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Thursday, 2 June 2011

Anand Bhawan -- Allahabad

Allahabad, the City of Gods situated at the confluence of three mighty rivers, home to the earliest Aryan settlers, became the chosen destination of wave upon wave of Kashmiri Pandits from the seventeenth century onwards. As new ideas ebbed and flowed and the winds of change blew among the elites of North India, this ancient city re-invented itself as decadent Lucknow and destroyed Delhi could not after 1857. By the turn of the century, it had established itself firmly at the crossroads of history as the hub of the provincial government and the seat of the colonial judiciary.

And it was here, close beside the gracious Muir Central College and the bustling High Court, that an affluent and enterprising vakil named Motilal Nehru bought a house on
1 Church Road
and named it Anand Bhawan, Abode of Happiness. This, the ‘original’ Anand Bhawan, was bought in 1900 from Raja Permanand of Moradabad, who had, in turn, bought it from Justice Mahmud (son of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan). It was to this home that Jawaharlal Nehru brought his young bride Kamala in 1916; it was here, in one of its 42 lavishly-appointed rooms that a daughter was born to them in 1917; and it was here, under gaily-decorated marquees on manicured lawns and elegantly-furnished drawing rooms that Motilal hosted innumerable justly-famous sumptuous parties. However, after Gandhi’s landmark visit in 1920, Anand Bhawan shed its western ways and adopted swadeshi.

In the turbulent decades leading up to Independence, the house became a beacon of composite culture, a markaz, center, of liberal humanism and a meeting ground of the extended Nehru family that by now embraced nationalists of all hues. In 1930, Motilal dedicated the old house to the nation and renamed it Swaraj Bhawan. A new house close by, built in a typically colonial style, also called Anand Bhawan soon became the nerve center of the national movement propelled by the Congress Party. Despite its extravagance (it was the first house in Allahabd with running water, electricity and an indoor swimming pool!), to the Nehrus it was home – a place they cherished and enjoyed sharing with friends, relatives and, increasingly, comrades-in-arms in the extended andolan as India won her freedom. 

Indira Gandhi donated Anand Bhawan to the nation in 1970 and turned it into a museum housing the books and memorablia of her father and grandfather. Today, it is one of the country’s best-run museums. Its pillared verandahs and high-ceilinged rooms have witnessed many trysts with destiny; some are known and documented by historians of modern India, others known only to its inmates who are no more.   As groups of ghunghat-clad women cluster around Nehru’s coats and ackhans displayed behind glass-fronted showcases or peer into rooms where Gandhi stayed or Shastri lived in hiding, its air is redolent with memories of the past. For, this is a house like no other; while it has intimately known the joys and sorrows, births and deaths, trials and tribulations of India’s best-known family, it has also held within its walls the fledgling movement for India’s freedom and watched it take wing.

-- Rakhshanda Jalil
(Rakhshanda Jalil writes on issues of faith, culture and literature.)

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