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The Rediff Special/ Josy Joseph
The room that became Gandhi's death
One of history's most infamous hotel rooms was empty this Sunday, January 30.
Holly Anne, the American tourist who booked into room number 106 at Hotel Marina, had checked out before 0010 hours when the nation began to pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi.
It was here, in this room on the first floor, that Gandhi's killers met to finalise the Great Indian Murder.
Anne did not realise the notoriety of the room he occupied. Or did he?
Fifty-two years ago, on January 19, seven men, among them Nathuram Godse, had gathered here -- till 1980, it was room number 40 -- to give final shape to their plan to kill Gandhi.
On January 20, 1948, they made an unsuccessful attempt. One of them was arrested. The would-be assassins had left enough trails. But a disinterested police gave them 10 days to plan their dastardly crime. By the time the police reached the room, it was too late.
On January 30, 1948 at 1717 hours, Godse bowed before Gandhi and pulled the trigger of a Beretta automatic pistol (number 606824-p) thrice, pumping bullets into the heart of ahimsa's greatest advocate.
Godse had returned to Delhi a week after fleeing Hotel Marina. This time he selected the overcrowded Old Delhi railway station, swarming with refugees, to spend the night before the murder.
Hotel Marina was to be the safe haven for the conspirators as per their initial plan. After arriving separately, the seven met there on January 19, 1948, behind the Birla Mandir, near Gole Market.
The Birla Mandir, next to the Hindu Mahasabha office, is an overcrowded complex, into which devotees flow in by the thousands every day. Not realising the history of the area behind the temple, devotees roamed around on Sunday. It was in the bushes there that the conspirators practised their shooting skills.
Soon after their arrival in Delhi on January 17, Godse and his accomplice Narayan Apte booked into the Marina under false names -- S and N Deshpande. They had flown down to Delhi by an Air-India flight. The others arrived by train.
On the evening of January 19, all seven gathered in the room on the first floor of the hotel, which is part of the Connaught Circus complex. Vishnu Karkare, the owner of the Deccan Guest House in Pune and one of the conspirators, ordered whiskey for all.
The next day, they met again in the morning to check the detonator and grenades they planned to use. Their attempt to see how fast the detonator worked led to clouds of smoke in the room. They immediately began smoking cigarettes furiously to cover up.
Later, they ordered coffee, and discussed the plans drawn by the flamboyant Apte, Godse's partner in the Hindu Rashtra, which was published from Pune.
But their plans failed in the evening. Madanlal Pahwa, a Punjabi migrant, was arrested by the police. Gopal Godse, Nathuram's brother, and Karkare fled Delhi that night.
Apte, who had driven into Birla House in a green Chevrolet that day, and Nathuram Godse left Delhi shortly.
The conspirators regrouped in Bombay. As the meeting progressed, Nathuram Godse got up and declared he would kill Gandhi.
On January 27, Apte and Godse flew to Delhi again.
The next day they bought a pistol from a Gwalior homeopath, Dattaraya. With the pistol in Apte's jacket, they returned to Delhi and checked into the Old Delhi railway station's retiring room number six.
The Old Delhi railway station continue to be busy. But the retiring room where Godse spent the night before murdering Gandhi no longer exists.
In the night, Godse stretched himself on the bed with one of Erle Stanely Gardener's Perry Mason novels. Apte and Karkare went for a movie based on a story by Rabindranath Tagore.
Gandhi was murdered on January 30 on the lawns of Birla House. Today it is visited by hundreds of people and houses a museum.
At the National Gandhi Museum where the Mahatma's blood-stained clothes are exhibited, there are about 100,000 visitors every year. At the Birla Mandir, behind which the killers practised, is an overcrowded temple.
And Hotel Marina has made a deluxe room out of the infamous space that housed the assassins.
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