The temperature outside is unbearable. But unmindful of the heat, a group of 20 students can be seen chatting at Delhi University’s Gandhi Bhawan.
At first glance, they seem like a regular bunch of students, killing time. But that’s until you notice their hands — deftly working the charkha (spinning wheel).
Every Wednesday from 3-5 pm, these students meet at Gandhi Bhawan for a simple reason — learn how to spin the wheel.
Their teacher, 77-year-old Sita Bimbrahw, a retired Hindi professor from DU’s Kamla Nehru College, sits in the centre of the group, telling them how to draw the yarn and work the wheel.
Bimbrahw is no stranger to the charkha. Always clad in khadi, she says she has taught the charkha to former prime ministers V P Singh and Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
“Jawaharlal Nehru was great at it. Indira Gandhi, however, didn’t like it at all,” she recalls.
Sitting on mats, Bimbrahw and her friend Seema Rani teach students how to work the Yerwada charkha, an efficient, portable model that Gandhi and his associates devised during his time in Yerwada Jail. Unlike the Amber charkha, the Yerwada model is compact and folds into a wooden box. Students first learn to work with the small spindle and are then taught the charkha.
DU started this free certificate course in learning the charkha this February. On finishing 12 classes, the students get certificates.
“No Indian university teaches students how to spin the charkha. It was the Vice-Chancellor who felt that being an Indian university, DU should at least offer such a course. He believes that without following Gandhian principles, there can be no morality, and without the charkha, there can be no Gandhi,” Bimbrahw said.
“Those from outside DU are free to join too. The certificates are given by Dr Ramlal Trust, where I teach the skill to underprivileged children,” she said.
But most students are not there for the certificate. “Gandhi used to say the message of the charkha is much bigger than its circumference. It is about self-sufficiency and using your hands to do something better. I came here on a fancy, but now I have started enjoying it,” Deepak Kumar, a political science student from DU, said.
Dhiraj Kumar Nirbhay, a student of Buddhist Studies at DU, said. “At first, it was about learning something exotic. Now it is bigger than that. Charkha requires patience and focus. I feel I’m a much calmer person since I started the course.”