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Gandhi's tenants

india Updated: Aug 21, 2008 01:36 IST
Sarat C Das
Sarat C Das
Hindustan Times
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It is always a compelling read to know how people are conducting themselves in the physical space they live which once belonged to Mahatma. Are they paying due regards to the historic importance of the space and their possible psyche through this material connect. Our findings varied - sometimes as different as chalk and cheese.

Birla House in New Delhi, where Mahatma spent his last days in life, has a score of custodians who look after the upkeeping of the place. The house was acquired by the Government of India in 1971 and opened for the public in the form of a converted Gandhi Smriti that includes the prayer ground where Mahatma fell to assassin's bullets during an evening prayer congregation.

I walked past the idea of the "sanctity of this place" to a security peson on the watch who blurted that he was more bothered to go home early than buidling a conversation with me. In Sabarmati Ashram of Ahmedabad, which Gandhi made his home between 1917 to 1930, does engage a lot of people who manages a host of cottages and a compact museum area that include a library, photo galleries and an auditorium. During my two visits to the place, I felt the on-duty officials engagement with the place is like any other government officials - far from any spiritual connection.

I assumed things would not be different in the other physical spaces such as Gandhi's birthplace Porbandar, or Kheda in Gujarat, where Gandhi established an ashram to organise scores of veteran supporters and volunteers from the region for community development.

However, Ba Kutir within a sprwaling 20-acre Harijan Sevak Sangh at Kingsway Camp in Delhi, accorded a different experience for the people who occupied this space as tenants. Mahatma with his family stayed in this place between 1932 and 1947 during most of his visits to Delhi. In recent years, the Ba Kutir is made into a dorm known as "Gandhi Ashram Girls' Hostel" for Delhi University students who could not be accommodated in university's overcrowding hostel.

Urvashi Singh, a Delhi University sophomore living in Ba Kutir, said: "I am conscious of living in this historic building and at times little extra careful for I am afraid I am not defiling the place."

Anjali Sharma, who hailed from Agra doing an undergraduate programme at Delhi University, said, "After started living in Ba Kutir I tried to become a vegetarian following Gandhi, unsuccessful though!"

Kavita Rajeshwari, another Delhi University student from Andhra Pradesh who lived in Ba Kutir for two years, said that she always had a particular vision of Gandhiji descending the stairway of the house.

"I spotted this visual in a print publication, and since then its stayed with me."

"My seniors who lived in this house before always too have shared their experience with me, and I found some of them are strange thinking how those experiences occurred to them," said Rajeshwari.

Rajeshwari, who lived in both floors of the Ba Kutir, found the tiled area of the upper floor evoked images of Gandhi more than any other corner of the house. "The upper floor was a little elegant because Gandhi used to receive some of the high-profile dignitaries there."

Possibly some of the experiences were exaggerated but these tenants' relations with their living space were unique in their own ways.

Rosamma Joby, warden of Gandhi Ashram Girls' Hostel, said, "The secretary of Harijan Sevak Sangh has already asked for the place to be vacated for it to be preserved, but the students asked for a little extension."

"If Harijan Sevak Sangh decides to convert this to a museum tomorrow I would not regret leaving this place tomorrow, if asked to," disclosed Anjali Sharma.

As Ba Kutir may soon convert into a Gandhi memorial, and there possibly would be more people to keep a watch on this space, but I wonder how many of them would spiritually connect to this place as some of these tenants do.