Gandhi Sm­riti: Bapu died here only to live for­ever

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - Times City - Man­imugdha.Sharma @times­group.com

New Delhi: Lo­cated in the heart of Lu­tyens’ Delhi, Gandhi Sm­riti isn’t an av­er­age haunt for tourists. It was here that the Fa­ther of the Na­tion spent the last five months of his life. And it was here that he fell to an as­sas­sin’s bul­lets. So, this is no or­di­nary place. It’s a shrine.

Owned by the Bir­las once, and still pop­u­larly re­ferred to as Birla House, this sprawl­ing Lu­tyens’ Delhi bun­ga­low hosted Ma­hatma Gandhi for the last 144 days of his life. Those were tu­mul­tuous days as the whole na­tion, and Delhi in par­tic­u­lar, was en­gulfed in com­mu­nal ri­ots em­a­nat­ing from the Par­ti­tion. To­day, how­ever, the seren­ity of the place and its sur­round­ings be­trays the anger, the hurt, and the guilt ex­pe­ri­enced by all those who came to bid the Ma­hatma adieu at this place on Jan­uary 30, 1948.

Pro­fes­sor Apoor­vanand of Delhi Univer­sity be­lieves it is an un­com­fort­able place for many be­cause they must con­front with the re­al­ity that the Fa­ther of the Na­tion was mur­dered. “When schools or­gan­ise ed­u­ca­tional trips on Gandhi, they take chil­dren to Ra­jghat first, which is an empty space. You can­not even feel Gandhi there. But when a child is taken to Gandhi Sm­riti and shown those fi­nal steps of Gandhi that were halted mid­way, s/ he re­alises what hap­pened to him,” he said.

The me­mo­rial is a unique com­bi­na­tion of old and new. The ground floor of the two­s­torey man­sion is re­plete with photo galleries and arte­facts that cap­ture the days Gandhi stayed there. There is also a li­brary where many com­mon and rare books on

Jamia ex­tends date for Kash­miri as­pi­rants:

Jamia Mil­lia Is­lamia has ex­tended the ad­mis­sion date for Kash­miri stu­dents till Oc­to­ber 10. Many as­pi­rants came to the cam­pus com­plain­ing about how due to the in­ter­net block­ade, they couldn’t com­plete the process. Gandhi and the Free­dom Strug­gle are on dis­play. There is also a spe­cial gallery that has dio­ra­mas de­pict­ing in­ci­dents from Gandhi’s life.

The top floor has been turned into a sen­sory mu­seum that takes ideas from Gandhi’s life and his move­ments and trans­late them into in­ter­ac­tive props.

One room has an art in­stal­la­tion de­pict­ing a prison. It has sen­sory col­umns at one end made as prison bars, which trig­ger video clip­pings on a big screen when touched. In an­other room, there is a ‘tree of unity’. Vis­i­tors have to form a hu­man chain hold­ing hands and touch two sen­sors on the ground. That lights up the tree. If any­one breaks the chain, the lights go off. “Gandhi stressed on unity among Indians. A na­tion is made by its peo­ple. If there’s Ram dhun, when it is struck with a stick.

In an­other room, there is a model of a train en­gine. A vis­i­tor can en­ter the en­gine room and work the train levers to run an in­ter­ac­tive ride repli­cat­ing Gandhi’s train jour­ney across the coun­try af­ter his ar­rival in In­dia from South Africa in 1915.

“Peo­ple love these! We get about 1,000 vis­i­tors daily, but the count is higher on Satur­day and Sun­day. Nearly 400 are schoolkids. About 600-odd for­eign vis­i­tors also show up every week,” Ku­mar said.

Cana­dian cit­i­zen Ren­wick Herry was vis­it­ing the place for the first time when TOI caught up with him. “I am orig­i­nally from the Caribbean. I have al­ways been fas­ci­nated by Gandhi’s ideas, and I am glad to be here. He talked about hu­man ad­vance­ment. He meant some­thing dif­fer­ent,” he said.

Once out­side the build­ing, a vis­i­tor gets to see the fi­nal steps that Gandhi took that fate­ful evening on Jan­uary 30, 1948. These have been pre­served with con­crete repli­cas. They go all the way to a raised, grassy plat­form and stop right af­ter as­cend­ing the steps. It’s a revered spot and the guides there in­sist that you re­move your footwear be­fore climb­ing on to it.

The spot where he fell to Nathu­ram Godse’s bul­lets is now a con­crete spot for homage. The tim­ing of the as­sas­si­na­tion and Gandhi’s last words are in­scribed there. A lit­tle ahead is an­other raised plat­form to in­di­cate the spot where Gandhi used to sit as he held his prayer meet­ings. One leaves this spot with a heavy heart.

On the way back is a sou­venir shop that sells khadi ap­parel, pocket watches, cof­fee mugs and other mem­o­ra­bilia. The qual­ity of the items here is some­what bet­ter than what is avail­able at Na­tional Gandhi Mu­seum.

“If only they had fo­cused on the other places as­so­ci­ated with Gandhi in Delhi, things would have been much bet­ter. There are barely any vis­i­tors at the me­mo­rial at Har­i­jan Se­vak Sangh near Kingsway Camp. Why this ne­glect? Will we be able to pre­serve Gandhi’s mem­ory for long at this rate?” said author Vivek Shukla who has writ­ten a book called Gandhi’s Delhi.

Pro­fes­sor Apoor­vanand added an­other per­spec­tive on the im­por­tance of Gandhi Sm­riti. “Some peo­ple have sug­gested that Gandhi wanted to die. That isn’t true. He had called for a con­fer­ence at Wardha on Fe­bru­ary 2, 1948, to dis­cuss the way for­ward. He wanted to go to Pak­istan with dis­placed Hin­dus and Sikhs and re­turn with dis­placed Mus­lims from there. He clearly wanted to live. He knew what he was do­ing was dan­ger­ous, and there had al­ready been sev­eral at­tacks on him. He knew that his life was in dan­ger, but he still wanted to live. His mis­sion was cut short. And this place should for­ever re­mind you that,” he said.

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