Gandhi Smriti: Bapu died here only to live forever
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
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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.