At Mani Bhavan this Saturday, the Obamas came, saw, conquered hearts and in the process peaked the curiosity of several Mumbaiites about the quaint Gandhi museum hidden away in Grant Road’s quiet Gamdevi area.
In the five days since the US President’s visit, Mani Bhavan officials have noted a sudden rise in the number of local visitors, who have been taking a keen interest in seeing the museum exhibits and the visitor’s book signed by Obama and Michelle.
“Usually 60% of our visitors are foreign tourists and the rest locals, but now it is the opposite, and overall numbers have increased tremendously,” said Meghshyam Ajgaonkar, executive secretary of the museum.
This phenomenon was predictable, said Ajgaonkar adding that local visitors take more interest in Mani Bhavan after a visit by a famous dignitary, such as Martin Luther King Junior, who visited the museum in 1959.
“But Obama has received much more publicity. I expect this surge to last for a week,” said Ajgaonkar.
Residents of Laburnum Road, where Mani Bhavan is located, are also surprised by the sudden interest shown by locals.
“I have never seen so many young people entering the museum before, and these days locals also come in the late evenings to click photos of the building’s entrance plaque,” said CJ Joshi, a doctor who lives opposite Mani Bhavan.
During his visit, Obama and his wife, Michelle, toured the museum’s photo and miniature dolls exhibitions as well as Gandhi’s room with his original spinning wheel and other belongings on the top floor. He also garlanded a bust of Gandhi and described him in the visitor’s book as a “hero not just to India but to the world”.
“Most of the locals these days ask us what Obama did in the museum, and wish to see his signature,” said a staff member who did not wish to be named. “These people have never visited the museum despite always living in Mumbai.”