Mission Delhi – Raju, Bapu Niwas
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
This small house is all he knows of MK Gandhi.
“That takhat,” says Raju, pointing to a wooden bed, “is Gandhiji’s vishram-asan on which he would sleep.” Turning to a white mat on the floor, he explains that this was the spot where Gandhi would sit and meet the day’s visitors. Tucked within the premises of a beautiful Valmiki Temple on Delhi’s Mandir Marg, Bapu Niwas is touched with history. Here, Gandhi stayed from April 1, 1946, to June 1, 1947. Among a smattering of destinations marking his time in Delhi, this is perhaps the least known.
The spacious quiet room has the sanctity of a museum. You can actually touch the exhibits, including the wooden desk on which Gandhi would write. The walls are adorned with black-and-white photographs of Gandhi with famous people of the time.
“All of these photos were clicked here,” informs Raju with confidence. His duties include cleaning the historic room twice a day. And that photograph of Jinnah? “I don’t know much about this man,” he admits. “I studied only till third class… the family conditions were not good.” Waking up about around 4 am, “I do dusting, jharu pocha and cleaning of the photographs.” The temple management pays him a salary.
In his thirties, Raju’s early years offered no hint that his career would have such close proximity to an iconic figure. He grew up in the industrial town of Kanpur where his father worked in a plastic factory. He never imagined living in Delhi, and he “didn’t even know anything of Gandhiji” until he happened to visit a friend in the Capital who worked as a sewak (helper) at Bapu Niwas. “I stayed back,” says Raju.
As he chats on the platform outside the temple where Gandhi would hold evening sabhas, it becomes clear that while Raju might not be well versed with the larger story of Gandhi, he is intimately aware of the material aspects of Gandhi’s life that was spent in this little portion of Delhi. “I have never visited where he was killed and where he was cremated,” he says, talking of Gandhi Smriti (formerly Birla House) and Raj Ghat, respectively. To this man, the world of Gandhi is confined to Bapu Niwas.
[This is the 242nd portrait of Mission Delhi project]