A Gujarati in Bombay

MAHATMA GANDHI TRAVELLED much during his life. I have visited several of the places in India, which were important landmarks in his life: Porbandar, Rajkot, Bhavnagar, Ahmedabad, and Bombay. The latter saw much of Gandhi both before and after he had lived, worked, and campaigned in South Africa.

Mani Bhavan, a mansion in Laburnum Road in the Gamdevi district of Bombay, was owned by Revashankar Jagjeevan Jhaveri, a friend of Gandhi. It became Gandhi’s headquarters in Bombay between 1917 and 1934. Now, it is a popular museum dedicated to the history of Gandhi’s eventful life in South Africa, India, and elsewhere.

Most of the exhibits in the Mani Bhavan are photographs, many of which I have seen elsewhere. However, I had never before seen a photo of the Mahatma with his famous admirer Charlie Chaplin. There is also a photograph of the letter that Gandhi wrote to Adolf Hitler on the 27th July 1939, encouraging the German dictator to adopt peaceful methods rather than going to war. The British authorities did not allow this letter to reach Germany, let alone leave India.

There is a room on the second floor in which Gandhi used to spend much time spinning. It contains several of the spinning wheels that he used daily.

On the second floor, there is also a gallery with a series of dioramas, each one illustrating a different episode in the life of Gandhi. One of them shows the future Mahatma being thrown out of a first class railway compartment in Pietermaritzburg Station in Natal, South Africa. Another, shows him at a public burning in Bombay of cloth and clothes imported into India. This occurred in 1921. Gandhi was by no means the first to burn foreign cloth in India. Many years earlier, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, a father of Hindutva, supervised a bonfire of imported cloth in Nasik.

The well made dioramas reminded me of those I had seen at the Godra Ambe Dham temple complex near Kutch Mandvi. The ones at Ambe Dham are moralistic in content, chronicling the virtues of a healthy Hindu life and the awful consequences of straying from it.

The Mani Bhavan had plenty of foreign visitors, most of whom seemed very interested in what is on display.

Of all the Ghandhian sites I have visited in India so far, the Mani Bhavan has impressed me least. If pressed to say which have impressed and moved me most, I would choose Gandhi’s birthplace in Porbandar, his classroom in what used to be Samaldas College in Bhavnagar, and his first ashram in Ahmedabad, the Kochrab Ashram. Had I not already visited these three places nor seen the superb collection of Ghandian photos in the Gandhi Smrti in Bhavnagar, I think that a visit to the Mani Bhavan would have been more interesting for me than it was. I am pleasrd that I have visited the place because I enjoy following in the footsteps of the life of one of the most intriguing personalities in the history of India, nay the whole world.

However great or small your interest in Gandhi might be, visiting Mani Bhavan brings you to a part of Bombay rich in elegant mansions built by prosperous citizens over 100 years ago.

Reserved for ladies

RAJKOT

Excerpt from “TRAVELS THROUGH GUJARAT, DAMAN, AND DIU” by Adam YAMEY. Available as a Kindle from Amazon and as a paperback from lulu.com, amazon.com, and bookdepository.com 

 

The Watson Museum in Rajkot has a good collection of exhibits that encompass the history of the area around Rajkot. Given its age, it is in good condition, and well-worth visiting as is its neighbour in another part of the same building, the Lang Library. It was founded in 1856 by Colonel William Lang, who was a British Political Agent in the Kathiawar region of India, which included Rajkot, from 1846 to ’59. Today, it is named the Arvindbhai Maniyar Library in honour of a former Mayor of Rajkot.

Before entering the spacious reading room, we saw a glass case containing a model depicting the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts, and wisdom, Saraswati, holding a stringed musical instrument in her raised left hand. She was draped with flower garlands. The reading room, surrounded by bookcases and busts of famous people, has many tables and chairs. Almost every chair was occupied by men reading newspapers. Part of the ceiling is made in shiny wood (like a parquet floor) patterned with lozenges containing centrally placed carved wooden rosettes. An elegant staircase with curved wooden bannisters leads to an upper floor. A side room on the ground floor serves a children’s library equipped with miniature desks whose seatbacks are carved to resemble squirrels in profile.

On our way out of the library, we noticed a small table with only enough room for two chairs. It bore a notice in Gujarati saying that it was “reserved for female readers”. One of the chairs was occupied by a young lady, who confirmed that this table is the only place allotted to female readers. When asked what happened when there were more than two female readers, she shrugged her shoulders, and said: “There never are.” The segregation of library users by gender is one of many indications we had that people in Saurashtra retain very conservative views of how life should be lived.