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“I Hate The Husband Gandhi!” Neelima Dalmia Adha Opens Her Secret Diary, At JLF

  • IWB Post
  •  January 24, 2017


My last day at JLF. What a beautiful retreat it has been for the mind, the body, and the soul. Wonderful minds with inspiring ideas; the best Jaipur has had to offer in my 9-month rendezvous with the city.

Today’s front lawn was Women. Two authors have chosen to dive through the pages of Indian history and resurrect stories of the past. What is really amusing about the entire scenario is how we know history is full of lies. That’s the only truth about history. Here we have people searching through the lies to create another historical story, which inevitably, again, will be a lie. But it’s a story, and we are here to read.

On stage were Neelima Dalmia Adhar, Vera Hildebrand, Kasturba Gandhi, and the women soldiers of the INA.

‘The Secret Diary of Kasturba’ by Neelima Dalmia Adhar examines through the fictional lens the troubled life choices thrust upon Kasturba Gandhi by the Mahatma. In Women at War, Vera Hildebrand resurrects the forgotten voices of Subhas Chandra Bose’s famed Rani of Jhansi regiment. In a session that retrieved female narratives from lingering silences, Adhar and Hildebrand spoke of the buried lives of their protagonists.

Neelima is a psychologist. Through the book, she has tried to unravel the mind of Mahatma Gandhi’s wife, Kasturba Gandhi. Kasturba she says has been given a voice, and this voice has come at a time when we are ready to revive it.

The Messiah aside, Gandhi was full of flaws.

“I hate the father Gandhi, and I hate the husband, Gandhi. Married at the age of 12 to a wealthier woman, Gandhi was a jealous, possessive man who continually doubted his wife and as a result of which took a unilateral vow of celibacy. This emotional atyachaar contradicts his spiritual message of nonviolence. The pick of the lot were his odious experiments with his sexuality.”

There. A million copies sold!

But Neelima wasn’t all anti-Gandhi. She did give him his due credit for his devotion to the freedom struggle. He was a baniya, she says, with a mind so astute that he would have been the CEO of a huge enterprise today. His inciting of the women from conservative families to come down to the streets and partake in the freedom struggle created a massive shift in the social roles of women. But she came back to addressing the fallout of his attitude towards women while talking about his experiments where he would lie next to naked women to test his vow.

Today’s India is not the India of Gandhi, Neelima reminds us. His principles are not relevant today. He is reduced to tokenism, but if we were to draw strength from his truths, we would benefit self and the nation.

Here’s more.
‘”Oh, I hate Gandhi,” has been the best compliment I have received. Apart from Shashi Tharoor saying to me that I have given Kasturba an Aadhaar card.”

Gandhi is Mahatma. Bapu. Somewhere, my heart quietly shed a tear.

But the Gandhis weren’t the only ones called upon by the deathly hallow. We had Subhash Chandra Bose, who celebrates his 120th birth anniversary this year, and his warrior women brought alive in speech too.

Vera only said the sweetest things about Netaji. She found a father figure in him, she confessed. Bose was a man of steel, complicated but years ahead of his time. He wanted India to be free. He wanted its women to be free and equal and work equally hard to earn their living. He pushed women to fight, to pick up arms.

In that time and age! Please give this thought.

His warrior women that formed the Rani of Jhansi regiment of the INA cut through classes, races, and religions to fight for a common cause. Those were the best days of their lives. These were real active participants of a war and not victims of it. Bose instrumented this. Bose did not, however, succeed with INA. Vera did leave us wondering how different the country would be today had the INA won.

The most interesting detail she divulged was that of the anonymous mail she received from a librarian from Singapore who gave her access to old archival British materials on INA. How excitingly Dan Brown!

Vera spoke with utmost earnestness, and her reverence for Bose was clear. Listening to Neelima talk about Gandhi, she was quick to point out, “No, Bose did not have anything odious about him.”

History! What a fascinating subject.
I am befuddled at this incoming flood of the Sita, Surpankha, Urmila, Karna’s Wife and here again Kasturba.

Why this interest in the women of the past? Is it sensationalism? Is it a quest to discover self? It is putting across the truth to everybody else?

Neelima said how the voice of Kasturba was really her voice in Kasturba’s place and time. Then isn’t it flawed from the beginning? How can you voice a woman from a different generation? Times have evolved the minds of a woman. So what does taking a figure like Kasturba from the history books and putting her out in a new light while shaming Gandhi do for a nation that has been built on his principles (at least, what we read)

But then, my teacher always told me not to put anybody on a pedestal. Maybe she was right. Put one up there today, and someone will bring him down.

Why do we continue to live in the past? Write about the dead and gone? Gandhi isn’t here to talk back to Neelima. And she knows that. Else, perhaps we would have books on Modi or Lalu or Sonia. And not just any books, but books that create hate and negativity.

I imagine Gandhi, Bose, Kasturba, and maybe there’s Shastri as well, all seated around a table sipping Chai musing over the world that they had left behind. ‘Leave us alone’, maybe one of them whispers.

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