Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, released from
prison Saturday, once lived at the bungalow here that is the
Congress headquarters, occupying a room now held by Rahul Gandhi.
She was barely 15 when she became an occupant of 24 Akbar Road in
the heart of the capital after it was allotted to her mother Daw
Khin Kyi, who was Myanmar's ambassador to India.
According to writer-journalist Rasheed Kidwai's new book "24,
Akbar Road" (Hachette India), this was the bungalow's first brush
with history. The year was 1961.
Then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru named the bungalow, built
between 1911 and 1925, "Burma House" in recognition of Daw Khin
Says Kidwai in his soon to be released book: "Suu (Kyi) was a
young girl with thick, long plaits of hair when she chose for her
own the room that is currently occupied by Rahul Gandhi in his
capacity as general secretary of the Congress.
"Suu picked the room because it had a huge piano. Every evening, a
teacher would come to give her piano lessons. She quickly
developed a penchant for the nuanced subtleties of Western
"Years later, while under house arrest in a dilapidated lakeside
habitation on University Avenue in Rangoon, Suu's fondness for the
piano provided her much relief and she often played for long hours
to relieve the depression of her confinement."
According to the book, Suu Kyi loved 24 Akbar Road, which she
found imposing on the outside and cool inside with its large,
It was in that house, says Kidwai, that Suu Kyi learnt to make
Japanese flower arrangements. She also played with Sanjay Gandhi
and Rajiv Gandhi in the extensive garden.
"Sanjay and Rajiv were her contemporaries, one born a year before
her and the other a year later. She was often seen in their
company at Rashtrapati Bhawan, where they took riding lessons from
the presidential bodyguards."
The young girl began schooling at the Convent of Jesus and Mary
School, a Catholic establishment close to the Cathedral of St
"Suu completed her secondary education and then enrolled at Lady
Shri Ram College (LSR) to study political science.
"In 1962, the now famous Delhi college was still in its infancy -
just six years old. It was located in Daryaganj at the time and
boasted of three hundred students...
"Suu was grounded in the complexities of political thought via
classroom teaching. She learnt to recognize the vital living
qualities of modern democracy. Her time in India contributed
greatly to crafting Suu Kyi into the politicized entity she is
According to the book, the first time Indira Gandhi entered 24
Akbar Road was in January 1978, almost a year after she was
defeated in the post-Emergency Lok Sabha election.
By then it had ceased to be the "Burma House".
A Type VII bungalow in Lutyens' New Delhi, the house belonged to
G. Venkatswamy, a Rajya Sabha Congress member from Andhra Pradesh
who sided with Indira Gandhi after the Congress split
Once family loyalist Mohammad Yunus offered his residence, 12
Wellingdon Crescent, for Indira Gandhi and her family as their
private residence, the former prime minister realised she needed a
place for party work.
"So, 24 Akbar Road was like a boon granted, though it might not
have seemed so straight off, considering the state of shambles in
which it was at the time.
"Facing the Indian Air Force chief's residence and the
Intelligence Bureau's political surveillance unit (which still
exists), it had five near empty rooms, a living and dining room,
and a guest room.
"The outhouses were a picture of neglect and the garden, a mess,
with unruly hedges and weeds everywhere. It had a wicket gate link
to 10 Janpath, which was then the office of the Indian Youth
Congress and is now the home of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.
"Decades later, 10 Janpath and 24 Akbar Road established a
formidable link, bringing fame, fortune and effective leadership
to the Congress."