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Rare Mahatma memorabilia lies neglected

THE BUILDING housing ?Gandhi Darshan Pradarshni? containing personal belongings, artefacts and rare photographs of Mahatma Gandhi at Kasturba Gram National Memorial Trust (KGNMT) since 1972 appears to have been forgotten by the people. The decrepit place looks in need of urgent repair, despite recent renovation work and it seems to be in a time warp, hidden from public gaze.

india Updated: Jun 05, 2006 00:33 IST

THE BUILDING housing ‘Gandhi Darshan Pradarshni’ containing personal belongings, artefacts and rare photographs of Mahatma Gandhi at Kasturba Gram National Memorial Trust (KGNMT) since 1972 appears to have been forgotten by the people. The decrepit place looks in need of urgent repair, despite recent renovation work and it seems to be in a time warp, hidden from public gaze.

Octogenarian Gandhian and music teacher at KGNMT Prabhakar Ajbe, fondly known as ‘Guru Ji’, doubles up as a guide-cum-curator to the museum. Beaming with pride, Guru Ji says that the museum was conceptualised in 1969, which was celebrated as ‘Gandhi Janm Shatabdi Samaroh Varsh’.

The exhibition first travelled all over the country on Gandhiji’s preferred mode of transport - trains - of both meter and broad gauge.

A team of Gandhians under the guidance of S N Subbarao collected various articles related to the Mahatma from all and sundry adding up to an impressive list, including hand-woven khadi, slippers, pen, letters, shawl necklace of beads and his ashes.

A voluminous collection of about 500 photographs capturing the life and times of Gandhi from his childhood home to his stay in South Africa, return to India and transformation from a common man to an uncommon leader.

Industrialists Shanti Kumar and N Morarjee, who were senior trustees of KGNMT, supplied photos of Gandhiji from his birth till his death from their personal archives and played a major role in setting up the museum at KGNMT in 1972.

A year earlier it was decided to house it in Delhi, but when requested then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi conceded to have it here, at an institution named after Gandhi’s beloved consort Kasturba. Mrs Gandhi later visited KGNMT, as did other Prime

Ministers prior to her barring her father Jawaharlal Nehru. In 1960 Vinoba Bhave was mesmerised by the peace and quietitude prevailing at KGNMT and by the living force he experienced in the memories on display associated with Gandhiji and Kasturba and stayed here for a week.

The exhibit is divided into three parts - one on Gandhiji, another on Kasturba and the third on the emancipation of women in the society from the beginning of the Indian civilisation in the form of a ‘stree shakti pradarshini’. The first two contain artefacts and a large number of photographs, while the last is in the form of 14 colour panels painted by renowned artiste Vishnu Chinchalkar. The only other collection boasting of a greater number of artefacts is the ‘Gandhi Smriti and Darshan’ exhibition at Rajghat.

Last year, KGNMT held a special exhibition on Kasturba Gandhi in which 300 of her photographs were on display apart from the 600 photographs of the ‘Gandhi Darshan Pradarshini’. The exhibition sees 3,000 visitors each year most in the form of villagers, research scholars, schoolchildren and Gujaratis.

About 40 to 50 foreigners, interested by the philosophy of Gandhi also come to KGNMT.  Most of them belong to USA, UK, Japan, Germany, Malaysia, Indonesia and of course SA.

After a gap of nearly half a century, the Trust received aid from then Chief Minister Digvijay Singh who sanctioned Rs four lakh for the renovation of the building through the Archaeology Department. However, the work done by government agencies has started to show its real colour with the roof leaking during rains.

The Trust, therefore, got the rare photographs earlier displayed in the open air and sunlight laminated. The trust also started levying an entry tax of Rs five from the capable and Rs two belonging to the poorer section.

However, this move to augment income for repairs seems to have done more harm than good, as visitors have started staying away from the museum.

Guru Ji laments that the level of awareness and caring that should have been in the general public about the legacy of Bapu was sadly missing. While students on school excursions and the informed come from the City those interested in philanthropy stay away. It is high time someone came forward to care for this legacy lying in KGNMT as a national treasure.