[GANDHI, Mohandas Karamchand (1869-1948)]. A portable charkha (spinning wheel), presented by Gandhi to Marion and Lilabati Ghose, c. February 1932.

Indian teak, approx. 915 x 233 x 40mm when opened, hollow metal handle (string and thread lacking, cracks to wooden stretchers, some rust and wear).

A portable spinning wheel presented by Gandhi to the daughters of Indian nationalist leader Sailendra Naith Ghose. As President of the Indian National Congress of America, Ghose campaigned for Gandhi to visit the United States. In 1931, he sent his wife and two daughters on a visit to London to make a personal appeal to Gandhi, who was then visiting the city for the Second Roundtable Conference. Although Gandhi granted Ghose's daughters, Lilabati and Miriam, a personal meeting, he declined the invitation to come to the United States citing more pressing needs in India. Instead, Gandhi promised them a gift. According to press reports, Lilabati suggested a spinning wheel, something that Gandhi did not have with him at the time. But soon after their return to the United States in early 1932, Lilabati and Miriam were surprised by a visit from an envoy sent by Gandhi who travelled to the U.S. on the ship Europa. According to Sailendra Ghose, Gandhi, on the eve of his arrest on 4 January 1932, "'called upon one of his lieutenants to come to America carrying his gift of the spinning wheel and also certain confidential messages to friends here.'"*

The origins and operation of the Yerwada portable charkha are described in the American monthly Popular Science (December 1931): "Mahatma Gandhi ... has devised a portable spinning wheel that folds into a bundle about the size of a portable typewriter and has a handle for carrying. When unfolded for use, it is operated by turning a small crank, which runs the two wheels and spindle of the device. Gandhi worked out the details of this machine, it is reported, while he was confined to the Yerwada jail in India". It is possible that the tabletop charkha was invented by a member of Gandhi's circle rather than Gandhi himself: Rebecca M. Brown (Gandhi's Spinning Wheel and Making of India, 2010) dates its development to 1929-31, and notes a visit to Yerawda of Gandhi's British associate Mirabehn (Madeleine Slade) who "delivered a new charkha there on 18 July 1930. It is possible that this was the new box charkha."

The production of khadi—handspun cloth—was of both symbolic and practical importance in Gandhi's vision of an independent, self-reliant India, and he encouraged all Indians to spend a part of each day in spinning. A spinning wheel was even incorporated, at Gandhi's suggestion, into the flag of the Indian National Congress, from which the present Indian national flag (which should ideally be made from khadi) derives.

This spinning wheel was presented on the Antiques Roadshow aired on 26 January 2015 (Season 2, Episode 28). Provenance: Mohandas Gandhi – (gift to) Lilabatt and Miriam Ghose – by descent to the consignor.

*AP, "Gandhi Sends Spinning Wheel to U.S. Girls," Kalamazoo Gazette, 11 February 1932, p. 7.
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