Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum: A Life of Courage
January 1, 1970
by Surbhi Mishra
The word makes me feel nostalgic every time I overheard someone talking about or visiting any museum.
“What’s in a museum and what could one make of the artifacts, triptych, sculpture, or any piece of cultural, historical or scientific importance if one has nothing to do with it?”, I always thought.
For people with specialization, I can fairly relate to, but for others like me who have a meager understanding of a piece origin or end, it was hard to digest the fact that it may get interesting or worth my time at any instance.
This thinking must’ve developed during my first encounter with a submarine museum in Visakhapatnam, India. The year was 2005. Our team was representing the “heart of India”, the state we belonged to for a National School Chess Championship. Whenever our mentors got time, they would take us out to beach, attractions and then it happened – the museum.
A few days back, while reading Outlook Traveller of January edition, I came across a column entitled “Wonder Woman.” It was about an ongoing two-month exhibit at Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum where they are showcasing the rare and unseen pictures and documents from the life of India’s first woman Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. What caught my attention next was the date that it’ll end – on January 31, 2018. That means I don’t have much time I murmured to myself – I should go there. Wait! Where – to museum? What for – to live in a longueur era.
I ponder hard reminiscing the last time I went anywhere near the museum.
Into the Submarine Museum, I Go
I still have those faded memories of excitement – as often happens whenever I realized, I’m in for a humdinger. As a child, the idea of being inside a real submarine was fascinating enough. I loved museums. For me, it was water, inside, submarine – an underwater submarine.
As I progressed my way into the submarine, it was all crowded, congested and wired up. I went inside and out following the others but failed to fathom the concept. I didn’t learn a thing. It was useless.
Museum Freak or Not!
Being a travel enthusiast, I decided to reiterate my opinion on museum; whether I truly loathe the museums or it’s just a childish nightmare.
I asked my brother, and he eagerly accepted the invitation. We decided to meet in morning at the closest metro station Lok Kalyan Marg (formerly Race Course metro). The other day, I woke up late. I called him and what a relief to know that he too was not awake. We gamble the time again and set it for 2 pm as the officials must’ve gone for their lunch.
Our destination was within a walking distance of 5-7 minutes, so we decided to take a leisurely stroll and spotted monkeys side the lane. I sneakily managed to click few photos.
As we reached the gates, the guards stopped us, and soon visitors queue were formed on either side of us as stratified gender.
By now, I can feel the zeal to explore and comprehend whatever I was about to witness inside.
Home to Indira Gandhi: First Woman Prime Minister of India
Former residence of Indian stateswoman Indira Gandhi, she lived here for 20 years until her assassination in 1984. It was later converted into memorial-museum as a tribute to her arduous journey in the making of India as it is today.
Once inside, I found myself in a room surrounded by the newspaper clippings of Mrs Gandhi rose to fame to fall of the great published reports; Indira as the youngest woman Congress President to how her tenure as Prime Minister witnessed the nationalisation of 14 banks, abolishment of privy purses, victory in the Bangladesh war of Independence, her biggest defeat after Emergency and how she return back to power.
I stole a fleeting glance to check if a camera is allowed or not. And then I was unstoppable. It was only after my brother asked me to stop taking pictures and appreciate the memorabilia with an inquisitive mind that I started taking a serious interest in the museum.
There she was, posing for a photo as a young girl wearing a saree. It reminded me of my childhood pic with my sister, clad in mother’s saree. I wondered if she too was trying to see how she looks in the traditional attire; her schooling days from Shantiniketan to Switzerland; her love life with Feroze. To this point, her life seemed ordinary and perfect to me until I found myself tiptoeing around the blood-stained sari that narrates an unusual picture and extraordinary life of courage.
Rajiv Gandhi: A Pilot or Politician!
As I progressed, leaning in and out, glancing through each photo, my mind started concocting the threads of her life. And it was only after a while when I realized the room I’m meandering is not hers; it was of her son Rajiv Gandhi. To my surprise, it was – “Rajivaratna Gandhi.” If not for his passport, I would’ve devoid of this fact my whole life.
Another eye-opening experience was a tiny laminated paper among his other possessions. On looking closer, I found his pledge to donate eyes after death. A man with a noble vision and yet there I was standing next to his trouser remnants during the assassination. It was heartbreaking.
And just when I think I’ve reached the end of the museum, there comes an adjoining room featuring dressing, dining, drawing, bedroom, puja-room.
I noticed how visitors in a soliloquy manner were reading out loud the ply-board describing the space. At first, even I did so unknowingly but as soon as I heard others behind me doing the same, I bewildered at the human behaviour. And then it was fun listening to them repeating the words every time we crossed the rooms.
Finally, my brother and I spent some time roaming around the garden surrounded by en-print of Mrs Gandhi imbued with her social, cultural, political and global influence. Her words marked on the ceiling of the corridor resonates with every passer-by.
The Last Walk
1, Safdarjung, New Delhi is an entangled wormhole to delve into the past, present and future; a time portal where it’ll yank you back and forth into the time stream of her life.
Easy to get in but hard to leave. On my way to exit, I stumble upon the path covered with glass sheets where she walked for the last time before bullets hit her. For some reasons, I decided not to take pictures of it. It didn’t seem right.
Resonating Indira – I am Courage, altered my perception of museums and fuelled me to iterate my visit to the museum more often.
Like a Local: Where Else to go, What to See and Eat?
There are other attractions as well beside the memorial-museum. The closest being Nehru Planetarium and Safdarjung’s Tomb. It is possible to visit all three places in a day if you’re an early bird. Memorial-museum timing starts from 9:30 am to 5 pm with the nearest metro being Lok Kalyan Marg.
If you’ve had an empty stomach, head out to Gujarat Bhawan, a vegetarian restaurant not far from the museum. Open to all you can develop taste-bud for some Gujarati foods at an affordable price. Make sure to check their timings before you go.
If you’re out of luck, you can always try Arunachal Bhawan canteen just opposite the Gujarat Bhawan for a quick bite.