mani bhavan (Mahatma Gandhi Museum)

This is Sudha, our guide for the day.

As we arrive at the Malabar Hills residence where Mahatma Gandhi lived from 1917 to 1934 during his visits to Bombay, I couldn’t help thinking about all the things I’ve read over the years about western women’s attraction to Gandhi, particularly one American woman–whose name completely escapes me now–who would likely have lived in my grandmother’s generation. I could hardly imagine my mother, and certainly not my grandmother (!) traveling alone to India to live and work with a little brown man–prophet or not–and I wondered if I would see any allusion to her now.

The house belonged to Shri Revashankar Jhaveri, Gandhi’s friend. This is what the neighborhood looks like now. (That’s the museum grounds behind the concrete wall on the right.) In the series to come of other tourist attractions in the Malabar Hills, it will become very evident that this part of Bombay is a very exclusive area with property values of more than $1200 per square ft, which only the wealthiest Bombay citizens can afford.

Gandhi’s lifetime spanned October 2, 1869 when he was born, to January 30, 1948 when he was assassinated. Everything commonly known about him casts him as a very simple man dedicated to equality and justice, but a closer look reveals a much more complex man. I knew from my reading, for instance, that as his father lay dying, a 16-year-old Gandhi was having sex with his wife Kasturba (whom he had married at age 13) in a nearby room. When a servant came to inform him of his father’s death, the guilt he felt was overwhelming. Indeed, at age 39, while still married to Kasturba, he made the decision to become celibate until he learned to truly love, not just lust. I don’t know what is true, nor what is untrue, but like any man of great notoriety, many things have been written about the Mahatma. In fact a book published just this spring alleges that actually he forsook his wife for a relationship with another man–and was indeed bisexual. In terms of what he accomplished during his lifetime, I don’t think it much matters at this point. Gandhi himself said once that truth alone will endure; all the rest will be swept away in the tide of times.

Be that as it may, these things were much on my mind as I entered the museum, and I confess I wished that (1) I were psychic or at least truly believed in it, and (2) that I would be able to sense what was real and what wasn’t. I came out knowing very little more than when I entered, but still thinking of the Mahatma as a very interesting man. There were absolutely no references to any feminine relationships, western women or otherwise.

In the library, because these are the things I like to know about people, I checked to see what kinds of books he’d collected and read. I noted a lot of Tolstoy–even a collection of short stories.

There were also copies of letters to he’d written to famous people like Roosevelt and Einstein–as well as Tolstoy–but the one that drew my attention most firmly was the one he wrote to Hitler, in which he addresses the recipient as “Dear Friend.” The letter goes on to say “Friends have been encouraging me to write to you for the sake of humanity. But I have resisted their request because of the feeling that any letter from me would be an impertinence. Something tells me that I must not calculate and that I must make my account for whatever it may be worth.” The next paragraph continues with “It is quite clear that you are the one person in the world who can prevent a war which may reduce humanity to a savage state. Must you pay that price for an object however worthy it may appear to you to be? Will you listen to the appeal of one who has seliberately [sic] shunned the method of war not without considerable success. Any way I appreciate your forgiveness, if I have erred in writing to you.” Signed M.K. Gandhi and addressed to Herr Hitler of Berlin, Germany.

I’ve always been obsessed by all things in miniature, so naturally the dioramas  depicting important civil disobedience protests Gandhi led during his lifetime became my immediate focus. This one demonstrates boycotting of foreign cloth that resulted in an immense bonfire in Bombay that kindled India’s economic emancipation in 1921.

This is the bedroom with a portrait of Gandhi on the wall, and various antiquated spinning wheels lining the walls. The simple cot, on which we assume he slept while staying here, seems almost an afterthought . . . and–try as I might–I couldn’t, and can’t, see a single ghost or spirit to tell me who the real Gandhi was, can you?

Next post:  continuation of Malabar tour with stories from the Towers of Silence.

searching the proverbial woodpile for links to ireland

While we were sitting poolside with our friend ML in India, chatting about discoveries we were making and my becoming more familiar with Hubby’s family and seeing how they live rather than just attending weddings, ML remarked to Hubby that our next trip should be to the countries of my origin. Hubby is always ready to go all the time, so he announced right there that come fall we were going to parts unknown as yet to England, Ireland and Scotland. First it would require a bit of research in between posting our adventures of India for family.

I prevailed upon my brother to mail me a genealogy chart he’d been working on that led me back six generations, to 1733. Unfortunately the information gets scanty at this point. I know the birth year, but nothing more. Presumably, these are the forebears that link me to Ireland and Scotland, but I feel a little like a swimmer on a great ocean being bounced about on the waves in my efforts, seeing as how I don’t actually know what I’m doing–YET. Enough has surfaced in my rather amateur attempt to get started that I know now I should have heeded the warning I read on a website I uncovered several weeks ago. It said:

WARNING: GENEALOGIAL RESEARCH MAY BECOME ADDICTIVE! THERE IS NO KNOWN CURE FOR THIS DISEASE.
“The following symptons may occur: burning, itching eyes; tired feet; lack of sleep; confusion; temporary loss of memory; hallucinations; writer’s cramp; rapid heartbeat; uncontrollable urge to visit courthouses; inordinate desire to walk through cemeteries; longing to speak with the dead; tendency to live in the past; habitual inclination towards excessive questioning; unnatural desire to take long trips; frustration; exhaustion; and telephonitis. If symptons persist, contact a professional genealogist.”

The quotation comes from a book by Michael Andrew Grissom, “Southern by the Grace of God” (as in American by birth, Southern by the grace, etc.). In case you hadn’t already figured it out, southerners are often accused of living in the past at best, or accused of ancestral worship at worst.

This same genealogical website contains information about my great- and great-great grandmothers, or  my paternal grandfather’s mother and grandmother, and therein lay my first link. The website host is apparently connected to me in that my great-great grandmother was his g-g-grandmother too. Our connection is through Lavinia (Taylor) Koon, (my great-great grandfather Absalom’s wife). Their daughter (Francis Melissa) was my great-grandmother. See how confusing this stuff gets?

If the facts posted are correct, in about 1859, Viney (as she was called) moved from South Carolina to northern Florida with her husband, Absalom, to live near her brothers in Columbia County. They brought along their six children. Three more were born after the move. Absalom joined the Confederate Army during the civil war and fought in the battle of Cold Harbor, VA. He entered the hospital and died on a bitter cold winter’s day in January 1865 while the nine month siege of Petersburg was still going on.

Lavinia,  or Aunt Viney, as she was known there, was apparently a shrewd business woman said to have bought up a lot of land and what is now Union County in Florida. Supposedly she owned most of the county in time, and continued to live there until her death in 1906. There were many stories handed down in my family about how “bossy” she was. The puzzle pieces falling into place here indicates that she was 37 (or 40) when she was widowed, and had a very large family–many of whom were probably still living with her, including Francis Melissa (my great-grandmother). This tells me that she had to be a strong woman, and maybe bossy too. She used to demand whatever man–white or black–she saw walking past her house to “come on in here and chop me a stack of wood.”

Viney’s daughter (my great-grandmother, Francis Melissa) is shown here with her husband, Tristram (called Truss). Either she looked a great deal like her mother, Lavinia, or this photograph posted on the website was incorrectly identified. This picture is in my own family album  She died in March 1942, two months before I was born in her house which only weeks before had become our new home. We lived there for only a couple of years until my father was drafted in WWII. My uncles (who were boys themselves at the time) called her a witch (maybe she took after her mother with her contrariness?) and wished she would die. Not long after she did–aged about 79 years. They harbored guilt for a long time afterwards, convinced they had caused her death. I like to think of her as an early feminist though.  She did produce the large family women were expected to those days (free farm labor) and that produced many more descendants including me!

The problem with trying to solve family puzzles and mysteries about beginnings sometimes brings up information you’d just as soon not know. I’d always assumed my forebears were too poor (except in owning land) to ever have owned slaves. This made me feel good. When I turned up estate records for William Taylor, my g-grandmother Francis Melissa’s grandfather, I learned he left an estate considered fairly wealthy for the times. In perusing the list of his personal goods I was astounded to find the biggest ticket items on the list included various mules (Peat, Kid, Tom, Sal, Jenah)  worth just under $300, two Negro men, Jack and Reuben, at $600 each; two Negro females, Lucy ($400) and Esther, who was perhaps a child (only $200). They reckoned the wheat still in his fields at the time of his death to be worth $25.

In spite of this disillusionment in a descendant, my progress thus far shows one of the six counties of northern Ireland, Armagh to be where my great-great grandfather (William W. Taylor) was born. He came to this country in 1808 when he was 11 years old, and became a citizen at age 25. There’s a lot more researching to do, but we have a beginning, although it’s an indirect connection. It’s fascinating to try and find the puzzle pieces. After that, it should be even more fun (and frustrating) to get the pieces to fit. I hope I don’t find any more about owning slaves. There’s lots more to look for from another branch (that g-g-g-g-g-grandfather I mentioned at the beginning, William,  born in 1733).

Meanwhile, anyone reading this who has experience and/or has suggestions for databases or how-tos, please let me know in the comments. (Thanks Grannymar in northern Ireland for the link you provided.)

Next destination for Wintersong posting will be the eastside Lake Song Resorts in Kerala, India.