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Sevagram Ashram: Mahatma Gandhi telephoning from the office hut, 1938. Photo: Kanu Gandhi/ Gita Mehta, heir of Abha and Kanu Gandhi.

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Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel ; Subhash Chandra Bose on top; Sarojini Naidu ; Jawaharlal Nehru and Acharya Kripalani a congress meeting. Photo: Kanu Gandhi/ Gita Mehta, heir of Abha and Kanu Gandhi.

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Mahatma Gandhi during his train journey to Bengal, Assam and South India, Nov 1945 - Jan 1946. Photo: Kanu Gandhi/ Gita Mehta, heir of Abha and Kanu Gandhi.

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Birla House, Bombay: Mahatma Gandhi standing on a weighing scale, 1945. Photo: Kanu Gandhi/ Gita Mehta, heir of Abha and Kanu Gandhi.

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A memorial plate at the spot where Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated at Birla House, New Delhi, 1948. Photo: Kanu Gandhi/ Gita Mehta, heir of Abha and Kanu Gandhi.

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Abbottabad: Mahatma Gandhi Wth Kasturba Gandhi, 1938. Photo: Kanu Gandhi/ Gita Mehta, heir of Abha and Kanu Gandhi.

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Mahatma Gandhi with co workers walking in the countryside of the North West Frontier Province October 1938. Photo: Kanu Gandhi/ Gita Mehta, heir of Abha and Kanu Gandhi.

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Mahatma Gandhi walking with a large bamboo stick through the area effected by Hindu Muslim riots. Photo: Kanu Gandhi/ Gita Mehta, heir of Abha and Kanu Gandhi.

PHOTO MEMOIR

Kanu's Gandhi: a grandnephew's rare photos of the Mahatma

Vikas Kumar @CatchNews

He may have gained almost universal admiration but what Gandhi means to different individuals is entirely unique.

Each views his philosophy through the lens of their own intellect and ideology.

Few lenses were as unique as Kanu Gandhi's.

A photographer - and the Mahatma's grandnephew - he saw the great man at close quarters during the last, most eventful decade of his life.

Also read - Where was Mahatma Gandhi on 15 August, 1947 when India became independent?

This was a phase in which the Mahatma was often in the public eye - which made his private moments only more intriguing.

That was Kanu's privilege, to see intimately the man behind the Mahatma, and his photographs of that decade have immortalised those years of Bapu's life.

While he shared glimpses from that time over the years, for the first time the late photographer's work documenting that time has been compiled into a book titled Kanu's Gandhi. Published by Nazar Foundation, an NGO run by renowned photographers Prashant Panjiar and Dinesh Khanna, the book was compiled by Panjiar and another leading photographer Sanjeev Saith. The 150-page book features 92 rare pictures of the Mahatma.

Kanu gandhi book cover

The cover of the book

The photographer's own life was hardly uneventful. Born in 1917, Kanu's father Narayandas was Mahatma Gandhi's nephew and worked as a manager in Sabarmati Ashram. His mother Jamuna Gandhi shifted to the ashram when Kanu was two years old. That means Kanu spent his early childhood at Sabarmati Ashram.

In 1934, he moved with the Mahatma to Sevagram Ashram in Wardha, Maharashtra. He would perform small yet important tasks for the Mahatma. Soon, he started to assist him as stenographer as well, helping with Gandhi's correspondence. His easygoing temperament and towering build earned him the sobriquet of 'Bapu's Hanuman' in the ashram.

Bapu had initially refused to allow Kanu to pursue photography, citing lack of funds. When Kanu persisted, he requested Ghanshyam Das Birla to help him out.

Birla, the country's top industrialist at the time, gave Rs 100 to Kanu to get started - it was enough to buy him a Rolleiflex camera and film roll.

The Mahatma then laid down three conditions before allowing Kanu to photograph him; he would never use the camera flash, ask him to pose or ask the ashram for funds to pursue his hobby.

An elated Kanu accepted these terms - for which posterity will remain grateful, since his insider's view of the Mahatma would have remained hidden from public view if he had.

"These are very special photographs. They reflect the tribulations of a time when our nation was on the verge of independence. One can sense Bapu's concern from these images," says Panjiar.

"Kanu was not a professional photographer," he adds. "He was a common man with a flair for the camera. Yet, he has captured the great man with finesse. Sometimes, it feels as if the Mahatma is watching himself through these photographs. The Nazar Foundation is proud to publish Kanu Gandhi's work."

The foundation is also organising exhibitions of these photographs in different parts of the country, starting with Ahmedabad. We present a selection of rare images from the book.

Photographs by Kanu Gandhi/ Gita Mehta, heir of Abha and Kanu Gandhi.

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Vikas Kumar

Vikas Kumar @CatchNews