Books

Almost 90 years after the Dandi March, a photographer traces Mahatma Gandhi’s journey

Lakshmansinh Chavda walked with the marchers from Sabarmati Ashram till Income Tax Circle, Ahmedabad | Photo Credit: Anuj Ambalal
Gowri S 28 October 2021 17:45 IST
Updated: 29 October 2021 20:16 IST

‘23 Grams of Salt’, a photobook by Anuj Ambalal, takes the viewers through the sites of the Dandi March, 90 years later

Two years, around hundred villages and over 250 photographs. This is all it took photographer Anuj Ambalal to retrace the steps of Mahatma Gandhi on his march to the coastal town Dandi, 90 years later.

Be it the spot where Gandhi wrote his famous letter to the Viceroy Lord Irwin where now stands his framed photograph on a charpoy; or the hallowed halls of the room he stayed in, when he passed by Boriavi, that now looks desolate — vignettes of the pit stops and how they look today form the core of the photobook, 23 Grams of Salt (published by Navajivan Trust).

Last week, at Amethyst’s quaint exhibition space, The Folly, a tightly-knit group were in conversation over the same photographs projected on screen.

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The room where Gandhi rested in Boriavi | Photo Credit: Anuj Ambalal

In 23 Grams of Salt, Anuj takes us through the sites of the Dandi March to create a visual narrative, peppered with historical anecdotes, along with his own experiences and observations on the trail.

“The whole objective of the book is to take a viewer on the trail of this march. The text also tells us what Gandhi was actually trying to do. The march was not exactly about gaining independence, but has layers to it. It was also about bringing a social revolution, and demonstrating what a free India of his dreams could be,” says Anuj.

The idea of Gandhi

Its inception essentially started from a stray word written in Anuj’s journal: Gandhi. His search for the reason behind this ‘note’ led him to the personality.

“Having been born and raised in Ahmedabad, I have heard about Gandhi from many. And, even in my own family, stories of Gandhi were discussed in our living room; our grandparents used to tell us tales,” he says, adding that the fact that every generation takes aspects of Gandhi that are relatable to them, piqued his interest. “Still this man doesn’t lose his relevance.”

Gandhi’s refined sense of aesthetics further drew the artist in Anuj to his persona. He was a minimalist, and the Sabarmati Ashram and its architecture, is testament to the same. “The more I researched to locate and identify the spots, the more intrigued I got. I kept coming across interesting historical anecdotes including leaders meeting Gandhi along the way to discuss issues of national importance. I was very curious about where these meets happened, how they look now and how the people of that place are like, today,” says Anuj, who, during the course of his research, had also reached out to Thomas Weber, who wrote On the Salt March and many other books on Gandhian philosophy.

The spot in Karadi where Gandhi wrote his famous letter to the Viceroy | Photo Credit: Anuj Ambalal

For On the Salt March, Weber had done a similar trail in the ‘80s, and spoke to satyagrahis. Anuj, on the other hand, spoke to a few who witnessed the march and the man himself. In fact, one of his subjects recalled Gandhi as “a tall man with a large head.”

His journey was not devoid of eye opening incidents and people. One of the anecdotes that stayed with him comes from Kapletha in Surat. “The marchers were supposed to cross the river on foot. However, on that fateful day, the currents were strong and they couldn’t walk past it. To avoid delays, the villagers rode their carts into the river, arranged them in a line, and created a cart bridge. The marchers including Gandhi hopped from one cart to another and crossed the river. When I read about this, I had the visual of this 61-year-old man hopping from one cart to the other in my mind, and it was quite something.”

Inspiring thought

Over the years, the idea of Gandhi and the way we look at this personality have evolved over time. How does 23 Grams of Salt contribute to such conversations?

“It is important for people of all generations to initiate dialogues. And this is what this book is essentially going to do. There has to be debates about what Gandhi means today, and one doesn’t need to agree to everything. But these debates have to happen. And Gandhi as an idea itself is so strong that it will continue to provoke artists, academicians, and thinkers in different ways.”

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