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Monday, Dec 16, 2019

Crumbling Ba Kutir of Delhi

The historic Ba Kutir in Delhi, where Mahatma stayed intermittently with his family between 1932 and 1947, is now a derelict structure occupied by university students. Sarat C Das explores.

india Updated: Aug 18, 2008 20:37 IST
Sarat C Das
Sarat C Das
Hindustan Times

The relics of Mahatma Gandhi, which venerated and guardedly preserved in most parts of the world, are surprisingly in neglect in his home country. The historic Ba Kutir, where Mahatma with his family stayed intermittently between 1932 and 1947 and even over six months in a particular sojourn, is now a dilapidated brick house within an isolated 20-acre Harijan Sevak Sangh at Kingsway Camp in Delhi. The house is made into a dorm for Delhi University female students who fall of short of living quarters in university's overcrowding hostel.

A mud trail through a barren courtyard leads to an open porch of Ba Kutir crowded with clothes on the linen washlines. The peeling lime on the walls, smudges of water soaked ceilings, erratic run of the electric cables and smeared electric switchboards are unchanging features as our camera crew scoured through from one room to the other. These faults appeared to be more magnified on a Sony high definition camera lens and I imagined even a low-end camera could not have apathetically ignored them.

Four tenants in two rooms, possibly more, who were initially reluctant, hesitatingly took their turn on my camera one after other telling us about their experience in living in such a historic house. Their tales were exaggerated, and many accounts of their housekeeping were made up for the candid camera, for possibly they were afraid of being evicted from the place.

It was my second visit to Ba Kutir, surreptiously evading the authorities so that I could meet the tenants and discover their living quarters, to know if the heritage site in order. I was disappointed more than I thought I would be, as the way floors were unswept, articles were nailed on the wall or kept on the window sill. As I moved to the common hall, the ashram authority people had already joined me.

The custodian of Ba Kutir the Harijan Sevak Sangh, an institution founded by Mahatma to uplift the Dalits, now is perennially short of fund. Hira Paul Gangnegai, an associate professor at Delhi university and Secretary of Gandhi Ashram Reconstruction Trust, echoes this: "We have a small number of full-time workers to upkeep the Ashram for we could afford to pay so less due to no fund."

"Ideally we would have never liked to let out a historic place to Delhi University students, but the little money we get from them is spent on Ashram management," said Gangnegai.

The fate of Harijan Sevak Sangh looks more miserable after the passing of its chairperson Padma Vibhushan awardee Nirmala Despande, a widely respected Gandhian who devoted her life towards serving the dispossessed.

"It is burdensome but an immensely self-fulfilling job, which I took up at the request of Nirmalaji for no apparent remuneration," said Gangnegai.

There was a stray proposal to build this place into a state-of-the-art Gandhian centre of activity; the proposal did not go too far on the drawing board.

Gangnegai, who had his misgivings over if jazzing up the place was the right way to spread Gandhian values, said, "Ideally I would like the place to be revamped in a way which can symbollise Gandhi's values not belittling them."

The place, hamstrung with cash crunch, looks ever more grimy and desolate. Outside the Ba Kutir I found gypsum bathtub lying under a tree shade. Shallow and long, it was little chipped on its headrest. "It was used by Gandhi's family, and I was afraid the students may break it so I asked it to be moved from the house," Gangnegai revealed.

As I aimed my camera on this, I wondered how long the plumbing fixture used for bathing would survive in its new state.

Evening when a handful of scavenger children, who studied at a school in ashram campus, curiously crowded around our halogen floodlight extending from camera we offered them to be filmed. They shied away.