Published: 24th February 2017
Inside the Gandhi Museum: Birad Yajnik's tribute to the Mahatma in Hyderabad is helping the young rediscover Bapu
The Mahatma Gandhi Digital Museum in Hyderabad is a place waiting to be discovered. The curator Birad Yajnik tells us what sets it apart from the other tributes to Bapu
Mehdipatnam has always been a fairly busy area in Hyderabad, with its multiple bazaars and biryani joints, more so after 2008, when the winding expressway was built to provide connectivity with the gigantic Rajiv Gandhi International Airport. While negotiating the traffic on the main road of this area, which also leads to the iconic Golconda Fort, a small detour towards the more tranquil Bapu Nagar will bring you to a two-acre property on which is built the Mahatma Gandhi Digital Museum.
This present day relic, nestled between the medieval citadel and the futuristic international airport, is a tribute to our all-time favourite hero — Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. As one makes their way towards this museum from the main city, a realisation dawns that it’s quite a journey. Just like it has been for the museum’s curator Birad Rajaram Yajnik’s, while setting this up in 2006.
Where it all began
It was over a dinner table conversation that Yajnik toyed with the idea of exploring Gandhi and his messages. By then, he had authored two books and was heading the digital interactive company Visual Quest, and now had the subject of his third book, the research for which took him around the world. “Most of my books are pictorial. They are in fine print, coffee-table book format,” says Yajnik, who comes from a family of printers. It was only in 2008 he felt equipped enough to start the book, MKG — Imagining Peace, Truth & Ahmisa.
What sets it apart is the age line which specified what Gandhi did at every age, for example, what he was like when he was seven-years-old, eight-years-old and so on. “Whatever your age is, start the book from there and you can become the next Gandhi,” he says. By then though, he had realised that he wanted to do something more, “create a piece of art versus compiling a book”. In 2010, he produced the book in limited edition (1869 copies, the number being the year Gandhi was born). It came in a pinewood box, bound in silk, one of which is with US President Barack Obama. “I wanted my book to represent the idea that though he was a simple man, he was extremely valuable.” Priced at Rs 32,000, the proceeds from it were used to produce 60,000 student edition copies in four languages, echoing Gandhi’s philosophy that more important than generating money is what you do with that money. And he did not stop here.
Surprise surprise: Birad Yajnik with PM Narendra Modi
Having worked with HSBC, TATA and other corporate honchos for several engagement projects, he merged his acquired skills with the content he had found on Bapu. Instead of curating a museum in which people simply walk in and walk out, he aimed at engaging the audience using technology and engagement techniques to drive home the Mahatma’s message.
I strongly believe that the future of museums lies in providing engagement and experiential-based experiences to the visitors. I think we need to have several of these all around the world
Birad Yajnik, Museum Curator
Inside the museum
While the Peace Wall, a 76 x 10 feet installation of Gandhi’s photographs, and the Ahimsa Harley, with signatures from students around the world remain crowd-pullers, the crowd-engagers are different. “Like an army can’t fight on an empty stomach, I think students can’t learn on an empty stomach therefore we insist that they have a meal with us. This too is a tool of engagement,” says Yajnik. For example, when you bite into the biscuit or pakora offered, you will taste something you haven’t before because it would probably be the first time you will be eating something without salt. This signifies how Gandhji gave up salt six years before the Salt March itself.
Another much shared incident is how upon presenting eight-year-olds and 40 to 50-year-olds with paper and crayons and instructing them to make money and “pay him as much as they can so he is able to do more”, the former drew money which accounted to a whopping `8.2 crores while the latter’s sum total was just Rs 50,000. “These are very powerful engagement tools which help you explore your conscious and that’s exactly what Gandhi did. He used the conscious of the opponent as his ally and proved that those who are morally right will always win,” explains Yajnik.
I don't understand from where people find the time to criticise a figure which is recognised all over the world. Be constructive, read and learn from this exceptional figure
Birad Yajnik, Museum Curator
The roving eye
We had spotted PM Modi inaugurating Yajnik’s exhibition The Birthplace of Satyagraha at Pietermaritzburg, the very place Gandhi was famously thrown out of the train. Not only this, he has two other engagement walls — one at Howard University, Washington DC and the Mandela Gandhi Wall at Johannesburg. He has spoken at about 20 different parts of the world about Gandhi, including Cadogan Hall in London. He wants to collaborate with artists from outside India to add more engagement elements to the museum back in Hyderabad. “I want to use technology and see how far we can take it to drive the message of the Mahatma,” he passionately says, because curating is truly his passion. He explains, “I enjoy it because I like getting experiences across to people and in that process if I can find the next Gandhi, why not?”
Hot wheels: The Ahmisa Harley at the museum
These are some of the ways in which the Mahatma's life is sold to Gen Y
A box with vada pav, a bowl of spaghetti, a finger sandwich and a chocolate cookie is presented as a meal, each item signifying something. For instance, the vada pav signifies that Gandhi had left from Mumbai to attend the Round Table Conference, Mussolini gave him the guard of honour upon his arrival in Italy, hence the spaghetti and so on.
Decoding the strategy behind the Dandi March, Gandhi's plan is broken down at the museum. For example, he walked 240 miles from Sabarmati to Dandi, ten miles per day - which is how much he used to walk in London.
Nanorobots the size of a match box are kept inside barricades. As they are on vibration mode, they try to search for the weakest link to break down. In teams too, they world towards the same objective. This teaches students about perseverance, connecting it to the 32 years of persistence on behalf of Gandhi until India achieved independence.
Students are given pictures of Gandhi and they have to find the same pictures on the huge Peace Wall at the museum.
Showing the scene from the movie The Hunt for Red October where Sean Connery's character races the submarine towards the torpedo launched at it to close in the distance before it arms itself (torpedoes arm themselves only 100 meters away from the target). Through this, he attempts to explain that non-violent actions too can have powerful impacts