Thursday, January 10, 2008

In the footsteps

Gandhi's Ghosts

Thanks to my incredible lack of foresight, I have only a minute on the laptop battery this time, but that's enough to tell about a very overlooked, and centrally located, Delhi historical site.

Most guidebooks mention Raj Ghat, the location where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated. (This site was in the news in 2006 when George W. Bush paid a visit. Some people complained about the hypocrisy. I think, if anyone ever needed to get Gandhi's vibes, it would be Dubya.)

But very few guidebooks (none that I have yet seen) seem to mention Gandhi Smriti. This is the house and gardens where Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist hardliner, and died on 30 January, 1947. The road is now called Tees January Marg (30th January Road). The building was formerly known as Birla House. For various reasons (explained in the exhibit) Gandhi stayed, for the final 144 days of his life, as a guest of the wealthy Birla industrialists, rather than among the poorer neighborhoods as was his habit.

Admission is free, which seems appropriate, but I certainly wouldn't mind paying a bit to support it.

It's more than worthy of your time. At the moment, Gandhi Smriti hosts an exhaustive photo exhibit of events leading up to the 1857 War of Independence (formerly called the Sepoy Mutiny). It all looked very informative but I just could not digest all the historical information in one standing - I was too overcome with Gandhi's vibe.

I'm neither one of those foreign Gandhi-worshippers who think he was a saint, nor one of the cynics who takes joy in poking holes in him. To me he was a man, and that makes what he achieved and represented all the more amazing.

I am also aware that some historians, and Indians, and Indian historians, say he and his contributions aren't all they were cracked up to be. I'm sure they have a point, and someday I will get around to reading the rebuttals. But today I just bathed in Gandhi's energy, which is still all over the room and garden.

Especially moving is a glass wall case holding his very few worldly possessions, including the famous pair of round eyeglasses. I got a weird flash-forward (or is it backward?) to John Lennon and his schoolboy specs.

In keeping with Hindu tradition (but rather eerie for those not accustomed to this) are the footsteps set in stone, in the shape of traditional wooden sandals. I think they are called paduka. They immortalize Gandhi's last walk from the ground-floor room, where he lived on a jute mat and mattress on the floor, to the garden for the final prayer meeting.

A flowering tree with vivid pink blooms grows right above the doorway, showering petals down on the path. I picked up a handful and placed one on each paduka. I was surprised that more offerings weren't there. The exact spot where Gandhi fell (uttering "hey Ram") is marked with a marble column.

The final panel in the Independence exhibit was headed, "Let it not be said that Gandhi was party to India's vivisection." He is then quoted as saying something along the lines of "I pray that God not let me see the division of India" (Partition of India and Pakistan). Since I am neither Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Muslim nor Hindu, I can't explain logically the very deep resistance and resentment I have always felt about the Partition. But at least I know I am not alone in my strong feelings.

A power cut stopped short my viewing of the indoor exhibits, which seemed strangely appropriate. And so, too, is my laptop battery cutting short this post.


Chhaya said...

dear, i am lost for words. i am an indian, but i feel that u have more knowledge about my own country and my own history than me. oh!!! i m touched. feel so happy that u can overlook the poverty and garbage and bathe in the Gandhian aura. all my wishes to you. may god bless u. i will keep visiting u... :)

apu said...

I've started reading your blog very recently, and I'm impressed by the sympathetic, almost "insider" yet outsider perspective you bring. This was a lovely post

ps - your blog doesn't allow non-blogger comments. Is that intentional?

Sirensongs said...

@Chhaya: It means a lot to get positive mail from Indians (usually I am criticized for having opinions, any opinions). ;-) Gandhiji's message, emanating from his unique combination of Indian values and Western education, was for the whole world....I am glad to be able to share my appreciation of it.

@Apu: Thanks very much; yes, unfortunately that is intentional - too many anonymous trolls. There are also "Blogger" trolls who enroll with empty profiles and troll in that fashion...!

There is a fine line between having a difference of opinion and repeatedly logging in just to nag and be contrary, and many people don't seem to perceive that.

It's one thing to have a contrary opinion, another to lob bombs at my doorstep then run and hide without giving me a chance to respond, which is what was happening.

Sorry for the inconvenience, and thanks for taking the trouble to log in and visit.