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Grandson of Gandhi, a former top NASA scientist, dies in poverty

NEW DELHI -- Kanubhai Ramdas Gandhi was the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, the man revered as the “Father of the Nation” by many in India, but he died quietly on Monday in a small hospital in a small town where he couldn’t even afford to pay his medical bills.

It was an inglorious ending for a man who, in addition to carrying the most famous name in India, also lived richly for 25 years as a top scientist for NASA.

Kanubhai Gandhi was the son of Mahatma Gandhi’s third son Ramdas. The only enduring image of Kanubhai for most Indians is one taken of him as a child, leading his grandfather and holding onto his walking stick for him during the historic Salt Satyagraha in Mumbai in 1930.

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Mahatma Gandhi is led down a road by his grandson, Kanubhai Gandhi, during the former’s iconic Salt Satyagraha protest against British colonial taxation in Mumbai, in 1930.

The Salt Satyagraha was Gandhi’s hugely popular, non-violent civil disobedience movement against the British colonial government’s tax on salt production.

But in the U.S., where he spent four decades, he is more known as a scientist. In 1961, the then-U.S. Ambassador to India John Kenneth Galbraith recommended him for studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). After his studies, he worked for NASA and the U.S. Defence Department, honing the structure of wings for fighter jets.

His wife Shivalaxmi, who he is survived by, was a professor at the Boston Biomedical Research Institute.

“We have had fun,” she told Indian newspaper The Hindu earlier this year. “We were invited to so many parties... We were living a luxurious life until recently. And now we are here.”

Why the childless couple decided to up and leave the U.S. after 40 years and return to India to spent their lives hopping between old-age homes remains a mystery, but Shivalaxmi alluded to it in the same interview with The Hindu.

“We destroyed everything we had and we came here. It’s a long story,” she told the newspaper.

Whatever the long story is, they returned in 2014, lived in various ashrams (Indian spiritual institutes or monasteries) in the Indian state of Gujarat before moving into an old-age home in New Delhi in May this year.

The home, called Guru Vishram Vridh Ashram, has around 125 residents, all of whom sleep on the floor. The Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the home, however, was equipped with a bed and an air conditioning unit for the couple when they moved in.

An old Gandhi family friend, Dhimant Badhia, had to raise money for Kanubhai’s treatment for paralysis after a recent heart attack. After the news of his illness broke, several politicians visited him, offering money and getting photo-ops.

He only survived about a week in the facility.

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