Didn’t choose Kasturba Gandhi, she chose me, says Neelima Dalmia
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Didn’t choose Kasturba Gandhi, she chose me, says Neelima Dalmia

The amity between Mahatma Gandhi and industrialist RK Dalmia is well known but it took a Dalmia daughter to bring Kasturba out of the shadows.

punjab Updated: Feb 06, 2018 23:19 IST
Nirupama Dutt
Nirupama Dutt
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Kasturba Gandhi,Gandhi's sexual experiments,gandhi
In ‘The Secret Diary of Kasturba’, Dalmia has written about the hardships that Kasturba Gandhi faced and has drawn parallels with her own life.(HT Photo)

In an intimate tete-a-tete, with the choicest pick of well-groomed women and one man in the audience, at The Taj here, on Monday evening, author Neelima Dalmia Adhar confessed that she did not choose her subjects, the subjects chose her. “I think it was Kasturba who chose me to tell her untold story,” she said.

Dalmia said this in reference to her latest book ‘The Secret Diary of Kasturba’, which although a fictional account is based on factual research, arranged by ‘Kalam’, an initiative of Prabha Khaitan Foundation.

In a candid and no holds barred conversation, Neelima, who makes it a point to repeat over and again that she is the fourth child of the sixth wife of the flamboyant Dalmia who was the subject of her first book ‘Father Dearest’, held the audience mesmerised with aplenty quotes.

“I had an advantage in telling the tale of Kasturba because the neglect and tyranny she and her children faced, as Gandhi led the nation to freedom, was similar to what my mother, the other wives and 18 children of the flamboyant industrialist Dalmia perhaps suffered,” she said.

“Icons have a bi-polarity when it comes to the dedication to their mission vis-a-vis their role as a husband and father. The Mahatma suffered from this as did my father,” she said drawing parallels between the two.

‘Merchants of Death’

Neelima’s second book ‘Merchants of Death’ was a telling account of generations of a Marwari family dealing in arm and ammunition business. “The other advantage that I had in detailing the Kasturba story is that the Gujarati business community has the same ethos as the Marwaris. My account of the rituals at the time of Kasturba’s marriage ceremonies is authentic because I went through the same rituals at my wedding, for we share ethnicity,” underlined Neelima.

Talking about the possibility of a film, if it were to be made on the book, the author said that it would be excellent and the actors who could do justice to the lead roles would be Vidya Balan as Ba and Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Hari Lal, the rebel son. She added, “This is like chasing a dream. But I think the greatest damage done to Kasturba was in the Richard Attenborough film ‘Gandhi’ where she was portrayed as a puppet.”

“Kasturba died in 1944 and most (sexual) experiments happened afterwards. But some took place while she was still alive.” — Neelima Dalmia Adhar

The two episodes that moved her, in Kasturba’s story, are — when Gandhi has the long black hair of two young women shorn because his second son Mani Lal is attracted to them; and when Hari Lal salutes his mother. His parents are travelling nationwide in a train and at every station come slogans of ‘Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai’ and there comes a bedraggled, ailing Hari Lal with an orange as a gift at the Katni station in Madhya Pradesh and raises the slogan, ‘Ma Kasturba ki Jai!’

Speaking about Gandhi’s sexual experiments, Neelima says, “Kasturba died in 1944 and most experiments happened afterwards. But some took place while she was still alive. Here was a woman who did not say a word against her husband or allowed her children to do so because she was doing the ‘dharma’ of a wife.”

The audience was irked by the author’s repeated apologies for signing Hindi translations of the book as gifts as they hoped to get it in English.

First Published: Feb 06, 2018 13:30 IST