Mumbai Memoirs 11 – Mani Bhavan – Gandhi’s Mumbai abode
In the second half of May 2014, a fresh new government come to power in India. After 30 years, the country experienced a single party win with a sweeping majority! The entire nation, along with the Indian sub-continent witnessed the swearing in ceremony when the 15th Prime Minister of India took oath. Like many other Indians, I too was swept by a wave of nationalism, which eventually made me spend my weekend exploring a place known as ‘Mani Bhavan’. It is a two storey building situated in a quiet street of Central Mumbai. It is popularly known as Mahatma Gandhi’s Mumbai residence. Both local and international tourists, visit the place to feel the aura of the great world leader who lived here for 17 long years (1917 to 1934) during the peak years of the Indian freedom struggle. On entering the premise, the first thing a non-Indian tourist may wonder as to why a ‘ji’ is added to Gandhi’s name and as to why is he referred as ‘Mahatma’? In India, ‘ji’ is a Hindi suffix added to show respect towards the person who is being addressed and ‘Mahatma’ in Hindi language means ‘the great soul’.
The ground floor of the building houses a well equipped library. Majority of books stocked here reflect Gandhian thought and philosophy. Other book themes are based on Indian history and about world leaders who strived for political and social development of their respective nations. Gandhi’ji once quoted, “Live as if you will die tomorrow and learn as if you will live forever!’. The library has put this quote into action by encouraging, both layman and research scholars, to upgrade their knowledge about the world around them.
As I climbed the stairway heading to the first floor, I felt as if a time machine was transferring me back when India’s current democratic structure was taking roots. The photo frames mounted on the wall creates a nostalgic mood as Gandhiji’s contribution towards India’s freedom struggle gradually unfolds in front of you.
The first floor houses a mini auditorium where lectures and seminars related to Gandhian thought are held from time to time. The soul of Gandhian philosophy is ‘Satyagraha’. It means ‘to hold on to truth’ & seek justice with a non-violent approach by appealing to the conscience of an intellectual opponent and thus to settle conflicts in a peaceful manner. ‘An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind’, was once stated by Gandhi. He believed that it is animal nature to retaliate aggressively and therefore it is important for humans to constructively channelize one’s aggression & thereby seek justice in a manner that doesn’t compromise with the ‘humanity’ present in us.
It is a world known fact that the success of Gandhiji’s ‘Satyagraha model’ further inspired world leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela to gain justice in their respective political life.
Adjacent to the auditorium is a hall that displays documents and photographs from Gandhiji’s life. Besides being the central figure of the Indian freedom struggle, Gandhi’ji was also active in upgrading the status of the downtrodden castes present in pre-independent India.
As I approached the second floor, the site of Gandhiji’s workplace drew my attention. Through a glass wall, I kept gazing at the artefacts that fill the room.
Various forms of spinning wheels, an old telephone and a work desk which Gandhi’ji used in his times, have been put on display here. Only VVIP visitors are permitted entry inside the room. In 2010 the U.S President, Mr. Barrack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama spent few moments at the room. During his stay Gandhi’ji attended numerous meetings here with fellow Congress party members who, like him, believed in adopting constitutional measures towards liberating India from the shackles of Imperialism.
On the same floor I further explored artistic dioramas that exhibit glimpses from Gandhiji’s personal and political life. It is the brain child of a talented lady named, Susheela Gokhale-Patel, who meticulously researched and designed the series of 28 tableaux. Few decades ago, she travelled with the exhibition across the country before donating it to Mani Bhavan.
While working on the dioramas, Susheela went through more than 5000 books based on Gandhiji’s life after which she was successful in documenting important phases from the Mahatma’s life. If one observes closely, the handmade dolls reflect accurate emotions in conjunction to the backdrop of the historical period that is being presented in the tableaux. Thus the dioramas attract attention not only of history enthusiasts, but also of art lovers who are enchanted with the artistic details that has brought the inanimate dolls to life!
As the closing time of the place neared, the museum attendant informed me about the Gandhi memorabilia shop and of the recently inaugurated Gandhi Film Foundation that are situated in the premise. Sensing the time crunch I decided to visit again, just to watch films based on Gandhi’jis life and to shop few memorabilia items. Before concluding,
I visited the building’s terrace which has a bronze plaque with an inscription that informs the visitors about Gandhiji’s arrest in January 1932, from a tent that was set for his sleep and prayers on the same site.
As I stood over the terrace reflecting on all that I had experienced at Mani Bhavan that day, I could feel the gravity of freedom pressing on me. As I descended the stairs, I realized that freedom comes for a cost and it has to be responsibly valued and maintained, especially when 200 years of freedom struggle has gone into creating the world’s largest democracy- that is India!