The idea came from 32-year-old former restaurant manager Nischal Barot, the “chief explorer” of Maroon Migrates, an independent travel agency specialising in sustainable lifestyle travel and ascetic breaks for people who want to take time off work to practise communal self-sufficiency, free themselves from the shackles of selfishness and realise the best within themselves. “The Mahatma lived, taught and thought here for two years,” Nischal said, unlocking the ashram gates near the old civil VS Hospital. Padado (curtain) salesmen squatted on the pavement outside; a bony bullock pulled a gaddu (cart) of trabuch (watermelons); the serdiras (sugar cane juicers) were doing a good trade.
“I want people to see the world with Gandhi’s eyes.” My room, once a spinning workshop, had a small iron bed and a takkiya bolster pillow. There was electricity but no air conditioning, just a creaky fan. The windows had no glass, only bars. The kitchen had a fridge, home to four wizened aubergines. The two-acre ashram (from Sanskrit for “place of religious exertion”), donated to Gandhi by a barrister, is now managed by the university that the Mahatma (“Great Soul”) founded in 1920 “to liberate Indian youth from British colonial rule”. The ashram can accommodate 40 aspiring disciples in 20 cells.
Living like Gandhi will change you life
“Living like Gandhi is not some hippy-dippy gimmick. You get authentic Gandhism here,” said Nischal as he showed me the rasoighar (kitchen) and the floor Gandhi slept on. So no incense sticks and omming all day to increase karmic quotient. “Gandhi believed the essence of civilisation was not the multiplication of wants, but their deliberate and voluntary reduction. He practised extreme austerity and advocated self-abnegation. The ashram was the first non-luxury spa. A spiritual rehab centre!”
Gandhi was the first responsible traveller. He had a light ecological footprint,” observed Nischal as we watched the grey Hanuman langur monkeys. “Here you can live the way he and his followers did, follow their daily routine. Or nearly. He started his day at 4am; we start ours at six.”
The early morning call was courtesy of the devotional kirtans and Prabhatiya prayers of the neighbouring temple. And a feral or “backside” dog which wandered in to sniff me. Cars honked and Chakda rickshaws beeped.
Following in Gandhi’s sandal steps, ashram guests can practise padayatra (foot pilgrimages) by visiting tribal communities and staying in mud-and-brush huts, or go salt collecting in the pans of the Little Raan of Kutch. We distributed pepsicles and Mango Bite sweets to slum children.
By day three you had reached puffed-rice threshold and began to hallucinate about minibars and high-threadcount bed linen. The self-purification started to pall. “You must show more tapasya (self-effort),” Nischal counselled. “And lokriti (self-restraint). There’s enough for everyone’s need. But not everyone’s greed!”
Nothing at the ashram is compulsory. All religions are equal. You can perform yayna and sing bhajan devotional songs, indulge in stasang discussion and self-analysis, read the Gita or chant the vedas. Or read the paper on the prayer platform from which Gandhi gave his first addresses on his return to Gujarat.
After three days, You graduated as an honorary renunciant and Bapu, a respected elder. Sirh Ramesh pressed his palms together and asked me to bow. “He wants you to take home his aani,” said Nischal. Over my head was placed a garland of khadi kurta yarn, the symbol of Gandhi philosophy.
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