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Gandhi: a photographic exhibition

Dorothy - 27/09/02

I was privileged to visit the Gandhi photographic exhibition at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch in the complany of Zarine Malik, the daughter of the photographer D R D Wadia who took the photographs of Gandhi in the 1940s.

Zarine Wadia Malik's enthusiasm for the photographs would inspire any visitor to share her feelings, but more than that I felt awed by viewing the portraits in the presence of a woman who had grown up in Bombay in the 1940s as the next-door neighbour of Gandhi, the revered man of peace.

A series of fortuitous events and voluntary work by dedicated workers resulted in the exhibition being held in Christchurch. Piroja Wadia, Zarine's mother, attended Gandhi's prayer meetings in the 1940s, and her husband D R D Wadia, a skilled and highly reputed amateur photographer, accompanied her to the meetings and took photographs.

Zarine Malik talked to me of how she located the photos. When she was sorting through her father's photographs and negatives she found an empty album labelled as containing negatives of portraits of Gandhi. She undertook a search for the contents of the album and they were found at the Gandhi Institute in Berlin.

She was given the negatives and prints and brought them to Christchurch in 2001 when she came to visit her son, Dr Aditya Malik, Head of Religious Studies at the University of Canterbury. Dr Malik, Dr Jane Buckingham, Dr Dorothy McMenamin, Peter Harper, Andrew Major and other colleagues in the University's South Asia Seminar dedicated many hours to the preparation of the photos for the exhibition. Information panels accompany the photos and add greatly to the viewers' appreciation of their significance.

Dr Kate Dewes, who is the Coordinator of the Disarmament and Security Centre, was an appropriate choice for a speaker at the opening of the exhibition. She stressed how significant it was for the exhibition to be shown first in Christchurch.

"It is a great honour to speak instead of our Mayor Garry Moore about the recent declaration of Otautahi/ Christchurch as New Zealand's first 'Peace City', twenty years after we became the first nuclear free city. Our people have a long history of peacemaking.

"Waitaha and Maori brought with them, and applied the principles of Rongomaraeroa - the Mauri of Peace - thereby laying the foundations for the peace heritage we have today.

"We have been inspired by the non-violence movements led by Te Whiti, Gandhi and others. Christchurch citizens have helped lead many local and national peace groups such as the No More War Movement, the Christian Pacifist Society, and the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation.

"In 1962, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament helped collect over 82,000 signatures for the Southern Hemisphere Nuclear Free Zone petition and in 1973 the government of Norman Kirk took France to the World Court to try to stop French nuclear testing in the Pacific.

"In the early 1980s local groups spearheaded the nuclear free zone movement which resulted in Christchurch being declared the first nuclear free city in 1982 and New Zealand adopting the world's first nuclear free legislation.

"In 1986 a small group of New Zealanders, led by Harold Evans of Christchurch, began the World Court Project. A decade later the World Court advised that 'the threat or use of nuclear weapons was generally illegal under existing international law'. In 1998 Burnham Military Camp hosted peace talks between PNG and Bougainville Link to ending their nine-year conflict.

"The opening of this exhibition marks the beginning of Peace Week. It is also the UN Decade for Peace and Non-Violence for Children. Earlier this year the Mayor of Nagasaki visited Christchurch and the City co-hosted an exhibition of photos here which was seen by over 20,000 people.

"The time was ripe for the declaration of a 'Peace City' and for Christchurch to join the UNESCO Cities for Peace Network.

"Last month, the city endorsed our proposal to establish a peace park, website and library, put up peace signs, develop friendship links with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, explore the possibility of a peace museum, peace festivals and the creation of a conflict resolution centre, building on the success of the Bougainville talks. Peace Studies Stage I courses will also begin next year at Canterbury University.

"As Gandhi said, 'There is no way to peace. Peace is the Way.'

"There is an urgent need for the study of peace.

"I have just returned from New York where we have been preparing a UN Study on Disarmament and Non Proliferation Education. While there the New York Times featured a two page spread about horrific religious violence in Gandhi's adopted hometown of Ahmedabad in India.

"It also ran a 2 page spread entitled 'To Keep the Peace, Study Peace' outlining research by Dr Varshney, an Indian academic, comparing three riot-prone cities to three peaceful cities in a study of ethnic violence. Dr Varshney is now working with Gandhi's grandson Rajmohan to reduce the violence in India.

"Gandhi's message of non-violence is desperately needed throughout the world. We can help by ensuring that this exhibition is shown here and overseas. NHK filming tonight to show in Japan next week.

"As Gandhi said in 1938: 'A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.' He and other leaders in peace and non-violence have certainly proven this and he continues to inspire and lead us through his example today. "

Funding assistance for the exhibition
Some of the funding for the exhibition came from the Peace and Disarmament Education Trust which was established with the compensation paid by the French Government to the New Zealand Government after the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior to support educational initiatives for disarmament and arms control.

The photographs
The photographer took a range of photographs and those selected for the exhibition show Gandhi himself in different moods, alone, and with groups. Photos taken in 1944 include Gandhi at prayer, and his hands signing a photograph, Gandhi with his secretary Pyarilal, and with a group at Pune, with young companions, and with Sumati Morarjee at Gandhi's Ashram, Gandhigram. There is a photo of D R D Wadia showing his photos to Gandhi.

Other portraits are of prominent leaders in the Indian community who were involved in the movement to gain independence for India and in Gandhi's activities.

There is a portrait of Nehru, a pre-eminent leader of the Indian National Congress and later the first Prime Minister of independent India. This must have been taken before August 1943 or after June 1945 as between those dates Nehru was in prison for his part in Gandhi's 1942 Quit India Movement.

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a devout Muslim, was the great political leader of the Pathans of the Northwest Frontier Province of British India, and a firm believer in non-violence. He took a leading part in all the political movements launched by Gandhi and the Congress, and like Gandhi was opposed to the partition of the country. He was also known as the Frontier Gandhi.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah was a successful lawyer and a leading Indian nationalist. He was the leader of India's Muslims and President of the Muslim League from 1935 -1947. He was the chief spokesman for those who demanded the partition of the subcontinent after the withdrawal of the British, and became Pakistan's first President.

Gandhi and his wife were detained in the Aga Khan Palace at Pune in 1942 because of the Quit India movement. After the death of his wife in prison, Gandhi was realeased in 1944. He went from Pune to Bombay to meet Jinnah. Talks were held at Jinnah's residence, but no agreement was achieved between Gandhi who wanted India to remain as one country, and Jinnah and the Muslim League who had supported the two nation theory since 1940. Gandhi accepted the right of self-determination through a plebiscite, even a recession, but thought the country's independence from Britain was the first requirement. Jinnah wanted the establishment of Pakistan first and the independence of the country to follow. The breakdown of the talks led to political frustration in India.

One portrait shows Gandhi and Jinnah together in Bombay in 1944, another photo is of the bay window of Jinnah's house where the above meetings were held.

Pyarilal was an associate of Gandhi for a long time and was later his secretary. One photo shows him addressing a crowd at a prayer meeting at Juhu, Bombay, where Gandhi had an ashram (spiritual retreat).

The wide circle of Gandhi's supporters is shown by portraits taken at meetings, at a village welcome, with young companions, with Pyarilal and other supporters at Rungta House, and with Sumati Morarjee at Gandhigram. Sumati Morarjee, a close associate of Gandhi was a leading figure in the shipping industry. She was the first woman in the world to head an organisation of ship owners and later was elected vice-president of the World Shipping Federation.

There are two display cases, one showing books about Gandhi and one showing treasured objects lent by Zarine Wadia Malik. Among the books is one called "Mahatma Gandhi" opened at a page with a photograph showing a silhouette of Gandhi. Zarine's mother, Zarine and her sister Leila are walking behind Gandhi away from the camera on the Tableland, Panchgani.

Among the treasures in the second display case are:

  • an Urdu newspaper article with a photo of Gandhi taken by D R D Wadia
  • awards for photography given to D R D Wadia
  • a letter to D R D Wadia from Nehru
  • an invitation to a preview of Wadia's photographs to be held at the
    Norlyst Art Gallery in New York in October and November 1945
  • a handkerchief woven by Gandhi in Dehradun prison in 1940-1941
  • cotton threads spun by Gandhi
  • glass etching of Gandhi by René Lalique
  • a postcard to Wadia's wife Piroja, dated 22 January 1948, a few days before his assassination on 30 January
  • the negative album which had held the negatives of the photos of Gandhi
  • a talisman given to Piroja by Gandhi.

I feel that it is fitting to close this article with the words of the talisman.

"I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt or the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words will it lead to Swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melting away."

Swaraj means freedom.

To read more about the opening of the exhibition go to the article from the University of Canterbury Chronicle about the opening of the exhibition.

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