More foreigners flock to Porbander

Locals have little interest in Gandhis house

Most of the locals do not take much pride in saying that they belong Mahatma Gandhi’s birth place

The Kirti Mandir in Porbander. (Right) Life-size photos of Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba Gandhi inside Kirti Mandir.

Porbander is more famous as the birth place of Mahatma Gandhi. This coastal town of Gujarat is now more known for its rather infamous activities. Many a time, fishermen from this place stray into Pakistan waters and get caught and they make news. The place is also notorious as  underworld activities in the state have their roots in this town.

Porbander might immediately bring the images of Gandhi by mere mention of its name. But it is not the same for the local people. Most of them do not take much pride in saying that they belong to a place, which gave birth to a frail figure who forced Britishers to leave the country with his now-famous Ahimsa Satyagraha (non-violent agitation). The Kirti Mandir, as the house of the Bapu is known, is nestled amidst several concrete structures that have come up in a crowded bylane of Porbander.

Maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the interiors are indeed a visual treat to visitors and also a learning experience for students of architecture. The house is a mix of concrete and wood and is an example of the architecture that many would like to replicate in their projects. For visitors, it is not just the wooden staircase which leads to Gandhiji’s study room as a child, but it also shows a well-designed kitchen and space for storing water.

At the entrance, the ASI has taken pains to mark a place, where Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Mahatma’s original name, was born. The house also has boards explaining where Mahatma’s parents lived and separate rooms for his siblings. The house has a courtyard. The wooden staircase guides the visitor to the place where Gandhiji spent a lot of time with his visitors. The house also has an extension which is now shown to the visitors as a room that was used by Kasturba Gandhi in Gandhiji’s absence.

“There are visitors round the year and they are mostly foreigners who still continue to study Gandhi and his life as a subject,’’ said an ASI official at the Kirti Mandir.

The official, who did not want to be named, was rather sad as not many locals bring their children and inspire them to follow the footsteps of the man, who was an icon figure and earned the respect of the tall leaders across the world during the Indian freedom struggle. His one call would bring the nation to a grinding halt in an age when communication was not so fast. It is mostly children from cities who come here during their visit to the city. “Forget about locals. Even politicians from the area who have made a name in the politics are only known for opportunistic politics. Gandhiji must be turning in his grave on seeing recent developments,” the official said.

The gang war in Gujarat, whose origins are traced to Godmother Santokben Jadeja, began in the land of Gandhi. For the last one decade, the guns have fallen silent, but the family of Jadeja continues to wield the influence. Her son Kandal Jadeja who
represents the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) was elected from the neighbouring constituency of Kutiyana in the recently concluded elections. And he too mentions Gandhi and claims he believes in moving with all castes without discrimination. “The lower castes have been created but we are trying to uplift their status in society as Gandhi did,” says Kandal.

Recently elected on a BJP ticket and now a minister in the Narendra Modi Cabinet, Babu Bokharia said: “Gandhiji is not a man but an iconic figure for the people of this city. They know a lot about the man and there is no need to teach children about him. However, there is a need to imbibe Gandhian values in children,” added Bokharia. He admitted that in political rallies people do not want to delve on the past but want to focus on what future holds for them. He was of the opinion that the people should remember the Mahatma more often than recalling his contributions and ideology only on the birth anniversary of the father of the nation.

“It is indeed a matter of concern that Porbander is being referred to in different connotations and not because of just Gandhiji,’’ said outgoing President of Gujarat Congress Arjun Modhwadia. The Congress leader, who tasted defeat after representing the constituency twice, claimed that he had made all out efforts to promote Gandhism and not restricting mention of the name to government functions. “The Kirti Mandir is situated in such an area that faces the sea coast and visitors do keep complaining about stench from the house as it is facing sea,’’ said Modhwadia.

He said that after several representations to the state and Central governments, funds were released and the same was utilised to create facilities for easy approach to the historical structure.

However, Gandhians do regret the apathy of the people, especially from Porbander. “The good thing is that it is a protected monument and people can see the life of Gandhi. The extended library and manuscripts help visitors in learning more about Gandhi,” said Gujarat Vidyapeeth Vice-Chancellor Sudarshan Iyengar. The university was set up by Gandhiji.

He said that for Gandhiji’s philosophy to be implemented just remembering him on his birth anniversary and making a customary visit was not enough. It has to be included in school curriculum so that children start realising the values of Gandhiji from their formative age in life. Iyengar suggested that visit to places of importance to Gandhi’s life should be made compulsory, especially for children. And as far as Porbander is concerned one needs to see the house of Gandhiji to learn the luxury as well the simplicity with which he began his life.

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