One Word Project
Yesterday, while visiting Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram, an idea struck me; why not do a short and impromptu survey amongst the visitors there.
The survey had only one question:
What is the first word that comes to your mind when I say "Mahatma Gandhi"?
I went to the museum shop (incidentally some of our Gandhi themed souvenirs sell here) and picked up a notepad and pen. I thought of roping in a few college students but the paucity of time compelled me to go it alone. It felt a little odd first but then I lost all inhibitions and started talking to people around.
The sample group comprised of 31 people. I tried a diverse set comprising tourists(old, young and from across the country), cleaning staff, security guard, school and college students, families, brick layer, gardener, autorickshaw driver, artist, architect, management student, pavement seller, taxi driver and young children. I remember one person couldn’t come up with a word, I think his mind went blank. Another asked his child and the child said accha. Amongst a family of four, everyone tried to give me a different word. A Gujrati lady couldn’t understand Hindi or English so I had to find a translator; I was not going to give up. An old cleaning lady was a personality in herself, she had four gold-capped teeth and her jewellery was awesome. I later went looking for her to click a snap. An old taxi driver was quite vitriolic. A cheeky architectural student with his shades over his nose told me that he was only there because of Charles Correa, I patiently heard him and told him that I only wanted a word from him; he had to oblige. Most of the people reacted with a lot of respect and nostalgia. The autorickshaw driver wasn’t happy because the ashram was under renovation and it looked too modern for him to relate it to Gandhi. The policeman with his moustaches touching the sky was quite polite. The brick layer said he liked the ashram and always asked the contractor to send him there.
The first word that came to my mind was “Humble”
Words cannot express the joy of seeing raw cotton turn into thread with every spin of the charkha. The spinning wheel pulls the cotton into coarse thread around a spool. I tried it too and the whole experience was exhilarating. During the British occupation when India was dependant on imports, this little piece was a symbol of defiance that brought confidence amongst a generation of Indians who fought with determination and grit to achieve independence. There are a variety of Charkha’s now, from the original to foldable and lately mechanised ones.
At a stones throw from the ashram, there is a handmade paper recycling unit called Kalamkhush(more on it later) and a wood workshop that makes charkha’s in all sizes and shapes for spinning yarn and for display. Here you can see how the carpenters make and assemble the various pieces.
Don’t be fooled by the unscrupulous men outside the ashram who will try and guide you to private shops.
(Yes it’s Ketan Mehta in the video, he was there to make a documentary)
It’s been more than 15 years that I have been looking at India for inspiration and one of them has been Mahatma Gandhi as I believe in many of his thoughts and teachings. To this day he inspires millions and a gift commemorating him is exchanged by people of all faiths and cultures across the world. It started from a simple bookmark in the silhouette of Gandhiji, then the round spectacles, hand-spun cotton-bound journals a little later, gifts for the Indo-African summit commissioned by a private organisation which included salt from Dandi and soil from Porbandar neatly packaged in recycled wood boxes and finally this; Charkha prototypes in wood and metal. Our charkhas have functional parts that rotate. These are the first prototypes and I am now awaiting final improvised pieces.
In the last few months, Sabarmati Ashram has started retailing our Mahatma Gandhi souvenirs and in the coming months, we will be working closely to develop more.
I am working on a 99 pieces signature limited-edition boxes that will contain a charkha, pocket watch, salt from Dandi and cotton hand-spun on a wooden charkha, I may also include his three monkeys and wooden clog. Like always, there is no timeline, it maybe this season, next year or sometime in the future. It is one of the many ideas that my team is currently working on.