Nostalgia: Gandhi Peak, the house where Netaji stayed during his visits to Madras keeps alive his memory, writes Anusha Parthasarathy
Sloping roofs, tall wooden doors and shuttered windows are a common sight on Bharathi Salai. And yet, less than a kilometre from Express Avenue, the towering façade of Gandhi Peak commands a second glance with its stone columns, lattices, stained glass windows, three-storey structure and a bust of Mahatma Gandhi right at the top. Just outside, a granite plaque displays why the house stands out; it housed Subash Chandra Bose twice, in 1939 and 1941.
While the ground floor has been let out, S.P. Dhananjaya and his family, who have owned the house since it was constructed in 1930, live on the first and second floors. “This is my grandfather, S.P. Aiyaswamy’s building,” he says, “He was a district board engineer between 1911-1920 and then became an architect and contractor. He is the architect of many landmark buildings in the city such as S.S. Vasan’s house on TTK Road (where Acropolis now stands), Curzon and Co, Chellaram’s and so on.”
In 1935, Aiyaswamy’s house held a meeting presided over by Dr. Rajendra Prasad, to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of the Indian National Congress. “It was on October 16, a time when they had small meetings at various places. My grandfather was drawn to the INC,” says Dhananjaya, “At that time our house only had the first and second floor.” He wanted to do something in Gandhi’s name and hence Rajendra Prasad laid a foundation stone for the third floor, where a room was built. A bust of Gandhi on an undivided map of India was put in an alcove atop it.
When Subash Chandra Bose was heading to Madurai, on an invitation of Muthuramalinga Thevar to amass support for the Forward Bloc, he passed through Madras and spent three days at Gandhi Peak. “The INC was boycotting Bose and asked its members not to grant him accommodation. But my grandfather decided to accommodate him,” he says. “He was received with great pomp and show at the station, with a silver umbrella and brought to this home, which was illuminated like a palace. He stayed here on September 3, 4 and 5, 1939.”
On September 3, Bose addressed a gathering at the Marina Beach. “It was then that news of the Second World War had reached Madras and a newspaper had brought out a special supplement on it. Bose took it there and announced it,” says Dhananjaya. Gandhi Peak saw yet another visit by Bose on January 10 and 11, 1941 and an autographed photo of him remains with the family. The room where he stayed remains locked. Its red oxide floors reflect the colourful squares of the stained glass windows and the walls are alive with black-and-white images of Subash Chandra Bose, Rajaji, Rajendra Prasad and the family.
In December 2001, the plaque outside the home was unveiled. And in 2005, Dhananjaya and his family were visited by Anita Bose Pfaff, Bose’s daughter. “The house has a rich history,” says Dhananjaya, “which we’ve tried to keep intact all these years.”