Independence Day 2018: Kasturba, more than just Mahatma Gandhi’s wife

Happy Independence Day 2018: The author of children’s book Kasturba, based on the freedom fighter and Mahatma Gandhi’s wife, writes about the journey of discovering that an ordinary woman can be an extraordinary person.

By Tanaya Vyas

Mahatma Gandhi, known in India as Father of the Nation, is recognised all over the world. But very little is known about Kasturba, his wife. As children, our history textbooks are filled with popular heroes, but often we are not introduced to unsung personalities. When in school, I was fortunate to get the opportunity to play the role of one such icon in a stage performance celebrating Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday.

The book Kasturba is inspired from that experience of mine and tells the story of a curious little girl, Nina exploring Kasturba’s character while practicing for the play. Everyone in her class believes she is a good actress, but Nina is confused when she’s given the role of Kasturba. Was Kasturba “just a wife”? What was she like as a person? After all, Nina could portray the role honestly only by understanding the deeper dimensions of Kasturba. While chatting with her grandmother, Nina discovers that Kasturba had fought alongside Gandhiji for India’s independence, took part in many protests and was even sent to jail. She was a kind and helpful soul who took care of the villagers’ needs. Nina wonders what Kasturba was like as a child.

Kasturba is said to have been a brave young girl who was not afraid of the dark. She had to encounter a lot of difficulties in her life, but her fearless attitude and endurance is admirable. She was forced to live without a lot of amenities and she devoted her time living in ashrams and managing them. She had to make many such sacrifices and adjust to a lot of changes. Nina needs to be assertive in her dialogue delivery especially during “the necklace scene” wherein Kasturba argues with Gandhiji that she has the right to accept a necklace given by the villagers as a token of respect for helping them.

Nina’s teacher who is directing the play, asks her to be dauntless while acting the part. When Nina asks her mother about Kasturba, she discovers that Kasturba had immense confidence and was always true to her beliefs. Nina’s father talks about how Kasturba stayed patient and bold during her interactions with Gandhiji. She did not give in easily and always had clear opinions. Nina feels very inspired and overcomes her nervousness. She slowly develops the sense of empowerment and is fascinated by the life of this incredible persona that Kasturba is. She becomes more and more engaged in the character and learns so much through the process.

It is exciting to be with Nina on this exploration of identity, perception of the self and uncovering the stories that accompany the multidimensional Kasturba. While creating and illustrating this book, I got the chance to read through many incidents of Kasturba’s life. The story weaves these anecdotes into a tale that is interesting to young readers as well as teachers and parents. Nina’s character celebrates the spirit of Kasturba.

Children deserve to read about real people who have made a positive difference through their deeds and thoughts. This story presents a strong character and allows discussions, a way in to talking about those who have been forgotten from history.

Salute to Kasturba!

(Tanaya is the creator of the children’s book Kasturba, published by Tulika Publishers, Chennai, India.)

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