|Mohandas and Kasturba Gandhi (from Wikipedia public domain photographs)|
It's Reading Week at the university and I've been researching material for my class paper. One of the works I read is a biography of Kasturba Gandhi, the wife of Mohandas, written by her grandson, Arun Gandhi.
Contrary to popular belief, Mrs. Gandhi (born Kastur Kapadia, 1869), was not the subservient, long-suffering wife that many Gandhian biographers have deemed her. Married to Mohandas in 1882, when they were both 13, Kastur became an essential part of Gandhi's Satyagraha Movement of peaceful protest. In fact, Gandhi credits Kasturba with teaching him the basics tenets of non-violence, through her patient, but determined behaviour in the face of his often stubborn ideas and sometimes angry reactions when others did not follow his path. It was Kasturba who kept house and home in order while Mohandas was away on his frequent political journeys, and it was she who cared for Gandhi during fasts and marches, sometimes enduring harsher prison terms than Mohandas himself. It was Kasturba who stayed behind to work on social and health problems with the women in Champaran, at the time of the indigo tenant farmers' protest in and around 1917, teaching them the basics of care and sanitation after the protests had ended.
The daughter of wealthy merchants who owned a trading house dealing in cloth, grain and cotton shipments, Kasturba learned to spin at the Sabarmati ashram in 1918. Upon arrival at the ashram from Champaran, Mrs. Gandhi found that:
The women. . .had become wholly absorbed in spinning. Mohandas had long hoped that his ashram could help start a renewal of India's self-sufficient village economy by reviving an age-old cottage industry, the spinning and weaving of the cloth known as khadi....Now, all the ashram residents, beginning with Mohandas himself, spent at least one hour a day at their spinning wheels. Ba (i.e. Kasturba--my insert) quickly concluded that her first task at hand was to learn how to spin. She did. My grandmother became one of the ashram's most skilled spinners. (A. Gandhi, p.211)
From then on, until her death in prison in 1944, Kasturba made the symbol of spinning and the charkha her own. The shy, quiet child bride pictured with Mohandas in the above photograph, became a champion of Indian civil rights, rallying men and women to the cause and using her spinning as a sign of devotion and duty.