After almost 40 hours of traveling, including a packed 15 hour flight across the ocean, I’m back at home. Still catching up on sleep, and probably will be for a while! In this last post I’ll fill you in on our last few days in India and share a few final thoughts about this amazing trip.
I think I owe you a report on the day we drove the route of the salt march. It began at 6 a.m., meeting the historian and our driver (bearing omelets cooked by his wife) at our hotel.
I’ve got to say I was discouraged at first. I’d expected to drive the whole route of the march and instead we hit the superhighway. “Can’t we visit Aslali,” I asked. That was the first town on the route. “How about Dabhan?”
“No,” was the answer from up front.
The historian’s English wasn’t very good so communication was a problem, and I worried that the day would be a wash. But I’ve learned to expect the unexpected.
During the drive, I learned that the historian had three relatives who marched the salt march with Gandhi, and that his grandparents, weavers, were mentioned in Gandhi’s autobiography. He gave me a copy with the paragraph highlighted. He also told us that one of his relatives (a marcher with Gandhi) was a Harijan, an Untouchable. I could sense his gratitude to Gandhi for fighting for the rights of his people.
Here we were in a car, driving down the highway with a Muslim and the descendant of Hindu Untouchables in the front seat, chattering away with each other in Gujurati. Wow, I thought. The historian invited me to walk the salt march with them the next time they went. They repeat the march every year. Maybe I will.
And when we stopped for tea, he got on his cell phone and set up a few appointments. The next thing I knew, I was on the phone with Gandhi’s great grandson, who lived in Mumbai, setting up a time to see him before we left.
We got off the highway in Navsari, one of the stops on the march’s route, and saw the station where Gandhi’s train stopped on his frequent trips to Bombay.
Then we got onto Rt. 228, the path the marchers marched. There, under a canopy of trees, we followed the historic route until we stopped at the site where Gandhi had picked up the salt from the sea. There was no sea there anymore, and we’d soon find out why.
The home near the sea where Gandhi had spent the night had been turned into a museum. After looking around for a while, the historian came in with an older man, who spoke English quite well. He’d lived in the village of Dandi for his whole life, had known villagers who were there when the marchers were there, and had written a book in Gujurati about the event. He told us that the village had experienced flooding after the march was over and had to build mud dams to move the beach a whole kilometer seaward. There were many more stories about the march itself, things that weren’t in any of the books I’d read.
After cool drinks at this man’s home (he also ran a school to teach students using Gandhian values), we continued on. Next stop was another school, where educators had devoted their lives to teach the deaf and dumb children of migrant Indians. The school followed Gandhian values too and taught these children to learn sign language and crafts so they could be self-sufficient as adults. They also housed and fed salt marchers on their route, and they gave us a terrific lunch and sent us on our way.
Next stop, the sea. Lots of photos there, which I’ve been sending to Tom Gonzalez, the illustrator for Gandhi: A March to the Sea. It’s worked out well to answer some of the questions he’s had about details in the illustrations, such as the timing of the cotton harvest in relation to the salt march.
We ended the day at about 9:30 at night after fighting traffic in Bombay. Our driver (not at all afraid to stop and ask directions, as most American men are) wasn’t sure of the exact location of the hotel and finally hired a taxi to lead us the rest of the way there. A brilliant move, I thought.
The next morning we visited the Gandhi home and museum in Bombay and I sat on the third floor balcony where he often delivered speeches to the people below. I wondered if he ever felt scared or unsure there, so many people expecting so much from him.
We spent the afternoon as tourists, enjoying the modern, bustling city of Bombay – a different experience from the other cities we’d seen. The next day, after a morning of shopping and sightseeing, we ended our stay by having tea with Tushar Gandhi. He had plenty of stories to tell about his great grandparents and was interested in writing a children’s book himself. We agreed to keep in touch.
That’s probably more than you wanted to know, but it’s still only a small part of this big experience. I’m so grateful to have had the chance to see India and go on this search for Gandhi. I’ve seen his homes and lots of artifacts (including his two front teeth!), felt his presence in the Ashram, and seen how he’s being kept alive in modern India. I’m not sure yet how all of this will come into play in the book I’ll write, but I have some good ideas. I’ve been writing notes and thoughts every day and now that I’m back, I’m eager to get started writing to see where it leads.
As for my personal journey, it’s hard to say exactly how this trip has impacted me, but I know that it has – in big ways. I feel more at peace, ready to write again, and full of hope for the future. After all, anyone who can climb 3,300 steps up to a temple in the blazing afternoon sun can accomplish whatever they want, right?
Thanks to all of you for taking this journey with me.
Lots of love,