A Noble Inheritance
Her grandmother, Sakhubai Salve, displayed the courageous and virtuous qualities that had accompanied the family dynasty through the centuries. In 1883, while in the late stages of pregnancy, Sakhubai lost her husband under tragic circumstances. Threatened by his relatives (who did not tolerate the fact that he and his family were Christian), she took her four children and left late one monsoon-soaked night, with the nearby river in spate.
Sakhubai and her children had to adapt from a life of wealth and ease to that of extreme frugality. Her children’s education, however, was essential to Sakhubai, and she instilled in them a spirit of self-sacrifice and commitment. They pursued their studies under street lamps when there was no more kerosene at home.
Prasad Rao, the youngest, was a particularly brilliant student and received scholarships throughout his academic career. He studied law and joined a well-known firm in the city of Chhindwara. He married soon after, but sadly, was widowed at the age of 37, with five children. Though reluctant, he was eventually persuaded by his relatives to remarry, out of concern for the children’s wellbeing.
There was a young woman from Nagpur named Cornelia Karuna Jadhav, the first woman in India to receive an honours degree in mathematics. She was also a scholar of Sanskrit and very well versed in ancient Indian culture. Because she was so highly educated, it was difficult for her father to find a partner for her of at least equal, if not higher, academic qualifications.
Despite the fact that Prasad Rao had been given a title by the British and that they were Christian (which meant a lot of privileges during the time of British rule), he and his wife did not hesitate to join the movement, making their position clear – even burning their foreign-made clothes in the public square of Nagpur. Because of their involvement in the freedom struggle, they were both jailed several times, and they made it a family rule that no one was to shed tears for them. India’s freedom was the most important thing, and self-sacrifice was the rule, not the exception.
Some years later Shri Mataji was old enough to join the freedom struggle, encouraging fellow students to do the same. She, too, was imprisoned and even tortured by the British. But her spirit was not weakened by the experience. Throughout her life, she would continue to personify the eternal values of her noble ancestors: courage, self-sacrifice and compassion.
1. ^ H. P. Salve, 'My Memoirs' New Delhi: Life Eternal Trust, 2000