by HUMRA QURAISHI March 22 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins, 37 secs

As the month of March comes to an end, and with it so do the many celebrations around International Women’s Day, Humra Quraishi questions the politicians of the day, who seem to be single, like their master who is indeed so.

I do realize the International Women’s Day will go to the past along with this month, but I’ve been writing all along, this day is of little significance for me, because it’s been hijacked by the political-opportunists. How does one ‘celebrate’ this day when blatant violations are taking place all around us! When women aren’t able to have convicted rapists held in prisons. I’m discussing Bilkis Bano here, whose rapists and the killers of her daughter and family members, were released, and are roaming free whilst she and the members of her family live in fear.

There are scores of women suffering, but speeches of politicians are filled with platitudes, which mean nothing! The ground realities are so alarming that after the sun sets on a day, it gets difficult for a woman to walk down a street unescorted - chances of her getting molested and abused are more than chances of her reaching her destination unscathed. And, more so, in the so-called developed smart cities!

Have you noticed that we no longer talk of the role of the politician’s wives anymore. It almost seems like none of the members of parliament and other leaders are married – is this discretion maintained because our dear prime minister is single? Thankfully, though, there did exist a period in the history of India, when the wives played a rather prominent role in the political struggles of their husbands.

I’ve been re-reading this book on Kasturba Gandhi: Kasturba Gandhi - A bio-fiction (Published by Niyogi Books, written by Giriraj Kishore, translated from Hindi by Manisha Chaudhry). This volume is so well written that it can be read in one shot. Deftly woven and inter-woven are significant facts and incidents from the lives and times of Kasturba Gandhi and her husband, Mahatma Gandhi.

Although this volume is described as the fictionalized biography of Kasturba Gandhi, I would term it a historical novel, which ought to be introduced at schools and colleges so that upcoming generations can know of the role played by Kasturba Gandhi, not just in the life of her husband, but also in the wider context. “Her personality has a vastness of its own. Ba was a fighter, both in life and in politics.” 

Also, not to be ignored is the fact that Kasturba Gandhi, or Ba, as she is popularly called, was the first Indian woman who voluntarily faced a sentence on foreign soil, in South Africa, during her fight for the rights of Indian women. Of course, we cannot bypass her determination to take on the fight for the cause and pledges taken by her husband when he was imprisoned in India. She was his companion and partner in all his struggles. Standing by him and with him, all along.

Several touching incidents have been detailed in this volume. Perhaps, the most hard-hitting is the last chapter where Kasturba’s passing in jail is written about, in the Aga Khan Palace, where she was last held. To quote: “On February 23, her body was placed for public view. About hundred and fifty friends and relatives had come. Hindus, Muslims, Parsis, politicians and Britishers - people from all communities were arriving. The pyre was burning when Ramdas arrived. He wished his father and sat cross-legged on the floor. He was reserved. That night, Ramdas and Devdas had permission to stay in the Palace. As the two brothers sat by Bapu, their eyes flowed with tears. Bapu placed his hands on their shoulders. ‘For me it was a partnership of sixty-two years. Sometimes I would think if both of us went together… but death keeps her secrets and takes everybody separately. I had prayed that if we cannot go together, take Kasturba first. I will manage, but how will she live after having lived with a man like me…? Work tires you out but parting and sorrow almost kill you with the strain …’”

And as I go through other volumes on our historical past and the personalities, the role of the women, along with their men, has been held high. In the book on Mughal Emperor Jahangir, ‘An Intimate Portrait of a Great Mughal Jahangir’, (Juggernaut), author Parvati Sharma writes: “Nurjahan’s influence, then, is irrefutable. Its causes are less clear. Is it possible that Jahangir lost his heart and his head so completely to his wife that he gave away all the power he had so long craved? Or is it possible that Nurjahan had such a flair for governance that Jahangir found it both convenient and advantageous to share his rule with her? Could it also be, perhaps, that as the emperor lost more and more of his oldest and trusted friends, he became increasingly reliant on those that remained?”

And in the volume ‘Yasodhara - A Novel About The Buddha’s Wife’ (Speaking Tiger), there is focus on the emotional pain in the life of Yasodhara. Author Vanessa R Sasson said, during the course of an interview, “The pain is indeed immense. I felt her pain and sometimes felt as though I was getting lost in it... But with time, that passed. I began to understand not just her pain, but the pain that is life’s complexity. The pain of the story does not belong exclusively to her. Everyone suffered – the kingdom, the king, the horse Kanthaka, the chariot driver, the ministers. His decision to leave home broke everyone’s heart. And because of that, I had to imagine that it also broke his…I had to imagine his pain, imagine the torture he must have experienced as he negotiated the call he felt himself pulled to follow. He had the best possible life, with the most loving companion. It had to have been painful for him to leave, as much as it was painful for her to be left behind.”  

So, I’m leaving you with the opening lines of SONYA  SINGH VERMA’s poem titled  ‘The  Thing With  Peace Is’ (Amity Peace Poems - Hawakal Publishers).

It’s so tenuous/Fragile/Temporary/Delusional//Its surface calm/Is rippled so easily/With a pebble/All it takes is just one pebble//Just one person/Can shatter the mirage…’

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