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Last Updated: Friday, 29 October, 2004, 18:41 GMT 19:41 UK
Indira Gandhi memorial draws crowds

By Soutik Biswas
BBC News Online correspondent in Delhi

Many visitors to an elegant bungalow in the heart of Indian capital Delhi seem to be surprised that it was once home to the country's mercurial Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Indira Gandhi memorial
Indira Gandhi's house has become a tourist spot
"It is rather small, isn't it? I thought she lived like a queen in a building befitting a palace," exclaims a visitor taking a trip of the bungalow, now converted into a memorial.

Indira Gandhi lived in the 1,300-sq-ft bungalow on the leafy and wide Safdarjung Road for nearly 20 years before she was shot dead by her bodyguards inside the place on 31 October 1984.

Twenty years after Mrs Gandhi's assassination, the memorial continues to attract some 10,000 visitors a day. During weekends, the crowds treble.

"Till 1971, this must have been the smallest house of any prime minister in the world," says the memorial's curator Vijay Puri Goswami.

That was when an adjacent bungalow was added to 1, Safdarjung Road as a separate office and a guesthouse for close friends of Mrs Gandhi.

That was also when Delhi's most famous address become an exclusive family home for Mrs Gandhi and her son, Rajiv, and his family.

Filled with memories

Today, the bungalow is crammed with priceless family photographs, memorabilia, books, newspaper front pages from history, gifts and personal belongings of Mrs Gandhi and Rajiv, who was also assassinated by in 1991.

When I die every drop of my blood will invigorate India and strengthen it
Indira Gandhi
The leader's impressive-looking study stacked with books and paintings and her sitting room have been left intact before a glass partition for visitors to see.

The memorial has an element of gore too.

On display is Mrs Gandhi's blood stained and bullet pocked sari, bringing back memories of her violent end.

Two bodyguards pumped 16 bullets into her when she was crossing a leafy pathway from her residence to the office for an interview with Peter Ustinov.

The grassy pathway has now been covered in marble and covered with crystal.

A sheet of clear glass marks the place where she fell to her assassin's bullets.

"There have been too many untimely deaths in the house. This is a cursed family," says Bijoy Ghosh, a visitor.

The spot where Indira Gandhi was killed
A sheet of glass marks the spot where she was killed
Some visitors get emotional when they see the spot where Mrs Gandhi was killed.

"Some of them bring bouquets and stand quietly for hours. Some just break down looking at the pathway," says Vijay Puri Goswami.

Premonition of death

Also displayed is the neatly typewritten sheet of Mrs Gandhi's engagements on the day she died.

After a hectic documentary film shooting schedule in the morning, she was scheduled to meet James Callaghan and his wife in the afternoon and host a dinner for Princes Anne at 8.30 pm at her residence.

Pictures of Nehru and Indira Gandhi
The house is filled with memories of India's first family
Other papers exhibited include her much-quoted last speech at a public meeting in the eastern state of Orissa, the day before she died.

"I do not care whether I live or die, and when I die every drop of my blood will invigorate India and strengthen it," she told the meeting.

A lot of her personal belongings, including a collection of rare, well-preserved family pictures, are also on display.

Her passport, a priceless collection of stones, her spectacles and some books from high school - from Mikhail Sholokhov's The Don Flows Home To Sea to Stalin's Marxism and the Natural and Colonial Question to Andrew Gide's Afterthoughts in the USSR.

Then there are mathematics and French language books, and books on the French Revolution from school.

There are also some of her neat efforts at poetry and pencil drawings interspersed with quotes from Voltaire.

Curiosity

Visitors also flock to see her wedding sari, which was woven from yarn spun by her father Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India.

Newspaper clippings
Newspapers clippings form part of the display
Of interest is also her ochre-red private wedding card titled "The essential parts of the marriage ceremony" to Feroze Gandhi at the ancestral home in the northern city of Allahabad in March 1942.

There are gifts from international leaders: a silver and onyx lacquer plate from Ho Chi Minh, a crystal memento from Yasser Arafat.

"There is still a huge amount of interest and curiosity in Mrs Gandhi. About how she lived and worked," says Vijay Puri Goswami.

Clearly, two decades after as assassination India can never forget, there is no let up in the interest in Indira Gandhi.

Busloads of tourists from all over the country land up every day to visit the memorial.

"This is one of India's biggest tourists spots. I do good business here," says Bishan, who sells Indira Gandhi photo cards on the sidewalk outside the memorial.


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SEE ALSO:
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Timeline: India
12 May 03  |  Country profiles


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