Reminiscences of Kasturba Gandhi
She Was 'Ba'
- Prabhavati Jayaprakash Narayan
I have often been asked to write my reminiscences of Kasturba. But I am at a loss to know where to begin and what incidents to relate. My whole life teems with memories of Ba and Bapu. How shall a daughter write the memories of her mother? It is difficult to put 'in words what one has received from the mother since the very birth.
Image of Love and Filial Affection
Gandhiji had come to Darbhanga during his tour of Bihar just before the non-cooperation movement was launched, and he stayed with us in our house. Kasturba was with him. I was only 14 at that time. As soon as Ba saw me, she held me by the hand, and soon an intimate bond grew between us. I felt so drawn towards that image of love and filial affection that I felt as if she was my own mother.
Later, when I went to Sabarmati, there was' no common mess in the Ashram. Every family had its separate kitchen. At Ba and Bapu's
lodgings, however there was a kitchen which served the guests of the Ashram
as well. It had gradually become a common mess serving fifteen to twenty persons. A few Ashramites helped Ba in her culinary chores. But most of the work was done by Ba herself, and she took great delight in ,serving her guests.
While I was still quite a child, went South with Bapu. I still remember how Bapu lovingly instructed me, "Prabha, you would sleep with Ba on her bed". As there
was only one cot at that place, I said, "well, I might sleep' on' the floor". But Ba did not listen, and she took me
along with her to sleep.
During winter days in Sevagram, I used to go into Ba's room after the early morning 4 0' clock prayer. And Ba always insisted: "Prabha, Go and sleep for some time". Even in freezing weather Ba used to
room; then she would heated water for the bath, and after the cleaning and dusting were over she would come to wake me up. Warm water was always ready for
Ba's life was one replete with love, dedication, and also renunciation. When little girls like us, who attended on Bapu, went to tend on Ba, she sent us away laughingly, "I don't need anything. Don't tire yourself". Even in rains Ba used to carry and clean her own chamber pot.
She was Simple and Magnanimous
Bapu's soles were massaged with Ghee because of his blood-pressure. But I never remember to have massaged Ba's feet. For some days, her feet had been aching and they were slightly swollen as well. But she always made light of the matter, and carried on her daily routine as usual. How simple and magnanimous she was, manifest when she was ailing in the Agha Khan Palace. She was suffering greatly in her illness; even so, she never forgot to enquire about us children, "What did you have for dinner today? Did you have Ghee and milk? How much? I am on my sickbed, and cannot look after you". How dejected she looked as she said' so.
Some ordinary prisoners were appointed to serve us in the Aga Khan Palace. They cooked our food, and did the washing and cleaning. Bapu, who could not bear this iniquity for long, asked us to cook our own food and do our own washing. We obeyed him. When Ba learnt of this, she was worried. How could she bear to see her
daughters toil like that, she
Bapu: "Why do you' make the girls work so hard? They will fall ill". At last Bapu relieved us from our drudgery, and the prisoners again took over their appointed task.
Ba was never orthodox in her life. She was for ever adapting herself to new social values. She was convinced that a married woman should put the auspicious
vermilion mark on her head, and should wear bangles in her hand. Whenever I forgot to put the 'Tika' on my forehead, I was reprimanded. She was so sensitive about it that when Dr. Dinsha Mehta wanted me to take off her bangles so that her hands may be massaged properly, Ba refused to allow me. (She used to wear coloured
ivory bangles, which Gujarati women are wont to put on at their marriages). She
was perhaps afraid that the doctor would not allow the bangles on her wrists
again. Bapu asked me to persuade Ba, and I told her that after the massage the
bangles would "be put back on her hands. Whereupon Ba agreed, and I took off the bangles.
Immediately after her hair-do, which she completed with an assistance, Ba insisted "put Kurnkum Tika on my forehead". Every day she uses to worship the Tulsi plant by lighting an earthen lamp, and when due to her illness she was unable to move, we dutifully performed this ritual. Ba used to salute the lamp with folded hands. This routine lasted until her last day. A few days before her death, all her thoughts were bent towards God. She always pined for 'Bhajans' and the 'Ram Dhun,' when we were tired of singing ourselves, we used to play records of Bhajans. When her end came, she sat up and prayed, "FORGIVE me my faults, oh God!
me refuge!" When Bapu asked- her why she was
worried and sorry, she replied "No, I am quite happy, and you also have no reason to sorrow. Why, one might-distribute sweet at such a decent death."
She had No Ambition
On that last day of her life, a lady of the Ashram and I were sitting beside Ba, her head in our laps. "Bapuji", she whispered slowly. "Bapuji, please come! Ba is calling you", I shouted. Bapu came, and sitting beside her he also took her in his lap. Twice she tried to sit up. "What are you trying to remember?", Bapu asked, and Ba answered. "I
don't know what". The third time she collapsed into Bapu's lap, she had breathed .her last. How fortunate and blest was she!
gave the sacred bath to her dead body, then> he parted her hair and combed them, and put the: Kumkum Tika on her forehead. Her face looked effulgent at that moment, as if a goddess was asleep. Next. day, a stream of visitors began to pour in, to have her last Darshan there in Poona. Women brought their small vermilion boxes with them and after they had- respectfully painted a round mark on Bas' forehead,. they put the same mark in the parting in their hair. The trice-blest: A wife who dies in the life time- of her husband is given new bangles after her death,. according to Hindu custom. Ba also was. given new bangles by Pandits. Three days after the cremation,
when we were collecting Ba's ashes, we found those five- glass bangles, made crooked no doubt by heat, but still unbroken and intact.
Ba had no ambitions. She never longed for any. special recognition just because she was Mahatma
Gandhi's wife. In public meetings she used to sit along. with us in the audience, and when she was asked to. come to the dais, she replied, "No, I would love to sit with the people here." Spinning for three or four hours daily on the Charkha was no difficult job for Ba.
She continued her spinning unless she was bed-ridden. In August, 1942, when the police came to arrest Bapu in Bombay, Ba stood alongside him. Bapu told. her, "You are not well, therefore you may go to Sevagram and convalesce there, and look after the Ashram inmates". Quick came Bas' reply. "No I shall follow you." Ba was also arrested that day, and soon after- being jailed in Bombay, she was taken severely ill.. Later she joined Bapu in Aga Khan Palace.
Ba was the very image
and self-sacrifice. I experienced these qualities every moment I lived with her.
I pray to God to give us strength to follow her example.