Author Neelima Dalmia Adhar is back with the secret fictional diary of the woman behind the Father of the Nation


0ne post-monsoon afternoon as I enter Le Meridi­en’s Eau De Mon­soon restaurant two things strike me: the rain washed trees behind its glass wall seem greener than ever before, almost like Delhi never had a summer! In the background plays a rent of “Inankhon Id masti ke”, a ghazal that has inspired many a candle-lit dinner. Arriving

almost right on cue is the evergreen Neelima Dalmia Adhar, an author who takes a little under half a decade to write a book, then sits back to see that book being discussed for the next few years. It happened with “Father Dearest”. It almost did with “Merchants of Death”. Now Neelima has come up with a book whose subject will surprise many. Of course, she would love to talk more about the book, unreservedly called “The Secret Diary of Kasturba”, how initially Kastur failed to ignite her  Imagina tion before she discovered that Kastur’s life had an uncanny resemblance to her own.

It has been a long time since we met – her first book which she then revealed left her completely brutalised. This one is relatively cathartic; in many ways, just repaying the debt she felt towards Kasturba. “It has been nine years,” she recalls that meeting. One would like to believe her, but her face, as unlined now as it was then, is not her ally. The jet black hair is straight and well conditioned, the face so well prestill bound by that Hindu righteousness that if she dies before her husband or commits Sati, she attains redemption. I don’t know if I have done justice to that part, but I have taken certain liberties there.” As she finishes her sabzi in gentle, patient bites of single crisp roti, Neelima reveals that not just the Mahatma, even Kasturba’s sons never stood up for their mother. “The elder one Harilal writes to his father that my mother is an oppressed woman, she has no voice. She cannot do what she wants to do because she is completely submerged by you. Then there was another instance that completely seared my soul.

Gandhi had already become a Mahatma by then. Kasturba and he were at Katni railway station. There was this crowd saying `Mahatma Gandhi Id jai ho’. There was one voice in that crowd, he says, `Alm Kasturba Id jai’. That is the voice of Harilal. He is completely wasted, wearing torn clothes. He is carrying a shrivelled orange which he hands over to her, saying it is for you, not for him, pointing at the Mahatma. And tells the Mahatma that I want you to know that everything you are is because of my mom. Gandhi’s face shows sneer. I cried then. That is one of the most soul-searing incidents. It impacted me. I actually cried with her as a mother, and him as the child.” That is all in the past. Now is the time to exchange smiles. And savour the compliments that are beginning to trickle in for her labour of love. Of course, a sweet dish won’t be out of place? Not quite. Neelima springs a surprise, passing on her chocolate-cream to me. That dark sinful chocolate, that cream to die for. This from a woman who always ruffles a few feathers with her words! As she leaves Monsoon behind, Neelima states with a finality,”I think I had a debt towards Kasturba. With this book, I am repaying that debt.” I think I had a debt towards Kasturba.With this book, I am repaying that debt messiah. My father became an industry titan. Frankly, I was so moved that I could as

well have been writing the story from the eyes of a daughter on her mother.” But writing about somebody who is usually only a shadowy figure in history books must have been difficult? “Well, we must not forget that it is a work of fiction.

It has been a long time since we met – her first book which she then revealed left her completely brutalised. This one is relatively cathartic; in many ways, just repaying the debt she felt towards Kasturba. “It has been nine years,” she recalls that meeting. One would like to believe her, but her face, as unlined now as it was then, is not her ally. The jet black hair is straight and well conditioned, the face so well.

pre-still bound by that Hind righteousness that if she dies before her husband or commits Sati, she attains redemption. I don’t know if I have done justice to that part, but I have taken certain liberties there.” As she finishes her sabzi in gentle, patient bites of single crisp roti, Neelima reveals that not just the Mahatma, even Kasturba’s sons never stood up for their mother.

“The elder one Harilal writes to his father that my mother is an oppressed woman, she has no voice. She cannot do

what she wants to do because she is completely submerged by you. Then there was another instance that completely seared my soul. Gandhi had already become a Mahatma by then. Kasturba and he were at Katni railway

station. There was this crowd saying `Mahatma Gandhi Id jai ho’. There was one voice in that crowd, he says,Alm Kasturba Id jai’. That is the voice of Harilal. He is completely wasted, wearing torn clothes. He is carrying a shrivelled orange which he hands over to her, saying it is for you, not for him, pointing at the Mahatma. And tells the Mahatma that I want you to know that everything you are is because of my mom.Gandhi’s face shows sneer. I cried then. That is one of the most soul-searing incidents.

It impacted me. I actually cried with her as a mother, and him as the child.” That is all in the past. Now is the time to exchange smiles. And savour the compliments that are beginning to trickle in for her labour of love. Of course, a sweet dish won’t be out of place? Not quite. Neelima springs a surprise, passing on her chocolate-cream to me. That dark sinful chocolate, that cream to die for. This from a woman who always ruffles a few feathers with her words! As

she leaves Monsoon behind,Neelima states with a finality, “I think I had a debt towards Kasturba. With this book, I

am repaying that debt.” I think I had a debt towards Kasturba. With this book, I am repaying that debt messiah. My father became an industry titan. Frankly, I was so moved that I could as well have been writing the story from the eyes of a daughter on her mother.” But writing about somebody who is usually only a shadowy figure in history

books must have been difficult? “Well, we must not forget that it is a work of fiction. A work that draws from history, though. It was not that much of a challenge. I realised I am Kasturba. I am writing as a wife. But yes, I realise

we are living in terrible times.

I cannot indemnify myself against mad people. If they decide le chalo, abhi iss book ko jalana hai’. Though all protest works in favour of a book, in this case, all such people must realise that we are calling it a work of fiction as there

was no diary of Kasturba!” Coming back to how it all started, she reveals, “I feel the 99 some candid moments

thrown in! Isn’t she a bit scared in today’s climate? “I am never scared. I was titillated. I have always played with danger. It did not scare me. I have not deviated from proven facts of history. Nobody can accuse of fabricating a situation which was never there. Pretty much Gandhi’s own biography is the canvas of my book. He was brutally candid in his biography. He had reached that kind of state where criticism did not affect him. The only place where I have drifted away from reality is when I have structured the character of Kastur, and juxtaposing her soul with mine. I found such chilling similarities between Gandhi and my father, his treatment of his wife and children. It seems like a parallel life. It was almost like they were clones. Mahatma Gandhi went on to become a Everybody else revolved

around that pivot.Declining anything to drink, Neelima, a vegetarian by choice, and a food lover by habit, opts for some nice paneer starters.

“I do not want broccoli. I don’t like mushroom. But I would love to have that paneer. It has been highly recommended by my friends,” she tells the Monsoon chef, before veering back to the original conversation. “The book was with me for a long time. I read this book called `Harilal Gandhi’ by Chandulal Dalai. I was moved. And I decided to explore it more. I read more though the information on Kastur was sketchy at best. But honestly, initially, Kastur did not inspire me.

For two years, I did not write a page. Then it all came back to me.” But a book on the wife of the Father of the Nation with often wrangling son Harilal, dedicate herself to a man torn between the nation and the family. Not to forget that he was also the man who wrote to her in South Africa expressing his inability to be with her at the time of serious illness, confident that her soul would be alive even if she would be dead! That he promised to stay single all life long following her possible departure would have done little to assuage her hurt. Of course, she was a freedom fighter too, something which is usually ignored in our hurry to cover Gandhi with a halo. But the original Mrs Gandhi had more colours to her than posterity gives her credit for. Oh, never mind her well starched, white saris! That abiding memory is courtesy Richard Attenborough’s film that for many youngsters was an introduction to the Father of the Nation.served that she could as well have been in Time Zero.

She still smiles like there is no sorrow with the world. And when she laughs, she manages to remind you of the echo of falling pearls in a fivestar corridor. And those hands with long, shapely fingers would be wonderfully appropriate for a synthesizer;an emotion other than love may not find place on her countenance either. Never mind that she has been “sixteen for many decades”. The background song could as well have been “Samay ka yeh pal thham sa gaya hai!” She should be writing poetry. But see the brutalities of destiny; never for a moment has she got a chance to write about woods, dark and deep. Well, in the moment, here and now, she is happy to discuss Kastur, the woman who had to often find peace between the Mahatma and his

time of the book was predestined. I could not have got a better time. Gandhi is no longer a holy cow. And it is a brick by brick deconstruct of the man regarded as a god, a messiah of peace by many. Kastur struck a chord with me as a mother. I understand that any marriage is an act of compromise. I have lived and been bred on a pair of broken homes and fractured relationships. It is something that does not brutalise me. But mother-child relationship? There I am touched to the core. I cannot bear to see a child in misery. I cannot deal with a crying or a hurt child. The most poignant part of the book is the mother-son relationship and the balance Kastur had to maintain between Harilal and the Mahatma. That is where I have bared my soul.” Yet Kasturba comes across as a traditional woman, bound to history? “She is still bound by thought of redemption…she liberates when Gandhi dies. Despite the fact that she is liberated woman with a mind of her own,