“The Secret Diary of Kasturba” by Neelima Dalmia Adhar

While there is so much written ( including many books) about Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, respectfully called the ” Mahatma ” and the “Father of the Nation”, relatively less is known about his wife, Kastur. We get glimpses of the life of Kasturba Gandhi (1869-1944 ) through a recent book titled, “The Secret Diary of Kasturba” by Neelima Dalmia Adhar.

Born Kasturbai Makhanji Kapadia, in a wealthy family in Porbandar, in then British India, she was ( as was common in those days) married off at the young of 14. The bridegroom, who was a year younger than her, was Mohandas Gandhi. They remained man and wife for over 60 years and had five sons. The first son died shortly after his birth, but the others Harilal, Manilal, Ramdas, and Devdas outlived her. As the book reveals, quite often in their lives there was tension in the family because of the way Gandhi wanted the boys to be brought up. He had his own ideas of the kind of education they should have and the principles and life style they should follow, which was irksome to them and to Kasturba at times. The fact that the eldest surviving boy, Harilal became totally wayward was a direct result of the frequent conflicts he had with his father. The mother was torn between the two all her life.

Kasturba played a major role in Gandhi’s life and he could not have asked for a more suitable or devoted wife. While the world admired Gandhi for his deeds, the book describes the difficulties faced by his wife and children while he sought to conquer his inner desires and lead a life according to his own tastes and choices.

It was clever of Ms Adhar to have written the book in the first person singular as Ba. This has been done brilliantly. We can therefore see things through Kastur’s eyes, first as a teen aged bride, then as a young mother, and later as the revered mother or Ba as she was called  universally. The flip side is that since it is established that Ba had not penned her autobiography ( she was barely educated, in any case) the very title of the book is questionable.

It is a good read though and is well written. You will enjoy it, if like me, you are fond of Indian history, and biographies. The book is full of detail of the lives of the Gandhi family over many decades. It even goes beyond Ba’s death in 1944 to the time when Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in January 1948. I feel that some notes of what became of the sons could have been added in the post script.

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