During my visit to Gandhi Ashram, Ahmedabad, I noticed that there was a major thrust towards showcasing how this was a very vital part of our cultural history. There were notes everywhere, painted, pictures etc about how we aimed to create an equal and casteless society. We’re really bad at communicating this history to the large population who visit the Ashram – the young and the foreigner, especially, who have only seen a resurgent India.
This is the picture that greets you outside the toilet block. What is written in Hindi, translates into English as, “I asked for water, not your caste.” It is a one-liner that informs one about the caste system, the untouchability and various other practices that did exist once in India and still does exist in some form or the other in India. Yet, this is not properly communicated and hence it continues to remain a problem.
Many people just walked by this mural. Even if you did not see any other thing in the Gandhi Museum – the Ashram rules, the letters Gandhi wrote, the various sayings pasted on the walls (which one could easily read in a book!), missing this is a crime! Yet, foreigners had no way of reading the Hindi script, the kids were just scampering – more intent on getting to the toilet. Many just avoided this space because it was a toilet block. This still smells a bit, doesn’t it? How we look down upon our civil sanitation spaces? Before we wipe out corruption and other evils from Society, the first one we must wipe out is our lack of civil sanitation. The rest will be “cleaned up”automatically, in my opinion.
On Friday, 29 December, 2011, when most of the staff from my office left after half a day of work to ostensibly cast their vote in the local Panchayat elections, I asked myself how I would spend my New Year’s. For all the New Year’s till date (I’m 25 now) that I can remember, I have spent it with my family. This would be my first New Year’s alone.
I was speaking to my boss when I shared with him my intention of visiting the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad. This came out of the blue. The only rational explanation I have is that sub-conscious mind had provided me the answer for my question about where to spend New Year’s eve. Almost with whole-hearted conviction, I announced that I was spending my New Year’s at Ahmedabad at the Gandhi Ashram. This, without knowing where exactly it is, not knowing how to get there, not knowing if I will get tickets. In short, without answering any of the “practical” questions that arise when one suggests a trip.
That night, I worked on cleartrip and got my train tickets. The next day I remembered that I had no place to stay during New Year’s. I contacted Manoj Pai, mentioned in my last blog post, and asked him if a place called Ellis Bridge would be a workable distance. Having ascertained of this fact, I also had the hotel room booked.
It is on these facts alone that I left on the afternoon of December 31, 2011 to Ahmedabad.
I walked from my room at Ellis Bridge, past the Town Hall to the Gandhi Ashram. The road had a wide sidewalk on one side of the road. I walked here. I walked a little more than 4 km with just Gmaps to give directions and using the amazing tracking service to spot where I was. The roads were empty. There were very few cars.
I reached Gandhi Ashram, visited the place where he stayed till about 1930. I saw the Sabarmati, now embanked with concrete on both the banks. It was somewhat representative of the rest of Gujarat. They have not let nature be. Rivers are dry, canals are full. But, where they have let nature take its course, the beauty is unparalleled.
There was lots of water all over the stoned walkway that leads to the Gandhi Museum. Artificial lawns, the trees with a low wall built on their base so that people could sit. Clearly not necessary. The lawns are so clean that it does not invite one to sit there. The whole atmosphere seemed more artificial than it should have been.
I visited the Store, purchased three books – two related to local government and one related to vegetarian diet. I have no idea when I will get around to reading these, though.
I was here for a reason – self-introspection. I sat there and wrote for an hour – maybe two. Then, I packed up and left. The only part of the Ashram that I loved was the river proper. It looked more like a canal now but somewhere it had some part of its natural beauty left.
I was disappointed by my self-introspection. It was not as fulfilling as I hoped and it got over rather too quickly. But, I had reached the conclusions that I wanted to and so in that respect, it was successful. Like the Ashram now, my life too is more artificial than natural. This is a thought that could have come only in that Ashram. It was the correct place to reach the conclusion. It stands up, all-in-all.