Last Gandhi Katha begins today, villagers offer free food and stay

For the last "Gandhi Katha: A five-day discourse on Mahatma Gandhi" starting on January 26, Gujarat Vidyapith has assembled all its strength at Sadra, a small village in Dehgam taluka of Gandhinagar district where the university has two extended campuses besides one at nearby Randheja village.

Altogether, Sadra is hosting about 3,000 to 4,000 people between January 26 and January 30. Guests have begun arriving, mostly from different regions in Gujarat. The katha will end on January 30, the death anniversary of Gandhi.

Around 150 guests are expected to assemble at Sadra for five days. Residents of Sadra and other neighbouring villages will play hosts to these guests instead of the organisers and will offer them food and lodging at their own homes.

"We have prepared a list of guests and their hosts. There are all kinds of people, rich and poor, Hindus and Muslims. The idea is to give our guests a chance to see the village life and understand each other," said Tejas, an employee of the university at Sadra.

"We have not invited people from other states since the katha will be held in Gujarati language. However, it is an open function and everyone is invited," said Sudarshan Iyenger, the vice-chancellor of Vidyapith.

Started by 88-year-old veteran Gandhian Narayan Desai in 2004, the katha at Sadra will be 108th, the last in its original form.

To make the occasion grand, Gujarat Vidyapith founded by Mahatma Gandhi in Ahmedabad in 1920 has left no stone unturned.

Around 1,500 students of Vidyapith are camping at 40 villages in and around Sadra under National Service Scheme (NSS), contacting the villagers and spreading information about the katha as well as Gandhian thoughts.

The narrator Narayan Desai, who also happens to be the chancellor of Vidyapith, said the legacy of katha will survive and a meeting would be held on January 31 to decide the next format.

"I am old and suffering from several health complications such as diabetes and blood pressure. Many people have suggested that five days is too long. I hope the katha survives, maybe in short and concise form," Desai said.

Desai is the son of Gandhi's personal secretary Mahadev Desai and has memories of his childhood spent with Gandhi. He had authored a biography of Gandhi entitled Maru Jivan Ej Mari Vani (My Life is My Message).

The katha, which began in 2004, is mostly is a narrative of Gandhi and events related to him. It began from the campus of Gujarat Vidyapith but soon travelled across more than a dozen states and abroad, including England, the US and Canada.

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