The odd Gandhi couple in an old-age home

The Guru Vishram Vridh Ashram, an old-age home with 125 inmates located on the outskirts of the national capital, got its first AC on May 8. It was fixed in the room that serves as the home’s ‘ICU’ — the only room in the facility with beds — so that it could accommodate two new inmates who checked in hours later: Kanubhai Ramdas Gandhi and his wife Dr. Shiva Laxmi Gandhi.

Kanubhai is Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson — that little boy, famously captured on camera, pulling the Mahatma’s walking stick and leading him on a brisk beachside walk. He is one of the three children of the Mahatma’s third son Ramdas.

Today Kanubhai is 87 and his wife 85, they have no children. They returned to India in 2014, after spending more than four decades in the U.S., and lived in various ashrams in Gujarat before moving to Delhi last week.

Each time Dr. G.P. Bhagat, the founder of the home, comes to the room to enquire about them, Kanubhai thanks him with folded hands, “We were homeless, you are so kind.”

The word “homeless”, however, does not go down well with Ms. Gandhi, who vehemently protests. “We are not homeless. We are just a little clueless,” she says, “We don’t have a bowl in our hands. We don’t want money, we just want prayers. I am quite capable of getting us out if we were in the U.S., but here we do not know to navigate.”

The couple is clearly at odds with the surroundings. The home has two bathrooms for its inmates, most of whom suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease and the others paralysed or mentally ill. They sleep on mattresses spread on the floor in two large halls, and make do with wall-mounted fans and dirty toilets.

Right now there is powercut. Kanubhai is clearly uncomfortable. But he and his wife remain silent on how they landed at the old-age home.

‘Ups and downs’

“People have their ups and downs,” says Ms. Gandhi. “We destroyed everything that we had and we came here. It’s a long story. We are searching for a place where we can meet interesting people. We are searching if there is any old-age home for NRIs here,” she emphasises. The couple says they have “reasonable” money to opt for such a facility if made available to them.

‘Luxurious life’

“We were living a luxurious life until recently,” she goes on, “In the past one year, circumstances have made Kanu much older. Like the other grandchildren, Kanu was never interested in politics or staying in the media.”

Kanubhai was 17 when Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated. “After Bapu’s death, Jawaharlal Nehru and U.S. Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith sent me to Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study applied mathematics. Mr. Galbraith had initially suggested I go to Harvard Business School. But I said I won’t make it to Harvard because I am stupid,” says Kanubhai.

For a long time, Kanubhai and his wife lived in Hampton, Virginia where he worked at the NASA Langley Research Centre. He also worked for the U.S. government’s defence department. “I used to do research on aircraft wing structures for the fighter planes. So, I had the secret clearances and all that,” he said. Ms. Gandhi, a Ph.D in biochemistry, first taught in Boston and later left the job to do research at the Boston Biomedical Research Institute.

“I did not quite like teaching students because it was enhancing the students’ lives while my own life remained static, teaching the same things year after year. Then I began research in this prestigious institute, but it’s on government grant. So when they cut off the grant, your research and everything ends and out you go!” she said.

‘Happy days’

Looking at each other, Kanubhai and his wife recall their days of country-hopping and opulent parties. “We have had fun! We were invited to so many parties as there are a lot of Indian diamond merchants there. Then we were invited to Amsterdam,” Kanubhai says excitedly.

Then, after a moment, he says, “And now we are here.”

Holding his hand, his wife says, “We are in a valley just now, and we are going to climb out of it.”

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Printable version | Jun 17, 2022 12:32:07 am |