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Visiting Porpandar on the 70th anniversary of Gandhi’s death

The Raj Ghar – Memorial dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi – in Delhi, India. Photo: tscreationz/Shutterstock

The Raj Ghar – Memorial dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi – in Delhi, India. Photo: tscreationz/Shutterstock

The Basic Masala crisp packets came in with the tide. Pushed up onto the beach by the Arabian Sea. Along with the discarded Mango Bites and Havmore Joly-Lolly wrappers.

Gandhi’s family home, Kirti Mandir, is a national monument. Photo: tantrik71/Shutterstock.comGandhi’s family home, Kirti Mandir, is a national monument. Photo: tantrik71/Shutterstock.com

A single sandal tumbled in the surf on the Kathiawar Peninsula in the city once call­ed Sudampapuri. And now described by some as “a city flourishing in pollution”.

Sorathi cows grazed in the water­front Parsi cemetery. Wild bhunds (pigs) and bakri (goats) rooted in the rubbish near the Veer Maruti (Brave Wind) body-building gym. Nearby, tomato vyapuri (sales­men) vocalised their wares.

A bony bullock pulled a cart (gaadu) of watermelons (tarbuch). While on the beach, paunchy, grey-chested men in bath caps paddled out into the container port shipping lanes. A snaggle- toothed Agarbatti joss-stick seller wobbled by on his rusting Atlas two-wheeler, negotiating the dung along the Chowpati esplanade. Boys fished for pomfret, jinga and magru. Down the coast in the haze was the 350-room Hazoor Palace (Rajmahal), the residence of the last Jethra ruler or prince of Porbandar, who captained the Indian cricket team on their tour to England in 1932.

Feral, possibly rabid dogs chased each other and barked at the scum-capped waves breaking along the Willingdon Marina Beach Park.

All this overseen from the seawall, sponsored by money lenders, by murals of the round-spectacled ‘Father of the Nation’ – looking more like Ben Kingsley than the Mahatmaji or Bapu.

His images exhorted his countrymen: “Keep India Tidy. Cleanliness is Essential.”

Mahatma (‘The Great Soul’) Gandhi was born in Porbandar in Gujarat, west India (an hour’s flight from Mumbai) on October 2, 1869. His family home, Kirti Mandir, is a national monument. The ‘temple of fame’ opened in 1950. Its 79-candle holder, a foot for every year of Gandhi’s life, symbolises religious integration. Gandhi respected all religions.

Gandhi believed the essence of civilisation was not the multiplication of wants but their deliberate and voluntary reduction

Surrounded by timber yards, bracelet shops, ice factories, mango juicers and serdiras (sugar cane pulpers), the museum contains photos of his brothers, Karsandas and Laxmidas, sister Raliatbehn, and mother Putiblai. As well as his wife Kasturba.

And plenty of him, “loving a new-born calf” and “being affectionate towards a child”; of Mohandas holding a prayer meeting at Birla House, Delhi (now Gandhi Smriti – Gandhi Remembrance), where he was assassinated on January 30, 1948; of ‘The Great Soul’ collecting for the Hari­jans (Dalits), visiting Calcutta’s Dum Dum jail, studying leprosy germs, and meeting Nehru, Mountbatten and Charlie Chaplin.

As well as books, his Ayurvedic medicines and all his worldly possessions – sandals (chappal), glas­ses (chasma) and watch (ghadiyaad). Gandhi believed the essence of civilisation was not the multiplication of wants but their deliberate and voluntary reduction. He said, more than once: “There is enough for everyone’s needs but not their greeds.”

Statue of Mahatma Gandhi at his Ashram at Ahmedabad, India. Photo: Anandoart/ShutterstockStatue of Mahatma Gandhi at his Ashram at Ahmedabad, India. Photo: Anandoart/Shutterstock

The original Pano stone house, similar to a havelis, was bought by Gandhi’s great-grandfather in the 17th century. The two upper stories with cross-window ventilation were added later. Gandhi’s father, uncle and grandfather lived there. They were all Prime Ministers (diwans) of Porbandar. And of the wealthy Modh merchant class.

The caretaker of Gandhi’s ancestral home is N.P. Mori. “His presence is still here. My mind is transformed every time I come into work. I be­come more caring. He is in us all.”

He showed me where the fami­ly ground their pulses and made their buttermilk. And he told me the builder’s name. Sirh Prushottambhai Mistry.

Behind the complex is the bare-walled, dark, low-ceilinged 21-room home of Mrs Gandhi, Kasturba. Or ‘Ba’. They married in 1883, both 13.

“As children, they played hop­scotch together,” said the janitor (Chowokadar), before I returned to the Great Soul’s janmastan, or birthplace. It is marked with Jasud hibiscus flowers. And a swastika.

“Swastika is a good sign in India,” said Mr Mori. “It’s the most auspicious symbol of the Hindu religion. From the Sanskrit, for good fortune, luck and well-being.”

As I left I noticed a sign over a door. It said: Shauchalaya.

The janitor lifted his eyebrows.

“The WC. Latrine, sir,” he translated. He did something with his head. “The thinking place.”

He smiled.

“The Mahatma did much great thinking and soul searching in there.”

Flights: Jet Airways flies to 73 destinations across India, including Porbandar. To book, visit www.jetairways.com.

Accommodation: Lords Eco Inn, Porbandar – www.lordshotels.com.
ITC Mumbai at Mumbai Airport is the recommended Indian stopover/itcmaratha@itchotels.in.

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