After reaching Rajkot station, we got to know that our train for the onward journey was late by three hours. A local gentleman suggested we used time by visiting the local museum, walking distance away.
Marching down, we realised how long "walking distances" could run. Hardly had we walked a kilometre or so than the blazing sun left us tired and restless, and we decided to check our coordinates.
Spotting a huge mansion, we rushed in. "Excuse me, could you tell us how far the museum is?" my husband asked the elderly man at the front desk. "Sir, it's another 10-minute walk. Go straight." he replied.
The cool comfort of the air-conditioned environment was tempting, so in order to relax for a while, I thought of engaging him in a conversation. "By the way, what is this building?" I asked him. "Oh, I will tell you everything but first you must relax and have chilled water."
Reclining into the sofa, I was drawn to the portraits on the wall and was wondering who the subjects were. "These pictures are of the people who contributed to restoring this mansion," said the gentleman from the front desk, free now to talk. He told us the building belonged to a sect in Gujarat, many believers of which had settled abroad with time; and since the new generation had not been so attached to the place, it had once fallen into neglect.
Then fortunately, the community reassembled here for a wedding, and the dilapidated state of the building pained some of the elders. They had a meeting to take opinions of the members. While most proposals were for appointing a priest for daily rituals, a gentleman proposed something novel.
"Even after refurbishing," the wise man said, "this building can be maintained only if it is put to use, and nothing like it, if it is used for a good cause. We all know there is a government hospital nearby, serving people from the towns and villages around. While the patients get beds, the attendants have to sleep in the open, as this place has no affordable hotel. I suggest we construct rooms to be offered to them for nominal price. Later, we can also add the kitchen facility."
"His plan was endorsed, and today we have 120 rooms," said the man from the front desk, adding: "The room tariff is Rs 100 a day and even this is condoned, if the guest can't afford. A meal is for Rs 5 only." His face glowed with a sense of pride.
"What a great idea!" I said, and recalled the many huge buildings in my city that I knew were raised on cheap government land with kind donations but now feeding the egos of the trustees. Those palaces were either not used or had been turned into half-empty luxury hotels. "Why can't we have a Rajkot mansion in our city?" I wondered. After all, could there be a bigger respect to the noble donors?