Photographer Anuj Ambalal is retracing Gandhi’s March to Dandi at an exhibition
Years after the Salt March by Mahatma Gandhi, a photographer documents the journey that plays a pivotal role in Indian history
When you walk into the Art Gallery at the Kamala Devi Complex, India International Centre, Lodhi Road, the brightly-lit space can seem to reflect the past. This is, thanks to images displayed on the walls by Ahmedabad-based photographer Anuj Ambalal as part of ‘23 Grams of Salt: Retracing Gandhi’s March to Dandi’. The exhibition it will continue till May 24 is an attempt to highlight and retrace the Salt March, the non-violent demonstration led by Mahatma Gandhi in 1930 against the Salt Tax applied by the British. “You might call it my upbringing in Ahmedabad, but I have been interested in Gandhi as a national figure for the longest time,” shares Ambalal.
As part of his extensive research on Gandhi, he chanced upon a book titled On the Salt March by Australian researcher Thomas Weber. “The book contains historical anecdotes related to the march. It gave me great insight into both Gandhi and the campaign,” he says. However, what intrigued Ambalal more was the thought of how the route Gandhi marched through must have changed over 90 years.
To understand Gandhi’s journey between March and April 1930, Ambalal travelled from Ahmedabad to the coastal town of Dandi in 2018. Through the project—it took him two years to complete—Ambalal visited around 80 villages that were part of Gandhi’s iconic journey.
One might wonder about the exhibition’s unique name. Talking about why he calls it ‘23 Grams of Salt’, Ambala shares, “The entire act of Gandhi picking up a fistful of salt is actually symbolic since, at that time, there were no actual salt deposits in Dandi beach. He had actually picked up saline mud, which contained exactly 23 grams of salt in it.”
Capturing lost narratives
Along with photographs of dilapidated landscapes, empty buildings, as well as portraits of villagers, this exhibition also has on display copies of personal letters written by Gandhi during the march. In a corner, a screen showcases films of interviews of surviving witnesses of the March.
The exhibition is also a way of documenting narratives that play an extremely important role in Indian history. “In the past 90 years, many people have migrated. The relevance that these villages once held is slowly fading so it is important to document before they are lost forever,” explains Ambalal. However, the photographer proudly mentions that there are still traces of Gandhi left at many of these villages. Sharing one such story, he says, “The Dharamshala [a rest house for travellers] in which Gandhi stayed at Dabhan,
Gujarat has been demolished and there is a new building. But even today, whoever dies in the village is first brought to the building to pay respect to Gandhi.”
‘23 Grams of Salt’ portrays how India was one of the few countries, which attained independence majorly through non-violence. Sheela Reddy from Patparganj, who was at the venue, shares that the exhibition gives a different perspective of a leader in action. “He [Mahatma Gandhi] paid so much heed to the details and the people who were with him. This is an important quality of a leader,” Reddy concluded.
CHECK IT OUT
WHAT: ‘23 Grams of Salt: Retracing Gandhi’s March to Dandi’
WHEN: Till May 24, 11:00am-7:00pm
WHERE: India International Centre, Lodhi Estate