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Partho Datta


We Call her Ba By Subhadra Sengupta. Illustrations by Neeta Gangopadhya  Pratham Books, 2014, pp. 20, R50.00 Kasturba Gandhi has been absorbed in the nationalist pantheon. As the wife, companion and fellow sufferer in the long march to freedom, she has always found place alongside Mohandas Gandhi. From the evidence, she was a reluctant consort and resisted often and fiercely if unsuccessfully.  Subhadra Sen Gupta’s little book on Kasturba would have been difficult to write. She grapples with the problems of representing and narrating the history of wife-companions especially when the story has to be narrated to children. Kasturba’s story is impossible to tell without the larger than life Mohandas. Kasturba or Ba as she became fondly known to admirers was barely literate and did not sympathize with her husband’s fads or his intellectual justifications for them. But Sen Gupta has brought her to life imaginatively with little known episodes. Kasturba suffered long absences running into years when her husband was away (first England to study and then South Africa to work), went to jail for her husband’s beliefs, brought up the abandoned children of her recalcitrant eldest son, endured her husband’s social experiments and still managed to become an expert at spinning on the charkha, contributing her bit to the larger nationalist cause.  Sen Gupta is helped by Neeta Gangopadhya’s brilliant illustrations. The pictures in the book are done in pen and ink and many take up the whole page. Careful photographic research must have gone into these illustrations, they are very detailed, colourful and the individual figures animated. My favourite is the one of Kasturba and Mohandas in a train compartment. One can almost hear the chatter of people! The book is divided into four chapters. It is the last chapter that grapples with Gandhi’s return to India and the nationalist movement. I found it a little puzzling that only the last five pages in a book twenty pages long should have been devoted to this phase. This period provides plenty of material on the relationship of women to the nationalist movement. In 1930 when Gandhi launched the Civil Disobedience movement he enthusiastically sought the participation of women. As a result political participation underwent a radical change, some of them not to Gandhi’s liking. Sen Gupta has many interesting inserts on Sabarmati Ashram, food habits in the Gandhi household/ashram, nationalist dress etc. ...


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