I am just back from Delhi, where I was a regular panellist commenting on the elections for WION, one of India's best TV news channels. It was fairly full on - but I managed to take a couple of hours off to go to Hauz Khas Village, where I was able to pick-up this remarkable print.
It's a wonderfully stylised portrayal of a meeting - clearly in London - between M.K. Gandhi and the King Emperor George V and Queen Mary. You can see how the diminutive Gandhi is portrayed as the biggest figure in the room. Indeed, his chair appears to be the more imposing 'throne'. This is not simply cheap agitprop, but there's certainly an Indian nationalist message evident.
I wondered at first if this 'interview' was mythical - much like Queen Victoria's visit to India. But I discover that in November 1931, while in London for the Round-Table Conferences, Gandhi was indeed invited to Buckingham Palace to meet the King.
Gandhi was reputedly asked whether he felt under dressed for a visit to the Palace - he is said to have replied that the King was wearing enough for both of them!
It seems that no photographic record was made of this Gandhi-Emperor encounter - allowing the artist responsible for this image free rein. Gandhi was accompanied to the Palace by Sarojini Naidu - there's a decent likeness of her in the print - and by his personal secretary, Mahadev Desai.
But it seems to be not Desai who is represented in the print but another Congressman, Madan Mohan Malaviya, who was certainly present at the Second Round Table Conference - he's shown next to Gandhi below - but I'm not at all convinced he was at the Palace. Anyone know?
It was a century ago to the day that Gandhi embraced the idea of a non-violent non-cooperation movement to achieve India's freedom - and he did so at a house just a five minutes stroll from where I am staying in Chennai.
India hasn't woken up to this anniversary, and I wouldn't have either but for a friend and fellow journalist Krishna Prasad, whose blog about the anniversary I would encourage you to read. The Rowlatt Act which prompted Gandhi's call to action was one of the most repressive measures introduced by the British - and set the scene for the egregious massacre at Jallianwalla Bagh in Amritsar on 13 April 1919.
The leading historian of the city, S, Muthiah, describes Gandhi's decision taken exactly a hundred years ago to launch a non-violent protest movement as 'virtually the start of the freedom struggle'. Gandhi had used a similar strategy in South Africa - in India, it developed to be the hallmark of his style of leadership, moral and political.
On March 18th 1919, M.K. Gandhi visited a house on Cathedral Road owned by Kasturi Rangan Iyengar, the proprietor and editor of the Hindu - and indeed the founder of the paper in its modern guise as a leading liberal, nationalist daily. There Gandhi met C. Rajagopalachari, 'Rajaji' - a key figure in the nationalist movement. Their discussions left his head spinning - and he went to sleep in the house that night pondering the political way ahead.
“I was still in that twilight condition between sleep and consciousness when suddenly the idea broke upon me that we should call upon the country to observe a general hartal", he later wrote. 'Hartal' is one of those words that defies simple translation - it implies strike, mass protest and civil disobedience, an all-encompassing act of defiance .
Tilak Bhavan, the site of this meeting and moment of political enlightenment, was demolished decades ago. An anonymous-looking hotel stands on the site - when I asked the receptionist last week whether she knew this key centenary was imminent, she didn't ... though she said, not entirely convincingly, that she would see if some manner of marking the anniversary could be arranged.
There is however a rather splendid plaque in English and Tamil, erected fifty years ago, which marks the spot and tells the story,
Sadly, Cathedral Road is one of those soulless arteries which hardly anyone traverses on foot - and if you are dropped off by car at the hotel you will never see this roadside plaque. So while it is well kept, it's also little read.
I can't find any photo of Tilak Bhavan online. I looked around for any buildings which could have borne silent testimony to Gandhi's visit a century ago. There's just one, across the road, that might just have been standing back in March 1919 - though my guess is it came up a few years later.
And sadly, the bold assertion of this memorial - 'THE NATION REMEMBERS' - is no longer true.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
Welcome - read - comment - throw stones - pick up threads - and tell me how to do this better!