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Kasturba: a life


Book Review

 By Sara E. Ellis


Gandhi, Arun. Lord Richard Attenborough. Kasturba: a life
New Delhi: Penguin Books Ltd., 2000.
315 pp, 295 Indian Rs, US $22.51

January 29, 2002

Arun Gandhi, grandson to Mohandas and Kasturba, has written a thorough account of Kasturba's life. Arun begins with a description of Kasturba's childhood in Porbandar in the late1800s, before she met Mohandas. By having chosen to embark on difficult research into his grandmother's life, including her first years which are not well-documented, Arun ensures that the reader receives an intimate and life-long portrait of this amazing woman.

Kasturba is presented as a lively woman &endash; obedient, yet with a mind of her own. As the relationship between Kasturba and Mohandas developed, Arun maintains that Kasturba's influence over Mohandas in her own quiet way also grew, to which some of Mohandas' writings also attest.

 Arun paints a vivid picture of the beginnings of Mohandas' non-violence movement in South Africa, a chapter of Mohandas' life that is not well-publicized, and emphasises Kasturba's helpful and caring role throughout the events. Although at first resistant to the Ashram and some of the Mohandas' new thoughts, Kasturba found that she too believed in her husband's convictions and ideas.

The major emphasis in the book is on Kasturba's never-failing patience with her husband, her obedience to him, as well as the authority she herself exerted. As "the Mahatma's wife", Kasturba undertook many projects, including teaching hygiene, upon their return to India. And even before that, we learn that she was just as devoted to the peace movement as her husband, for example in South Africa where she decided to be arrested (along with a group of women) for the Satyagrahi movement. She is presented as a strong and courageous woman, a true match for Mohandas. 

Arun does his best to write a comprehensive biography about Kasturba; however, the book focuses a great deal on Mohandas and the events that shaped his life. After these descriptions, a supposition of what Kasturba would have done or thought at the same time is given. Although these divergences were probably necessary due to lack of "hard" evidence for many aspects of Kasturba's life, the reader begins to feel that it is mainly a book about Mohandas, with Kasturba as an important "side-thought".

Towards the end of the biography, and Kasturba's life, her actions, thoughts, and moods are brought to the forefront. This shift in focus is due to the availability of first-hand reports from family and friends who were still alive when Arun was doing research for the book. Even Arun shares his memories of his beloved grandmother with the reader. In my opinion, the details provided on Kasturba towards the end of her life, were rich and full of meaning for one wanting to discover more about the person who was "the Mahatma's wife". The first-hand accounts, plus documentation of Kasturba's activities in newspapers, Mohandas' writings, and other publications show Arun's sincere desire to give an accurate and life-like portrayal of this amazing woman. The descriptions of Kasturba's relations with Mohandas and all others that she meets do not lack that important touch of reality and humanity that speak to the reader and help him/her to understand what it was like to be Kasturba.

Kasturba: a life is a thoroughly enjoyable read, especially for those who are curious about the role Kasturba played in "the Mahatma's" life and wish to know more about her upbringing, beliefs, adult/family life, and the influence she had on the non-violence movement.


  Copyright © 2002 TFF & author


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Arun Gandhi's Kasturba: a life



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