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Revisiting Gandhi

Students at the Mahatma Gandhi Digital Museum

Students at the Mahatma Gandhi Digital Museum  

On Martyr’s Day, Birad Rajaram Yajnik talks about why it is imperative to visit the Gandhi Museum and invoke the Mahatma in today’s day and age

When the Mahatma Gandhi Digital Museum was launched at Bapu Ghat in Langar Houz two years ago, nobody showed enthusiasm to visit. The logic — there is so much information available on the internet then why go all the way to see the same things. Flummoxed by the situation Birad Rajaram Yajnik, the founder and curator of the museum, decided to shut it down and rethink the whole idea before repackaging and launching it again.

The trick, he realised, was to engage the students through an interactive programme. That is how the ‘I am Gandhi’ programme was launched; it targets one classroom at a time and encourages the students to spend a day with them. Right from taking a walk around the museum looking at some rare photographs of Mahatma Gandhi apart from information about his life, his ideologies, access to interactive displays and an interaction with Birad himself, students get to experience Gandhism.

“In the past we did two major installations on Gandhi — the King Gandhi Wall at Howard University in Washington D.C. and the Mandela Gandhi Wall at the Nelson Mandela Foundation. Both are over 20 feet in size and we decided to get small pieces of both the walls to Bapu Ghat for symbolism. The museum has several interactive displays like exhibits with QR codes that will throw up a video or message by Mahatma Gandhi and index cards with questions that need to be matched with the relevant answers on the walls,” says Birad.

The whole idea, says Birad, is to borrow from Gandhi’s ideologies and adapt them in today’s day and age. Ask him why people must pay the museum a visit and he says, “You have to decide what piece of Gandhi you want to emulate. For instance, if you’re an entrepreneur then Gandhi is a great example of how to raise funds, if you are a PR person you can learn from him the art of communications (how else did he grab so much media attention across the world through the Dandi march?), if you are a strategic consultant you can once again look at how he organised the Dandi March to see how he covered 10 kilometres each day and made sure he stopped at two villages every day keeping his lunch and dinner timings in mind. There is something to emulate for everybody; the trick is to see what is invisible and go beyond the obvious.”

“Unfortunately, Gandhi is in our blind spot. We only remember him on Gandhi Jayanti (October 2) or Martyr’s Day (January 30). What we do at the museum is we don’t differentiate between any day; every day is a Gandhi Jayanti. If we put our minds to it we can figure out the life of Mahatma Gandhi and either emulate him, draw inspiration from him or follow him,” he explains.

According to Birad, children these days are very perceptive. “It is important to catch their imagination. They surprise me with their observations. I once had a group of 100 students, all aged 8, attending a session at the museum. When I told them they must pay me for the lunch and gave them blank pieces of paper to create the money to pay me the amount totalled a whopping Rs. 8.2 crore. When I tried the same exercise with a group of adults all they gave me was Rs. 50,000. That indicates the difference in how things impact children,” he says.

What excites Birad the most about the museum is that he revamps the engagement programmes every year. “This year I plan to introduce robotics at the museum to impart information. I want to use technology to show the message of Gandhi,” he says. The museum, which has so far been targeting students, soon plans to begin a segment to involve adults and tourists as well through a 90-minute programme called ‘Invoking Gandhi’. The idea says Birad, is to give people a different experience. In the near future, he envisions setting up a network of Mahatma Gandhi Digital Museum with centres in the offing at Durban, Gujarat and New Delhi.

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 6:05:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/revisiting-gandhi/article6834809.ece

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