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Remembering ‘Masterji’ Bapu at Valmiki Mandir – and His Pathshala

Mahatma Gandhi lived at the Valmiki temple for a year, where he conducted classes for children in the neighbourhood.

Updated
India
4 min read
Mahatma Gandhi lived at the Valmiki temple for a year, when he became teacher to the local children (and adults).
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(The following story has been republished from The Quint’s archives to mark Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary. It was originally published on 5 September.)

Not many know that Mahatma Gandhi used to teach schoolchildren. He taught English and Hindi when he was staying at the Valmiki Mandir in the capital. That was, perhaps, the first time he became a teacher in the true sense.

Gandhi stayed at Valmiki Mandir from 1 April 1946 to 10 June 1947, and while he was there, he ensured he conducted classes in the morning and in the evening without fail. He was such a meticulous teacher that he often used to delay his meetings with the likes of Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, and Lord Mountbatten, to finish his class.

Hard Taskmaster

“My father and uncles were Gandhi’s students at the Valmiki temple. Contrary to his soft image, he was a hard taskmaster. He used to rebuke children if any of them attended his class without taking a bath,” said Dr Om Prakash, a former teacher at the Indian Law Institute.

While Bapu initially began conducting classes at the Valmiki Mandir, students from Gole Market, Paharganj, Irwin Road, and other neighbouring areas also attended the classes. The number of students began to swell exponentially.

Mahatma Gandhi at the Valmiki temple.
Mahatma Gandhi at the Valmiki temple.
(Photo Courtesy: Vivek Shukla)

“The best part of his ‘pathshala’ was that even grown ups, both men and women, also started attending the classes,” recalled Krishan Gopal Bhargwa, whose siblings regularly attended the classes in the evening.

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Most of Gandhi’s students were studying in the Reading Road (now Mandir Marg) schools like Harcourt Butler School, Raisina Bengali, and The Delhi Tamil Education Association School.

Bhargawa, who graduated from the Harcourt Butler School in 1960, said:

In school, we used to hear a lot of stories about Bapu’s classes from our teachers. Some of them had met him at the Valmiki temple. The temple was very close to my alma-mater.

It is said that he knew all his students by name.

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Tryst With Words

Sadguru Krishna Shah, caretaker of Valmiki Mandir, recalled that hundreds of Valmiki families lived in the basti close to the temple, who worked as “sweepers in the capital.”

Valmiki Mandir has been here since the early 20th century and Gandhiji had asked our elders in 1946 if he could stay here for a couple of months.
Sadguru Krishna Shah, caretaker of Valmiki Mandir

Immediately after coming to the temple, Bapu asked the basti residents to send their children to him as he was conducting classes. Until then, not many children from the colony had ever attended school.

The classes were held in Bapu’s spacious room. His charkha, desk, pen stand, and aasan are still preserved in the room.

Bapu’s room in the Valmiki temple.
Bapu’s room in the Valmiki temple.
(Photo Courtesy: Vivek Shukla)

Sadguru has a treasure trove of old photographs of leaders like Lord Mountbatten, Lady Mountbatten, and Sir Stafford Cripps visiting the Valmiki temple to meet Gandhi.

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Visiting Modern School in 1935

Much before he started holding his classes at the Valmiki temple, Bapu visited the prestigious Modern School at Barakhamba Road in 1935 at the invitation of Sardar Sobha Singh, head of the school managing committee and father of writer Khushwant Singh. A sepia coloured picture of Bapu with Modern School students is still displayed in the principal’s room.

Gandhi  at Modern School in 1935.
Gandhi at Modern School in 1935.
(Photo Courtesy: Vivek Shukla)
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Sharing Experiences With St Stephen’s Students

On his first visit to Delhi in 1915, Gandhi was hosted by the principal of St Stephen’s College, Prof SK Rudra, who was a close friend of Gandhi.

The draft for the Non-Cooperation Movement and the open letter to the Viceroy giving concrete shape to the Khilafat claim were prepared at Rudra’s home in Kashmiri Gate.

A photograph of Gandhi and his wife, Kasturba, visiting the college from 13 April to 15 April 1915 currently hangs in the St Stephen’s principal’s office.

Gandhi  with students of St Stephen’s College.
Gandhi with students of St Stephen’s College.
(Photo Courtesy: Vivek Shukla)

While Gandhiji was staying with Professor Rudra, he met students of St Stephen’s and Hindu College, with whom he shared his experience about living in South Africa.

(The writer is former Editor, Somaiya Publications. He can be reached @VivekShukla108. )

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