Gandhi relics create buzz, but don’t attract many Indians

March 7th, 2009 - 12:11 pm ICT by IANS  

By Devirupa Mitra
New Delhi, March 7 (IANS) While there was media hysteria in India over the auction of Mahatma Gandhi’s memorabilia in New York with loud demands for the relics to be brought back, in the hallways of the museum dedicated to the leader’s memory here, silence prevailed.

India may be ready to get five items belonging to the Mahtama back but it already has perhaps some of his most significant possessions. Sadly, there are hardly any people interested in seeing them.

Located at the same busy intersection as that of his memorial Rajghat, the National Gandhi Museum is housed in a two-storey, pink-coloured building and boasts of arguably the largest number of relics of the Mahatma.

When an IANS correspondent visited the museum Friday, there were no visitors in the various galleries that minutely document the life of the Father of the Nation through photographs.

At the entrance to the galleries, a row of half a dozen phones were labelled English or Hindi - the voice on the other side being recordings of the Mahatma’s speeches. But there was no one to pick up the phones and hear what was being said.

The main attraction of the museaum are the scores of relics - sandals, plate, spectacles, watches, the Dandi march walking stick and even two extracted teeth. All of them locked behind glass-fronted wooden display boxes.

There is also an entire row of display boxes filled with heaps of yellowing garments. On the walls, there are hundreds of black and white photographs - of Gandhi smiling, walking, praying or just sitting in repose.

Outside, the honking traffic zipped by relentlessly, but inside the museum with its old-fashioned high ceilings, there was only the low sound of bhajans coming out of a speaker.

In the afternoon, an American tourist couple entered the museum.

“It is surprising that there not many people who come here as Rajghat is quite crowded. But, on the flip side, I like the quiet,” Adrian Harding, an architect from Chicago, told IANS.

They were aware of the controversy over the Mahatma’s items that were auctioned for $1.8 million in New York Thursday.

“I wonder if they will be put on public show in India. Maybe then people would come to the museum out of curiosity,” said Jenny Harding, a school teacher.

This is in fact is the third location for the country’s oldest Gandhi museum. It was first established at the hutments near Kota House in 1951. Six years later, it moved to a bungalow on Mansingh Road. Finally, the present building was inaugurated by then president Rajendra Prasad in 1961.

The museum director, Varsha Das, said that the majority of the visitors fall into two categories - school children and tourists.

“Right now, examinations are going on so we do not have any visits arranged by schools,” said Das.

Lately, even the number of foreigners visiting the museum has gone down but Das is optimistic that more visitors will come soon with schools opening for the new session.

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