17 - 01 - 2019

A beacon of hope

From the vantage point at Navagraha Hills I could see into the temple like structure on the hill top of Sarania Hills. Yes it is possible to have a bird's-eye view there. Gandhi Mandap the Martyrs’ Memorial was opened on October 2, 1970 by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to disseminate the Mahatma's ideals and to carry out research activities.

It raised my eyebrows when the Assam Government was proud to dedicate India’s tallest National Flag to the people at Gandhi Mandap, Guwahati on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti on 2nd October 2018 by spending a Project Cost approximately of Rs 2.91 crore. Definitely it is a leap forward for Assam Tourism industry. At the same time, the Kasturba Ashram the dwelling of a hermit situated down the tiny hillock of Sarania has been overlooked.

I had a yearning desire for visiting the hermitage at Sarania. But I could not make it until I met Md Isfaqur Rahman Borbora who is persistently serving for the society. Being holiday on Durga Puja, I planned to set out with him on Dusherra day.  We climbed slowly through the passage towards the Ashram. Despite the city’s population creeping upward day by day, the marg is remote from the usual bye lanes. I felt more isolated for a time until I saw lines of Kutir (small house) that spread by a huge open grass. A number of small birds creep around in vegetation. The creepers grow up the portico by extending its stems and branches. I felt a wistful longing for the great day has finally come true. The ashram is a historic place where Gandhiji stayed for three days during January 9-11, 1946 in his last visit to Assam, while inaugurating the Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust (KGNMT) and Kasturba Gandhi Sevika Vidyalaya.

Pratinidhi Kusum Bora Mokashi welcomed us and ushered into their sanctum. The long wooden Assam type house is designed to be a sanctuary. The Gandhi Ghar (Hut) was fondly constructed by the group of eminent freedom fighters led by late Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi. The tiny cottage covered by trees is truly a hermitage. I am pleased to share my experience from the world of nature. The area was mostly grassed over. The vegetation grows at the entire lawn. We pushed the bamboo door  open. My first step onto an earthen floor awakened me that made me feel alive and grounded. The bamboo sliding windows still maintained the heritage in great style. I swayed nothing much change while Bapuji was there. The nearby tree where Gandhiji did his spinning wheel remains the same. Maybe the Sun enlightened some such clouds near me.

The Ashram Sevikas (women activists) are dressed in Khadi cloth from their own sacrificial spinning. They have left home to work selflessly for building a new society even in far villages of distant hills and forests. The pilgrimage of Gandhian path has still been continued by Jamnalal Bajaj Award winner Sakuntala Chaudhary. 98 years old Sakuntalaba is like an icon of the Gandhian fraternity of Assam installed within the hermitage. She began her pilgrimage at her very early age in 1947 by joining voluntarily at Kasturba Gandhi Sevika Vidyalaya. A pure vegetarian, she devoted to simplicity and blessed spiritually with Vinobaji and Amalprova Baideo.  She was blessed for working as the interpreter during the padayatra of Vinova Bhave visiting in Assam. She turns away from publicity and work with her close associates by publishing a couple of books and editing a monthly magazine “Asomia Vishwa Nagari” of true Gandhian thought and Indian spirituality since last 42 years. 

Kasturba (ba means sister), the wife of Bapuji (bapu means father) passed away on 22 Feb 1944 at Agha Khan Palace Pune while imprisoned for Quit India Movement. KGNMT is formed in 1945 for the memory of Kasturba Gandhi. It is an organisation dedicated to the development of women and children in rural India. Also they are a source of strength and assist people during violence and in natural calamities. The headquarters is in Kasturbagram, Indore, Madhya Pradesh. The trust is doing selfless service with true Gandhian spirit for the cause of creating social order based on truth and non violence. It also contributed towards national integration during the virus of secessionism in the North East. Now the trust is facing difficulties to run since established by Late Amal Prova Das. The bygone era of historical accomplishments was led by Pratinidhi Shakuntaa Choudhury, Hema Kakoty, Nila Prova Gohain, Swarna Devi, Dhanda Baruah and Arati Devi. The sisters are hard to find nowadays. I got the opportunity to meet the freedom fighter Padma Shree Hema Bharali there who participated in a 1500 km walk with Vinoba Bhave for Bhoodan movement and working for the cause pertaining to the ideal of Gandhiji and Acharya Vinova  Bhabe, the spiritual successor of Bapuji. 

The present day generation are not aware of the hermitage that still follows Gandhian path. The honourable trustee Shakuntala Baideo (elder sister) is undoubtedly a leading and universally respected member of Gandhian fraternity of Assam. There are 22 branches throughout India including Guwahati (Sarania) and Agartala from the North East. Now there are few dedicated successors and followers. Whilst returning we saw the huge flag hovering overhead to the hut. With an open mind, I sought after an enquiring glace about that. Ironically the Ashram is kept in the dark. The administration pushed it aside by not keeping on the list in their book of gold. But Kasturba in the presence of their vision and mankind surely felt bold enough to raise the question today. It’s no selfish and wicked world but work for the benefit of all mankind. Let there be great wakening light and bless and support from the Lord. The Kasturba Ashram should go along with the headway of Gandhi Mandap. The Ashram has been active for 72 years. It has historical evidence and needs a lot of attention. Above all, the sisters kept the hermitage alive when its very existence is threatened.  Kasturba Ashram has been a beacon of hope for the life of millions of rural folk.


Kamal Baruah