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Four men sit on either side of a table — three on one side, one on the other — inside a small room at the treasury office in the Faizabad district collectorate. At one end of the table, against the wall, is a huge tin trunk from which workers take out items, one by one, gingerly, and place them on the table: brass glasses, a water pot, an axe, a cup.
This is one of the 24-odd boxes containing the belongings of Gumnami Baba alias Bhagwanji, a seer who is said to have lived a solitary life in Faizabad and Ayodhya for nearly a decade until his death on September 16, 1985, and who, some believe, was Subhas Chandra Bose living in disguise.
Starting February 26, the team in the treasury office has been unlocking these boxes and tallying the items in them against an existing inventory of the things recovered from Gumnami Baba’s house after his death. According to a 2013 order of the Allahabad High Court and subsequent directions from the Uttar Pradesh government, these belongings of Gumnami Baba will be kept on display in one of the seven galleries at the newly built International Ram Katha Museum and Art Gallery in Ayodhya. The museum had earlier been housed in a smaller building and a sprawling new museum building is likely to be inaugurated by Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav next month. The boxes had been housed in the treasury office since Gumnami Baba’s death and are being opened for the first time in 30 years.
By Friday, the nine-member team at the treasury — appointed by Faizabad District Magistrate Yogeshwar Ram Mishra — had opened 20 boxes. The team includes Additional DM Ram Niwas Sharma; Shakti Singh, in whose house Gumnami Baba died; the officials of the state culture department who are setting up the museum; and officials of district treasury, police department, revenue department and public works department.
One by one, the items on the table are put on a cloth under the focus of studio lights, photographed and videographed. The process of the item being photographed is also videographed. And then, the item is placed aside.
“Currently, we are checking all his belongings and matching them with this inventory that was made in 1985, a few days after the Baba died. Once this cataloging is done, we will keep them in the treasury itself. There are all sorts of things in these boxes. Most of them are household items like clothes, bedsheets, quilts etc,” says Ram Niwas Sharma, the ADM.
Once all the items are catalogued, a team of culture department officials and museum experts will examine all the items.
Among the items retrieved from the boxes are a large amount of homeopathic and allopathic medicines, wooden sandals, dozens of clothes, including inner wears, and several currency notes of denomination of 1, 10 and 20.
Last Tuesday, the officials took out a pen made in USA, three foreign-made lighters and thermometers, a Philips transistor, a police manual, needles, and several other things. They also found books such The Last Days of the British Raj by Leonard Mosley, History of the Freedom Movement in India Part 1, 2 and 3 by RC Majumdar, The Speeches of Charles Dickens by R H Shepherd, The Lessons of History by Will Durant and Ariel Durant, India Wins Freedom by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Netaji Through German Lens by Nanda Mookerjee, Himalayan Blunder by Brigadier John Dalvi, a copy of Hanuman Chalisa, Bhagwad Gita and many more.
“The belongings are extraordinary for a sadhu. Most of the items are foreign-made. They were also neat and organised. Most of the stuff is either from abroad or Kolkata,” says Shakti Singh, who had rented out his house to Gumnami Baba in the early 1980s and where he ultimately breathed his last. In 2010, Shakti Singh had filed a writ petition seeking conservation of the seer’s belongings and the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court had passed orders, asking the UP government to conserve the Baba’s belongings and send them to a museum.
Officials say the boxes yet to be opened contain much of the literature Gumnami Baba left in his house. These, they say, include the articles recovered from Gumnami Baba’s house in 1985, and later collected by the Mukherjee Commission, which was set up to probe the death of Subhash Chandra Bose. According to the inventory, these unopened boxes also contain rare photographs — one of Bose saluting in his uniform, another of his parents Janakinath and Prabhavati and his siblings, and of his colleagues from the Indian National Army.
Officials in the treasury office say that most of the books, magazines and newspapers that have been retrieved so far have comments, ostensibly scribbled by Gumnami Baba. The comments are sarcastic or dismissive of how the newspapers of the day had reported on contemporary politics.
Besides, the boxes have revealed dozens of letters and postcards written in Bengali and English, most of them sent from Kolkata and many by Bose’s INA colleague Pabitra Mohan Roy. Newspapers such as The Illustrated Weekly of India, Pioneer and several Bengali magazines, besides a large number of maps were found.
The High Court bench had in 2013 noted that no “finding may be recorded” that the Baba was Bose merely on the basis of Netaji’s photographs and literature in Gumnami Baba’s possession. But the court, after a perusal of the list of items taken by the Mukherjee Commission, also said, “He was not a man of ordinary stature”.
While many think nothing worthwhile will come out of the reopening of Gumnami Baba’s belongings, about a dozen people who have pressed for an inquiry into the identity of Gumnami Baba and who are convinced that he was Subhash Chandra Bose, hope the new exercise will finally lead to something concrete.