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Monday, Oct 03, 2022

Gandhi Ashram redevelopment project: ‘Our house was demolished but our memories are in tact’

The Saiyed family moved to Juhapura in 2002 following the Gujarat riots, while Anis’ parents stayed at their residence on Ashram premises till their demise in 2011. Shamim, 57, Anis’ wife, says the Ashram residents have never known caste or communal divide.

Anis’ father Mohammad Ali, known among Ashram residents as ‘Bachubhai’, at his Ashram residence.

A Twenty-year-old Mohammad Kaif Saiyed’s father, Anis Saiyed (58), was born at the Gandhi Ashram in Sabarmati and retired as a clerk in May this year from the PTC College on the Ashram premises.

From the harmonious neighbourhood inside the ashram, the Saiyeds now live in Juhapura, known as Gujarat’s largest Muslim ghetto. While Kaif largely grew up in Juhapura, he is excited for the new development project of Gandhi Ashram and its precincts and believes the redevelopment will now put the Ashram “on the global map and become a landmark of pride for Ahmedabad”.

“My friends here (at Juhapura) know about the existence of Ashram but many of them have never been to the place despite living in Ahmedabad for years. They don’t know what the Ashram is about. I think this redevelopment is a great move as more people will visit the place,” says Kaif, who completed his Bachelors in Commerce from LJ College of Commerce and plans to pursue higher studies in accounting or business management abroad.

The Saiyed family moved to Juhapura in 2002 following the Gujarat riots, while Anis’ parents stayed at their residence on Ashram premises till their demise in 2011. Shamim, 57, Anis’ wife, says the Ashram residents have never known caste or communal divide.

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“The Ashram was the safest place during the riots. There are no religious or caste divides… we celebrated Diwali and Eid together… we attended each other’s weddings and we have been there for each other’s milestones. My wedding reception as well as of my eldest daughter’s were held at the Ashram premises. But we also felt it is our duty to leave in order to not jeopardise the safety of other residents…,” says Shamim.

“After we moved to Juhapura, every opportunity we got — weekends, vacations, a day’s off — we would go to the Ashram, as that felt like home. The bonding and friendship is different with the people there… But now with everyone moving away, I fear those friendships will be lost. We will probably meet at someone’s wedding but it won’t be the same as before,” she adds, with eyes welling up.

Anis’ grandfather Bhaimiya was the among the first to arrive at the Gandhi Ashram in what he estimates to be in 1944-’45 from Junagadh, to work as a driver. “Initially he was living at Sadar Bazaar but was given a residence on the Ashram premises after Independence… My father, Mohammad Ali, known as Bachubhai among everyone, was born at the Ashram, worked as a driver with Dadasaheb (Ganesh Vasudev) Mavlankar, who took him along to Delhi between 1954 to 1962. On returning, he continued working as a driver. My siblings and I were born at the Ashram as well,” says Anis.

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Shamim also laments that the skilling courses run at various units within the Ashram premises will no longer continue. “I did courses in spoken English, learnt how to make pots and paint them under Manav Sadhna (NGO founded by Sabarmati Harijan Ashram Trust trustee Jayesh Patel and his wife Anar Patel, who is the daughter of former Gujarat CM Anandiben Patel). There’s always something or the other being taught,” says Shamim.

The Saiyeds handed over the possession of their residence to the authorities in April this year in exchange of Rs 60 lakh monetary compensation, as part of the government to rehabilitate Ashram residents. “Our house was demolished but not our memories,” say Shamim and Anis.

The family says they last visited the Ashram in May during the retirement function of Anis though he continues to work on extension. The past few years had made family visits to the Ashram premises infrequent due to Covid-19 restrictions.

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After the death of Anis’ parents, Anis continued using the house as a resting stop almost everyday… It was also a vacation home for the extended family. “Usually our extended family would come over from other districts during their vacations. We would take them to the Ashram residence as it would give us an excuse to stay there. My husband and I had plans to move back to the Ashram residence and set up a stationery shop there after his (Anis’) retirement and our children’s marriage. But that won’t happen now,” says Shamim.

Anis, who has been conducting the Islamic part of the all-religion prayer meeting held at the Sabarmati Ashram Preservation Memorial Trust (SAPMT)-managed Hriday Kunj every year on October 2 and January 30, since 2007, says that despite his three children — two daughters, aged 31 and 22 years, and Kaif — growing up largely outside the Ashram, the Gandhian values were deeply entrenched in them.

“You can see the difference. Their understanding of the values of truth and non-violence is something that I feel they implement in their daily lives. We do all our chores without depending on anyone,” he says.

Kaif’s earliest memories of Mahatma Gandhi is that of the Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya where the miniatures fascinated him. “We knew of this person, a freedom fighter icon called Gandhiji but after we learnt in school, I would come home and ask my father more about him, and he would talk in great detail. I feel that made my understanding of Gandhiji better,” says Kaif.

Kaif’s elder sister Binash, who works at Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad as an office trainee after Masters in Commerce from HL College, says that her life at Ashram was always different than at her present residence, but in a good way.

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“Everyone is friendly, there are no boundaries. The way of life is a bit different. For example, here we can wake up late, sleep late but when at the Ashram, there’s a certain strictness in routine. We have to wake up early to get water, finish lunch by noon and sleep early. We can hang out at anyone’s place without any safety concerns,” says Binash, who left the Ashram when she was two years old, but has continued visiting the premises.

First published on: 15-08-2022 at 12:57:34 am
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