Once again I am here at Sabarmati Ashram; the abode that Gandhiji had left on 12th March 1930, for symbolically raising the conscience of a nation crushed under the yoke of the British rule by making the most elaborate performative act of the last century, the Dandi March. I have been here several times for professional and personal reasons. In fact I have travelled all along the same route that Gandhiji had taken for the Dandi March. What a symbolical and sacrificial act for Gandhiji was extremely a professional one for me. I, along with a curator friend of mine, Anubhav Nath was trying to translate Gandhiji’s ideology into the language of art market. However, the moment I came here something had struck me and till date I am under its influence.
(Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad, Gujarat)
Sabarmati Ashram is a haunted place. Haunted, a word when used in the context of horror, is all about dead souls hovering around a house where a drunken husband sits all day staring at a vacant television screen and a black and white wife coughs her sorrows into the shadowed corridors lined by pale walls with cobwebbed ancestors breathing out of ancient canvases. But when used in the context of love and affection, it is a looming presence, like the character Rima in W.H.Hudson’s Green Mansions. Gandhiji is a loveable spirit at Sabarmati Ashram that spends all its time in sparkling the edges of each object, even the sand particles and making the place an abode of ethereal peace. At times Gandhiji must be thinking about the futility of his acts when he stands at the concrete walls raised along the river front of Sabarmati, and throws the little pebbles of memories of Mira Ben at the river.
(JML at Sabarmati)
Have you tried to hop pebbles along the surface of water? Generally people sitting at the river fronts throw stones and pebbles at water. When you are sad you throw them with some kind of frustrated force and see the pebble cutting into the water like a dart of disparage that you have received from your beloved. The pebble sinks in force sans noise and the ripples spread like the shock waves of your despair. For a moment you realize that you are not different from the river. When you are gay in the Wordsworthian sense, you try to flip and hop the stones along the water. You arch your body slightly backwards, like an Artemis or a Poseidon you extend your left hand as if you were in a game, you bend your right hand at the elbow and fling the stone in a perfect horizontal line and it hops as if it were a deer chased by a tiger cub. And look at the lines that it creates; it looks exactly like the trajectory of an arrow represented by a physicist. Sorrow creates ripples and joy, the path of a shooting star. Gandhiji creates ripples for himself.
I understand his sadness. I sit with him on a circular cement platform made around an ancient tree laden with yellowing memories for leaves, which now has broken marble pieces around it for support and beauty. We both look at the small hut which has two doors; one leads to where Vinoba Bhave had stayed and the other leads to Mira Ben’s room. I could hear Kasturba Gandhi calling out Gandhiji, like any other wife would call out to her husband. Her voice has complaints in it. She sounds like any other wife who thinks that her husband does nothing but wasting time in social service. Gandhiji does not respond to her shouting. I look at him. He mutters something under his lips. I know that it is in Gujarati. Kasturba Gandhi comes out of the Ashram’s kitchen. She pushes her hands into her midriff and glares at Gandhiji. I avert my eyes into my autobiography.
(Mira Ben's Hut seen from the main ashram)
Each time calamities strike people like me walk back to Sabarmati. We walk like a films division documentary played in reverse; awkward movements that push time backward and making smiling men to gloom, rejoicing women to silent bruises, curious children to utter loneliness, departing volunteers into their entreating brides. One good thing about playing documentaries backward is that there you see the enhanced dignity of freedom fighters on their faces and bodies before the cruel arms of the powerful strike iron and stick on to them, you see the lips locked in pure love before they are paled, dried and distorted by death, you see brave mothers sending their brave daughters to warfronts of marriage before they come back permanently scarred or burnt. I walk back to Sabarmati to the moments of my dignity.
Gandhiji has always been a source of energy to me. Sitting with him at Sabarmati Ashram re-invigorates my sagging soul and gives me the wings of an eagle and the colour of a parrot. I soar up there in the sky like a green eagle. Another eagle joins me in my lonely pursuit to creativity and freedom.