Soutik Biswas: Rare photos of the last ten years of Gandhi’s life

First posted October 3, 2020

India’s greatest leader had moved to a village called Segaon two years earlier. He had renamed it Sevagram or a village of service. He built an ashram, a commune which was home to “many a fateful decision which affected the destiny of India”. Gandhi had moved in with his wife, Kasturba, and some followers. There was also a steady stream of guests. Kanu Gandhi, a callow young man in his 20s and a grand nephew of the Mahatma, was also there. Armed with a Rolleiflex camera, he was taking pictures of the leader. He had wanted to become a doctor, but his parents had goaded him to join Gandhi’s personal staff doing clerical work, looking after accounts and writing letters at the ashram.

Kanu Gandhi had developed an interest in photography, but Gandhi had told him there was no money to buy him a camera. The nephew did not relent. Finally, Gandhi asked business-man Ghanshyam Das Birla to gift 100 rupees ($1.49; £1.00) to Kanu so that he could buy the camera and a roll of film. But the leader imposed three conditions on the photographer: he forbade him from using flash and asking him to pose; and made it clear that the ashram would not pay for his photography.

Gandhi and Kasturba at a wedding of a Christian man and an untouchable woman in Sevagram ashram, 1940.

Kanu made do with a stipend from a Gandhi acolyte who liked his work. He also began selling his pictures to newspapers. Over the years and until Gandhi’s assassination in 1948, Kanu Gandhi shot some 2,000 pictures of the greatest leader of the Indian Independence movement. For decades, his pictures remained in obscurity, once surfacing with a German researcher who began compiling and selling them… see/ read more