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Platinum jubilee for Sevagram,but no Gandhi specs to witness it

Donated to ashram by Gandhi's daughter-in-law,spectacles were stolen 3 months ago.

Written by Vivek Deshpande | Nagpur |
June 13, 2011 11:43:29 am

Mahatma Gandhi and his round spectacles are inseparable mutual identities. But even as Sevagram Ashram — from where he wove a new order for India in the 30s and early 40s — prepares to celebrate its platinum jubilee on June 16,ashram residents have discovered the visionary’s spectacles are missing from Bapu Kuti.

“Yes,Mahatma Gandhi’s spectacles have been missing since the last two to three months from the locked showcase. We have been worried over it since then,” president of Sevagram Ashram Pratishthan,M M Gadkari,told ‘The Indian Express’.

Gadkari said,“The specs were given to the Ashram by Gandhi’s daughter-in-law,late Nirmalaben Gandhi,who lived on the premises for many years. But she had said it wasn’t the one he usually wore.”

The showcase’s locks,too,have gone missing in what appears to be a theft. Asked if the police were approached,Gadkari said,“We haven’t thought about it.”

The Ashram remains open for visitors from sunrise to sunset and all huts are visited unhindered by the visitors.

Asked who kept the key’s,Gadkari said,“They are not in any particular person’s custody. Turn by turn,ashram inmates clean the premises every morning. Those on duty take the keys whenever required.”

Asked what care has been taken to protect the other valuables,he said,“We have fortified the showcase with new locks now.”

The ashram managing committee is,meanwhile,preparing to celebrate the platinum jubilee occasion on June 16 with day-long programmes comprising morning prayers,a prabhat pheri (morning walk) through Sevagram village,a cleanliness drive,thread-spinning on 75 charkhas for 75 minutes and a discussion on the “relevance of Gandhi in modern times”.

“We are also paying tribute to late Jamnalal Bajaj,who had donated the land for the ashram,near his statue in Wardha on June 15,” Gadkari said.

Gandhi had moved to Shegaon in 1936 (later renamed as Sevagram) village on Bajaj’s insistence after leaving his Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat,taking a vow that he would return there only after securing freedom for India. “He was moving all over the country after the Salt satyagraha. So,Bajaj requested him to stay at Shegaon. Gandhi agreed and stayed there for ten years,making it a hub of national politics,” said M B Nisal,former secretary of the Pratishthan.

“It was a dense forest then. Gandhi told his disciple Mirabehn (Madeleine Slade,daughter of a British Rear-Admiral Sir Edmund Slade) to check the land. Mirabehn went on a horse to the spot and opined favourably,” he said.

“Gandhi insisted the huts will be constructed using local material,by local men. They must have tiled roofs too. Mirabehn was given the responsibility to build the first hut. She added to the basic Indian rural architecture a bath tub,western-style lavatory and door-stoppers to construct Adinivas,that later became known as Bapu Kuti,” Nisal said.

Subsequently,Ba Kuti (residence for Kasturba) and other huts for residents came up. Gandhi also insisted,paying little heed to advice to the contrary,that leprosy-afflicted Sanskrit scholar Parchure Shastri would stay inside the ashram. Gandhi had a separate hut constructed for him,where he personally nursed the scholar till his death,laying the foundation for the likes of Manohar Diwan and Baba Amte to carry forward his legacy.

“There were poisonous snakes on the premises,but Gandhi was opposed to killing them. Hence,sand was spread all over the ground since snakes can’t easily crawl on sand,” Nisal said.

Gandhi’s own convictions never worked at cross-purpose with his liberalism. “So,when Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan ate the vegetarian food sparingly,Gandhi said he could cook his non-vegetarian food in the ashram. This was not liked by many puritanical inmates. Khan politely refused Gandhi’s offer,saying he would follow the ashram culture,” Nisal said.

“Gandhi also had the height of the Bapu Kuti entrance raised so that the tall Gaffar could easily enter,” he added.

The telephone at the ashram was given by Lord Mountbatten. “Gandhi had refused saying he didn’t need it,but Mountbatten insisted saying he needed it,” Nisal said.

The ashram doesn’t use conventional electricity as a mark of respect for Gandhi. It,however,started using solar energy lamps eight years ago on the initiative of then Collector S Chokkalingam,himself a scholar on Gandhian thoughts.

The ashram was in news first in 2003 for the tourism planned around it,but this was opposed by several Gandhians. The plan was restricted to six yatri niwas rooms,an overhead water reservoir and solar energy lamps.

It was again in news in 2005 when the Centre gave it Rs 5 crore after reports surfaced about the the ashram’s poor financial condition. That,too,was opposed by many in the managing committee and the amount was returned to the government.

The ashram at present runs comfortably with funds provided by the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi,New Delhi,and income generated from the yatri nivas. The Rs 35 lakh,donated by the general public after the government fund fiasco,have also come handy.

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