My driver helpfully got me a confirmed ticket on the train from Ahmedabad to Bombay. He has also most helpfully advised me to take the bus from Junagadh to Ahmedabad, as opposed to driving down through Rajkot as I originally proposed. On the bus, I made a new friend and saw Saheb Biwi aur Gangster Returns. It was a pleasant diversion as any, nevermind that I had not seen Saheb Biwi aur Gangster. I wanted to hop off the bus somewhere along the highway and then take another bus from there to the Harappan excavation of Lothal and from there take a bus to Ahmedabad. My plan never materialized because my bus driver deemed it too risky and flatly refused to drop off a lone young woman at an isolated spot.
The first thing I did after getting off the bus was to lock my luggage and check it into the cloak room at the railway station. The old fashioned charm of the Indian railways! From the station I took a *sharing rickshaw to Sabarmati Ashram. “Bapu Ashram?” the possibly underage driver confirms and I nod my head. It was only when we were halfway in the wrong direction do we realize that he was talking about Asaram Bapu and I wanted to go to Gandhi Bapu’s ashram. It is quite telling of our times when Asaram Bapu gets more recognition than the Father of the Nation!
The flabbergasted **autowala dropped me off at another ***autostand with very specific instructions on how to get to my destination and the long and the short of it is that I somehow managed to get myself to Sabarmati Ashram. This ashram, on the banks of the river Sabarmati, was one of the residences of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The Father of the Nation (India) lived in this very ashram for around twelve years, with his wife and devoted lifelong companion, Kasturba Gandhi, and other followers. It was from here that Mahatma Gandhi led the historic Dandi March and defied the salt tax imposed by the British. This simple act led to large scale civil disobedience. Thousands of freedom fighters went to jail and subsequently the ashram was seized by the British. When Bapu set forth for Dandi, he vowed that he would not return to the ashram until India got independence, and return he did.
The Ashram is remarkably quiet and clean. The museum at the ashram is designed by the very talented and highly respected architect, Charles Correa. Typical of his work, the design places special emphasis on local resources, energy and climate. The museum has a number of exhibits and personal artefacts chronicling the life of the Mahatma and the India’s struggle for independence. The charkha used by Gandhiji to spin khadi and the writing table he used for writing letters are a few national treasures one can see at the ashram. One can also peek into Hridaya Kunj, Gandhiji‘s own cottage in the ashram or if you choose to, pray where he used to pray.
Off late it seems to have become fashionable to run down this great man and his contributions, but he was a great leader and I am at the ashram because I believe in a lot of his values like non-violence, self-sufficiency, and secularism. I am no moderate liberal. I am a rabid secularist. The State has no religion, and the country comes before religion. Not before God, but before religion. Each person is entitled to their own interpretation of religion as long as it doesn’t harm another, so don’t force your beliefs down someone else’s throat. It is high time India has a uniform civil code. If your ideologies, personal faith or religion are not in line with the law – well, too bad. The law is the law, and you gotta follow it.
I also find that being assertive of your religion being confused with intolerance. You can be a staunch (enter religion of your choice here) and as long as you respect another man’s right to do the same, you are not being intolerant. Similarly, you don’t have to be against other religions to keep your own faith. You can be religious and secular.Yes indeed it is possible! Gandhiji was a practising Hindu. He worshipped Hindu gods and even conducted mass prayer meetings, but he deeply respected all other religions too. So let’s celebrate our differences and all live in peace.