US President Barack Obama is the first high-profile international visitor to set foot in the Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sangrahalaya in the last 50 years and the museum authorities say his visit filled life into its otherwise prim environment and are hoping for a spurt in visitor footfall.
“It was only Martin Luther King (US civil rights leader) who visited Mani Bhavan in the 1950s and as far as international personalities are concerned so far, it has only been Barack Obama in all these years who has come here after him,” Meghshyam T. Ajgaonkar, executive secretary of Mani Bhavan, said.
“We are now hoping Mani Bhavan will get a definite impetus from national as well as international tourists after Mr. Obama’s visit. We are really looking forward to that,” he added.
King Jr came to India in 1959 to study Gandhi’s philosophy of peaceful resistance.
The US president and his wife Michelle, who landed in Mumbai Saturday for a four-day India visit, went to Mani Bhavan at around 2.30 pm after checking in at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower.
Obama’s visit filled the otherwise staid, deserted and calm ambience at the Bhavan buzzing with people and activity.
“He was very happy to come to Mani Bhavan. He looked pleased and spent 40 minutes here. Normally, it takes only 20 minutes to explore the entire place but he spent double the time,” said Ajgaonkar.
“He began his sojourn by offering a floral tribute to Mahatma Gandhi’s statue at the Bhavan. Then he went upstairs to explore the exhibition on different year’s of Gandhi’s life that has been made by Sushil Gokhale Patel. He then came down and signed the Bhavan register before leaving the premises at 3.35 p.m.,” he added.
The two-storeyed structure standing on the Laburnum Road in south Mumbai is the city’s pride. The building, which is about 40 minutes drive from Taj hotel, was Gandhi’s Mumbai headquarters for about 17 years – from 1917-1934.
The place belonged to Gandhi’s friend Revashankar Jagjeevan Jhaveri. It was from this place that he initiated Civil Disobedience, Satyagraha, Swadeshi, Khadi and Khilafat movements. In 1955 the building was dedicated as a memorial to Gandhi.
Once you enter the place, there is a library with statue of the Mahatma where people offer their tributes. Then a staircase dotted with Gandhi’s pictures depicting his life leads visitors to the first floor which has big photo gallery where photographs of his childhood till his assassination are displayed along with press clippings.
The room that Gandhi used during his stay here is on the second floor – there is a glass partition and people can see through two of his spinning wheels, a book and floor bed still preserved. Right opposite the room there is a hall where photographs and paintings of his lifetime are on display.
And finally when one reaches the terrace where he was arrested on Jan 4, 1932.
The US president didn’t leave the museum empty-handed as the Mani Bhavan authorities gifted him two books – “Women in Indian Society” co-authored by Usha Thakkar and Neera Desai and “Mahatma – Golden Treasury of Wisdom” which is a compilation of all of Gandhi’s thoughts in various subjects given in alphabetical order.
Obama was also presented with two CDs – a two-and-half hour documentary on Mahatma Gandhi made by Vithalbhai Javeri, former trustee of Mani Bhawan and “Samar Geet”, an audio CD of freedom songs sung by Shubha Mudgal.
Did his visit create any security hassles?
“Their visit did not create any problem. We did not change the set up of the place in any way and tried to accommodate as many people as we can keeping the things where they were. We did not have any security of our own. It was all taken care of by the government,” he said.
Situated at Laburnum Road, Gamdevi, the Bhavan also drew a lot of the nearby residential crowd, who wanted to catch a glimpse of high-profile couple.
“Some people were complaining as they wanted to see Obama but due to some security measures they could not,” said Ajgaonkar.
The Obamas left Mumbai on Sunday after noon and are currently in the capital and they will head to Indonesia on Tuesday.