Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, father of the Indian nation, spent a considerable amount of his time in prisons. One such imprisonment tenure was imposed upon him immediately after he launched the Quit India Movement, when he was forced to spend 20 months in a building in Pune, which was built by His Holiness Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III, the 48th Imam of the Shi’a Nizari Isma’ili Muslim community. Born in Karachi on 2nd November 1877, Sir Aga Khan III was one of the founders and the first president of All India Muslim League. He also represented India in the League of Nations in 1932 and later served as the president of the league from 1937-38.In 1892, Aga Khan III had built a sprawling palace with 7 acres of built structure in Pune, sitting in the midst of over 19 acres of landscaped
gardens. It took him 5 years and 12 Lakh Rupees to complete this palace. It is said that Aga Khan III built this palace primarily to help famine struck Maharashtra. Half a century later, India saw many of its citizens walking on the streets of almost every city, shouting slogans and asking the British to leave our country. It was the August
1942, when the August Kranti began.
It became famous in history with the moniker of the “Quit India Movement”.On the 8th of August 1942, at the
Gowalia Tank Maidan in Mumbai, Mahatma Gandhi proclaimed his famous ‘Karo ya Maro’ (Do or Die) cry. The next
day, he was arrested and bought to this Aga Khan Palace of Pune. Here he spent his days incarcerated in house-arrest till 6th May 1944, making it a prison. Along with Mahatma Gandhi, Kasturba Gandhi,Shri Mahadev Desai, Dr. Sarojini Naidu,Meera Ben, Dr. Glinder, Pyarelal Nayyar,Sushila Nayyar and others were also held prisoners in this palace.
Barely a week after this arrest, Mahatma Gandhi’s personal secretary, Shri Mahadev Desai, gave up his ghost, leaving this world forever. Exactly 5 years before this movement saw its fruit, Desai’s heart had stopped beating. When on 15th August 1942, Shri Mahadev had a heart attack, Mahatma Gandhi came to him and started calling his name loud. When asked about this act, Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘… he is so loyal to me and has never disobeyed me that if only my voice could reach his ears once, he would defy death and get back on his feet …’ Gandhi himself washed his body later and cremated the departed’s body within the palace,exactly where the Samadhi of Shri Desai exists now.
Mahadev Desai was so close to Gandhi that he was sometimes referred to as Ananda to Gandhi’s Buddha,Gandhi’s Boswell and a Plato to Gandhi’s Socrates. In 1919, when Gandhi was arrested in Punjab, Mahadev Desai was named as his heir by Gandhi himself.Mahatma Gandhi was released from this prison in 1944. But little before he was set free, he had another shock of life when his better half succumbed due to chronic bronchitis,pneumonia and a double heart attack.Kastur Kapadia aka Kasturba Mohandas Gandhi aka ‘Ba,’ left this world on 22nd February 1944. When she fell very ill, Gandhi called for an Aurvedic Vaidya (Traditional Indian Doctor). After much delay,the government allowed the doctor to see Kasturba. Though her body responded well to medicine in beginning, her health suddenly started declining in February.
Some say, the aurvedic doctor himself asked for a lifesaving allopathic medicine, but Gandhi did not believe in modern medicines.Even after learning that now penicillin is a must to save her life at this stage, Gandhi refused and started caring for Ba himself.Finally, she closed her eyes in Gandhi’s arms after a few days.Samadhis of Kasturba Gandhi and Mahadev Desai (also known as Mahadeobhai Desai) are now in this Aga Khan Palace of Pune. Later, the ashes of Mahatama Gandhi after his cremation were also bought here and kept in his memory near the existing samadhis. In 1969, this palace was donated to the Indian People by the then owner of this palace, H.H. Aga Khan IV. He also set
up the Aga Khan Foundation, to take up the responsibility of various heritage properties across the globe and maintain them to preserve culture. They recently renovated the Humayun’s Tomb Complex of Delhi and established a new benchmark in the restoration and preservation of heritage.However, their own legacy, the palace complex in Pune (now under Gandhi Smriti) is comparatively in a bad shape. A protest in 1999 forced the government to think a little about this neglected structure,but there was very less done on ground. A vocational institute running on the premises
has recently been closed, but no other measures have been taken to protect the crumbling structure of this palace.
When I visited this place a few months ago, I was sad to see the state of artefacts placed in the museum. Old flags and Gandhi’s clothing have turned yellow due to lack of adequate sunlight, and the water seepage from the roof is making things even worse.It is the fervent wish of heritage-lovers that our dear government pay some more attention to this dying structure. If we continue to ignore our heritage, we will soon lose this precious treasure.