Agra: Once a hub of Gandhian activities and Sarvodaya workers, the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial, adjacent to the Mughal monument Etimad-ud-Daula, on the banks of the Yamuna river, is now visited mostly by petty criminals and vagabonds.
"We have not seen any serious Gandhian coming here or doing any social service. Once or twice a year, there is some activity. The Agra Municipal Corporation is supposed to be the custodian of this property, supposed to look after its maintenance. But all they do is use it as a storage facility," says Surendra Baghael, who lives in the neighbourhood.
This house, where Mahatma Gandhi stayed for 11 days in 1929 while under treatment of an Ayurvedic doctor here, was renovated and opened to the public sometime in 2008 by then Agra mayor Anjula Singh Mahaur, who had promised to make it a place worth a visit. Soon after the building was opened to the public, however, it fell into disrepair.
Sadly, locals use the vast open spaces around the building for defecation.
"No one visits, and anti-social elements have a field day here," said Bharosi, who fears for the security of his house nearby.
The memorial is close to the tomb of Etimad-ud-Daula ("pillar of the state") the title given to Mirza Ghiyas Beg, father of Nur Jahan, wife of Mughal Emperor Jahangir. Etimad-ud-Daula was also the grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal, the favourite wife of emperor Shah Jahan.
The tomb of Etimad-ud-Daula is a significant Mughal monument, said to have served as a model for the Taj Mahal. It was among the first buildings in the Mughal era to be constructed in white marble, not the usual red sandstone. Yet, it remains little frequented, and its fate has been shared by the memorial to the Father of the Nation too.
Besides, a new bridge across the Yamuna adjacent to the memorial has hampered the visual view, points out Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society.
The structure where Mahatma Gandhi lived had fallen to ruin. On repeated requests from Gandhians, it was restored by former municipal commissioner Shyam Singh Yadav.
"We have not just given it a facelift, we have also re-built parts of the house where Mahatma Gandhi stayed for 11 days in 1929 for treatment from a local Ayurvedic Vaidya," Yadav had then said.
In August 2008, the Gandhi memorial house was in the news after statues from a 300-year-old temple within the premises disappeared.
Officials had claimed last year that the centre to be developed here would serve as an insight into the life and times of the Mahatma for foreign tourists.
Senior journalist Rajiv Saxena suggests that the Archaeological Survey of India take over the maintenance of the memorial, and list it as a protected site.
"The building has an architectural grandeur; it overlooks the Yamuna and lies in the vicinity of a Mughal monument which might one day get world heritage status. It could become an important stop for tourists, like the Gandhi Memorial on Sabarmati in Ahmedabad," Saxena said.
Official records, however, offer little by way of information to travellers to the Gandhi memorial in the city; it is hard to find documentary evidence of Gandhi`s stay here.
However, the Ela Joshi Gazetteer of 1965 mentions Gandhi`s four visits to the city: in 1918, 1919, 1921, and 1929.