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Commerce as Romance: Nanji Kalidas Mehta's Dream Half-Expressed

Gaurav Desai
Research in African Literatures
Vol. 42, No. 3, Asian African Literatures / Gaurav Desai, Special Guest Editor (Fall 2011), pp. 147-165
Published by: Indiana University Press
DOI: 10.2979/reseafrilite.42.3.147
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Page Count: 19
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Commerce as Romance: Nanji Kalidas Mehta's Dream Half-Expressed
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ABSTRACT This article is a study of the autobiography of Nanji Kalidas Mehta (1887––1969), a Gujarati entrepreneur who arrived in East Africa as a young boy and retired in his old age as the founder of a major multinational conglomerate, the Mehta Group of Companies. I locate in his autobiography one of the mythological charters of the Indian presence in Africa––that of commerce as romance. My reading highlights Mehta's self-fashioning not only as a man of commerce, but also as a man of literature, an avid traveler, an engaged nationalist, a devout Hindu, and a committed philanthropist. In tracing some of these priorities of his life, I seek to ask what they also say about his attitudes towards African modernity, religious tolerance, spaces of domesticity, and the role of women in society. A closer look at lives such as those of Mehta's, I suggest, may allow for a more nuanced understanding of the larger Indian Ocean provenance of commercial modernity in East Africa than that rendered by traditional accounts that focus solely on British colonial enterprise.

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