Thursday, Sep 29, 2022
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The Last Staging Post Of Gandhi

The forgotten ashram in Sodepur, near Calcutta, was where a conflicted Gandhi put ahimsa on trial

The Last Staging Post Of Gandhi Photos: Richa Burman

The whims of obscurity have blown unsparingly upon Khadi Pratisthan, Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram at Sodepur, a little to the north of Calcutta, in the North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal. It’s an ashram that enjoyed emphatic prominence during the Mahatma’s lifetime, in fact, one which he seemed to have preferred over the Sabarmati ashram in Ahmedabad. As Gandhian scholar Tridip Suhrud has pointed out, Gandhi founded the Sabarmati ashram near a cremation ground on the bank of the river to assert his love for outcastes. But frustrated with the attitude of upper-caste Gujarati society, he never set foot there after 1931. In contrast, he visited Sodepur—which he in fact called his second home—a number of times between 1938 and 1947, the most turbulent and decisive phase of the independence movement.

The ashram was built in 1921 by Satish Chandra Dasgupta, who quit his job at Bengal Chemicals, enthused by Gandhian philosophy and nationalist fervour. In 1939, the ashram was witness to a historic meeting between Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Bose, after the March session of the Tripuri Congress. Barun Dasgupta, Satish Chandra’s nephew, has a boyhood memory of Nehru and Bose having an animated discussion outside the room adjacent to Gandhi’s. When Gandhi passed them by after a visit to the bathroom, he said, “You, my old enemies, follow me everywhere”, making them both smile. Soon after, Bose was forced to resign as Congress president, owing to severe differences with Gandhi. Bose may have felt the sting in that remark was reserved for him alone.

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