A Sabarmati Tale





Dec. 2012

It is the time of reckoning once again. Both for Narendra Modi & for Gujarat. A decade down the line & two elections later the ghosts of 2002 simply refuse to die. ‘Across the border ‘as Amdavadis term it; the Teen Darwaza area is kicking with activity.  Everyone has a stake in the pie. It is as Vaznavi said: “ unlike the Muslims in other parts of the country, especially in the North, the Muslims of western India are interested in what they have for breakfast, lunch & dinner. Therefore, while religion is important it is not the be all & end all of our existence”. Poor Vaznavi. What was he thinking? What did he expect? Of course he never got the position he aspired to in the Deoband   for, whatever your faith it isn’t easy being contrarian.

Arriving in Ahmedabad one quickly gets into the groove of the city. There is hustle & bustle, purposeful people everywhere making the most of it, getting along with it. Coming from Delhi I look around for tell tale signs of disaffection, social or communal strife. I strike up a conversation. Things could be better of course but at least the basics are in place. The rest of the country has contrived a certain image of Gujarat treating it almost as a pariah but the common man here is either totally oblivious of the perception or maybe he just doesn’t care. There is a quiet confidence born out of opportunity, peace & order.  There are the marginalized also but the citizen has a stake in the future – make no bones about it. Whether Modi carries the state or not democracy will be the eventual winner.

The Sabarmati Ashram

Ahmedabad has recently applied for heritage status & may well be on its way to acquiring it. If it does it will be the first city in the country to do so.  It has the most beautiful, ornate  & well-maintained step well that is even today a refuge from the searing heat of the summer. The ancient civilizational ruins at Lothal on the outskirts, the tombs at Sarkhej, the shaking minarets & the Saiyyid Siddhi monument all vie for attention along side the modern day Meccas _ IIM, NID & Hussian Ki Gufa. It’s a city on the mend what with the wealth  & drive of the Gujarati diaspora, the coming of the waters of the Narmada & the beautification along the banks of the Sabarmati.

Jama Masjid

The Sabarmati. Alas!  The river is brimming with clear clean water. A rarity in any Indian city these days. What hurts & surprises however is the dilapidated condition of the Ashram on its banks. What should be the city’s’ showpiece & pride is the scene of utter & total disrespect & neglect. The abode once, of a great, albeit simple & humble man, the Mahatma himself, this was where the great leaders of our national movement met & confabulated  & where momentous decisions relating to the freedom movement were taken. Mira Bais’ room was this tiny little cubicle & this is where Gandhi sat spinning at the wheel. There is a stark austere room where he received his most famous & special guests. His goat was tethered there. In that corner.

There used to be a Sound & Light show in the evening up to some years ago. Not any more. Just as the city of Ahmedabad is beginning to perk up there is a noticeably steady deterioration within the precincts of the Ashram.

Gandhi ashram must have been miles away from the city during the Mahatmas’ time but Ahmedabad has expanded & encroached upon it literally strangling it by the neck. There is an Ashok tree at the entrance – hardly noticed – planted by Jawaharlal Nehru, no less. Monkeys & stray dogs roam the place, the toilets stink  & the books & papers in the library are all musty & full of dust. Devotees come never the less for neither Gandhi nor his legacy may be wished away that easily.

Someone needs to answer.

And it is not Modi alone