Gandhi, the husband

Can one string together the exceptions, guilt-ridden confessions, moments of introspection, derivations and caveats to produce a poignant tale of an exasperated but uncomplaining wife and a repentant husband to dent the accepted narrative? This pertinent question crops up in one’s mind when one goes through the latest novel of veteran Hindi novelist Giriraj Kishore that goes around the married life of Gandhiji and Kasturba Gandhi.

The peppy text, drawing heavily from the autobiography and letters of Gandhi to focus on the blissful married life describes this period as the most unregenerate part of the Father of the Nation one could ever imagine.

The novel, "Baa", published by the Rajkamal Prakashan, brings out the undetected but multilayered life story of Kasturba Gandhi. Kasturba lives on the margins, and the author takes pains to supplement what has been missing.

Focus on behaviour

Giriraj Kishore, who won the Sahitya Akademi award on his brilliantly conceived and well-crafted novel "Pehla Girmitiya" on Gandhiji's struggle in South Africa, delves into little known, complex and inconsiderate behaviour of Gandhi that led to wedded estrangement. Many instances related to early marital life and couple's stay in Bombay and South Africa are lumped together to demonstrate that Kasturba was a dedicated but not a submissive wife.

Her beclouded but equally, radiant personality buttressed the life of one who in Orwellian phrase "enriched the world simply by being alive."

Kasturba's centrality to Gandhiji's life and her independent character is sensitively discussed in two highly readable books. The fifth grandson of Gandhiji, Arun and his wife, Sunanda wrote a nuanced biography "The Forgotten woman: The Untold Story of Kastur-wife of Gandhi” and recently celebrated author Neelima Dalima Adhar brought forth an absorbing fictional account "The Forgotten Tale of Kasturba: The Secret Diaries of Kasturba”.

Employing multiple focalisations through personal and private life, these texts provide an insightful understanding of Kasturba without running down Gandhi as a votary of patriarchy and self-righteousness. At the outset, the novelist claim that it is an authentic fictional presentation of Kasturba that carries the fruits of extensive research and the assertion does have a point. Kishore mentions several Gujarati, English and Hindi books and of course, the writings of Gandhiji and the anecdotal pieces of evidence which he gathered from Ahmedabad, Rajkot and Porbandar in his novel, spreading over 275 pages. He tries to scrutinise the role of Bapu as a husband and a father with a sense of derision. Almost every event included in the novel manifests strong sympathy with Baa and the author makes a sincere effort to figure out her life punctuated with many questions that no illiterate women could stomach in an era when ignorance and lack of education were considered bliss for women.

The novel elegantly begins with a scene where Baa and Gandhiji were imprisoned in Aga Khan Palace and it was the place where Baa and Mahadev Bhai breathed last. The first chapter evocatively acquaints the reader with the tantalising details of how Gandhi and Kasturba grew up. Here too, Gandhi’s arrogance and rigidity look forbidding.

Ceremonial correctness

Verbal altercations between Gandhi and Kasturba, mostly in a lighter vein, foreshadow that the ceremonial correctness of Mohan Das would only grow in the coming years. The author has given a graphic account of the marriage and the birth of the first child. Kasturba did not hesitate for a moment when she realised her jewellery needed to pay for the travel and other expenses of Mohan Das who was headed for England to obtain a law degree.

Giriraj Kishore does narrate the return of Gandhi and her brief stay at Porbandar and Bombay vividly, but again instances of the close affinity between husband and wife escaped the attention of the author, The authoritarian, overbearing and capricious husband surfaces time and again and the retelling of an event that happened in South Africa, when Gandhiji asked Kasturba to leave the house at night as she refused to clean the urine pot of a visitor, evokes a strong sense of aversion towards Gandhiji.

It is not that the author does not narrate the cathartic moments, as he impeccably describes how Gandhiji without the lady doctor or midwife single-handedly helped Katurba in child delivery.

However, the woes of Kasturba seem to be disproportionate to her triumphal moments. Throughout the novel, Kasturba looked a personality filled with a ragging discontent, but the last page introduces us to a contrite Gandhi in whose lap she breathed her last, and Kishore reproduces the monologue of Gandhi. “This is the final parting, the end of 62 years of shared life. Let me here stay till the cremation is over!" and in the evening prayer Bapu remarked, "I cannot imagine life without Baa". Gandhiji went on to say, “She helped me to keep wide awake and true to my vows, she stood by me in all my political fights. She never hesitated to take the plunge, In the current sense of the world, she was uneducated, but to my mind, she was a model of true education. She had obliterated all feelings of caste from her mind."

Contrarily, the novel tells a different story and manifests Gandhi's ambivalent and inconsiderate attitude to her wife and family. The author mistakenly takes the artistic license to use the confessions of the Gandhiji as the charge sheet to prove that Gandhiji was afflicted with maniacal righteousness, rigidity and the feeling of inferiority. In a nutshell, it is a narrative that fulfills the cultural and historical aspiration of the power that-be.

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 6:24:17 AM |

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