Last week, a number of news syndicates including BBC and UPI reported that Mahatma Gandhi’s home in Johannesburg, South Africa was sold to the French travel company, Voyageurs Du Monde.
The house, which has been said to sell at prices varying from $377,029 to $500,000, had been Gandhi’s residence of 21 years while working as a lawyer and activist.
Now that the owners Jarod and Nancy Ball have relinquished the famed political and spiritual leader’s South African home, the French firm wishes to preserve it as a Gandhi museum.
Regardless of whether this is the right course for such a historical landmark, the move to place the site in the hands of the French has soured many Indian officials.
Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal, in an interview with PTI, vowed to acquire the property and declare it a national monument, even claiming that he would set aside one month of his salary to help fund the project.
Interestingly enough, while the property has purportedly been listed on the market for over a year, Jaiswal said that his Ministry’s initial offers “for any amount they wished for” went unacknowledged.
Aside from the hard facts of the matter, do the Indian people have a justifiable reason for their dissatisfaction in the ownership of the property?
I was asked by my editor to look into the issue and give my personal opinion and, though my interest was slightly piqued by the controversy, I’m not sure what to make of it.
Far from admitting I don’t care about the issue, I find I’m rather unfazed by something taking place on a separate continent and something so seemingly irrelevant to my job as a staff writer in Upper West Side Manhattan poring over thousands of teen scholarship essays every day.
You’d think I’d even be a little perturbed or at least thought-provoked when my editor asked what I would think if another country came in and bought the Statue of Liberty. (Personally, I think it’s looking a bit rusty nowadays anyhow.)
Still, in the situation of Gandhi’s home, it seems to me that the French company has in its best interests to preserve the heritage of the site. Sure, India can’t claim ownership of the house as a national landmark, but the upside of it is that they don’t have to pay for the upkeep. It’s like having a shiny medal with your name on it, while someone else polishes it for you.
Of course, the French firm aims to glean a little profit from turning the home into a museum attraction, but the fact remains that the property will be preserved and maintained. And who’s to say that any Indian firm wouldn’t do the same?
I’m not into nationalism, ownership of natural and manmade landmarks or even borders for that matter. Perhaps India should have the right to claim the site as a national monument and perhaps everything should belong to the place in which it began, but – while I’m certainly not an expert on the visionary– perhaps we shouldn’t squabble over the materialistic things left by the man, but the important teachings of the man himself.