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The Kraal - Mahatma Gandhi's house in Johannesburg

India once again gunning for 'The Kraal' - Mahatma Gandhi's house in Johannesburg where he had lived a century ago. Just few weeks back, Coal India Limited, was given the go ahead by the central government to acquire the property and convert it into a Gandhi memorial. India's earlier attempt to acquire the heritage property was unsuccessful.

Coincidentally, last week Joseph Lelyveld's new book 'Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and his Struggle with India' provoked much controversy. The book which has an ambiguous reference of Mahatma's relation with Hermann Kallenbach. There is an interesting connection between India's desire to acquire the Kraal and Hermann Kallenbach controversy.

The house was designed by the architect Hermann Kallenbach - Gandhi's great friend and supporter - it was called The Kraal because it combined African elements in a European dwelling, says Eric Itzkin in his book, Gandhi's Johannesburg. The men shared the dwelling on and off between 1908 and 1911.

"The close relationship between Gandhi and Kallenbach grew stronger when he joined his architect friend at The Kraal, in 1908. Gandhi was then beginning to pay less attention to his law practice in order to focus on his protest. It was a time when both men were embracing an ever more austere way of living." writes Mike Alfred in a book "Johannesburg portraits: from Lionel Phillips to Sibongile Khumalo."

In one communication Kallenbach recounted, "Cooking was practically done away with. Raw groundnuts, dates, bananas, lemons and olive oil composed our usual diet...our ambition was to live life of the poorest people."

After learning that the house, where Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi had stayed from 1908 to 1910 as a young lawyer, was on sale, Coal India Ltd, a government of India undertaking, had attempted to buy it in August 2009 but it was snapped up by a French tourism company in an auction.

The French owner intends turning the renamed Satyagraha House into "a unique project never accomplished anywhere in the world". It will be a bed and breakfast, where people will be able to explore Gandhi's principles.

The site is important because it was during his time here that Gandhi "made the concept of satyagraha". The philosophy focuses on leading a struggle without violence, but with meditation, prayer and fasting.
 
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