Obituary: Pramesh Dik Mehta

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The Independent Online
Pramesh Dik Mehta, community leader, restaurateur, art collector, born Zanzibar 16 June 1937, married Elizabeth Fleming (one son, one daughter), died Edinburgh 7 September 1992.

PRAMESH DIK MEHTA was a leading light of the Indian community in Scotland, a past president of the Edinburgh Indian Association, the oldest and most prestigious such association in Britain, and an active figure in local politics and community relations; he was also an able restaurateur and a notable art collector.

Dik Mehta was born in Zanzibar into the Indian community which was to prosper until the 1964 Communist-inspired revolution threatened his life and that of many of his generation. One-tenth of the Zanzibari population was Indian, mostly from Gujarat. They provided the administrative framework which enabled the British to rule the Protectorate in collaboration with the Sultan. Dik Mehta finished school in 1955, unable to go abroad for further education, and worked as a clerk in the Administrator General's office for five years. During this period he began reading for the Bar in his spare time and completed four sections of the first part of the Bar examinations, thereby securing four terms in absentia. By 1960 he had saved enough money to complete his studies at Lincoln's Inn. In 1961 he was awarded a Lincoln's Inn scholarship.

Returning to Zanzibar in November 1962, he soon found himself acting as assistant secretary to the prime minister. In September 1963 he was appointed Crown Counsel. He resigned from the service of the Zanzibar Revolutionary Government, discovering that it had little respect for the rule of law. Indeed he was under surveillance and probably about to join the list of missing persons growing every day. He escaped to the mainland, to Dar es Salaam. So began his long journey, with all his worldly goods in a small briefcase, which led him to Edinburgh through the support of Bill Barton, his Scottish friend and mentor, who had been Director of Medical Services in Zanzibar.

Dik Mehta belonged to the Banya or merchant caste. Once he was settled in Edinburgh, employed as a legal adviser to the Standard Life Assurance Company and married to Elizabeth Fleming, an Edinburgh librarian, he enjoyed the teasing of his new Edinburgh friends about the legendary meanness of the Banya. He rid himself of old clothes and domestic paraphernalia with great reluctance, but at the same time he would give generously and freely of his expertise, and often from his own pockets solving the problems of many members of the Edinburgh Indian community. His youthful appearance belied his wisdom. His soft-spoken manner hid his passionate concern for justice being done. His large black eyes gave him his nickname, 'Dik-Dik', after the little African antelope. He had a natural and calming air of authority.

By 1971, he and Elizabeth had moved with their son, Anil, and their daughter, Nina, to Barns Cottage on the Fife coast, overlooking Dalgety Bay and Inchcolm Island towards Edinburgh across the Firth of Forth. In that year he became the President of the Edinburgh Indian Association. From 1978 to 1982 he was the Chairman of Lothian Community Relations Council, and from 1980 to 1983 an executive committee member of the Scottish Council for Racial Equality.

He was a natural champion of impossible causes and committed to voluntary work with Oxfam, Amnesty International and Refugee Action. When in 1977 he became Chairman of the Dalgety Bay/Aberdour Action Group set up to oppose the despoliation of the Fife coastline by the building of a liquid gas plant, he asked me to illustrate the brochure which he published, Nought for Your Heritage. In this he passionately defended the coastline's beauty and in his summing-up at the public inquiry he revealed his essentially spiritual viewpoint when he said that 'the thrust of our society must be shifted from an expansion of quantity to an improvement of quality . . . What is required is a fundamental shift in the way we conceive man's role within society and within the ecological nature of the earth.'

In 1989 he joined the board of the Demarco Gallery and was to play a vitally important role in the development of the gallery's cultural and educational policy in Eastern Europe. The gallery benefited from his patronage as a collector; so too did many foreign artists and students, who received a warm welcome both in the idyllic setting of the house and garden which he and Elizabeth loved and also in the Kalpna, which he and associates established 11 years ago as Scotland's leading Indian vegetarian restaurant.

He loved the arts in all their manifestations and a few weeks before his tragic, early and unexpected death, he initiated one of the central features of the 1992 Edinburgh International Film Festival - the screening of the Satyajit Ray trilogy.

His philosophy, in religious and cultural matters, obliged him to support both Indian and European culture in equal measure. His Hinduism, like that of Gandhi, gave him an understanding of both East and West.