If Kasturba Gandhi ever had a voice, then she would have shared her story via Neelima Dalmia Adhar’s The Secret Diary of Kasturba. Revolving around the life of a woman who was always eclipsed by her husband, the great Mahatma Gandhi, Neelima has now given a voice to the less known first lady of our nation via this brilliant historical fiction book.
22nd February 1944. In a near death stupor, Kasturba Gandhi can listen to her son Harilal and her husband, Mohandas Karam Chand Gandhi debating whether to give her penicillin to ease her pain or to wait for her to just simply wither away. He says, ‘I’d rather she dies..let nature takes it course’. And this is one of the many revelations about Gandhi, his nature and his stringent belief system that charted the life of Kasturba Gandhi.
In 1869, Kasturba Kapadia was born in Kathiawar, and six months after her, Mohandas Gandhi. Both got married at the age of thirteen, keeping their vows until the end. But in between vows and transition of ideas for Gandhi, Kasturba’s life is slowly turning into a mess. A mess so deep that at one point, she starts liking it and starts following it blindly. The carnal desires of Mohandas and his sexual experiments, the baseless allegations of Kasturba being involved with someone else. The insecurities and continuous hounding, and the stringent lessons for development of her personality left her exhausted at times. Kasturba tries to remind Mohandas about his duties towards his family who gave up everything for his fancy barrister degree, but he doesn’t budge from his behavior.
A day comes when Mohandas’s destiny calls him to South Africa. The air of South Africa is full of atrocities towards the Indian community, and Mohandas finds a cause to fight for. But in this fight, he starts neglecting Kasturba and his kids. The time to time changing rules of Gandhi belief system leaves her broken inside. One of the rules was the Oath of Celibacy that Gandhi took without even discussing with Kasturba. And that was the day she got to know that Mohandas is not for her, he is there for a bigger cause, bigger than his domestic life.
Mohandas even curbed the education of his children, one of the biggest reasons why his eldest son Harilal parted ways from his beloved Bapu. He believed in developing personality via household chores and getting involved in regular official work. Kasturba was disturbed by the plight of her kids. She debated, pleaded and even showed her anger towards Gandhi for ruining a regular childhood that their kids deserved. But in the end, she gave up. In a very startling letter to a friend, Gandhi shares
”I don’t know what evil resides in me. I have a streak of cruelty in me that compels people to attempt the impossible in order to please me”.
The Secret Diary of Kasturba is a book that will leave you in shock. I have always considered Gandhi as a peaceful leader, who with the power of his conviction and dedication towards the cause of India, got us independence from the claws of Britishers. But then, this book shares a completely different side of him through his wife’s perspective. And many shocking revelations come in sight! From his carnal desires after marriage to his vows that left Kasturba and her kids broken, Kasturba was the thread that kept the lineage and family alive. She multitasked between being a devoted wife, Satyagrahi and a mother. And this multitasking, in the end, proved too much for her, when she sees that her husband’s devotion towards nation is driving their kids away.
The incredible amount of research Neelima might have done for this book reflects in the way she has written it. She has written the novel keeping in mind the women of 21st century. Imagine the life Kasturba lived and try and apply it to your current life. Wouldn’t you react the same way? A repulsive, broken soul and torn between husband and kids? This brilliant concept has now made me aware the hardships of a lady that walked behind Gandhi all the time, never complaining, never stopping.
Kasturba was eclipsed because of a man who devoted his life to his country and never anyone gave a voice to this powerful woman. And that is one of the biggest reasons why The Secret Diary of Kasturba is a tremendous read for everyone. It is a book that you simply cannot miss!