131 years on, ‘Gandhi’ returns to relive first stay in London
A shy 18-year-old Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi set foot on British soil on September 29, 1888, having arrived from India to study law after a 25-day journey by sea at Tilbury, and spent the first night in the lavish Victoria Hotel off Trafalgar Square.
Exactly 131 years later, on Sunday, diplomats, members of the House of Lords, members of the Indian community and others gathered at the same venue to pay tributes to the man who not only won India freedom, but also influenced the course of world history.
The venue – 8 Northumberland Avenue – is no longer a hotel. But in 1888, it was one of the few grand places to stay in London. By all accounts, Gandhi found his digs rather agreeable; it had electric lights, hot and cold running water, and electric bells with speaking tubes for communication.
The hall where Gandhi would have had his breakfast the next day was the location where Indian high commissioner Ruchi Ghanshyam recalled his journey that changed the Indian sub-continent and influenced global turn of events.
“He was an impressionable young man when he came here. This city played an important part in making him the Gandhi as we know him,” she said.
Gandhi recorded his experience in the hotel, going up to his room in a lift, something that he had never seen: “I was dazzled by the splendour of the hotel. Never in my life had I seen such pomp…I thought I could pass a lifetime in that room…I was smiling to myself throughout.”
But Gandhi soon realised he could not afford to stay there long; the bill was six shillings per day. He moved out after two days to a friend’s house, embarking on a journey that was to signpost several of his footprints across the United Kingdom, until his last visit in 1931.
Speakers at the event recalled many of his British experiences with archival footage of his visit in 1931, images of the people he met and who were drawn to him, as well as images of statues installed in the UK to honour the man who was once derided by Churchill as ‘a half-naked fakir’.
A video recording was played of young Prince Charles paying tributes to Gandhi at the Royal Albert Hall in 1969, the year Gandhi’s first statue in the UK was installed in Tavistock Garden in London.
The speakers included Gandhian Shobhana Radhakrishna, Jitesh Gadhia, member of the House of Lords, and Charanjeet Singh, deputy high commissioner, who listed several events organised to honour 150 years of Gandhi’s birth anniversary, concluding with a ‘bhajan’.