Rajkot, located on the four lane splendid highway linking Dwarka and Junagarh with Ahmadabad was the capital of erstwhile Saurashtra State from April 1948 to its merger with Bombay in November 1956. With a population of 16 lakhs, it is the fourth largest city of Gujarat. Geographically, it falls in a very dry, semi-arid region. Summer starts as early as March. While this is scorching, winter is pleasant. Literacy wise, the average of 89% is better than national figures. Demographically, while the Hindus are in a majority, Sunni Muslims are found in large numbers. Presence of Sindhis, Marathis, Bengalese and Tamils. gives it a multicultural colour. It is also a harmonious and tolerant society as hardly any communal disturbance or tension (a blot on Ahmedabad or Baroda), has ever been reported.
By and large, the society is vegetarian. As Rajkot formed part of Kathiyawad, people are also known as Kathiyawadis. By nature, they believe in enjoying themselves, freaking and eating out even late at night. They are found gossiping in parks or roadside even after normal dinner time. Women are fond of spicy food and loading themselves with interesting pieces and patterns of embroidery coupled with a variety of jewelry. Seeing street smart girls & women on swanky Scooties strengthens the resolve regarding women’s empowerment. Why should boys have all the fun? While it is a sign of upper mobility if not a reflection of forward looking approach, the shopkeepers invariably bring down their shutters between 1.30 to 4.30 p.m. to relish their sumptuous sweet & salty lunch, religiously followed by a nap. There is, thus, no end to personal pleasure even if it makes a hole in one’s pocket.
No description of the place is complete without throwing light on Mahatma Gandhi. Being born in Porbunder on 2nd October 1869, he studied from 5th to 11th class at Alfred High School from 1880 to 1887. Consequent upon availing of the Grand Darshan of Lord Krishna at Dwarka, I had the privilege of visiting his ancestral house in September 2009 along with Jayshree and Ankoor. So to say, a permanent link with this ‘pilgrim centre’ was established by way of presentation of a copy of Mahatma’s auto-biography to us. We chose the Hindi version, as an English version already exists in what I call, an apology to a home library. The sound of the Bhajan- Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram, Pati Tapavan Sita Ram sung with melody and devotion by Jayshree on the spot was very timely and spontaneous. Same still reverberates, reminds and resonates. Also vivid are the memories of the candid interface with the unassuming sons and grandsons of neighbours and self proclaimed friends of the Mahatma, each coming out with his own version. Munching of local sweet and salty snacks and bhujia in the market, equally shared by humans & animals was refreshing, so much so that dinner comprising of different culinary flavours became a confirmed casualty.
Turning back to the Rajkot bond of the Mahatma, during his schooling era, he had occupied a modest house built in 1880-81 in the busy main market area, now known as Kaba Gandhi No Delo in Gujarati. This is a typical Saurashtra style house with a central approach from an arched gateway. The house, now having glazed floors and optimum lighting has been kept spotlessly clean. Though, the photographs and documents have been displayed systematically, a brochure or a handout is very much needed for circulation to the visitors. Also both in Porbunder and Rajkot, the area around the heritage houses needs to be cleared up and spruced to leave a lasting impression on the tourists. In the modern world, after all, virtues and corner stones of simplicity have to be sold well to sustain interest in a man who went on to guide the destiny of nation. Attention of trusties and patrons on the spot was, therefore, drawn in this regard.
According to the oral and written traditions, Gandhiji, son of a Diwan (Prime Minister) to the king of Rajkot had to shift to Ahmedabad for taking his matriculation examination as Rajkot was not a centre of Matric Board at that point of time. Being an ordinary student, he managed to secure barely 39.52% marks. A photo copy of his partly illegible marksheet displayed in a secluded and non-descript corner of the school bears testimony to it. Mrs. Gita Ben Ajmera, a very affectionate senior teacher incharge of the Gandhi Memorial Room of the school proudly takes you around the place and meticulously explains twenty paintings drawn by the artist Balwant Rai Joshi on the famous bhajan – Vaishnav Jan To Te Nere Kahiye written by Sri Narsingh Mehta. Gandhiji had a liking for it. Only a few personal belongings of Gandhiji are kept but not displayed properly. Very strangely, the school is waiting for some funds long promised by the D.C. Rajkot.
The façade of the school building is very impressive. Its Gothic architecture has been maintained well. Started as a Rajkot English School in 1853, it became Rajkot High School in 1866, Kattywar High School in 1868 to be rechristened as Alfred High School in 1907. In 1971, as a mark of respect and association of Mahatma Gandhi with his alma mater, it was renamed as Mohan Das Karamchand Gandhi School.
Drawing inspiration from the life and times of the Mahatma, an effort was made to cull out his considered views on humanity and environment. His views on significance of conservation of environment became the guiding and motivating force for a two day seminar on ‘Environment and Human Rights’ at Rajkot in association with the University of Saurastra. Prof. Padaliya, the V.C., though reluctant to begin with about the dates and not the idea, per se, moved positively forward and extended whole hearted support. His colleagues Prof. Dodiya and Prof. Ghosh spared no efforts for the success of the event. The discourses concentrated on………………………… Students, faculty and some social activists showed their disciplined involvement and concerted efforts. The climax in the form of typical Gujarati dances, viz, Garba, Dandia etc. and some north Indian dances left a lasting impression about the upbringing, socialization patterns and fast adoption of skills by the youngsters, especially those from the fair sex. Their childish charm, giggle, on stage chemistry and overall innocence takes you a different world. Their glamour quotient too was high, at the same time. Prof. Rathore, a senior citizen singer enthralled the audience by his memorable Md. Rafi numbers. Similar to her meticulous performance during the inaugural as an anchor, Prof. (Mrs.) Upadhaya simply impressed like a star V.J. Partly lit if not candle-lit dinner in the spacious lawn of the V.C. gave a good finishing touch. Varieties of Gujarati food were not only available but were served with grace, courtesy & dignity.
In retrospect, even though we made a mark to remember and rekindle interest in Gandhi followed by creating some awareness on the need to conserve and protect environment from human angle, we failed in planting a few saplings due to a multitude of formalities if not idiosyncrasies connected with the VIP visits. As a consolation, the information came that plantation was not an easy proposition in this tough arid zone. For their survival and sustenance adequate water was needed, which itself is in short supply. While departing from the palatial Circuit House at the land of Mahatma, I had no option but to do a tentative compromise with the reality narrated to me.
The delayed flight at the chaotic terminal building of Rajkot gave me more food for thought on the Mahatma and his actual relevance in modern and ‘liberalised’ India, a factor not well understood or comprehended but mentioned and repeated, time and again like a temple ritual. By the time the aircraft zooms off to dizzy heights, one thing became certain- the virtues of simplicity advocated by the Mahatma have been probably by passed, rightly or wrongly by the materialistic orientations of the people of his State. Selling Gandhism as a tourism product should not, however, be misconstrued, if we believe in the dictum- there is always a counterpoint.
All said & done, it was an intense but liberating journey. Can we therefore think to discover Gandhi within ourselves? There is no need to plan a giant leap forward. Patience perseverance and tolerance (PPT) would do.