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"NAI" 2003 Obituary


NAIDA o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-07-25 published
A patriarch of the Jain community
He raised funds for the first Jain centre in Canada, and helped North Americans to understand an ancient faith
By Carol COOPER Special to The Globe and Mail Friday, July 25, 2003 - Page R13
During the preparation of the Toronto Jain community's new centre, a trustee became too busy to accept a delivery of carpet. He called Bapuji.
Mohanlal MEHTA, known to everyone as Bapuji, which means father in Gujarati, then in his 70s, drove through pouring rain to help.
"He came to my office and picked up the key. He was right there, getting the carpet unloaded, made sure it was done and gave me back the key," said Ramesh JAIN, a close friend of Mr. MEHTA for more than 20 years.
"That was a typical example of his dedication." Mr. Jain said. "He never shirked the responsibilities given to him or that he took on voluntarily."
Mr. MEHTA, a founding trustee, leader and patriarch of the Toronto Jain community, which sought his blessing for its ventures, died recently at the age of 88.
Originally from Zanzibar, but of Indian origin, Mr. MEHTA was addressed as Bapuji by his immediate family as its patriarch, but also by the Jain community, Friends, Canadian neighbours and clients of his sons' businesses out of respect for his role as a community elder. In the same tradition, Mahatma Gandhi was also referred to as Bapuji.
Jainism originated in the Indus Valley between approximately 3000 and 5000 British Columbia and is one of the world's oldest religions. Among its traditions, it holds that local members run their communities and carry out many of its rites. Jainism's precepts include non-violence, non-attachment to possessions and the acceptance of all points of view. Throughout his long life, Mr. MEHTA lived his religion.
In contributing to the North American Jain community, he translated Jain texts into English, travelled to centres in Ontario and the northern United States to say wedding prayers, conducted ceremonies for the dead, visited members in hospital and explained the Jain philosophy to other faith communities.
And until 1988, he represented the Jain community on the Ontario Multi-Faith Council on Spiritual and Religious Care, which consults with and advises public institutions and government on different faiths.
"He was a very noble, spiritual and divine person, free from prejudices, biases and anger. These are the qualities a real Jain would have and he had them," said Prakash MODY, a Jain community volunteer and representative on the Council. "He was a very nice, helpful person. He would give guidance any time and help as much as possible, even going out of his way to contact people and get things done, not only for Jains, but for any other person."
In 1980, Mr. MEHTA helped raise funds to establish the first Jain centre in Toronto, also the first in Canada. Previously the 150-member community had gathered in apartment buildings, basements, libraries and schools.
When the community, which now numbers 450, outgrew its first quarters, Mr. MEHTA was again among those who canvassed door to door to raise funds. With the money, the community helped pay for a $1-million building, which was soon mortgage-free.
"Wherever we went, people would not refuse or deny him," Mr. JAIN said. "His vision was for the community at large and he had no agenda. His agenda was strictly servicing the community."
Mr. MEHTA was born in Zanzibar, then a British protectorate, off the east coast of Africa on October 15, 1914. His parents had left their homeland in Gujarat province in India by dhow for Zanzibar in their early teens. There, the elder Mr. MEHTA changed the family name of NAIDA to MEHTA to reflect his profession of bookkeeper.
The youngest of six children, at the urging of an elder brother, Mr. MEHTA learned English and graduated from the School of Commerce in Zanzibar in 1932. Married in 1935 to Dhanlaxmi GANDHI, he worked as a government administrator, first for the health department on the island of Pemba. There he lived in two small rooms with his wife and their newborn son and the community's only artificial light.
Upon returning to Zanzibar, Mr. MEHTA joined the police department, again as an administrator and rose to assistant superintendent in 1963. Required to wear a gun, he complied, but said he would never use it.
Mr. MEHTA placed high value on education and emphasized that his four children should attend university. One became a doctor, another an electrical engineer and a third received a B.A. The fourth became a successful businessman. At home he spoke fluent English to them.
Following the death of his eldest brother in 1942, Mr. MEHTA raised one of the surviving eight children and helped him start a business.
During the Second World War, Mr. MEHTA headed Zanzibar's field-ambulance unit. Although the island went untouched by bombing, during drills, Mr. MEHTA checked the streets for casualties. For his services, he was awarded a government commendation.
After the Zanzibar Revolution in 1964, Mr. MEHTA arrived at work to find a new commissioner, installed by the revolutionary government. Fortunately, Mr. MEHTA knew his new boss well and kept his job.
In 1967, Mr. MEHTA retired, and he and his wife left to live in India with one of their three sons, accompanying him to Canada in 1971.
Mr. MEHTA loved his new, adopted country.
"He saw the Canadian values of live-and-let-live and the freedom of choice and he said, 'This is our country. We are Canadians,' said son, Chandrakant MEHTA.
Intelligent, curious and strong-willed, Mr. MEHTA owned little. Throughout his life, he never owned a house or car, or held a bank account or insurance policy. He owned two suits and four shirts.
Mr. MEHTA died on June 25. He leaves his wife Dhanlaxmi, daughter Tarla, sons Surendra, Chandrakant and Navin, plus grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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