We know Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in Porbandar. But it is in Ahmedabad that Mahatma Gandhi was born when he came back from Africa in 1915 and set up an Ashram in the city. A lovely Bungalow was gifted to him by Barrister Jivanlal Desai in Kochrab locality of the city that is now known as Satyagraha Ashram.
Satyagraha Ashram – Mahatma Gandhi
Gandhi and his wife Kasturba lived in this double storey ashram for 2 years till 1917 when the better-known Sabarmati Ashram came up on the banks of Sabarmati. A bit of Internet research tells me that Gandhi chose Ahmedabad to be his base. As here he could speak Gujarati – his mother tongue. It was a centre for handlooms so his charkha movement would get a good start. And third, it was home to a lot of wealthy people whom he expected to contribute to the freedom struggle. In 1917, a plague epidemic played a role in ashram being moved out of Kochrab.
Sabarmati Ashram is what we know as Gandhi Ashram. But it was a discovery to know that the first Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad was located in Kochrab. My young friend Tushar took me to this Satyagraha Ashram. Even though he knows the city quite well, it took us a few turns here and there to reach the Ashram. From a distance, it looks like an old British era bungalow in pale yellow. In the corner, there is a shop, selling handloom and Gramodyoga products. Unlike Sabarmati Ashram, there were no tourists here.
We enter the ashram and see no one around. On the right is a large ground with a platform. A board tells us that it used to be the prayer ground. On the left is the bungalow and behind the bungalow are few rooms in a straight line. We reluctantly open the doors of the Bungalow and see well-maintained rooms that were used by Mr & Mrs. Gandhi. Walls have writings of Gandhi from his book Hind Swaraj, large portraits of people who influenced him like Tagore. Pictures of all ashrams across the state and a brief story on them. Glass panels of the cupboards have pictures of the couple beside large portraits of theirs on walls. There are small caricatured panels depicting various activities of Gandhi.
Gandhi’s room has his trademark writing desk on the floor with white mattress and a simple wooden charkha by the side. In many respects, the rooms were very similar to Sabarmati Ashram.
We came out and met a caretaker who showed us the rooms behind the main building that were supposed to be the kitchen, store room and toilet for the house. Our modern mind finds it difficult to understand that a fairly large bungalow will not have a toilet inside but then we realize mindsets were different a century ago. In the front corridor, an old gentleman is reading the newspaper and he tells us about the library on the first floor.
Now, I am excited and want to go upstairs as soon as possible. But Alas, an old Gandhian who has the keys refuses to let me. I request him, cajole him but he says it is only open to the members of the society. I tell him I only want to see the library and he says – go to the university and see the books there. How do I explain to him what a library means to me? Both Tushar and I tried all possible ways to convince him. But he remained adamant that only members of the society have access to the library. And I was thinking – what would have Gandhi thought of this stance – that no one can look at his library but a bunch of self-proclaimed Gandhian’s.
Gujarat Vidyapeeth University
This Ashram is managed by Gujarat Vidyapeeth University – an institution that was set up by Gandhi in 1920 that is located almost next door to the Ashram. I went there to pick up a few books of Gandhi. Including a special edition of Hind Swaraj that has handwritten text by Gandhi in Gujarati along with Hindi & English translation on handmade paper. It was a lovely bookstore with books primarily from the independence movement era.
Some newspaper reports tell me that Gujarat tourism had plans to convert this Satyagraha Ashram into a homestay. Where tourists can come and live like they would have during the days of Gandhi, following all the rules of the ashram. I am not sure if they should use this piece of heritage as a tourism product. But this idea of Gandhian homestay is something that should be worked on – may be on a property that resembles the ashram. I think the ashram should be kept intact, as it is an important part of our history, but of course with an access to library upstairs.
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