A Conversation with a Watchman at the Gandhi Memorial
“Please, come here,” a man dressed in frayed khaki says in a gruff voice, pulling me towards a granite plinth inside the Gandhi Memorial at Kanya Kumari.
I stand on the ground floor of the pale pink three-storied Orrisa-style building, on a polished set of tiles that gleam in the day’s twilight.
“I am Jabal. Watchman,” he tells me, telegraphically. He rattles off an impressive array of facts with gusto in near-breathless phrases.
“This building. 79 feet high. Same age as Gandhiji when he died. See this?” He points excitedly to the plinth carved with the demised leader’s initials. “This where ashes were kept, and the sun,” he squints upwards, “comes through that hole in roof and shines here on birthday.” I presume he meant Gandhi’s birthday.
The architects had designed this building so precisely that a hole in the roof would concentrate the sun’s rays on one point –the plinth —on October 2nd. A feat of engineering!
Jabal, it turns out, collected more than a few good stories of the Mahatma. I asked him if had ever traveled abroad. “No,” he grins. “But people give me money.”
Puzzled, I ask him what he meant. He shows me his currency collection given to him by many tourists, from the Vietnamese Dong to the Italian Lira.
“What do you have?” he asks me excitedly. I fish into my purse and take out a humble U.S. Dollar. “It’s not much, but it’s around 60 rupees,” I say.
“I feel rich. Thanks,” he smiles as I turn to leave him.