Gandhi in Bhavnagar … briefly

BHAVNAGAR is a fascinating city in the south of the Saurashtra region of Gujarat…

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Front of Neelambagh Palace  (now a hotel), Bhavnagar

MK Gandhi, the future ‘Mahatma’, wrote in his autobiography: “I passed the matriculation examination in 1887… My elders wanted me to pursue my studies at college after the matriculation. There was a college in Bhavnagar as well as in Bombay, and as the former was cheaper, I decided to go there and join the Samaldas College. I went, but found myself entirely at sea. Everything was difficult. I could not follow, let alone take interest in, the professors’ lectures. It was no fault of theirs. The professors in that College were regarded as first rate. But I was so raw. At the end of the first term, I returned home.

Having read this, we wanted to see the college. We took an autorickshaw to Samaldas Arts College, which is away from the city centre just over three kilometres southwest of the Gandhi Smrti. The college is laid out in a huge campus. Lopa waited in the shade whilst I walked along a busy private road linking the university’s well spaced buildings. There were many students going along it on foot and on two-wheelers. I reached an imposing stone building at the end of a short driveway. Outside its entrance, I saw an old school bell hanging from a wooden post. It looked Victorian in style and was topped with a metal model of a royal crown. I wondered if this was a memento from the days when the college was founded.  There was nobody in the building except a security guard, who only spoke Gujarati. I tried to ask him whether this was where Gandhi had studied, but he could not understand me.  Then I returned to the road, and asked a couple of passers-by, who did speak English, about Gandhi and Samaldas College. Their vague answers were uninformative.

 

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Former Samaldas College, Where Gandhi studied

We had a rest in our hotel next to the Neelambagh Palace after having had a delicious lunch at a brand-new restaurant called Sugar and Spice, which is near the Samaldas College. While I was relaxing, two things worried me about the campus that I had just visited. First, none of it looks old enough to have been present in 1887, when Gandhi attended it. Secondly, the place is too far from the what would have been the city’s boundary in Gandhi’s day. A little research on the Internet revealed that in Gandhi’s day, Samaldas College was nowhere near its present location, but in the centre of Bhavnagar.

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Classroom where Gandhi studied in Samaldas College

Having located the site of Gandhi’s college, we took an ‘auto’ to the Majirav Girls School on High Court Road. The bulk of the school is a two-storey building arranged around three sides of a large rectangular courtyard. As it was a Saturday afternoon, there were few pupils around. The security guards asked us our business. We told them that we wanted to see the college where Gandhi had studied. Someone went off to find the school’s Director, who kindly agreed to show us what we wanted to see. This lady, who has several degrees and a PhD in education, is a high-flyer in the education department of the State of Gujarat. She escorted us to a neo-gothic building attached to the rear of the school, and then asked us to wait beside a locked door.

 

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Detail of gateway into the old Royal Palace (‘Darbagadh’) of Bhavnagar

Eventually, somebody found the keys to the door and the Director unlocked it. We entered a large hall, two storeys in height, with a wooden ceiling. It is filled with gymnastic equipment because it is now used as the girls’ gymnasium. A small inscribed stone plaque on one wall below an old coloured photograph of the Mahatma reads (both in Gujarati and English): “The Samaldas College was founded in 1874 in this building. Mahatma Gandhi studied in this class room as a first-year student from January to June 1888”. The Director of the girls’ school told us that the class room where Gandhi had studied had once been the primary school of the Majirav School, but for a brief while it had been lent to Samaldas College, and that was when Gandhi attended it.

 

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An afternoon in Bhavnagar

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