Number 20, Baron's Court Road
By: Mamta Sagar
This morning as I walked along one of those lonely long roads stretching between the West Kensington and the Baron's Court tube stations in London, I observed something interesting engraved on the wall of an apartment. The milky white building, the apartment complex has many flats among which, one particular house numbered 20 is being restored by the Greater London Council. As this is the only house that is restored right now, it is covered with nets and shafts, iron rods and climbers and obviously stands out calling for attention.
As I went nearer I realised the wall had a big round engraving in blue mosaic that said, "MAHATMA GANDHI 1869-1948, lived here as a law student". Wow! What an amazing thing to stumble upon I thought. Before he became the internationally renowned leader of the Indian independence movement, Mahatma Gandhi was a Barons Court resident. "During the 1890s, while studying law at University College London, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi — as he was known then — lived at number 20 Barons Court Road". This was THE famous "No 20, Baron's Court Road".
It is from this building that the ventures of the Mahatma might have begun. During his student days doing law, I am told he had learnt western dance and music along with French, English, Chemistry and Latin. It was amusing for me to imagine young Gandhi to be rehearsing his lessons in dancing and violin in here, inside this house! His staunch vegetarianism in response to the meat eating, associated with the Britishness began here. He is even said to have joined the vegetarian clubs. I am told that his experiments in diet began during his student days in London.
For me, No 20, Baron's Court Road, the flat; seemed as an embodiment of difficulties, experiments and adventures experienced by the young Mohandas during his days in London the symbolic city of authority and power. His encounters with the big white world might have got initiated from this very house! He might have been dreaming of a new world from this place. Challenges to sustain the strength and tackle with the notion of being a little INDIAN in the big white world might have all begun from here!
In the evenings when he returned back from his law college while he opened the doors of No 20, Barons Road, his heart might have sunk with homesickness, longing for his land and people, near and dear ones right here on these steps. He might have been missing his wife Kasturba whom he had left behind at Rajkot with their little son Harilal. Her loneliness might have added to his own when he thought of her.
This might be the space that roomed for the transformation of a MONU towards becoming a MAHATMA! Letting my imagination unreel, I walked back home on that same side of the footpath slowly, step by step, carefully wondering how Mahatma Gandhi's brisk walks had left his footprints in the pavements of our hearts.
As I write this column, I sit in my room at the Bhavans Cultural Centre where I am put up in London and look through the window that overlooks "No 20, Baron's Court Road", the house where Gandhi lived as a law student.