Did you know that the cot Gandhiji used remains preserved in the city? Or that a visitor’s book in a students’ home bears the words he wrote? On Sarvodaya Day, the day he was assassinated, Akila Kannadasan takes a look at the things associated with him during his visits to Madras

Cot, 1946

The cot is dusty. Displayed at the entrance of Thakkar Bapa Vidyalaya in T. Nagar, it is being cleaned for me to photograph it. It looks ordinary; you could dismiss it as an insignificant piece of furniture and walk right past it, if not for the frame. It has the words ‘Gandhiadigal 1946-il Madharasil thangiya podhu avargalal ubayogikkapatta kattil’. Which translates to: ‘The cot Gandhiji used when he visited Madras in 1946’.

Gandhi used it during his stay at Dakshina Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha for its jubilee celebrations. He probably didn’t sleep in peace on the cot. It was a year before the Partition and one can imagine his state of mind.

Gandhi spent around 10 days in Madras during this visit. It was packed with a lot of important events. He met students, men and women from various walks of life, and urged them to observe non-violence and adopt one national language that would unite the whole of India. He also spoke at a meeting of authors and artists in the city. According to gandhistudycentre.org, he told them “The best art is the art of winning swaraj.”

“He then visited Meenakshi Amman temple in Madurai and the Murugan temple in Palani,” says A. Annamalai, honorary director, Gandhi Study Centre.

Gandhi lost his fountain pen during this visit to Madras. It is still missing.

Trowel

February 1, 1946

On this day, 68 years ago, preparations were on at a school in T. Nagar for a life-changing event. Gandhi was to visit them in two days time, to lay the foundation stone for their building. The Thakkar Bapa Vidyalaya stands unassumingly on Venkatnarayana Road today, providing education and industrial training for the less privileged.

On February 1, 1946, Gandhi visited the newly-opened campus that was called Harijan Industrial School. He asked that it be renamed after Thakkar Bapa, a social worker who dedicated his life for the cause of the less-privileged. Gandhi laid the foundation stone himself, using a trowel which is preserved in a glass-fronted wooden box at the school. You know it is precious when it is extracted prayerfully from a bureau in the office room.

Visitor’s book of Ramakrishna Mission Students' Home, 1915

It was the year 1915 and Gandhi was touring the country. These travels would help him understand India. He had just returned from South Africa after successfully campaigning for civil rights there. When he arrived in Madras on April 17, 1915 with Kasturba, people actually unharnessed the horses and drew his carriage, according to gandhistudycentre.org.

Today, a few lines he wrote in the Visitor’s Book of the Students’ Home of Sri Ramakrishna Mission are preserved as a reminder of his visit. On page 13, Gandhi writes with an ink pen in Gujarati: “I am exceedingly glad at being able to see this Institution. There is no lack in the enthusiasm displayed by those managing the Institution and experience will show many ways in which the students may reap benefits.”