Searching for Cotton Punys

I and my family were in Gujarat in the first week of March this year. Apart from the other sights, we visited the famous Sabarmati Ashram which was home to Gandhiji, the Father of the Nation. While roaming the Ashram, I observed spinning yarn with Charkha, a simple machine with which Gandhiji had dreamt of changing the economic condition of the poor of this country. I found the work very interesting and wanted to buy a Charkha. Only one piece was available on that day in the store in the Ashram so we decided to wait as we were to come back to the Ashram next week after we finish our other sightseeing in this state.

We returned to the Ashram on the next Saturday and bought the Charkha and a bundle of cotton punys. Armed with the machine I approached Lata Ben who was sitting on the verandah of the house where Gandhiji lived. She was spinning yarn and also teaching the interested tourists how to spin. She taught me for about 10 minutes, right from how to open the machine, its various parts and how to spin yarn. Ishani, my daughter did some videography while she was teaching us.

We returned to Noida the same night. After a couple of days, I tried to spin yarn using the machine. Initially, it seemed to be a tough task. However, with little patience and practice, and also some help from YouTube videos, I could learn the tricks within two days. Since then, it was a routine for me to spin at least a couple of hours every day.

I had bought only one bundle of cotton punys at the store at Sabarmati. It was exhausted in about 15 days. I thought I would be able to procure the same in Delhi easily. But this was not the case. No one sells here in Noida or Delhi – as far as Google told me. For about four days, I was idle and felt bad. Suddenly it clicked for me that may the Khadi shops sell this item. There is only one such authorized shop in Sector 27. I went there yesterday morning. The shop was closed for audit. However, I enquired from the workers inside if they store cotton punys. No was the answer. Then where I could get them? You have to go to Rajghat. Rajghat? That is where Gandhiji was cremated and it is a memorial. How come there would be any shop? No answer. I decided to explore myself. At least there was a clue.

Today I went to Rajghat. I got down at Indraprastha metro station and took a shared auto which dropped me just before the Rajghat traffic signal. As I took the footpath, I noticed the board of Gandhi Peach Foundation. I entered the premises and asked the guard if any shop selling cotton punys is there. He said no and guided me to the Gandhi Museum which was the next building. I went there, asked the guard who indicated towards a shop in a corner of the building. I went there. The shop was selling only literature items. I asked the lady behind the counter. She was unaware and asked me to inquire from the manager in the next room. The manager was busy with two more persons. I apologetically barged in and repeated my query. He was polite and told me to go to the next building, Gandhi Sahitya Sabha. I moved out of this premises and after a garbage dump could locate the building which was maintained shabbily. I entered the premises. There was no one at the counter. A very old lady was sitting in a room and chatting with another lady. I begged her excuse and asked where I would get cotton punys. She directed me to go to the corner of the building where there is a staircase to the first floor. I moved towards the corner. A dog followed me wagging its tail and left me as soon as I started climbing the stairs. It was a dilapidated building and negligence in upkeep was evident everywhere, on the staircase, on walls, on doors, and on windows.

The staircase led me to an open terrace. There were rooms in L shape on two sides of the terrace. An old gentleman, heavy built, attired in a kurta and lungi, sitting beside a dining table under a corrugated asbestos sheet roof having a ceiling fan running at full speed, was reading a Hindi newspaper. I approached him, and after due salutations, I asked him if I can get the cotton punys here. He was affirmative and I sighed relief. I told him a little of my story and how I was searching for the cotton punys, in stores, and in the internet. He informed me that no one keeps this item, not even the Khadi stores and that is the irony.

He was Mr. Vijay Kumar Handa, must be an octogenarian, barely able to walk with his torso always in a bent position. In that gait, he walked to a room, took out the key to the store, opened the store and asked how many bundles did I require. I asked for two bundles for the present. It cost just Rs.35 per bundle. In a while, I asked him if a TV channel had made a short documentary on him and his activities. He was affirmative. Immediately I could recall that I had seen the programme on a TV channel. He was though nonchalant about the programme. In one sentence he lamented the present scenario about the exercise. He encouraged me by assuring of any assistance in future.

When I came out of the premises with two cotton puny bundles in my hand, I wondered about the situation. It seemed really hopeless. But my conscience told me to march on come what may. Maybe Gandhiji just thought like that, believed entirely and remained on that path forever.

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