Getting to Know Gandhi

When I was eight years old, my dad took me to see the movie Gandhi. I suppose Dad thought it would be an educational experience. Unfortunately I don’t remember anything about the movie except that it was long (there was an intermission!), Gandhi always seemed to be dying, and the bloody riot scenes made me cry.

Before I moved to Joburg, I didn’t know that Gandhi once lived in South Africa. In fact, he lived here for 20 years. Gandhi’s passive resistance movement wasn’t born in India, but across the ocean in South Africa.

I recently spent the night in a house where Gandhi lived more than 100 years ago. I think I absorbed some of Gandhi’s spirit there. After all, he was a Jozi expat just like me.

The Satyagraha House in Norwood, where Gandhi lived in 1908-1909. Gandhi’s movement was called Satyagraha, roughly translated as ‘truth force’.

From 1908 to 1909, Gandhi lived with his friend Hermann Kallenbach (a Lithuanian-born architect) in a thatched-roof house in what is now the Jozi suburb of Norwood. In this house, Gandhi and Kallenbach pursued a life of simplicity and worked with Gandhi’s inner circle — his Satyagrahis — to develop the passive resistance movement. Read more about Gandhi’s time in South Africa.

After decades of private ownership, the Norwood house was recently purchased and restored by a French travel company called Voyageurs du Monde. This year it opened as the Satyagraha House, a guesthouse/museum that is a tribute to Gandhi’s life in South Africa.

My visit couldn’t have happened at a better time. I’m on a serious quest for peace and tranquility right now. And the Satyagraha House delivered.

An aerial view of the Kallenbach Cottage, my home for the evening. It was built by Hermann Kallenbach himself. The cottage sleeps four but I was the only one staying that night.

The Satyagraha House guest rooms are luxuriously simple, conveying Gandhi’s message to ‘live simply so that others may simply live’. The furniture is comfortable, the decor attractive yet purely functional. There is nothing extra. I slipped on some Gandhi-style thongs and spent the afternoon snoozing on the bed and reading books about the Mahatma.

These are the most comfortable shoes on earth. (Note: Photographing your own feet is really hard.)

My Gandhi-chic bathroom. The shower head (unseen) is the only thing I didn’t like at the Satyagraha House. It sprayed water every which way, in a fine mist that dampened the room but didn’t get me clean. The staff have promised to fix it.

When I’d had enough solitary reflection, I wandered the main house and learned about Gandhi. The walls are covered with old photos and captions recounting Gandhi’s life in South Africa. I like museums that cover well-contained topics like this. You can read everything in an hour. I learned a lot but didn’t feel like I’d been run over by a truck afterward.

Gandhi loved Joburg, too.

Dinner was vegetarian and alcohol-free. (Sorry boozers, we’re living like Gandhi here.) I had my own cozy table in one of the smaller rooms of the house.

Clockwise from top: African rice, mashed butternut, fried soya strips, and spicy mixed vegetables. I also had a starter of creamed spinach soup with mushrooms and a scrumptious apple crumble for dessert. 

Every staff member at the Satyagraha House is incredibly nice and I received impeccable service. At dinner I had a lovely chat with Mike, my cheerful waiter, and Hope, the talented chef.

Hope and Mike.

And after dinner, my favorite vacation perk: turn-down service.

I expected a dark bedroom with sheets still wrinkled from my afternoon nap. Instead I found soft lighting, neatly creased covers, and my overnight bag stowed in the corner (rather than the middle of the floor, where I left it). Ahhhh.

The next morning I had a 7:00-a.m. meditation lesson. I regretted my decision when the alarm went off. I was nervous. What if I couldn’t meditate?

It turned out to be the best part of my stay. I meditated in the Satyagraha House loft, where Gandhi himself slept. Tony, my teacher, made me totally at ease and I felt peaceful and focused during the first 25-minute meditation exercise. (Never mind that my foot went completely numb at the end. Tony and I had a good laugh over that.)

Tony and I discussed many profound things during my lesson. He’s a great person and a fantastic teacher. If you’re interested in scheduling a lesson or want to learn about Tony’s other projects, you can find him here: www.lowtech.co.za.

During the second exercise, Tony spoke quietly as we meditated. He talked about Gandhi’s commitment to non-violence and promoting peace. He spoke of the influence Gandhi had over Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. Then Tony spoke directly to me.

‘Think about the peace that Gandhi taught, which you’re feeling here in this room,’ Tony said. (I’m paraphrasing. I couldn’t record Tony’s exact words while meditating.) ‘Take Gandhi’s peace and strength inside of you, and hold it there.’ I kept my eyes closed and tried to feel strong and peaceful.

‘Now, think of a person in your life — a family member, a close friend, even an enemy — who is suffering and needs peace. Focus on that person. Send that person the peace that you’re feeling.’

I knew just the person to think about. I hope he gets the message.

When I opened my eyes, there were tears in them.

My meditation room, restored to look as it did when Gandhi slept there. Did Gandhi really wear yellow-tinted glasses?

Thanks, Mahatma, for sharing your peace.

♦     ♦     ♦     ♦     ♦     ♦

Rates at the Satyagraha House range from R750 to R2300 (roughly $100-$300) per room/cottage, including breakfast. Meditation, yoga lessons, and dinner are available at extra charge. The museum is free and open to the public. 

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58 Comments

  • Reply Debra Kolkka November 21, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    What a great thing to do. I remember seeing the movie. I loved it. I have since bought the DVD and have watched it a couple of times. I think it is wonderful that this house is available for people to stay in.

    • Reply 2summers November 21, 2011 at 9:14 pm

      I know, right? Such a cool idea. I really need to watch the movie again now. I think I might get more out of it now that I’m 30 years older!

    • Reply 2summers November 21, 2011 at 9:17 pm

      PS: Your blog is stunning!

  • Reply Debra Kolkka November 21, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    What a great thing to do. I remember seeing the movie. I loved it. I have since bought the DVD and have watched it a couple of times. I think it is wonderful that this house is available for people to stay in.

    • Reply 2summers November 21, 2011 at 9:14 pm

      I know, right? Such a cool idea. I really need to watch the movie again now. I think I might get more out of it now that I’m 30 years older!

    • Reply 2summers November 21, 2011 at 9:17 pm

      PS: Your blog is stunning!

  • Reply Bing November 21, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    I need to spend a week there and learn to meditate. I plan my To Do list even in my sleep. I have to learn to switch off and clear my head too. But I’m not so sure I can deal with veggie food! =p

    It sounds like you had a restful stay. Hope it gives you renewed strength for the new week ahead! =)

    • Reply 2summers November 21, 2011 at 10:00 pm

      Trust me, it’s the heartiest veg food you will ever eat. You won’t go hungry 🙂

  • Reply Bing November 21, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    I need to spend a week there and learn to meditate. I plan my To Do list even in my sleep. I have to learn to switch off and clear my head too. But I’m not so sure I can deal with veggie food! =p

    It sounds like you had a restful stay. Hope it gives you renewed strength for the new week ahead! =)

    • Reply 2summers November 21, 2011 at 10:00 pm

      Trust me, it’s the heartiest veg food you will ever eat. You won’t go hungry 🙂

  • Reply Debra Kolkka November 21, 2011 at 9:47 pm

    Thank you!

  • Reply Debra Kolkka November 21, 2011 at 9:47 pm

    Thank you!

  • Reply Jeroen November 21, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    Beautiful place (and nice golden toes!). Didn’t Mr G also (or first) have a house in Troyeville that bears a plaque?
    They should also turn L Ron Hubbard’s house in Joburg into a spiritual guesthouse 🙂

    • Reply 2summers November 21, 2011 at 10:33 pm

      What, L Ron Hubbard lived in Jozi? Or is this a joke? I’m too lazy to google it. Gandhi did have a few other houses in Joburg. Troyeville sounds right.

  • Reply Jeroen November 21, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    Beautiful place (and nice golden toes!). Didn’t Mr G also (or first) have a house in Troyeville that bears a plaque?
    They should also turn L Ron Hubbard’s house in Joburg into a spiritual guesthouse 🙂

    • Reply 2summers November 21, 2011 at 10:33 pm

      What, L Ron Hubbard lived in Jozi? Or is this a joke? I’m too lazy to google it. Gandhi did have a few other houses in Joburg. Troyeville sounds right.

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough November 21, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    Wow, I had no idea Ghandi had lived in SA. But the guest house looks lovely–peaceful. I pray you got a good rest and and had your soul strengthened and rejuvenated. Peace, my friend——
    Kathy

    • Reply 2summers November 21, 2011 at 10:53 pm

      Thanks Kathy. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who didn’t know Gandhi lived here. And it was for such a long time, too.

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough November 21, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    Wow, I had no idea Ghandi had lived in SA. But the guest house looks lovely–peaceful. I pray you got a good rest and and had your soul strengthened and rejuvenated. Peace, my friend——
    Kathy

    • Reply 2summers November 21, 2011 at 10:53 pm

      Thanks Kathy. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who didn’t know Gandhi lived here. And it was for such a long time, too.

  • Reply Slowvelder November 21, 2011 at 11:22 pm

    My great grandfather lived in the mining camp called Johannesburg in the early 1900’s. I wish I could ask him about those times and if he bumped into Gandhi Or maybe just to be able to travel back in time to those early days and be a fly on the wall for a day or two. Thank you for telling us about this special place. I hope to see it someday.

    • Reply 2summers November 22, 2011 at 8:24 am

      It’s hard to imagine what this city looked like back then. Definitely check out Gandhi’s house the next time you’re in Jozi.

  • Reply Slowvelder November 21, 2011 at 11:22 pm

    My great grandfather lived in the mining camp called Johannesburg in the early 1900’s. I wish I could ask him about those times and if he bumped into Gandhi Or maybe just to be able to travel back in time to those early days and be a fly on the wall for a day or two. Thank you for telling us about this special place. I hope to see it someday.

    • Reply 2summers November 22, 2011 at 8:24 am

      It’s hard to imagine what this city looked like back then. Definitely check out Gandhi’s house the next time you’re in Jozi.

  • Reply eremophila November 21, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    The property is a wonderful model for all homes, particularly in these times of excess – including stress! May the peace stay with you 🙂

    • Reply 2summers November 22, 2011 at 8:27 am

      So true. It’s a good reminder that we really don’t need much to be happy.

  • Reply eremophila November 21, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    The property is a wonderful model for all homes, particularly in these times of excess – including stress! May the peace stay with you 🙂

    • Reply 2summers November 22, 2011 at 8:27 am

      So true. It’s a good reminder that we really don’t need much to be happy.

  • Reply joshimukard November 22, 2011 at 4:59 am

    The pride of being an Indian sometimes comes into me like a breeze and brings a kind of feeling which is difficult to explain, this is one such moment. Thanks for sharing the peace.

    • Reply 2summers November 22, 2011 at 8:28 am

      Wow. What a beautiful thing to say! I’m glad my post made you feel that way 🙂

    • Reply Tara November 24, 2011 at 7:31 am

      I like how you expressed the feeling! you know, its exactly how I felt at one point while reading this post 🙂

      • Reply 2summers November 24, 2011 at 7:56 am

        Thanks for the nice comment, Tara.

  • Reply joshimukard November 22, 2011 at 4:59 am

    The pride of being an Indian sometimes comes into me like a breeze and brings a kind of feeling which is difficult to explain, this is one such moment. Thanks for sharing the peace.

    • Reply 2summers November 22, 2011 at 8:28 am

      Wow. What a beautiful thing to say! I’m glad my post made you feel that way 🙂

    • Reply Tara November 24, 2011 at 7:31 am

      I like how you expressed the feeling! you know, its exactly how I felt at one point while reading this post 🙂

      • Reply 2summers November 24, 2011 at 7:56 am

        Thanks for the nice comment, Tara.

  • Reply thirdeyemom November 22, 2011 at 5:42 am

    Beautiful piece ! I hope you are at peace now. I can only dream of how wonderful it would be to go there, alone. Hang in ther and remember to laugh at the silly stuff!!

    • Reply 2summers November 22, 2011 at 8:28 am

      Thanks Nicole. Hope you’re doing well too.

  • Reply thirdeyemom November 22, 2011 at 5:42 am

    Beautiful piece ! I hope you are at peace now. I can only dream of how wonderful it would be to go there, alone. Hang in ther and remember to laugh at the silly stuff!!

    • Reply 2summers November 22, 2011 at 8:28 am

      Thanks Nicole. Hope you’re doing well too.

  • Reply Rayna November 22, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Sounds perfect Heather, I have been wanting to learn meditation for years – its time now! Crazy part of this that the house is about 5 minutes from my home, I did not know it existed but had seen the refurbishment in progress!
    Thanks again for unveiling a treasure in my home town!

    • Reply 2summers November 22, 2011 at 2:03 pm

      My pleasure! Glad you enjoyed the post. I think you would like meditation.

  • Reply Rayna November 22, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Sounds perfect Heather, I have been wanting to learn meditation for years – its time now! Crazy part of this that the house is about 5 minutes from my home, I did not know it existed but had seen the refurbishment in progress!
    Thanks again for unveiling a treasure in my home town!

    • Reply 2summers November 22, 2011 at 2:03 pm

      My pleasure! Glad you enjoyed the post. I think you would like meditation.

  • Reply landofnams November 23, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    Wow heather I actually got tears in my eyes when reading about your meditation session. What a beautiful experience, I’m glad you get to focus on yourself.

    ps. I’m so annoyed that wordpress hasn’t been emailing me when you post, I am going to try and reset it by un-following and re-following you.

    • Reply 2summers November 23, 2011 at 4:35 pm

      Awesome! I love making people cry. Just kidding. But I’m glad you liked the post.

      That’s weird, one of your posts also didn’t get emailed to me this week. Hopefully the unfollowing and following works.

  • Reply landofnams November 23, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    Wow heather I actually got tears in my eyes when reading about your meditation session. What a beautiful experience, I’m glad you get to focus on yourself.

    ps. I’m so annoyed that wordpress hasn’t been emailing me when you post, I am going to try and reset it by un-following and re-following you.

    • Reply 2summers November 23, 2011 at 4:35 pm

      Awesome! I love making people cry. Just kidding. But I’m glad you liked the post.

      That’s weird, one of your posts also didn’t get emailed to me this week. Hopefully the unfollowing and following works.

  • Reply fornormalstepfathers November 23, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    In Schooling the World film, Gandhi was mentioned in the context of freedom. He was adamantly for freeing yourself from the foreigners’ influence, not British only. The question is, can you find freedom (peace and tranquility) being under foreign influence?

    • Reply 2summers November 24, 2011 at 7:57 am

      Hmm. I don’t know!

  • Reply fornormalstepfathers November 23, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    In Schooling the World film, Gandhi was mentioned in the context of freedom. He was adamantly for freeing yourself from the foreigners’ influence, not British only. The question is, can you find freedom (peace and tranquility) being under foreign influence?

    • Reply 2summers November 24, 2011 at 7:57 am

      Hmm. I don’t know!

  • Reply Munira November 24, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    I didn’t know about Gandhi’s sojourn in SA either, so I’m glad I stumbled across your blog today. Loved looking at the photos (you captured your feet rather nicely methinks.)
    Glad you enjoyed meditating 🙂 This place looks perfect for it.

    • Reply 2summers November 24, 2011 at 8:34 pm

      Thanks so much for commenting and complimenting my foot photography. Yeah, I think I’m kinda spoiled as far as meditating locales go…Nothing else will ever measure up.

  • Reply Munira November 24, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    I didn’t know about Gandhi’s sojourn in SA either, so I’m glad I stumbled across your blog today. Loved looking at the photos (you captured your feet rather nicely methinks.)
    Glad you enjoyed meditating 🙂 This place looks perfect for it.

    • Reply 2summers November 24, 2011 at 8:34 pm

      Thanks so much for commenting and complimenting my foot photography. Yeah, I think I’m kinda spoiled as far as meditating locales go…Nothing else will ever measure up.

  • Reply Instawalk: Gandhi Square and the Mining District | findingjozi October 16, 2012 at 8:12 am

    […] Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust to give you a tour of Gandhi’s Johannesburg. You can even stay at one of Gandhi’s residences in Jozi that has been transformed into an abode that conforms to […]

  • Reply Instawalk: Gandhi Square and the Mining District | findingjozi October 16, 2012 at 8:12 am

    […] Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust to give you a tour of Gandhi’s Johannesburg. You can even stay at one of Gandhi’s residences in Jozi that has been transformed into an abode that conforms to […]

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