Gujarat polls 2017: Dilapidated facade of Mahatma Gandhi's school in Rajkot displays government, public apathy
Mahatma Gandhi, the one who encouraged cleanliness, education and respect towards all, completed a part of his education in Gujarat's Rajkot city at Alfred High School.
Mahatma Gandhi, who encouraged cleanliness, education and respect towards all, completed a part of his education in Gujarat's Rajkot city at Alfred High School. But today, the school at Jubilee Chowk stands quiet in the shadow of its history. Its glory may have faded from people's hearts and minds today, but it was once a symbol of pride in the past.
Designed by British architect, Sir Robert Bell Booth, the school's building is a beautiful testament of the colonial-era architecture. This is why, even 164 years later, the walls of Alfred High School still bear the mark of Gandhi's presence. Perhaps for this reason, despite government and public apathy, the school looks as commanding from the outside as it must have in the past. The school tower is about 30-40 feet away from the main gate. Standing at the main gate, one has to crane their neck to capture the whole vista of the school's facade in one glance. One cannot help but think, "Wow, what a school it is." It is similar to the gurukul (Traditional Indian boarding schools) shown in Karan Johar's film Mohabbatein.
Gandhi's gurukul, Alfred High School
Gandhi passed out of Alfred High School in 1887 at the age of 18. He studied here between 1880 and 1887. At the time of its establishment, on 17 October, 1853, Alfred High School was the first English medium school in the Saurashtra region. The existing building at Alfred's was made under the Nawab of Junagarh. It was he who named the school after the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Alfred. Post-Independence, the school's name was changed to Mohandas Gandhi High School.
While the school took on Gandhi's name, it did not receive the respect it should have. The school's main gate is open at all times. Upon entering, you'll find a closed door and behind it, a life-sized photo of Gandhi. Under the photo is written "My life is my message". Along with it, there is another quote of Gandhi's from 4 September, 1888, when he left Rajkot for Mumbai to go to England and pursue law. At that time he had said, "Those, like me, who will go to England for higher studies, will come back and resurrect our country." Leaving behind this message, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi fulfilled his promise as he went on to become Mahatma Gandhi.
However, looking at the school's dilapidated state, it looks like we have forgotten Gandhi altogether.
Sitting on a bench in the school compound was a 13 or 14-year-old boy named Himanshu, who was sitting alone in the entire school at the time. I asked him, "Is the school closed?" to which he replied, "The school is always closed. If you want to go inside, enter through the lane behind the school but there is nothing worth seeing inside."
The interiors are a shocking sight. As beautiful as the school looks on the outside, it is as discoloured on the inside. The Gujarat government has decided to turn the school into a museum. However, judging from the state of the school, it seems no one has yet taken the decision seriously and worked upon it. It used to be open earlier until the authorities decided to shut it down.
However, despite the dilapidated and fading interiors, the sense of splendour in not lost completely: The huge rooms, the high walls, the wooden staircases. The classroom where Gandhi is said to have studied, now has huge posters of the school's principals. When Gandhi was in school, Dorabjee Eduljee Jimmy was the school principal. In the same room, there is also a Gandhi statue which shows him holding a Navjeevan newspaper. Mahatma Gandhi started this weekly newspaper from Ahmedabad. The newspaper kept running from 1919 to 1931. While it is still in publication to this day, its face has changed entirely. The newspaper is now a magazine.
School at the centre of politics
Alfred School may be in a dilapidated state today but its alumni include Keshubhai Patel and Hansmukh Adhiya. Since the Gujarat Assembly elections were announced, the school has been caught in the frenzy of politics. Recently, Congress leader Sam Pitroda campaigning in Rajkot had said, "If Congress comes to power in Gujarat, we will turn it into the best school in the country." Targetting the BJP government in Gujarat, he said, "Can the state government not revive this school? Why was it shut down and is now being turned into a museum?"
The Gujarat government did not respond to this.
Walking around every corner of the school with Himanshu, all I can wonder is what Gandhi would feel if he were alive today. Gandhi is not with us today, but Himanshu is, who dropped out of school after Class 8. After showing me around the entire school, he goes back quietly and sits on his bench where I found him.
It is interesting to note that Mahatma Gandhi's photos are stuck on the dust laden school walls with "Gandhiji and cleanliness" written on it. That cleanliness is definitely not noticeable around here is quite another matter. Written on another photo is a message which reads, "Humanity is one's truest nationality". But how much of the Father of the nation's teachings we actually remember, is something we must ask ourselves.