My friend and mentor Dr Natubhai Shah, who has died aged 89, was a GP for almost 30 years before becoming founding CEO of the Jain Network. The aim of the network is to bring awareness of the ancient Indian religion of Jainism to the western world. Jains believe that one can achieve spiritual enlightenment through a principle of nonviolence.
Born in Mahmadpur, India, to Chandanben, a homemaker, and Keshavlal Shah, a labourer, Natubhai attended Government high school in Palanpur, Gujarat. He was the first in his family to go to university, studying science at Fergusson College Poona University. While there, he obtained the financial support of Mahavira Jaina Vidyalaya, an organisation that supports the academic interests of the Jain community, which enabled him to take a medical degree at the University of Mumbai. His relationship with the organisation solidified his commitment to Jainism.
During his 30s, Natubhai insisted his father retire from his job, which involved carrying heavy merchandise in and out of a shop, and provided for him until his death in 1988. He also supported his mother and sister, as well as his wife and two children.
In 1968, Natubhai and his wife, Bhanumati (nee Kapadia), whom he had married 10 years earlier, moved to Leicester, where he worked as a GP until retiring in 1997. During this time, he began working for the Jain community and in 1988 established the architecturally stunning Leicester Jain Centre, which acts as a cornerstone for community worship and activities to this day.
His “retirement” was the beginning of a new chapter. He went on to obtain a PhD in the Jain religion and authored books on the subject, including Jainism: The World of Conquerors. He spearheaded the formation of Jain studies at De Montfort University, Soas, the University of Antwerp and Mumbai University.
Natubhai had an unwavering commitment to promoting interfaith harmony between Jains and people of other faiths. He was a founding member of Faiths Forum for London and other interfaith initiatives, such as the Inter Faith Network and Barnet Multi Faith Forum. I met Natubhai when I first started in interfaith, and he was a great role model.
Focused and determined, yet gracious and charismatic, he was adept at engaging people from diverse communities. He achieved complex projects with a typically dexterous light touch, the most recent being the Jain Centre in Colindale, north-west London, scheduled to be consecrated in 2023. He remained active in his work and independent until his final days.
Natubhai received numerous honours, most notably an MBE in 2012 and being named Man of the Year by the American Biographical Institute in 1991.
Bhanumati died in 2016. Natubhai is survived by his daughter, Leena, by his son, Samir, and by his grandchildren, Ravi, Jasmine, Rajiv and Alyssa.