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10 February 1998

Dynasty keeps away from Feroze Gandhi's neglected tombstone

Coomi Kapoor  
ALLAHABAD, February 9: Feroze Gandhi's grave is just a few kilometres from Anand Bhawan, the original seat of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Dozens of tourists come daily to get a glimpse of the carefully preserved bedrooms and belongings of Pandit Nehru and Indira Gandhi at Anand Bhawan, Moti Lal Nehru's gracious mansion with its well manicured lawns. A book store offers a selection of pamphlets, comics and biographies on India's premiere political family.

But no one comes to place flowers at the neglected tombstone of the man who gave the Gandhis their surname. Some of Feroze's progeny have never visited the cemetery where Indira Gandhi's Parsi husband has his ashes interred. In fact long time residents of Allahabad are unaware of the grave site.

Feroze's tombstone is in one corner of Allahabad's Parsi cemetery, which has clearly seen better days. The garden has gone to seed, the weeds have got the better of the grass, the flower beds are empty and the soil cracked and parched. The cemetery's boundary wallis crumbling and pavement squatters are merrily drying cowdung cakes on the outer side. The gardener in charge says that the only member of Indira Gandhi's family whom he recalls ever visiting the grave is Maneka Gandhi who came once many years back.

According to Parsi custom bodies are either eaten by the vultures in places where there are dakmoos (towers of silence) or else buried. But in Feroze Gandhi's case it seems some members of his family placed his ashes in the grave evoking protest from orthodox Parsies, since Parsi bodies are not cremated.

Rustom Gandhi -- Feroze's eldest brother Fardiun's son -- is the only member of Feroze's family still living in Allahabad. He is philosophical about his uncle's neglected grave, pointing out that the Parsi Anjuman society in Allahabad tries it's best to maintain the cemetery, which he feels is in better condition than graveyards in many small towns.

There are only some 30 Parsies left in Allahabad. Families like the Gazdars and Shapurjees are extinct,others have migrated because the younger generation found employment opportunities elsewhere. The old gardener who used to tend the cemetery is dead; his son looks after the grounds perfunctorily.

If the graveyard looks neglected it is not so much because of lack of funds, but because the local authorities have been indifferent to several letters of complaint from the Parsi community that the neighbouring junk dealers jump over the wall and have been attempting to grab the land. Nobody prevents the walls being used for spreading cow dung.

``We are such a small community that no political party bothers about us and considers us a vote bank, '' Rustom says ruefully. He points out that Mulayam Singh Yadav, the former Chief Minister, had the huge old Christian cemetery fenced in at considerable government expense because the community has a substantial number of votes. But Allahabad's Parsies keep raising the height of the cemetery wall on their own to keep intruders out.

Does Indira Gandhi's family keepin touch with their Parsi relatives? ``We meet to the extent possible which is not very frequently. Mostly at weddings. Last February we met the family at Priyanka's wedding,'' Rustom says. ``Allahabad is not a town you normally come to except on a special occasion,'' he points out even if it was once the ancestral home of the Gandhis and a political hub of the Congress in pre-independence India.

Indira Gandhi used to come more frequently to Allahabad and when she did she made it a point to invite her Parsi relatives to Swaraj Bhawan for a cup of tea. Rajiv's visits to Allahabad were, however, few and far between. He came each time carrying ashes to scatter in the Sangam; first of his grandfather, then his mother and his brother.

``It may be out of sight out of mind but when we do meet it is with great cordiality,'' says Rustom, a businessman whose son is presently studying dentistry in Lucknow. Rustom goes to Delhi frequently on business trips but he does not call at 10, Janpath since he realises theyhave busy schedules.

``But when Rajiv was a pilot he was free all the time and it was no problem to drop in whenever you felt like and listen to music with him.'' Rustom like most of the family is surprised at Sonia's entry into politics. ``She never revealed any interest in politics to us. I would have thought that no way would she go into politics.'' Rustom himself is apolitical and his family is proud it never asked any favours of the Gandhis, though when people come to know of the connection they badger him with requests.

Copyright © 1998 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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