History & Culture

Memories of the Mahatma

In Gandhi's footsteps: Snapshots from Birla House   | Photo Credit: GRJGM

The Birla House, or Gandhi Smriti, stands among other sprawling bungalows in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi without the trappings of an important building; it is not only the house where Mahatma Gandhi spent the last 144 days of his life, but also the place where he breathed his last after being shot at his prayer meeting.

I reach Gandhi Smriti expecting it to be full of visitors: can there be a better time to go around Delhi than a winter afternoon? I also expect heavy security at the premises; but I find neither.

A group of American and Japanese tourists and the working staff of the complex are the only people I see apart from a vendor selling handicrafts and ice cream.

The wooden gates are wide open and I am neither frisked nor questioned; there is no entry ticket either.

In the absence of any guide or signage, I walk straight in and arrive at the spot where I see a bunch of tourists with a guide animatedly telling them about the significance of the Ashoka tree.

To my left is the main building, to my right is a walkway, and in front of me is a narrow path with the impression of the Mahatma’s footprints. ‘For the last time Gandhiji went to the prayer meeting through this path’ declares a board.

By the time I walk along the pathway, past the lawn and reach the far end of the compound, a large group of school children have taken over the walkway, their drone tearing through the silence.

Standing at the end of the lawn with over a hundred children now scattered on the velvety grass, I realise how huge the complex is — a vast expanse of green dotted with shady trees, a well-manicured garden with fountains and a miniature bridge, an aesthetically laid out courtyard, and beyond all this, an equally large house. It seems that Gandhiji spent his last days in the lap of luxury.

I change my opinion soon after though, when I see the room in which he conducted his meetings — and had spent the last one-hour with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.

With just a mattress, a bolster, and two small writing desks, the room is bereft, even of comfort, let alone luxury.

His meagre possessions, a pair of reading glasses, a watch, his walking stick, displayed in a glass case further emphasises the simplicity that Gandhi lived by.

The galleries of the house display various pictures and speeches of Gandhi, especially of the assassination. There is a long description of the evening, and many graphic pictures of the incident.

The gallery leads into a long verandah with miniature models representing scenes from his life. The Quit India Movement, Swadeshi Movement, Dandi March and parts of his personal life are described through handmade dolls and houses placed in neat glass boxes. In another gallery, a black and white film on his life plays in loop.

Another part of the house, which looks like the main porch of a majestic colonial villa, hosts an audio-visual show on his life.

What strikes me most about the house however, is the grandeur. Although simple, it is classy with French windows, a high ceiling, tall columns, and wide arches. But then it once belonged to Ghanshayam Das Birla, a well-known industrialist and a close confidante of Bapu.

It is said that post-Partition, an aggrieved Bapu had found peace in the company of his friend and it was on his insistence that he agreed to stay here. What he did not know was that those three and-a-half months would be his last days.

Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jul 25, 2021 8:32:01 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/the-writer-walks-through-gandhi-smriti-in-delhi-where-gandhiji-spent-his-final-days/article6834850.ece

Next Story