Home to History: Nehrus move into Anand Bhawan


As an undergrad, I would often pass by Anand Bhawan, I knew its history as the abode of the Nehrus and also of history of modern India itself. I often passed by 9, Elgin Road too. It was to take decades to the fierce left wing student activist not that impressed with Nehrus to know the role that bungalow played.

Having his practice already well established, Motilal Nehru was now looking for a far better future for the family. Or was it a longing for the glorious past he had only heard of? The past of the family who came from a small village in Baramulla and made it big, getting to work with the Mughal Emperors, lost it all in 1857 then rebuilt it in the part in Khetri state and then lost it again. Look at it whichever way, Motilal was not going to be content in the crowded Mirgunj inside old Allahabad. His dreams were way bigger. Deep within, he saw himself as an emperor of all he could survey.

Then he made the first move, literally and moved out of his rented accommodation, 77 Mirgunj to Civil Lines to 9, Elgin Road in the Civil Lines where the new aristocracy of the Raj lived. Apart from being a rather courageous move, it was both an exit and an entry. An exit from the decaying old India for an entry into the new that was possible. It was, as I noted earlier, sort of a self exile, a self inflicted ex communication, from the rotting traditions, the orthodoxies that had reduced a great cultural past, as Swami Vivekanand once noted, into the kitchen. Mirgunj and Elgin Road are separated merely by a kilometer or so, but they were centuries apart then with hardly any shared heritage.

The new house, it seems, despite being an entry point into the new life, was also just a transit station. Getting more successful by the day, Motilal made a bigger move, literally, and bought a house at 1, Church Road. (Ouch! First marrying a girl from Lahore and then buying house at the Church Road- some do seem to have a point at Nehrus’ secularism!). Jokes apart, the new house was to be the epicentre of Indian Politics for decades to come.

Anand Bhawan, as he would name it, has a very interesting history of its own right from how it got the name. Legend has it that, Motilal asked Syed Akbar Hussain, the real name of the great Urdu poet Akbar Allahabadi, for suggestions on the name of his new house. Akbar Sahab did not even think and asked him to name it Anand Bhawan- the abode of happiness. It was a literal translation of Allahbadi’s own house- Ishrat Manzil. Nehrus and their love for diversity and Hindu Muslim unity! 

In an ironic twist of history, there are claims, including by Indira Gandhi, the house once belonged to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. The plaque on the house- also repeats the claim with even more interesting tale-

"Swaraj Bhawan originally belonged to Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the 19th century Muslim leader and educationist. At the house-warming party, Sir William Moor hoped that this large palatial home in Civil Lines of Allahabad would become the cement holding together the British Empire in India. Paradoxically, the house was bought by Motilal Nehru in 1900, and went on to become a cradle to the Indian Freedom Struggle which was to destroy British rule in India."

However, when historian David Lelyveld, intrigued by the claim tried to dig deep he could not find any reliable source of this information being true though, he like others found out that Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s son Syed Mehmood, a justice of the Allahabad High Court did indeed own and live in this house briefly and later sold it to one Raja Jaikishen Das. It was his son, Kunwar Permanand, from who had sold the building to Motilal Nehru.

So Anand Bhawan (now Swaraj Bhawan) did indeed have a history from even before Nehrus moved in even if the Syed Ahmed Khan tale is a mere legend! Greatness passes on buildings too, perhaps!

This post is part of #BlogchatterA2Z

This post is also part of the global Blogging from A to Z 2021


Post a Comment