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The Martyr & his Shadow!

Jan. 30, 2021, 7:19 p.m. by Dr Gayatri Mohapatra ( 394 views)

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Albert Einstein summed up his views of Mahatma Gandhi in the following words: Generations to come will scarce believe that such a man, one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.

Mahatma Gandhi remains one of the most revered leaders and as the cliché goes, there is a woman behind every successful man. By his own admission, Gandhi's achievement was due to his wife Kasturba Gandhi's unfailing cooperation, tenacity & courage.

"Mahatma Gandhi said "Let us all be brave enough to die the death of a martyr, but let no one lust for martyrdom."

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Gandhi was a symbol of peace and nonviolence, in an era full of strife and violence that put him in the midst of the greatest leaders in the history of mankind.

Gandhiji became a living legend and the famous poet Rabindranath Tagore conferred the title "Mahatma" due to the extraordinary achievements in his lifetime. Yet, the Mahatma became a martyr in his death on 30th January, 1948.

He was assassinated by Nathuram Godse in Birla House (now Gandhi Smriti), New Delhi, at 5:17.30 p.m. on 30 January 1948. As Napoleon Bonaparte once said "it's the cause, not the death, which makes a martyr".

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Gandhiji always said"You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty."

He visited Orissa 8 times and on his 7th visit to Orissa, he stayed in a quaint& idyllic village, Beraboi in Delang, district Puri. A dear friend who belongs to Beraboi told me about the local 'Gandhi stories' he had heard from his grandfather.Gandhiji & his followers stayed in several thatched huts & bathed in the local budheswar tank,eating with the local villagers & advocating the Gandhian philosophy. Beraboi also has a Gandhi Smriti smarak in the Mahatma's honour.A "kasturba memorial " was also built by Rama devi.This perked my interest and I started to read more Gandhiji's visit to Orissa with Kasturba and their family.

The Seventh visit in March 25-31, 1938 was to attend annual Gandhi seva Sangh conference. Mahatma Gandhi’s visit to Puri carries much significance in India’s freedom movement.

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Gandhiji took important decisions during the five-day Gandhi Seva Sangh conference at Beraboi, Delang in Puri district, from March 25 to 31st, 1938. The conference resolved to eradicate untouchability, strengthen socio- economic condition of people residing in rural areas, curb violence and promote communal harmony.Several prominent leaders like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Abdul Kalam Azad, Rajendra Prasad, Acharya Kripalini and Kasturba Gandhi participated in the conference.

During the seven day stay at Beraboi, Kasturiba Gandhi and Durgaben quietly visited the Jagannath temple from Beraboi. Although Narayan Desai accompanied them, he didn't enter the temple as Gandhiji was against the discrimination being practiced by the local sevayats in Puri in not allowing lower caste people from entering the temple. Nayayan Desai was the son of Gandhiji's personal secretary Madhav Desai,a famous exponent of the Gandhian way of living.

Once, on his earlier visit to the temple town of Puri, Mahatma Gandhi was stopped when he took an entourage of Muslims, Harijans and Dalits to the temple so he refused to enter Jagannath temple as a matter of principle.

Gandhi called himself a devout Hindu, yet he did not go to any temple to demonstrate to himself and to others how deep or strong he Hinduism was. He prayed on the ground in front of his hut, facing the Sabarmati river. When he moved to Sevagram, he prayed in the open in that ashram too.Gandhi’s Hinduism was syncretic rather than sectarian. He respected other religions, and conducted a lifelong campaign for interfaith harmony.

So,in Beraboi,Mahatma Gandhi launched a fast and refused to talk(Mouna vrat) to his wife when he came to know about Kasturba’s trip to the Jagannath temple against his wishes.Kasturba simply said that she disobeyed Gandhi's wishes as she wanted to have Jagannath darshan in the holy town of Puri.

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Kasturba Gandhi's name is often lost in the face of Gandhi's leadership, but she was his pillar of support, the first individual who was a part of him like none other. She was perhaps the only person who could disagree with him and point out to him his mistakes. She was his wife, companion and a larger than life shadow.

Historian Vinay Lal writes, “Kasturba never acceded to her husband's wishes easily, and Gandhi's autobiography itself furnishes remarkable testimony to her tenacity and independence of judgement, and the sharp disagreements she came to have with him when, in the first two decades of their marriage, he unreasonably sought to bring her under his control.” Gandhi in his own biography spoke about it, “According to my earlier experience, she was very obstinate. In spite of all my pressure she would do as she wished. This led to short or long periods of estrangement between us. But as my public life expanded, my wife bloomed forth and deliberately lost herself in my work.”

Kasturba was simple and gentle and in her gentleness one could see the strength that came through. Kasturba's sacrifice is commendable. She wholeheartedly worked for the freedom struggle and supported her husband in his efforts. She gave up on things she liked - good food, her religious beliefs and even her jewellery and she did not object to his vow of brahmacharya.Yet she was far from submissive, rather held her own and did make herself heard even if it was Gandhi at the receiving end. In her gentle, dignified manner, Kasturba was referred to as "BA" or Mother by everyone.

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Sarojini Naidu described her as “The living symbol of Indian womanhood. Never once did her feet falter or her heart quail on the steep path of perpetual sacrifice, which was her portion in the wake of the great man whom she loved and served and followed with such surpassing courage, faith and devotion. She has passed from mortality to immortality and taken her rightful place in the valiant assembly of the beloved heroines of India's legend, history and song”.

At the peak of the "Quit India movement, when Gandhiji was imprisoned, Kasturba took his place, but was stopped on the way to the meeting and was taken a prisoner and sent to the Arthur Road Prison in Bombay. Kasturba told SushilaNayar, the personal physician of Gandhiji “I have a feeling I will not come out alive.”

The cell she was put in was dirty and she fell ill. After a few days she was removed to Aga Khan Palace in Poona where Gandhi was detained. Kasturba Gandhi died on 22 February 1944 with her head placed in the lap of Mahatma Gandhi.

Moments before her passing away, Kasturba Gandhi, "Do not sorrow after my death. It should be an occasion for rejoicing." She was cremated in the compound of the Aga Khan Palace on 23 February 1944. Mahatma Gandhi sat through the cremation till the pyre extinguished.

Someone suggested Mahatma Gandhi to move away midway. Mahatma Gandhi is said to have replied saying, "This is the final parting, the end of 62 years of shared life. Let me stay here till the cremation is over." A little later, Mahatma Gandhi paid tribute to Kasturba Gandhi in the following words: If anything she stood above me. But for her unfailing co-operation I might have been in the abyss."

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"She helped me to keep wide awake and true to my vows. She stood by me in all my political fights and never hesitated to take the plunge. In the current sense of the word, she was uneducated; but to my mind she was a model of true education."

Karuwakispeaks salutes Kasturba Gandhi for her exemplary courage,sacrifice & patriotism & pays homage to Mahatma Gandhi on martyr's day!

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