23 Grams of Salt: Retracing Gandhi’s March to Dandi

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 Anuj Ambalal speaks on his book, 23 Grams of Salt

On Martyrs Day, January 30, the Heritage Trust, Vadodara, organized an illustrated talk by photographer Anuj Ambalal, who has retraced the 380 kms long Dandi Salt March from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi, undertaken by Mahatma Gandhi 90 years earlier in 1930, in his book, 23 Grams of Salt, published by Navajivan, Ahmedabad.

Anuj’s detailed photographic and narrative documentation of all the villages and the dharamshalas and Yatri Niwas that Gandhi and his followers rested at and the maidans and open spaces where he addressed the admiring crowds, is an evocative and telling photo-essay on the state of the Dandi trail today. Anuj Ambalal is an Ahmedabad-based photographer with no formal training in photography, nor in his other passion, furniture design. He has had a number of solo and group shows in both fields.

The Dandi March was the major turning point in India’s freedom struggle, setting the stage for more aggressive, yet non-violent, political defiance of the British by Gandhi. The Dandi route was planned and made operational by Sardar Patel who calculated the walking miles per day and identified places for the marchers to stay the nights, access meals and for Gandhi to address meetings at every halt.

As a child, Anuj had heard stories of the march from his grandparents about the valour of the brave satyagrahis who dared the British government and walked all the way to Dandi, across fields, village lanes, crossing rivers and streams, up and down hillsides. Stories of how the striding Mahatma captivated the nation and how the might of the British Empire was humbled by a pinch of salt.

But these stories came alive when Anuj read Gandhian scholar Thomas Weber’s book, On the Salt March, and started thinking about those buildings, villages, and people. He thought about the existence of all and this curiosity turned into an obsession and led him on his own journey in search of the Dandi sites. He was supported in this endeavor by Vivek Desai, Managing Trustee, Navajivan Trust, who finally published the quest in the form of a book and by Rijuta Mehta who sensitively copyedited his text.

As Anuj puts it, “The book is in remembrance of a unique march that was conceived and led by a very unique man”. The Dandi Salt March trail is an extremely important modern heritage site with reference to our Independence.

With some socio-political determination, valid research, historical sensitivity, and strategic marketing, the trail can still be salvaged and it can work as a very significant tourist destination in Gujarat, bringing alive the hundreds of villages that dot the trail, introducing cycling tours as well in addition to walking tours. With this talk, Heritage Trust will be highlighting more issues of contemporary heritage as well.

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