, 1863 in a well-to-do and prosperous Gajjar family of Surat. His uncle, Atmaram Gajjar was well-known personality. Atmarambhai’s ancestor, who belonged to carpenter family, had earlier settled in Dhanasuthar’s pole in Ahmedabad. A square named Gajjar square still exists there.

Tribhuvandas's father kalyandas was a well-known sculptor. He had also written a book called ‘The Art of Sculpture’. Tribhuvandas was the youngest of four sons and two daughters of Kalyandas. Tribhuvan was an intelligent child. He cleared every class with high grades. His father was pleased with his brightness. At home, he taught Tribhuvan the art of sculpting. Thus, Tribhuvan learnt intricate wood carving and obtained knowledge of the traditional art of sculpting from his father. When he was 16, he cleared the matriculation examination with good marks. While at school his interest turned towards science. For higher education, he joined the science stream of Mumbai’s (Bombay’s) Elphinstone College. He got 75 % marks in B Sc with Chemistry as his principle subject. For this achievement, he was appointed junior fellow during his postgraduate studies and later, senior fellow, in the college. As a junior fellow, he taught chemistry and physics to fresh admitted students. After that he completed his MA from Mumbai University.

India’s economic condition had worsened during the British rule. With the intent of helping society during these trying times, he came to Surat and started the cottage industry school. His aim was to guide the youth in various skilled work based on science, ultimately to make them self-reliant. But later on, due to lack of government aid and funds, he had to wind up this school. Meanwhile, he was invited by the Mumbai Government to join Sindh College in Karachi as professor of chemistry with salary of Rs. 300 per month. He was also invited by vadodara (Baroda) college for the same post with salary of Rs. 200 per month. Since the Maharaja of Vadodara, Sir Sayajirao Gaikwad encouraged cottage industry. Tribhuandas decided to join Vadodara College even though the salary would have been less than what he would have got at Sindh College.

After joining Vadodara College, he won the hearts of all with his knowledge, enthusiasm and dedication. There, he skillfully carried on his work. Some time later, an order was issued to send him abroad along with a few bright students for further studies. He was to be sent abroad for further study in farming and after his return, he would be made deputy collector in the revenue department. He convinced his superiors not to send him abroad and showed his readiness to take up printing and dyeing work in the state. For this purpose, he carried out a survey and set up a laboratory. He started giving scientific training to the youth of the families engaged in dyeing and printing. There was a good demand for these trained artisans. In this venture, he received support of the Maharaja and the people as well. He met the Maharaja and apprised him of the importance of setting up a training school like kala Bhavan for cottage industry.

In June 1890, Kala Bhavan was established in Vadodara and its entire responsibility rested on Gajjar’s shoulders. A special fund for this purpose was also handed over to him. In a short time span, 800 students had joined the school. Due to hard work, he introduced courses in carpentry, drawing, architecture, building construction, weaving, dyeing, chemistry, physics, etc., and started imparting knowledge. He provided free accommodation to economically weak students. It was his earnest desire that our country should match other countries in cottage industry and also in the field of science. After overcoming teething problems, he started thinking ahead. He found it essential that necessary study material be written and published in the vernacular language. He also obtained the Maharaja’s permission in this regard. Maharaja Sayajirao granted him permission to spend up to Rs. 50, 000 on that venture. For this purpose, he also developed a dictionary. Professor Gajjar also knew the German language. He translated German books and periodicals on the cottage industries in Gujarati and published them in his magazine Rangrahasya (Colour sectets). This helped in teaching new techniques to the students. Gradually, the demand for students who passed out from kala Bhavan increased. In five years, the kala Bhavan became the soul of Gajjar. But, due to false propaganda by some envious elements he had to resign from the institute in 1896. He then went to Mumbai.

After coming to Mumbai, he joined Wilson College as professor of chemistry. There, he contributed towards improvements in the field of education and modernized the curriculum. Meanwhile, Mumbai was in the grip of plague and no medicine proved to be effective. Gajjar developed a medicine proved to be very effective. He was opposed to the idea of grabbing the opportunity to patent the medicine and make some fast money. He placed the medicine before the world. His only intention was to serve the poor people. In 1898, at his own expense, he set up a private laboratory named Technochemical Laboratory. Gradually, he expanded the institute with more facilities. Later, Mumbai University and Grant Medical College granted recognition to this laboratory for their students.

Meanwhile, in 1898, an incident took place that made Gajjar famous the world over. It so happened that in mumbai’s walled city area on Esplanade Road. Someone had blackened the face of the marble statue of Queen Victoria. The colour was permanent and it was difficult to remove it. The British government was in a hurry to clean up the statue, but they were unsuccessful. Experts from the world over were called in, but failed to clean it up. At this stage, Gajjar showed his willingness to remove the stains. The government summoned Gajjar and asked him to clean up a part of the statue. He successfully did it and went on to remove all the stains. Newspapers all over the world hailed professor Gajjar’s efforts. He became world-famous and gained recognition internationally as a chemist. After this, Gajjar made such an amazing discovery that he received both wealth and recognition. He developed a new process to clean up pearls that had turned yellow. When the great Indian chemist Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray heard the news of Gajjar’s astonishing achievement he congratulated him.

Professor Gajjar earned lakhs of rupees from this venture. He then set up the ‘Alembic Chemistry Works’ in vadodara with help from his student Srikoti Bhaskar. Bhaskar was then sent to Germany to gain specialized knowledge. Meanwhile, he read litterateur Govardhanram Tripathi’s novel Saraswatichandra, and was impressed by the plan of kalyan village. He met this great Gujarati novelist in person and they became good friends. He started one such scheme near Andheri. There, he began developing the cottage industry and encouraged traditional art for the welfare of the people. Gajjar then, had plenty of money. Due to wealth, many disputes took place within the family that reached the court. Though he won the case, he lost a lot of money and peace of mind. Meanwhile, his wife passed away. He started feeling lonely. After the death of his wife, he never felt happy and cheerful. Then came the unexpected news of the death of his student. Srikoti Bhaskar. He spent his health and wealth to keep alembic chemical works stable and sustained. Life became difficult and worries affected his health. He was a depressed and dejected man. Gradually, he became a victim of sleeplessness. He had become very lonely. This great scientist was really moved when he once had the opportunity to meet Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi advised him to spend his remaining life peacefully and happily.

Gajjar was his own doctor, but could not sustain his lifeline. On july 16, 1920, this great soul departed for his heavenly abode. Thus, this great chemist from Gujrat, after spending his hard earned money for the selfare of the people and gifting the laboratory he set up to the National Medical College, took leave from this world. We pay our heartfelt tribute to this great scientist and worthy son of Gujarat.

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