The rented house where the country’s first Prime Minister was born no longer exists
In the warrens of Mirganj — amid its crumbling facades, stained walls and cries of the marketplace, red-light areas with crowds of sex workers and pimps — remain forgotten history. This pocket of Allahabad is popularly perceived with stigma and draws public attention mostly for negative reasons — for instance, the media zoomed into it when two jawans of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police force were shot dead after they got into a quarrel with a sex worker.
It does not receive half the attention it deserves for being the place where Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first Prime Minister, was born.
Mirganj, itself, does not appear to regard its Nehru connection with much enthusiasm. On Thursday, when the entire nation celebrated Children’s Day to mark his birthday, it was just another day at Mirganj — business as usual. Only a single square — named Jawahar — and unverified narrations stand as reminders of the fact that a man of Pandit Nehru’s stature was born here.
Ravindra Dang, whose garment shop is located on the ground floor of the historical Kesar Vidyapeeth school — the most identifiable building in the locality — says “the stigma attached to the site could have been a deterrent” to any plans the State or Centre may have had to construct a memorial to mark the location of Nehru’s birth.
The rented house where Pandit Nehru was born in 1889 — 77 Mirganj — built in a densely populated area, has no existence today. It was demolished in 1931 by the municipality as part of its development drive, much after the Nehrus moved out. Its exact location today is unknown but locals pointed to a blue building as the most probable site.
After gaining some success in his legal profession, Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal’ father, moved out of the basti to a posh location at 9 Elgin Road, close to the historical Alfred Park. As he gained further prominence, in 1899, Motilal shifted to what is today known as Swaraj Bhavan, a sprawling bungalow in the northern part of the city.
“The land for it was initially gifted to Sheikh Faiyaz Ahmed by the British for his services to them during the 1857 revolt and the structure came up in 1862-64,” says S.P. Mal, Assistant Director, Anand Bhavan Museum. The building was then purchased by the son of the founder of the Aligarh Muslim University, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, in 1888, who then sold it to Raja Jai Kisen Das in 1894. Motilal Nehru, a flourishing lawyer then, purchased it for Rs.20,000. He gifted the building to the Congress in 1930 and Swaraj Bhavan served as the headquarters of the Congress till Independence. He built a new two-storied building adjacent to Swaraj Bhavan and named it Anand Bhavan, which is today a bustling museum.
Besides being one of the many last vestiges of the Nehru-Gandhi family, the Anand Bhavan also stores a replica of the two-storied 77 Mirganj. While Mirganj has a thriving flesh trade today, it is not known if a red-light area existed in the locality or its vicinity when the Nehrus lived there.
“It used to be a crowded place so naturally it was ideal for a red-light area,” says Mr. Mal. However, Rajesh Purohit, director of Allahabad Musuem, says the concept of a red-light area came much later.
Besides a failed attempt, there have been no efforts to build a memorial at the site, says Mr. Mal. Interestingly, the last time the Congress won the Lok Sabha seat from Allahabad was in 1984. Their candidate was none other than homeboy and actor Amitabh Bachhan. His speech, as interestingly, was delivered atop the Kesar Vidyapeeth, a stone’s throw from where the Nehrus once lived.