Lost in silence/Martyrs’ Day: Amid traffic halt and “charkha” spin, Lucknow carries on oblivious - Hindustan Times
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Lost in silence/Martyrs’ Day: Amid traffic halt and “charkha” spin, Lucknow carries on oblivious

By, Lucknow
Jan 31, 2024 09:12 AM IST

The Gandhi Museum Sangrahalaya library in Lucknow is struggling to attract readers, with only three to four people, and sometimes none at all, visiting in a day. The decline in membership and readership is attributed to online reading habits of youths, who are more interested in materialistic ideologies. In addition, the Uttar Pradesh Gandhi Smarak Nidhi faces financial challenges after losing its significant source of income. Despite these challenges, the organization continues to preserve and promote Gandhi's legacy. There is a need for proactive engagement and outreach to bridge the gap between Gandhi's principles and the interests of today's youth.

In the heart of Lucknow, as Hazratganj crossing’s traffic came to a standstill at 11 am, a poignant moment unfolded along with the customary siren in observance of Mahatma Gandhi’s martyrdom. Merely metres away, in front of the Gandhi Statue at Gandhi Sangrahalaya, three individuals, including Lal Bahadur Rai, the secretary of Uttar Pradesh Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, steadfastly spun “Charkhas” while patiently waiting for fellow citizens to pay homage to the Mahatma.

Gandhi Statue at Gandhi Sangrahalaya in Lucknow. (Deepak Gupta/Hindustan Times)
Gandhi Statue at Gandhi Sangrahalaya in Lucknow. (Deepak Gupta/Hindustan Times)

But to their surprise, there were few takers. Expressing his disappointment, Rai remarked: “How many even know about Gandhi Sangrahalaya near Shaheed Smarak, dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi? It houses more than 23,000 books on Gandhi or written by Gandhi. Ask people how many books on Gandhi they’ve actually read.”

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The Gandhi Museum Sangrahalaya library, with a rich history of housing passionate and avid readers, now struggles to attract them. Rai laments the decline in membership, emphasising that even politicians who often use Gandhi’s name in their discourse fail to grasp the challenges faced by the library and the Gandhi Bhawan auditorium.

Rai said: “There was a time when this library used to remain abuzz with readers, but today, the Gandhi Museum Sangrahalaya library struggles to attract readers, with only three to four people, and sometimes none at all, visiting in a day. We just have 45 members, this was the number which used to come in a day at our library.”

Sudha Tewari, the librarian and a Gandhian, shared her sentiments, saying, “Gandhi’s books symbolize not only revolution but also self-reliance, perseverance and determination. Despite this, today’s youth seem disinterested in visiting the library even for research references is baffling.”

However, Lal Bahadur Rai attributed this shift to the online reading habits of youths.

He said: “We have the best literature on Gandhi in our library, but today’s youth seem more interested in the WhatsApp University. They believe in other ideologies which are materialistic rather than Gandhi’s ideology. Research on Gandhi’s work has dwindled, and even university scholars are not turning up to read the books; youths are showing little interest in reading the books available at the library.”

On the top of the sharp decline in number of scholars and readers on Gandhi, the Uttar Pradesh Gandhi Smarak Nidhi faces financial challenges after BSNL vacated its building, which was a significant source of income. Rai explained: “We were receiving 3 lakh per month as rent from BSNL, but now the building lies empty. To generate income, we’ve decided to convert it into a guest house, similar to Kausani.”

He added: “Gandhi Bhawan auditorium, with a capacity of 700 seats, charges just 47,500. However, due to financial constraints, the seats have not been replaced in the last 40 years. Urgent changes are needed, including replacing the off-colored false ceiling. The politicians are unaware of the challenges faced by those running the library and the Gandhi Bhawan auditorium. We miss people like Bhaiyyaji or Uday Khatri today who used to remain present in all our programs and work tirelessly for the upkeep of the place.”

Despite these challenges, the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi persevered, producing a variety of products such as mustard oil, Neem soaps, khadi clothes, agarbatti, mehendi and chyavanprash. Unfortunately, sales remained limited. At the Lucknow centre, 24 individuals work tirelessly, preserving and promoting Gandhi’s legacy amid financial difficulties and shifting societal interests.

Gandhian and journalist Ram Dutt Tripathi highlighted the need to bring Gandhi’s ideas to the youth actively. He said: “Waiting for the youth and the common man to come and study Gandhi is not enough; instead, there is a necessity to take Gandhi’s ideas to them. A proactive engagement and outreach are required to bridge the growing gap between Gandhi’s principles and the evolving interests of today’s youth.”

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Anupam Srivastava is a Special Correspondent with Hindustan Times, Lucknow. Has produced exclusive stories in medical, civil aviation, civic, political and other issues for over 20 years.

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