An experiment in Khadi, and Gandhi’s eastern base
A dusty white linen covers the nearly century-old bed on which Mahatma Gandhi once slept. The floor is wet and the walls damp. Next to the bed stands a charka in a glass box, on a wooden table. The iconic Khadi Pratishthan at Sodepur near Kolkata was Gandhi’s base in eastern India between 1927 and 1947, when he intermittently visited the state.
History hangs thick in the air of the Gandhi ashram, as this place is known. A print of a letter written by Gandhi in December 1928 adorns the wall next to the bed. It was addressed to Hemaprabha Dasgupta, wife of Satish Chandra Dasgupta, the founder of the Khadi Pratishthan: “I shall try to treat Sodepur on the same footing as Sabarmati… I do not wish to spoil Sodepur by carrying on experiments there on the line of Sabarmati. The existence of Sodepur is for the sake of khadi, while that of Sabarmati is for experiments in truth etc.,” the letter reads. Below the text of the letter, photos of Gandhi at the ashram are kept inside glass-lid boxes.
The adjacent, larger room is a gallery with photos from the freedom struggle. Most of the items associated with Gandhi have been relocated to the Gandhi Memorial Museum at Barackpore, except for the bed and charka.
The campus itself is no less iconic. Gandhi first came here on January 2, 1927, to inaugurate an exhibition of khadi products, and stayed several times. He camped here in the immediate aftermath of the riots in Kolkata in 1946, and from here he started for his tour of riot-torn Noakhali in what is now Bangladesh. It was here that the historic, three-day discussion between Gandhi and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose took place over the deadlock in Congress’ functioning in 1939. The discussions failed, Bose resigned as the Congress’ president and launched Forward Bloc.
The ashram today is in need of maintenance. Water leaks from the roof. Weeds have covered the windows and large parts of the compound. “Common people do not visit this place. However, researchers come from all over India and also from abroad. I guide them,” said Sankar Chakraborty, the caretaker, who renders voluntary service.