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Madras’ trysts with the Mahatma

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Association: (From left) V.R.Devika of Gandhi Peace Foundation speaks at a meeting on Madras’ association with Gandhiji, in Chennai on Saturday. P.M.Belliappa, president, Association of British Scholars, Leela Sekar and G.Ram Mohan are in the picture.
Association: (From left) V.R.Devika of Gandhi Peace Foundation speaks at a meeting on Madras’ association with Gandhiji, in Chennai on Saturday. P.M.Belliappa, president, Association of British Scholars, Leela Sekar and G.Ram Mohan are in the picture.

Staff Reporter

CHENNAI: It was the year 1917. On 14th September Mahatma Gandhi made a sudden visit to Chennai (then Madras). He was originally travelling from Ranchi to Pune when he took a detour to Madras.

“It is still not known as to why Gandhi made that sudden visit to Chennai. Maybe there is some mention of it in Bhashyam Iyengar’s records. But this visit and its significance remains open for public scrutiny,” said G. Ram Mohan from the Gandhi Studies Centre in Thakkar Bapa Vidyalaya.

He was speaking at a meeting organised by the Association for British Scholars in the city on Saturday. A mixed group of khadi-clad Gandhians, history buffs and city lovers turned up for the meeting which explored Madras’ association with Mahatma Gandhi, in the backdrop of the ‘Madras Week’ celebrations.

Mahatma Gandhi visited the city 20 times and in every visit he drew huge crowds. Mr. Ram Mohan recalled how Gandhiji had predicted a bright future for Poet Bharati and spoken the famous words, “Please take care of him,” during one of his visits to the city.

V.R. Devika of Gandhi Peace Foundation made a presentation on Gandhiji’s visits to Chennai. Significant among them are his first visit in 1896 to talk about apartheid in South Africa, his visit in 1919 to gather support against the Rowlatt Act, his public meeting in Marina Beach in 1925 and so on.

Leela Sekar, daughter of Bala Mandir founder-secretary Manjubhashini, shared her experience of serving Gandhiji during his visits to the city. “He used to love listening to Thyagaraja kirtanas,” she recalled fondly. Ms.Sekar also recalled being sent to Wardha to serve Gandhiji.

Mr.Ram Mohan lamented how several landmarks in the city associated with Gandhiji’s visits have been destroyed. Among them are ‘Tilak House’ in Cathedral Road, where a hotel now stands, and the YMIA building in Royapettah, from where Gandhiji had addressed a public meeting, which is now in shambles.

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