Mumbiram in Sevagram 2001
Rustam Bhavan, Sevagram.

Mumbiram has had an enduring admiration for Mahatma Gandhi. Besides he has almost exclusively used handmade paper made out of one-hundred percent cotton rags for his charcoal and watercolor art. He had developed a special friendship with the managers and workers at Pune´s iconic Handmade Paper Institute that was the first of its kind in Gandhijis “Khadi and Village Industries” program.

Spirit of Gandhiji that Mumbiram admired
Gandhiji´s hut in Sevagram
Gandhiji adored by the mill-workers of Manchester

Sometime in the year 2001, Mumbiram met a visitor from Switzerland in the German Bakery in Koregaon Park. This was Markus Müller, the director of the Museum of Papermaking in the city of Basel in Switzerland. He had traveled to India hoping to observe some of the traditional paper-making outfits that he had heard about back in Europe. Markus had met the right person. Markus visited Mumbiram´s downtown atelier and was fascinated to see the large collection of charcoal renderings of exotic indigenous folk people of India that were strikingly different from anything he had seen before. He spontaneously purchased one of these to take home to Switzerland. It was a great compliment coming from an art-lover from the city of Basel, which is renowned for its highly acclaimed art shows and exhibitions. Mumbiram happily took Markus to see the Handmade Paper Institute of Pune.

Hand Paper Institute Pune 1, Mumbiram
Hand Paper Institute Pune 2, Mumbiram
Hand Paper Institute Pune 3, Mumbiram
Hand Paper Institute Pune 4, Mumbiram

Then they both spontaneously decided to go to Sevagram in Wardha. There, Markus could visit the Papermaking Museum at Maganwadi and Mumbiram could visit Hanumangad, where his grand uncle Ramdasanudas once had an ashram in the Ramdasi tradition.

They arrived at Sevagram in the dark pre-dawn hours. They were given a large room with a large bathroom and veranda in the Rustam Bhavan Compound. Mumbiram thoroughly enjoyed the garden atmosphere that was dotted with tiled roofs of simple hut-like structures that were austere, efficient and remarkably functional.

Mumbiram in front of Rustam Bhavan in Sevagram
Activities in Sevagram Kitchen brought out the spirit of Gandhiji´s vision

Everybody shared work at the community kitchen and in the Gardens. There were long-time residents, and also international visitors from far corners of the world that were touched by the spirit of Gandhiji. Mumbiram was especially touched by the grace of one elderly ashramvasini that used to be deeply engrossed in  her spinning activity in the veranda of one of the huts. Everyone called her “Kusumtai”

Prayer grounds at Sevagram brought everyone together in the evening, Mumbiram
"Kusumtai" the Sthitapragya ashramvasi of Sevagram, Mumbiram

Markus accompanied an ashramvasi to the Magan Sangrahalaya in Wardha to observe the paper-making activities on display there. Mumbiram made a little journey to Vinoba´s Paramdham Ashram in Paunar. It was a wonderful meditative 5 mile walk through more or less forlorn countryside. When Markus and Mumbiram were back in their Rustam Bhavan room in the evening they found that the ashram management had entered their room in their absence. Besides their few clothes and books there was the charcoal portrait that Markus had bought from Mumbiram and three more charcoal portraits of Mumbiram´s muses that Mumbiram was carrying from Pune. Mumbiram was very uncomfortable about this happening. He was not sure what misunderstandings the ashramvasis might harbor on seeing these personal glimpses of his muses.

Luckily, when Markus and Mumbiram passed Kusumtai on their walk to the kitchen for the evening meal, Kusumtai enthusiastically volunteered, “We saw the pictures in your room, they are beautiful !”

Long live the spirit of Gandhiji ! Kusumtai had proactively alleviated Mumbiram’s anxiety. Long live non-violence ! This dispassionate spinner in Gandhiji´s ashram was not immune to Rasa of human emotions and human beauty. Mumbiram considered it the highest compliment he could get for his charcoal works. Here are three of those charcoals that Kusumtai was praising.

"Surekha has it figured out", Mumbiram
"She will also paint" by Mumbiram
"Salma will gladly wait" by Mumbiram

There is a commonly and very wrongly held belief that Gandhiji had no sense of humour or that he was insensitive to aesthetic considerations. Kusumtai had shown through her own example how a dispassionate equanimous Gandhian can also be a true Rasik. Mumbiram had decided then and there that he would be back in Sevagram for a longer stay.

Among other places, Mumbiram visited the hill called Hanumangad in Wardha. Mumbiram´s grandfather was a lawyer in Wardha. His brother was the saint-scholar Shri Ramdasanudas. Hanumangad had a Ram temple and the Suryadev Math, established by Shri Ramdasanudas around
1901. Now, there existed barely a trace of the bustling establishment it once was. Hardly anybody around there had heard about it. We will recount Mumbiram´s visit to Hanumangad in a separate post. There we will also describe Mumbiram´s meeting with the learned Rasa scholar Prof.Bhanudas Paranjpe who was the eldest son of Shri Ramdasanudas.