Rare portraits of the Mahatma

On the 142nd birth anniversary of Gandhi, we bring you some rare portraits of the Mahatma taken by his grand nephew, Kanu Gandhi. These are just a few pictures from an outstanding collection that forms an intimate, personal chronicle of the last 10 years of Gandhi’s life

When Kanu Gandhi decided to take pictures of the Mahatma, he had to agree to certain conditions. Gandhi allowed Kanu to photograph him provided no flash would be used (only natural light), that he would never be asked to pose and that Sabarmati Ashram would not finance his photography.

Kanu agreed. He was given Rs 100 by Ghanshyam Das Birla to buy his first camera and a film roll. Over 10 years, from 1938 to 1948, Kanu took some of the most moving and compassionate personal photographs of Gandhi ever seen. By then (in 1936, to be precise), Kanu had already joined Gandhi’s movement for India’s independence and become a member of the Mahatma’s personal staff. He had been a child when his parents came to live with Gandhi in Sabarmati Ashram. In 1944, he married Abhaben Chatterjee and both of them devoted their lives to Gandhi and his cause.

Kanu Gandhi passed away in 1986, and Abhaben in 1995. Though some of his photographs are well known, he was never credited for them. And even though some of his images have been reproduced in many books on Gandhi, his body of work still awaits acknowledgement for its historical and artistic importance.

Top left: A pensive Gandhi in a train on the way to Assam, Top right: On the telephone in the Sevagram Ashram office, Bottom left: Gandhi looking through a train window at the crowds on a railway station platform, Bottom right: The Mahatma reading a letter at four in the morning at Khadi Pratishthan in Sodepur in the 24 Parganas

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