Our family trip to India took us to Pune; where my husband’s family now lived, Agra; home of the Taj Mahal, and Lucknow; where the family wedding would take place and where my husband was raised. I desperately wanted to go to Wardha, to the Sevagram ashram where Arun lived with his grandfather is, but our schedule wouldn’t allow for it. But in Pune, there was the Aga Kahn Palace, and on a bright sunny day, we headed there.
Arun’s grandmother Katurba had died at the Aga Kahn Palace, both she and her husband and many of his aides were interned—imprisoned there from 1942-1944. As the ports were closed to Arun’s family in South Africa, during WWII, Arun was not able to see his grandmother again before she passed. I went to the Aga Kahn Palace with that knowledge heavy in my heart.
We walked—my husband, his childhood friend Gopal, and our nephew Anand— through the rooms that now held statues and paintings of Mohandas K. Gandhi and paperwork from the Quit India Movement. We stood outside the glass partition that separated visitors from the room where the Mahatma and his wife were kept interned and outside that room, there under glass were Gandhiji’s sandals, his spectacles and a few other belongings.
I took pictures and touched the glass, wishing I could touch the sandals, that walked alongside Arun, that almost out walked him, with his grandfather’s hurried strides, as is depicted so brilliantly by Evan Turk in the Grandfather Gandhi illustrations.
At the back of the palace in the gardens, Gandhi’s ashes are on display. I stood there thinking about how Arun had just travelled back to South Africa from Sevagram, a few weeks before Gandhi was shot and killed. Like with his grandmother, Arun was not able to return for the funeral pyre.
It was a very personal pilgrimage to me. Every moment I was in India, participating in a traditional Hindu wedding, meeting my husband’s family, seeing where my husband lived as a boy—all of it was personal but going to the Aga Kahn Palace was the closest connection I had to the work I had done with Arun on Grandfather Gandhi. I stayed in the gardens for a bit, and as we left, a bus with some school children pulled in. Then another bus. And another. I had my camera and I began taking pictures of the hundreds of kids who were there for a school trip. I became less and less shy as more and more buses pulled in.
I began to talk to the kids, “What are you here to see?”
“Gandhi’s ashes,” they answered.
Eventually the kids began to pose for me, giving me high fives, and peace signs as they passed. My husband, nephew and family friend waited for me. In fact, Anand had to move the car we were driving so the buses wouldn’t pack us in, but none of them rushed me as I stood there in that sea of kids, in various different school uniforms, and smiled. Their past and my past, in that moment, were one.