|Gandhiji,change of attire,West Masi St.house.Madurai Hindu.com|
The house at 251, West Masi street where Gandhi stayed is a historical one. On 22 September 1921 Mohan Das K. Gandhi emerged from the house wearing loin cloth in order to be identified with the Indian poor mass and this unexpected change of attire effected by him during the thick of freedom struggle grabbed the attention of Indian people, Indian media as well a foreign media. The visit made Gandhiji more spiritually rejuvenated with better and focused vision to carry on his struggle to free India from the British yoke. It became a symbol of India's common man and personally his spiritual prowess. This invigorated him politically and mentally to challenge the colonial rule, then a hard nut to crack. This is the attire that irritated Churchill, British conservative politician and India baiter who uttered the famous remark in a moment of rage. Gandhiji refused to change his dress to go to London to attend the Round Table Conference on the simple notion the Indian poor are naked because of Britain's oppressive colonial policy and their continued exploitation of Indian resources. Ever since Gandhiji witnessed poverty around him way back during the Champaran satyagraha days of 1917 in Bihar
|Champaran Satyagraha. getlink.pro/|
|Gandhiji early images. Wikimedia Commons(L); Hardeep Singh Puri/Facebook (R)|
|II round table conference, London 1931, Gandhiji. fineartamerica.com|
|Churchill on Gandhi.izquotes.com|
|Gandhi Museum, Madurai, TN Wikipedia|
In 1919, Gandhi came to Madurai for the first time to canvas support against the Rowlatt Act. He stayed in the house of advocate and trade unionist George Joseph near Kalpalam. The house is gone; the other one at Krishnarayar Teppam street, the same story continues. A tractor workshop stands in the spot at the above address. However, the house where Gandhiji stayed in 1934 is being maintained by the descendants of N M R Venkatesan, elder brother of Subburaman who hosted Gandhiji. The house of Raja of Sivaganga, is on the premises of Sri Meenakshi Government College for Women. The room where Gandhiji stayed houses a small museum. This building is too crumbling due to poor maintenance. Here, the Raja of Sivaganga was Gandhiji's host.
As for the West Masi street house, it was once owned by a Gujarati business man Ramji Kalyanji and presently a Khadi Bhavan is functioning there, selling honey, soap, etc; the first floor has some pictures of Gandhiji and his bust image. The upkeep of the Khadi shop and the green colored building is pretty bad. Because of sheer negligence, the walls and shutter doors are shabby and the first floor portion where Gandhiji stayed is under lock and key most of the time. The stairway and first floor Veranda overlooking the ever busy West Masi street are thickly coated with dust and it shows years of neglect, poor upkeep and lack of maintenance. Part of building in the backyard collapsed years ago. The workers in the Khadi shop clean up the place only on important occasions like Gandhi Jayanthi day, etc., that may attract higher ups from the Collector office. Workers in the Khadi shop can take turn and clean the building, but they don't do it. They are much worse than the famous sloth.
People here have no idea about the history behind this building. They will blink or give a good stare when you tell them about Gandhiji's visit to this building. Many old timers, in particular, Gandhians in the city expressed their anguish and resentment over the poor condition of the houses associated with Gandhi. They could not contain their anger over the lethargic attitude of the government officials in particular those lazy people in the Khadi shop. Through out India countless monuments are either rotting or being maintained poorly, reason: utter disregard for vintage buildings, etc steeped in history. Many of them fall prey to vandalism and abuse by unwanted anti-social people in the society. The Government should take serious steps to preserve such historical monument that may attract lots of tourists, besides, they will be beneficial to the future generation. Such monuments need to be barricaded first to avoid trespassing by useless people.
National Gandhi Museum, New Delhi, Gandhi Museum, Madurai and the Madurai District Administration are working hard to make the house on West Masi Street a National Monument by 2018. Till such time, there is no stopping of dust gathering on the structure that saw the change of attire of Gandhiji and his attitude towards the repressive British rule. This is the avatar taken by Gandhiji right here that caused high irritation to Churchill who tagged him as half-naked fakir.
His five visits to the city was commemorated by the organization on his 150 the birth anniversary in October, 2019 and as part of it a bronze statue was installed on Gandhi Pottal (maidan), the place from where he addressed the people in his new avatar, symbolizing he was one among the common men of India. As a matter of fact, he visited Tamil Nadu 20 - 22 times between 1896 and 1946, the last being before India's independence. During his visit to Madurai in 1934, the Harijans had already been entering the temple since 8th August, 1939 when first temple entry took place here under Vaidhyanatha Aiyar, an eminent advocate and a close friend of Rajaji and Sri Muthuramalinga Thevar.
West Masi Street's Forgotten Mahatma, The Hindu dtd. october 01, 2017.
(revised 2nd January, 2020)
(revised 2nd January, 2020)