Book Review: The Forgotten Woman

The Forgotten Woman by Arun and Sunanda Gandhi (Arun Gandhi is Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson) reveals the experiences of Gandhi’s wife, Kastur as never before portrayed.

The book represents a monumental undertaking in the form of extensive research beginning in 1960. The authors assert no family records of her existed as floods had devastated Porbander, India, Kastur and Mohanda’s birthplace.  Arun Gandhi grew up in South Africa and had not seen his grandmother Kastur since the age of five. Consequently, the authors depended on oral histories in order to create an accurate portrait of Kastur.

The narrative is built by anecdotes and revelations drawn from correspondence. Arun Gandhi noted he stumbled upon a collection of family correspondence in 1988 while in South Africa.
“These letters yielded fresh insights which have shaped my understanding of this story,” he wrote.

Kastur’s dedication to her family was absolute. “Sometimes Kasturba’s husband and her son were in prison at the same time,” wrote Arun Gandhi about his grandmother.

Mishal Husain of the BBC said, “It was Gandhi who had first galvanized the nation, brought India’s cause to the attention of the world.”  But it was Kastur who contributed her inner strength. Shortly after her death in 1944, The Times of India noted, “For 60 years she was his constant companion, following him through all the vicissitudes of a Mahatma’s wife, courting imprisonment with him in the role of political agitator…”

The book also chronicles the early years of Kastur’s life when she lived in India, and Mohandas in South Africa working as a barrister for a trading company. He had been hired to help on a disputed claim. As his destiny unfolded in South Africa and he journeyed through his process of “becoming”, she waited in India with dreams and concerns of her own. “My grandmother must have sensed once again, that her husband was changing, becoming a new kind of person,” wrote Arun Gandhi.

A labor of love, the book is illuminating and appealing to readers who appreciate world history, cultural anthropology, women’s studies, and memoir.  Finally, Kastur emerges from the shadow of the Mahatma. From her experiences as a child bride to her incarcerations alongside her husband, a figure emerges of a woman with a spirit that was always “proud and free.”

The editorial tribute published in The Times of India in 1944 describes Kasturba as “A brave woman with a large and kind heart, she was known to India’s worshipping millions simply as Ba- “mother.”

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