I was doing a project of exploring Mumbai - it had started by me starting cycling! I started cycling as a new project for the year - it started by being a fitness thing, but I got bored of going around in circles and started going further and further and exploring and discovering unknown parts of Mumbai (well...unknown to me at least) on cycle. By this time I had gone and explored various ancient forts of Mumbai - Sion, Sewri, Mahim, Worli, Bandra, Dharavi - by cycle. (You can check out the blogs by clicking on the links)
After doing this, the exploration bug kicked in a little more, and I started exploring even without a cycle. While going over the lists of tourist attractions in Mumbai - I saw that one of the main attractions was Mani Bhavan - Mahatma Gandhi's memorial in Mumbai. It was on the lists of all the Mumbai tour operators trips - and every firang visitor to the city seems to have seen it ... but I had never done so. It had never been in my mindspace at all - I had not known of it, not wanted to see it.
Well - this is 'diya tale andhera' stuff, and so I decided to check it out.
My friend Vijay claimed to know it well - as it was just behind his college - the Wilson college, Marine drive - and so we agreed to check it out together. I took an Uber and reached the place - and there was no sign of Vijay! He was late as usual.
The building was in a fancy neighborhood - Laburnum road, just off Marine drive. I thought rather cynically that Gandhi seemed to have chosen to live with this rich seth in a fancy location, rather than in a poor and humble place.
As per the Wikipedia entry - 'Mani Bhavan was Gandhi's Mumbai headquarters for about 17 years, from 1917 to 1934. The mansion belonged to Revashankar Jagjeevan Jhaveri, Gandhi's friend and host in Mumbai during this period. It was from Mani Bhavan that Gandhi initiated the Non-Cooperation, Satyagraha, Swadeshi, Khadi and Khilafat Movements. Gandhi's association with the charkha began in 1917, while he was staying at Mani Bhavan. Mani Bhavan is also closely associated with Gandhi's involvement in the Home Rule Movement, as well as his decision to abstain from drinking cow's milk in order to protest the cruel and inhuman practice of phookan meted out to milch cattle common during that period.'
In 1955, the building was taken over by the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi in order to maintain it as a memorial to Gandhi - and I wonder if they paid the family anything for this prime piece of real estate? It would be worth many hundreds of crores today!
I wonder what the family of Jhaveri seth feel about it now :)
I hung around outside Mani Bhavan waiting for Vijay - and was stunned at the amount of tourist traffic the place seemed to have. Every minute a little tourist taxi would zoom up, a guide would hop out with his clients and give them some info about the place and they would be in and out within five minutes and off to the next tick mark on the itinerary.
My heart went out to the tourists - the guides were untrained and unqualified and obviously knew nothing about the place, about Gandhi, about Indian history or the freedom struggle. He would have mugged up something and duly replayed it to every client and just made up stuff when asked questions. Poor tourists.
I finally gave up on Vijay and went inside alone.
The place is rather depressing - being ill-maintained and utterly out of date. It doesn't seem to have been touched since 1955 and is a dead mausoleum.
The first thing you see is a big Gandhi bust, and there is a library full of his writings. Imagine that - he wrote so much! And like all Indian libraries - the shelves are locked tight and are dust covered! The books are things to be worshipped from afar and not to touched or read!
Go up the stair case - and you have his old room with a charkha and some knick-knacks of his. And a few cool dioramas - small scale models with little human figures and little houses and painted backdrops - depicting his life. But this too doesnt seem to have been touched or restored since 1955.
There are some cool framed photos - Gandhi with his brother, him as a young man etc and some frames showing evolution of Indian flag etc.
But overall, it is rather sad and depressing - showing the utter disinterest successive governments - Congress and non-Congress - have had in Gandhi's message and philosophy. Which is a great pity. All they do is pay lip service and make everybody put a flower basket in front of Raj ghat.
in 2010, Barack Obama became the first high-profile international visitor to visit Mani Bhava in the last 50 years. Before him, only Martin Luther King Jr. had visited Mani Bhavan in the 1950s.
I think Rajkumar Hirani's movie 'Lage raho Munnabhai' was the finest modern-day tribute to Gandhi and his philosophy and reintroduced millions to Gandhi - and it would be great if some modern museum curator takes this place under their wings and reinvents it. Old and forgotten museums like the Bhau Daji Lad museum have been resurrected by modern curators, and hopefully a similar thing can happen here.
It should bring out the ramifications of Indian history and Indian culture - British rule - the good and bad, why Indians fought for independence, the story of the freedom struggle, the uniqueness of Gandhi's approach and how it made a difference and why exactly Einstein said that 'future generations will not believe that such a dude ever walked this earth.'
The Apartheid museum in South Africa is so powerful that it makes your flesh creep - and Gandhi section there is better than all Gandhi museums here. Maybe someday we can do a better job of presenting our own history.
Till that happens, Gandhi will just be a face on a currency note - a legacy which MKG might not be very happy about.
I blog about my travels - and the thoughts they set off! Sometimes the simplest destinations can be the most thought-provoking!