It is one of the best kept secrets.
Of course, some old timers have known about the fact. But officially no one said anything about it. Neither the consecutive Congress Governments, nor the Congress Party itself, ever accepted it. And in all these years, whenever anyone tried to mention it, mysteriously it was frowned at. In the recent times, the online mentioning was either blocked or deleted from the digital space.
People wondered why India’s first Prime Minister never had a memorial, built on his birthplace!
Bapu has it, Bose has it, Ambedkar to Abdul Kalam, everyone has a memorial built at his place of birth, but Nehru has Shantivan , where he was cremated.
Two years back, the then Chief Minister of Uttarakhand Vijay Bahuguna, built a memorial at Dehradun Jail, where Nehru was jailed or interned on a few occasions, but Nehru’s birthplace in Allahabad, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, mysteriously remained un-mentioned!
Even this year, when the Party has celebrated the 125th Birthday of Jawaharlal Nehru, with much fanfare, there were processions, essay competitions, distributions of Laptops and Tabs for the Students, big celebration at the Party Office and big happenings as usual, at Anand Bhavan, Allahabad… but no one visited the place, where Nehru was born!
Jawaharlal Nehru, who was a prolific writer, was almost silent about his birth place in his Autobiography! He wrote about his childhood: “My uncle attached himself to the newly established High Court, and, when this court moved to Allahabad from Agra, the family moved with it. Since then Allahabad has been our home, and it was there, many years later, that I was born
He further elaborated: “I was born in Allahabad on November 14, 1889 or, according to the Samvat calendar, Margshirsh Badi 7, 1946”.
He later elaborated the Anand Bhavan years, but no mentioning of the location of his birthplace!
On 16 October 1962, Melvin E. Levision, the Associate Professor of Education at Brooklyn College, New York, addressed a questionnaire to Jawaharlal Nehru about his life.
One of the questions was whether there was any written description of the house, the grounds and the environment of the residence in Allahabad’s Mirganj area , where Nehru was born on 14 November 1889.
Nehru replied briefly: “I do not know of any special description. The Mirganj house is no more. It was pulled down for some city improvement.”
In the eighties, Ram Nihor Rakesh, the MP from Chail, neighbouring Allahabad, created a sensation in the Lok Sabha, by saying that a portion of the house in which Nehru was born in Allahabad was now being used as a brothel.
Now defunct news magazine ‘Sunday’ reported about the matter that time and wrote that, the place Mirganj in the heart of the city of Allahabad, is in the close proximity of the city’s main business area, the Chowk.
Describing the place, the magazine wrote that , there were sex workers everywhere, queuing up around their doorways of the ‘kothas’ on either sides of the crowded, narrowed lanes and bi-lanes off the Zero Road, in the vicinity of an old time favourite Rupavani Cinema.
Entering the area, one can find an old temple, and the noticeable local Police Outpost. The Police outpost Naka Badshahi Mandi comes under Kotwali Police Station.
The journalist was rather surprised to see the god as well as the police, seemingly the joint sentinels at the threshold the red-light area!
Proceeding further through the constricted lane and then taking a sharp right turn, within a short distance at one corner lies the undeclared birthplace of Jawaharlal Nehru!
According to an old Congress leader Awasthi, the family stayed in this house almost ten years after Nehru’s birth.
Jawaharlal’s two sisters Krishna and Vijaylakshmi were also born at this house at 77 Mirganj.
The then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Hemavati Nandan Bahuguna had reportedly asked the Allahabad Commissioner in the seventies to construct a fitting Memorial at Jawaharlal Nehru’s birthplace in Mirganj. However, nothing has been done either by the successive governments or by the Congress Party itself, so far.
Also, it had been reported that, all the relevant records regarding the exact location of the house were missing from the Government files!
Old timers in Allahabad say that most part of the old house was demolished during a city improvement drive by the ‘Allahabad Development Authority’, in the year 1931, during British period and the remaining part of the house was removed completely in the seventies, once the Nehru-Gandhi family desired not to be associated with the place!
The official records regarding the house were supposedly with the Nagar Nigam till late seventies, but they were not available in the official recording now, as the Congress Party and the Nehru family were not interested in that part of the history.
Mirganj is in fact a major part of the commercial district of the city, in the vicinity of Chowk and Sabji Mandi.
Four to five lanes in the area are completely taken by the sex workers, who come mostly from UP and Bihar, and there are the Nepalese and Bangladeshi girls too. There is a Nepali Mohalla, named after the girls from that particular region.
Apart from being the traditional red-light area in the city, it is also the hub of the trade in cotton, sugar, daal, jaggery, ghee, oil and particularly silver and gold ornaments. This is also the largest Sarafa Bazaar(Jewellery Market) in Allahabad. People come here from all over the district and adjoining areas to buy ornaments.
Moti Lal Nehru shifted from Agra to Allahabad in 1886 and as a struggling Vakil at Allahabad Cutcherry, stayed at 77, Mirganj. In those days, perhaps the area was known as Meer Sarai. The house then belonged to another Kashmiri person, Jagmohan Lal Gurtu. He had rented the place to several tenants. The Nehrus stayed there till the end of 1898 and Jawaharlal was born on November 14, 1889 at this place.
Since the earlier days it was a kind of mixed locality. The sex workers and their Kothas were often juxtaposed with residential areas. Nehrus used to live in such a house surrounded by ill famed locality. Ayodhya Nath and Hriday Nath Kunjru used to live in nearby Mahajani Tola.
The place was sold several times. A part of the house was later bought by a well known local’Tawaif’ (courtesan) Lali Jaan. Who built a Shia place of worship, Imambada, which still remains there in a dilapidated state.
At a little farther the famous courtesan Chappan Churi and the Thumri singer Janaki Bai were staying in those days.
In the row, there was a property, which accommodated a local hospital. A part of which has later been converted to historical Kesar Vidyapeeth.
People who run shops on the ground floor of the Kesar Vidyapeeth Inter College, accept that the stigma attached to the place is still strong and that’s why, neither the Nehru family, nor the Congress Party, ever was interested to build a Nehru Memorial there.
The ‘Allahabad Improvement Trust’ became the ‘Allahabad Nagar Nigam’ (Allahabad Municipal Corporation) after independence. To build a through way, by then the Improvement Trust had already demolished a major part of the house.
Its exact location today is disputed, but the locals point out to a blue building, which was later built on the most possible site.
It’s not exactly known, whether Jawaharlal Nehru, after he had grown up, ever visited his birthplace.
The only visual relic of the place is now a replica of the two-storied building at 77 Mirganj, most probably build by the students of Allahabad’s Kayasth Pathshala, during a school exhibition .
Even today, the families who are living in the locality, for many years now, are desperately seeking to shift to some ‘respectable’ locality.
To get the Daughters married is always a problem. Relatives avoid visiting the area. Often people get into the buildings, in search of girls! Antisocial activities are the regular affairs and there are frequent police raids.
Many families have sold out their ancestral properties in the area and shifted to the nearby localities like Atarsuian or Beniganj.
But there are nearly 800-1,000 shops in the entire area, and the business is running quite well.
Only problem is with the residential families. Specially those, who have kids or grown up girls.
Many have installed signboards on the doorways or at the ground floor, depicting: “This is a residential property”! To keep away the unexpected people as visitors.
After gaining some success in his legal profession, Motilal Nehru, moved out of the badnaam basti to a respectable location at 9 Elgin Road. The place was close to the historical Alfred Park (popularly known as Company Garden, now Chandrasekhar Azad Park).
Allahabad Court was till then a local Court. The High Court was shifted from Agra to Allahabad in the year 1926.
Gaining success in the legal profession, Motilal shifted to a big bungalow, now known as Swaraj Bhawan, in Colonelganj area in 1899, the place was originally owned by a pro British Muslim Gentleman Sheikh Faiyaz Ahmed, and was named as ‘Israt Manzil’ then.
Later the property was bought by one Mr. Pandey. It later became a property within the estate of Raja Jai Kisen Das. Motilal Nehru later purchased the place for Rs. 19,000.
Suggested by Mahatma Gandhi, Motilal gave the bungalow to All India Congress Committee in 1930. Motilal Nehru had by then, built a new two-storied building adjacent to Swaraj Bhawan and had named it Anand Bhawan.
The family shifted to Anand Bhawan in the year 1928. The place houses a museum now, with exclusive Nehru family memorabilia.
By Deep Basu
Images are author’s self-contribution.