Revisiting Gandhi, on the Banks of the Sabarmati; An old ashram is a place to reflect on a new India of skyrocketing growth

Revisiting Gandhi, on the Banks of the Sabarmati
MARCH 19, 2014
AHMEDABAD, India — As a teenager in the 1920s, my grandfather Prabhudas Kamdar was enthralled with Mahatma Gandhi. He devoured every issue of Gandhi’s magazine, Young India, as soon as it came out and was deeply drawn to Gandhi’s satyagraha movement.

One day, defying his family’s fervent hopes that their eldest son would embark on a solid career, my grandfather ran off to join Gandhi at his ashram on the Sabarmati River in Ahmedabad. His parents, heartbroken , wrote to Gandhi, pleading that he send their son back to them.
The Mahatma complied.
My grandfather never got over this betrayal. Exiled from the ashram, he spent the rest of his life living as much like a Gandhian as he could. He rose every morning at 4 o’clock to meditate, went on daily walks and dressed in handspun cotton. Until the day he died, my grandfather remained, like many of his generation, a dedicated supporter of India’s independence, not only from Britain but also from a Western consumer lifestyle.
Throughout his life, Gandhi founded ashrams — communities of fellow believers and collective laboratories for what he called his experiments with truth. Gandhi’s dream was to turn the whole of India into one big ashram, a place where men, women and children would live in enlightened simplicity, free of what he saw as the vanities and violence of a Western-dominated world.
But that world always encroached. In March 1930, Gandhi left Sabarmati Ashram to march to a coastal village, Dandi, to make salt in defiance of a British tax — a pivotal moment in the Indian independence movement. He vowed not to go back until India’s people had won self-government. He never returned.
Early this month, I visited Sabarmati Ashram. The new director, Gandhi scholar Tridip Suhrud, is breathing new life into the institution. The books in the old library are being properly catalogued, and will be moved to a brand new library.
A website has been set up that provides digital access to the original edition of Gandhi’s complete works. Roofs are being repaired, and the old buildings are being restored. Thanks to these efforts, Sabarmati Ashram remains a place where seekers of truth can find nurturing sanctuary.
Still, the world outside the ashram can no more be kept entirely at bay today than it could in the 1920s. Ahmedabad is the largest city in the Indian state of Gujarat.
The chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, has parlayed his business-friendly policies into a bold national reputation that may allow him to lead the country down a similar path. He has thrust Ahmedabad forward as a model of urban development, promising that all of India could enjoy such prosperity if his party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, wins enough seats to name him the country’s next prime minister after national election results this spring.
There is no doubt in Ahmedabad that Mr. Modi runs the place. The city, like the rest of the country, is in high campaign gear. At every intersection, there are huge posters of a smiling Mr. Modi. His image is ubiquitous. Beyond the bright posters, a pall of pollution and dust hangs over the city; the rich live starkly divided from the poor; freshly paved boulevards cut wide swaths through older, crowded neighborhoods.
There are glass-walled office buildings and shopping malls with international brands, but the vast slum that stretches along the road to Sabarmati Ashram is still there. In short, Ahmedabad looks pretty much the same as Gurgaon or Hyderabad, sprawling Indian cities that have also undergone skyrocketing, uneven growth, with one striking difference: Juhapura. Devoid of the most basic city services, Juhapura is a ghetto where many of the Muslims, some of considerable means, were forced to take refuge after more than 1,000 Muslims were massacred in Gujarat in 2002 under Mr. Modi’s watch.
On the ashram’s grounds, there is a terrace from which one can contemplate the Sabarmati flowing below. Once a meandering waterway, the river is now channeled between embankments with wide causeways where trucks rumble through the night putting the finishing touches on new concrete esplanades.
The poor who had built their shanties on the river’s banks have been evicted, and the white egrets that used to fish for minnows in the shallows are gone. In the early 20th century, when Gandhi and my grandfather were there, Sabarmati Ashram was a tiny eddy of calm in a world on the verge of multiple conflagrations. In early 21st century, it still is. But the view has changed.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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