The Mahatma’s home in Kolkata open to public

History unravels: The newly-renovated Gandhi Bhawan Museum in north Kolkata on Wednesday.   | Photo Credit: Rajeev Bhatt

Hyderi Manzil, a single storied house in north Kolkata where Mahatma Gandhi spent August 15, 1947 and a site that has emerged as a symbol of his fight against communalism was on Wednesday thrown open to the public as a full-fledged museum, depicting various aspects of the life of the Father of the Nation.

The Department of Information and Cultural Affairs, Government of West Bengal has converted Hyderi Manzil into the Gandhi Bhawan Museum. It bears the most prominent footprints of Gandhiji in Kolkata, a place where he stayed for three weeks — August 12 to September 6, 1947 — when the city was facing communal riots.

Spread over 3500 sq ft, the permanent exhibition — Mohandas to Mahatma — has 41 story-line display panels where the life of Gandhiji is depicted in three sections.

The museum was thrown open to the public during the day to mark the 150th birth anniversary of the apostle of non-violence.

Letters, photographs, display panels and even graphics depicting different facets of Gandhiji’s life are on display.

The first section of the museum deals with Gandhiji’s education and early life in South Africa. This section has on display copies of his degree, a photograph of Gandhiji as a young cricket enthusiast, details about Phoenix Settlement, established by Gandhiji in 1904 in Durban, and the Black Act ordinance of 1906. This is followed by another section that deals with his return to India in 1914, historic events like his stay at Champaran, the Chauri Chaura incident of 1922 and the Bombay Riots of 1921. The last section deals with his stay at the Hyderi Manzil where he spent more than three weeks in 1947 fasting for communal peace and amity.

A room where the personal belongings, including a few weapons that the rioting mobs surrendered before him have also been displayed afresh. The glass panel in which the items used by Gandhiji were stored has been replaced by a wooden barrier. This place has on display several charkhas (including one that can be packed in a small bag), bedding used by Gandhiji, a pocket watch and a lantern among other things. Experts behind the restoration of the house said that it was becoming difficult to maintain the personal belongings inside a glass cover.

A photograph of Gandhiji breaking his fast at this very building after the riots receded in Kolkata is also on display. Just outside the room are copies of letters by American President Franklin D Roosevelt to him and Gandhiji’s letter to Adolf Hitler that could not be delivered.

Referring to the upgrade, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said her government has “completely renovated” the building and set up a museum there. “Now if you go there, you will feel good. It has been upgraded,” Ms. Banerjee said, addressing an event near Gandhi Statue on Mayo Road. The Chief Minister said that when the country was celebrating “Freedom at Midnight” on 15 August 1947 Gandhiji was not in Delhi but in Kolkata giving the message of communal peace.

“This is the biggest and the most comprehensive museum on Gandhiji in Kolkata. Its is befitting that it has come up at that very place where the Mahatma was at the freedom hour and thrown open to the public on his 150th birth anniversary,” Partha Ranjan Das, architect and member of the State Heritage Commission who has been a key figure behind its restoration, said.

Mr. Das and his team who got only a few months to set up the museum and renovate the house said that along with the permanent exhibition, the restoration of the roof of the single storied building was also a challenge. The entire cost of restoration and setting up of the museum has come to around ₹2 crore, he added.

“What we have tried in some of display panels is to highlight interpersonal relations of different personalities with Netaji such as Gandhiji and Gokhale, Gandhi and Patel, Gandhi and Netaji, Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore and Gandhi and Jinnah,” Ranjini Chatterjee, a graphic designer who had worked on the exhibition said.

After the exhibition was opened during the day, scores of people including politicians made a beeline to the house located at 150B Suresh Chandra Banerjee Road in north Kolkata. Even the fence has been adorned with 10 murals on the exhibition.

The attention that the Hydari Manzil has received on the occasion is also a recognition to efforts to many his memory be re-kindled among the people through proper restoration and maintenance of the building.

In an email to The Hindu on August 15, 2017, the day country celebrated 70 years of Independence and when Hyderi Manzil was marked by neglect and decay witnessed muted celebrations, former West Bengal Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi had expressed confidence about the future of this historical house. “The building’s compelling spirit will overcome any mundane difficulty that it may face,” Mr. Gopal Gandhi said. It was during his tenure as Governor that he brought to light the historical significance of the then little known building in north Kolkata. He had described the building as a “monument to the freedom struggle, commitment to India’s composite culture” and a site that “ranks next only to the house on Tees Janvari Marg in New Delhi for the power of its historical magnetism.”

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Printable version | Sep 18, 2021 10:31:09 PM |

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