Currently, Mani Bhavan serves as a museum, library and research foundation on the life and times of Mahatma Gandhi

Let Bapu's legacy get its due

By Fiona Fernandez | Mumbai

Updated: 02 March, 2020 07:37 IST

Why Bombay's most telling memory of the Mahatma needs to be conserved

It was Republic Day. Laburnum Road's leafy canopies had laid out a warm welcome for visitors who had dropped by Mani Bhavan from across the globe. Like scenes at most tourist attractions, I was also accosted at the entry by hawkers who were selling poor imitations of artefacts from Gujarat and Rajasthan. Some fell to the lure of these colourful versions while others preferred to head straight inside. As I entered the space, signs of wear and tear to the structure didn't make for a pleasant recap of my previous visit, which was a good five years ago.

This paper had reported last weekend that the trust managing Mani Bhavan had written to the state government to restore it. The request for the Rs 10.5 crore grant has put the condition of the over 100-year-old landmark into perspective. Currently, it serves as a museum, library and research foundation on the life and times of Mahatma Gandhi. On the day I had dropped by, I would be lying if I said I wasn't underwhelmed with the overall experience.

Once past the entry point, the displays for works including souvenirs like postage stamps and Gandhi-inspired titles weren't the most attention-grabbing. Inside, the walls and photographs were crying out for a facelift as were the panels that showcased his famous statements. Despite the tomes of priceless information that you come across inside the two storeys that encompass the Mahatma's impact on the world and his city connect, the template of disseminating it for consumption was largely unchanged. As I read Bapu's handwritten letters to Rabindranath Tagore and Adolf Hitler, moments from history class emerged in a flashback. It always did, whenever I had visited Mani Bhavan in the past, since the time I was a student. A similar feeling swept over as I checked out the miniature tableaux to document important milestones in the Mahatma's life. It was insightful alright but something more (read: interactive) needed to be done to draw in more visitors to this hisoric gem in the heart of the city. The lack of technology to up the curiosity levels was woefully felt everywhere. It remains a must-visit for the city's schoolchildren, hands down. Research scholars from across the world continue to flock the space. A more user-friendly revamp is bound to draw more footfalls and contributions as well.

Imagine playbacks of Gandhi's speeches or snippets from his letters on a touchscreen or even a slideshow of his life through carefully restored photographs. How about a small section dedicated only to his invention and use of khadi?

The request for the grant has been long overdue. It's a question of prioritising it as a city treasure of immense historic and heritage significance. The city doesn't have a second Mani Bhavan or an alternative location of such immense Gandhian relevance. Let's hope that our gods see reason, and act to resurrect this sleeping giant of a landmark, and soon. Else, it will not be just Bombay's but India's loss.

mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana

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First Published: 02 March, 2020 07:26 IST

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