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Saturday, November 28, 2020

Remembering Ba

On Kasturba Gandhi’s death anniversary, a look at the only such memorial for her in the Capital.

Written by Surbhi Gupta | February 21, 2018 11:41:36 pm
Inside Kasturba Kutir. (Photo by Amit Mehra)

Kasturba Gandhi had a brush with death in January 1908, a time when she was fasting with Mahatma Gandhi in a Transvaal (a province in South Africa) prison. She survived, despite a chronic case of bronchitis since birth. It was in the January of 1944 that two heart attacks confined her to bed. Pain became her constant companion and sleep was interfered with bouts of breathlessness. She breathed her last on February 22 at Aga Khan Palace in Pune. She was 74. Today marks her 74th death anniversary.

A visit to Kasturba Kutir in north Delhi’s Mukherjee Nagar, also her youngest son Devdas Gandhi’s house, where she spent her maximum time in the 30s and 40s, is a gentle reminder of Ba, as she was fondly called. The house is the only memorial for her in the Capital and is situated in the 27-acre campus of Harijan Sevak Sangh (HSS), an organisation founded by Mahatma Gandhi in 1932. The only other reminder of her is Kasturba Gandhi Marg in Central Delhi. “There are many museums for Gandhiji, but none for the woman who was his shadow. We wanted one, so that people could know about the mother to the nation,” says Laxmi Das, vice-president, HSS.

The two-storey house is full of photographs, and illustrations with conversations between Ba and Bapu. Gandhi’s bathtub is also on showcase, which was found half dug into the lawn before the restoration. While the ground floor was used by Kasturba, the upper was Gandhi’s workspace. The house was in a dilapidated state for a long time. The worn out walls are now painted bright yellow. “For many years, the place was used as a guest house, but we decided to convert it into a memorial eight years ago,” says Das.

In one of the panels, there is an angry Kasturba, scolding Gandhi. “You don’t care for jewels and I have already obeyed your order to not wear trinkets. But what about my daughters-in-law? They will surely want the jewellery!” she says. “No, we should not keep anything,” replies her husband. In another, she asks Gandhi why he didn’t wake her up. “I was afraid to wake you,” he says. “You afraid of me!” she mocks. The exhibition has been curated by Delhi-based artist Hema Chakraborty, who was also a curator at Gandhi Smriti in
Raj Ghat.

There are quotes of Gandhi where he speaks of Ba, a name he gave her. A man had once mistaken Kasturba to be his mother. Later, in a public meeting he said, “For years I have been motherless, but for the last 30 years, she has filled that vacuum. She is my mother, my friend, my nurse, my cook and my everything.”

Kasturba Gandhi was involved in politics from the beginning. She participated in civil actions and protests across India. The majority of her time was dedicated to helping out and serving in ashrams. She taught women about hygiene, discipline, health, reading and writing. The exhibition registers Kasturba’s memory in the psyche of the city, but the text accompanying the works needs much editing and could be carefully drafted.

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