On our last day in India, we visited the Gandhi Museum. This, for me, was the most emotional experience of our time in India. The museum is in the house where Gandhi spent the last few months of his life, and his room there has been preserved as it was the day he died. He went outside with his granddaughters for his usual walk, and was shot by a man in the crowd. The place he fell is marked by a small gazebo shrine in the garden.
The museum is curated brilliantly, the ground floor comprising photographs, letters, drafts of the constitution and other valuable documentary artifacts, along with reconstructions of those for which the originals were lost or damaged beyond repair; and the second floor completely given over to interactive exhibits designed to engage children from very earliest school age through secondary school in their country’s journey to independence.
I was astonished by the diversity and creativity of the exhibits, which included
a full size replica of a steam engine with a compartment in which Gandhi would have travelled so children could sit on the train and feel “what it was like” to travel the way he traveled
a wall map of Gandhi’s famous walk, with hand-sized and shaped icons below which children could touch to light up the steps of the journey
several hand-stitched story quilts in designs and colours especially attractive to young children
Gandhi’s bedroom from his first ashram, furnished with his own furniture
and rooms full of other exhibits that spoke directly to children and teenagers.
The gardens of the house are huge, and furnished with sculptures and a few outdoor exhibits. There is a large terrace facing the garden where Gandhi walked each afternoon to meet the hundreds of people who came each day to meet Gandhi-ji. It was on such a walk that day, when he went out to meet the people who loved him and the people he loved, that he was shot and killed by a deranged Hindu radical.
We left the museum by the back gates. The irony of this had to make us laugh, or I would have started weeping all over again:
All through our visit, as we looked at the exhibits, I wept. I couldn’t help thinking that Gandhi never despaired, that he nearly killed himself by fasting until the inter-religious fighting stopped. What could he have done if he lived now? And if his soul is embodied again, does he remember who he was and what he did in India? Is he a leader now? (Doubtful, or things would be better.)
This museum is an homage to a great man, to a past when peace was possible by the will of a man because he was respected and revered by people everywhere in the world. Gandhi, through his non-violent resistance, actually had more power to effect peace than any single person in our time. I don’t know exactly what that says about the world as we live in it, but I don’t think that whatever it says is very positive.