Early lessons

Early lessons

The Alfred High School in Rajkot, where Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi studied, shines like a beacon to the world, just like his life, write Sandy N Vijay

Symbolicdepiction ofGandhiji

The sun was going down in an orange glow as our bus drove into the city of Rajkot. The strains of a Gujarati song, “Raj mane lagyo kasumbi no rang” wafted from the sound system in the bus. It was a coincidence and perfectly befitting the occasion. 

The song was based on the famous poem by the same name by well-known poet Zaverchand Meghani. It was Mahatma Gandhi who had bestowed the title, ‘Rashtriya Shayar’ or ‘National poet’ on Zaverchand Meghani and we were now headed to a place that was once the school where a young boy known as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi studied.

The state of Gujarat is full of places where Mahatma Gandhi spent his life. They are today silent witnesses to some of the crucial moments in the history of India.

Heritage sites

These places are now listed as Gandhi Heritage Sites, though these places are spread across India and the world, many of the sites pertaining to Mahatma Gandhi’s early life are in Gujarat. These sites include Kirti Mandir in Porbandar which was the Mahatma’s birthplace, Sabarmati and Kochrab Ashrams of Ahmedabad, Kaba Gandhi No Delo, the place where Gandhi’s family lived in Rajkot and Alfred School where he studied in Rajkot.

It was winter and the season meant the days were shorter. It was almost dark by the time we reached Alfred High School in the heart of Rajkot city.

The erstwhile school, where one of the most important personalities of the 20th century studied, is today a high-tech museum dedicated to the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi and known as Mahatma Gandhi Museum.

As we walked from one classroom to another in the long corridors of the school, our footsteps echoed behind us. Gazing out through the iron grills that enclosed the corridor towards the inner courtyard of the school, one could almost sense the presence of a skinny and shy boy who must have walked around here, unaware of what destiny had in store for him.

Gandhiji's classroom
Gandhiji's classroom

From school to museum

The Alfred School High School was established in the year 1853 and was the first English medium school in the entire Saurashtra region in those days. It was initially known as Rajkot High School and then christened Alfred High School by the Nawab of Junagadh during whose tenure the current building took shape in 1875. Mahatma Gandhi studied in this school between 1880 to 1887 after his family moved here from Porbandar. 

After India’s independence, the school was named after its most illustrious student as Mohandas Gandhi High School. The school was closed in 2017 with the aim of creating a museum and a fitting tribute to the Mahatma. After lying abandoned and in a dilapidated condition for some time, the school was converted into a museum named Mahatma Gandhi Museum. It was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 30, 2018 as a tribute to the Mahatma in the year of his 150th birth anniversary. The museum is jointly managed by the Rajkot Municipal Corporation and Gujarat Tourism who also observe Sarvodaya Day or Martyrs’ Day on Jan 30 by remembering Gandhiji’s contributions.

Inside the courtyard
Inside the courtyard

The journey

The building looks impressive with its elements of Tudor architecture. The old building looks rock solid and belies its age. The facade looks magnificent and could well be part of any movie set. The colonial building is visually pleasing with its arched doorways topped with stain glass windows and long corridors that look out onto a central courtyard. A giant model of a charkha stands in a corner of the sprawling grounds in front of the building, the only element that gives away the fact that this is no ordinary school building.

We pass through an arched portico with the words, Mohandas Gandhi Vidhyalay, inscribed in Gujarati on the top. This was what the school was known as before it was closed. An old plaque in the building identifies it as Alfred High School, Rajkot (known as Kattyywar High School, 1867-1907). The plaque also has some other information about Mahatma Gandhi’s academic feats. It notes that Mahatma Gandhi studied here from 1880 to 1887 and was awarded scholarships for proficiency in Mathematics and General Knowledge, it also informs that the Father of the Nation completed his matriculation in November, 1887 with a rank 404/823. Another interesting information on the plaque is that the headmaster at the school during Gandhi’s time there was Dorabji Edulji Gimi.

As we step across the threshold of the entrance of the building, we enter the world of the past, the world of Mahatma Gandhi. The classrooms have been converted into galleries. There are a total of 39 galleries spread over two floors, the first 18 of these are dedicated to present the entire timeline of Gandhi’s life starting from his birth, schooling, and early years till his martyrdom. The remaining galleries are dedicated to bring alive the values and principles dear to the Mahatma in a unique and innovative manner. These include the tenets of satya (truth), brahmacharya (chastity), aswada (control of the palate), ahimsa (non-violence), and many others.

Lifesize statues of Gandhiji and Kasturba
Lifesize statues of Gandhiji and Kasturba Gandhi

Talk with Bapu

Each gallery is immaculate in presentation making the best use of lighting and technological tools combined with photos, paintings, and models to transport you into the past. The transformation of a shy little boy to a Mahatma with a colossal stature is very well depicted. One of the highlights of the museum is a special room where children can talk with a 3-D animated figure of Mahatma Gandhi and get their questions answered. Their parents can watch this on television screens from outside the room.

Bapu’s classroom

The classroom of Mahatma Gandhi has been re-created and is another highlight of the museum. Old period wooden classroom desks are placed on a carpet, and they all face towards a blackboard that is set up against the wall. Looking at the desks one wonders how it must have been as the little Gandhi listened attentively to the soliloquy of his teachers. What were the thoughts in his mind? Did his teachers ever dream that their student would one day become one of the most important personalities of the century? We leave the portals of the school where Bapu studied, our hearts filled with a strange peace.

As we climb down the wooden staircase, the soft tones of Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram soothes our senses and the words, Sabarmati ke sant tune kar diya kamal, ring in our years.