Around ten days ago, to flag off the New Year and gear up for the Republic Day celebrations, the caretakers of Mani Bhavan invited Ameesha Patel for a guided tour of Mahatma Gandhi’s historic home in the city.
“I must have been around six years when I first visited this place, taken around by my grandmother, Susheela Patel-Gokhale, who gave me a history lesson on Bapu,” she recalls.
The two-storied bungalow at Laburnum Road where Bapu had lived for 17 years, from 1917 to 1934, and initiated the Civil Disobedience, Satyagraha, Swadeshi, Khadi and Khilafat movements, was turned into a memorial, museum and research centre in 1955.
It houses the room he occupied, preserved in its original setting along with his bed, utensils and charkha (spinning wheel).
The place also has a picture gallery, a library with around 50,000 books and periodicals on and by Gandhi, an auditorium where his films are screened and recordings of his speeches played, and the terrace where he was arrested on January 4, 1932.
There is also an ongoing exhibition, Glimpses Of Gandhi, that details Bapu’s journey through miniature figures in 28 tableaux, meticulously researched and painstakingly prepared by Sushila Gokhale-Patel, the wife of barrister Rajani Patel, who divorced him to live quietly and independently in Pune.
“My grandmother was a voracious reader, almost a living encyclopedia, who must have read at least 500 books to research the facts of Gandhiji’s life. She had spent endless hours deciding which important phases of his life needed to be documented through dolls whose features, costumes and body language had to be appropriate to the personalities they depicted, with even the backdrops matching the period in history they were set in,” says Ameesha.
Susheelaji travelled with the exhibition across the country before donating it to the Mani Bhavans in Delhi and Mumbai.
“A few years before she passed away, she supervised the renovation work, refreshing the miniatures as she camped out with the workers for weeks,” reminisces Ameesha.
Mani Bhavan today is a must-visit for tourists, both Indian and foreign, with even American President Barack Obama and wife Michelle stopping there for an hour during their visit to the city.
“I’m just disappointed that not too many Mumbaikars visit the exhibition, many haven’t even heard about Mani Bhavan,” rues the actor who has visited it several times in the past.
For Ameesha, seeing the familiar faces, was like going back in time to her childhood and her first lesson in Indian history.
“This time my grandmother wasn’t there beside me but I had only to look at the dolls to feel her presence,” says an emotional Ameesha.
“The placard bearing her name didn’t mean much to her but when I ran my fingers over it, I felt so proud. That day, I wasn’t Ameesha Patel, the actor, I went back to being Susheela Patel-Gokhale’s granddaughter and it was a humbling experience.”