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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Porbandar: In Search of Mahatma

Inside narrow lanes of old town Porbandar - a small coastal trading post in Gujarat’s Saurashtra coast - lies Kirti Mandir, birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi. It is far easier to pay your tributes to the Father of the Nation at Rajghat - so very few people actually go to this sleepy town, which should have been a national pilgrimage for all of us.
I know someone, who was posted as Police Superintendant of Porbandar a few years back. She was initially thrilled to be posted at a place all of us read routinely in history books. Soon she realized that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is something very far off from the reality of Porbandar. The town was then caught in a vicious cycle of gang war and the most dreaded of the criminals was a lady - Sankotben Jadeja. A Hindi movie made around that time – Godmother – was based on her life. It took quite an effort from the police forces over a long period to bring peace in what is still known as Chicago of Gujarat. She was more pained to see on the first 2nd October she spent there that apart from Sarkari functions, there was almost no celebration of Gandhi Jayanti there. Sankotben died only a few days before my trip to Porbandar – a huge number of people, including some political leaders joined her funeral procession – she was also a two term elected representative from Porbandar to Gujarat assembly.
Mohandas was born in this room on 2nd October, 1869 - Swastika marks the exact place! His mother Putlibai was the fourth wife of Karamchand Gandhi – his first three wives died at child birth. His family was quite well off, the three storied house had 22 rooms


Kirti Mandir from outside – this tribute to Gandhi was built with Sardar Patel’s inspiration and money from a local businessman
The museum inside Kirti Mandir is an absolute shame – photographs are just cut from paper - most of them have not been framed; display is pathetic and most of the descriptions printed in typewriter are full of spelling and grammatical mistakes. There is no video or modern presentation either on his life or the significance of the place.
Hardly 100 metres behind Gandhi’s House is Kasturba’s house. Her father was a wealthy trader and childhood friend of Gandhi’s father. They were married when Mohandas was 13 years old and Kasturba 14.
Archaelogical Survey of India – a national shame in any case – did not find Kasturba’s house worthy of protection. It is protected under the act of Gujarat govt. We have named a road in the heart of the capital after Kasturba – is not that enough?
Dawn breaks at Porbandar – right on the sea beach, this magnificent neo-classical palace of Porbandar’s Jethwa rulers today lies absolutely abandoned. Mahatma’s father Karamchand rose to the post of Diwan (Prime Minister) of the Jethwa rulers.
             Silent Witness: Customary Gandhi Statue close to his house at Manek Chowk
Small Town Porbandar – same hanging electric wires, garbage on the street, life stuck at narrow bylanes….we failed to create both a functioning government and a concerned civil society in this country.
Despite Gandhi legacy and quite a beautiful sea beach, Porbandar is not on the tourist map. Mahatma is more of a burden for Porbandar (as much for rest of Gujarat and rest of the country) – there is a new Gandhi Memorial right on the sea beach but locals complain that unnecessarily children’s play ground has been converted into this memorial – who will go to a Gandhi memorial to listen to some seminar – asked an angry resident.
Of course the compound remains locked
And the Gandhi statue carefully wrapped in plastic sheet

As another quiet day ends at Porbander.

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