13th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas: 100 years later, Gandhi, Kasturba return to Mumbai

Organisations to stage re-enactment of the day the Gandhis landed in India.

Written by Kavitha Iyer | Mumbai | Updated: January 9, 2015 2:35:14 am
Mahatma gandhi, South Africa, Kasturba Gandhi, Pravasi Bharatiya Divas At the Pravasi Divas in Gandhinagar. The event will showcase Gandhi’s principles as part of celebrations to mark 100 years of his return to India. (Source: Express Photo by Javed Raja)

A hundred years to the day that Mahatma Gandhi returned to India from South Africa, nothing is the same at Apollo Bunder where Gandhi and Kasturba alighted on January 9, 1915. The Gateway of India was then a draft on paper by George Wittet, the ‘Bombay Presidency’ Radio Club was not even that. In fact, when an officer of the Mumbai Port Trust and the Bombay Sarvodaya Mandal scoured history books and archival photographs over the past two days to locate the exact spot where Gandhi alighted, they found that absolute certainty was impossible.

The Gateway of India was then a draft on paper by George Wittet, the ‘Bombay Presidency’ Radio Club was not even that. In fact, when an officer of the Mumbai Port Trust and the Bombay Sarvodaya Mandal scoured history books and archival photographs over the past two days to locate the exact spot where Gandhi alighted, they found that absolute certainty was impossible.

That little hurdle notwithstanding, the Sarvodaya Mandal, Mani Bhavan and other Gandhian organisations will stage a re-enactment of the historic occasion at 2 pm on Friday when, instead of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, J B Petit and others, Gandhi and Kasturba will be greeted by a couple of hundred students, Gandhians and freedom-fighters holding placards propagating ahimsa. Playing Gandhi will be stage actor Nilesh Joshi, 40, who incidentally read Satyana Prayog, the Gujarati translation of Gandhi’s autobiography, The Story Of My Experiments With Truth, six times consecutively as a Class X student. “As preparation for this unique role, I will be referring to Satyana Prayog again tonight,” Joshi told The Indian Express.

Playing Gandhi will be stage actor Nilesh Joshi, 40, who incidentally read Satyana Prayog, the Gujarati translation of Gandhi’s autobiography, The Story Of My Experiments With Truth, six times consecutively as a Class X student. “As preparation for this unique role, I will be referring to Satyana Prayog again tonight,” Joshi told The Indian Express.

Gandhi had just recovered from a pleurisy attack, but would later write of his elation at seeing the shores of Bombay. “It was such a joy to get back to the homeland after an exile of ten years,” he would write.

Joshi and his Kasturba, played by 22-year-old stage actor Sneha Salvi, will arrive by boat at a spot close to the Gateway, where ‘Gandhi’ will deliver a speech. They will then board a horse-driven buggy and the procession will make its way to Mumbai University’s Convocation Hall, where a function will follow. A short film and montage of photographs will be shown at the end.

Gandhi had opted out of his previously habitual Western attire when he arrived in India, so Joshi will be in “traditional Gujarati Vaishnav attire including a pagdi” for the event. Salvi is waiting for her full-sleeved white blouse to go with a simple cotton saree.

Other events are planned to coincide with the three or four days that Gandhi spent in Mumbai, including a lecture by historian Ramchandra Guha at Mani Bhavan on Saturday and a function at the historic CP Tank hall where Gandhi delivered a speech on January 13.

Septuagenarian T R K Somaiya of the Sarvodaya Mandal wonders if Gandhi would have been a bit bemused at the grand reception being planned by the enthusiastic youngsters. “But the objective is to talk about Gandhi and Gandhian values, about ahimsa and satya. So why not?” he says.

Gandhi’s own memory of that reception offers an interesting post script. In his autobiography, while he says the receptions in Bombay gave him an occasion “for offering what might be called a little Satyagraha”, he goes on to describe one of these events. He was accorded a grand welcome the following day at the home of Jehangir Petit, at the palatial Mount Petit bungalow on Pedder Road. “In those palatial surroundings of dazzling splendour I, who had lived my best life among indentured labourers, felt myself a complete rustic,” he would write.

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