Mani Bhavan…..A history lover’s paradise
Whether it is the August Kranti Maidan or the buildings of Colaba, Mumbai bursts with history.
The Chhatrapati Shivaji / Victoria Terminus and the area around it seems like an Indianised England. It looks and feels absolutely amazing. The first time i went to that area was for this project. I was taken aback. The area was like a different land altogether. A completely different part of south mumbai. The general post office built in 1913 by John Begg, the small Blackie House at its diagnol and the grand Chhatrapati Shivaji terminus in front of it were all unique in expanse and design.
I went to the general post office to explore the heritage building for it’s design and later blog about it. I was not satisfied. It was huge, but appeared like a bank. Add to this, the philately section that they boast about was closed! I was frustrated. I took a day’s break from the project. The next day i went out to eat chaat with my friends to Laburnum road lane. I had come to this street often and would always admire this beautiful house over there. It appeared like a villa. It was chocolate-brown and white in colour. I always thought to myself how cosy it would be to live there. I mentioned this to my friend who to my horror and happiness both, replied that it was Mani Bhavan , Gandhiji’s residence in Mumbai. I didn’t have a clue about it till that day.
I immediately decided to discover it. The wall outside Mani Bhavan has the symbolic Khadi Charkha and a stone inscription of the significance of the residence. Mahatma Gandhi started satyagrahas from here between 1917 and 1934. I entered Mani Bhavan and a garlanded structure of gandhiji stared at me. I looked around to see Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s candid pictures with important people like Jawaharlal nehru, Ashfaqulla khan, Subhas Chandra Bose. On the left was a board of stamps issued in his honour by several countries like Britain, Bhutan, Trinidad, Tobago, U.S.S.R. As i proceeded there was a library on the pillar of which were some of Gandhiji’s profound sayings, about respecting women, rights and duties and his definition of freedom.
The old staircase had walls with scraped paint, revamped with Gandhiji’s childhood photographs. When i reached the second floor on the left was the Gandhi smarak office. On the right was a room containing photographs of Mahatma Gandhi’s struggles, visits and Ashrams. At the centre was a model of Gandhiji’s Sevagram Ashram- the mud hut . I was deeply intrigued to see framed letters of Gandhiji to Herr hitler, President Roosevelt.
Albert Einstein’s tribute to Mahatma Gandhi went like this, ” Here was a man unsupported by outward authority, committed to the cause of upliftment of his people and one who scorned the use of force.” a corridor on the left carried unique pictues of Gandhiji posing for sculptor Joe Davidson in 1931, with Charlie Chaplin etc.
The third floor was a complete surprise. On the left was a room with belongings of mahatma gandhi. On the right was a room dimly lit. I went in and saw, I was awestruck. It was as though history had been remade into a toystory. All the main events in M.K. Gandhi’s life were shown in the form of miniature models. Important incident’s like his committing a theft in his own house, being racially discriminated at Maritzburg, meeting the King of England in a loin cloth were all on a colourful, enchanting display. Every detail had been carefully translated onto the models.
The Gandhi Smarak Nidhi had redesigned Mani Bhavan to preserve it as a memorial to Gandhiji. Harjeet Singh a philately collector and expert had contributed to the stamp exhibition. He had collaborated with a fellow Gandhian to come up with this magnificent, most engaging piece of art. I could see the hard work put into the whole idea.
Mani Bhavan to me has broken the monotony of a mueseum by unfolding history in a fantastically different manner. All I can say is for those who love history but don’t want to see it in books Mani Bhavan is unexpectedly a delightful experience.