Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Book Review: The Secret Diary of Kasturba by Neelima Dalmia Adhar

Title: The Secret Diary of Kasturba
Author: Neelima Dalmia Adhar
Publisher: Tranquebar Press


A fictionalized “memoir,” Neelima Dalmia Adhar’s ‘The Secret Diary of Kasturba’ derives its facts from the lives of Mahatma Gandhi, his wife Kastur, and their sons. It is written in the first person and includes invented thoughts and dialogue that may or may not bear resemblance to real life. The book essentially voices Kastur’s feelings about her life with her husband. Through this book we get a glimpse into the life of the otherwise overshadowed figure who was sacrificed at the altar of greater good.

Numerous books have been written about the legendary Mahatma Gandhi, the man who freed India, but nothing substantial has ever been written about the woman who shared his successes and failures. Known simply as “Ba” (Mother) to millions of people in India, she is truly the forgotten woman whom history has side-lined mercilessly. She was the woman who shared Gandhi’s love, his sorrows, his triumphs and his tragedies. She was the one who stood by his side even when imprisoned alongside him on several occasions. She overcame many obstacles as she gave up a life of wealth for one of utter poverty. She was forced into celibacy, a decision that was not conferred with her by her cherished husband.

The book starts with Kastur fighting an already lost battle with death. Hers is a fate sealed by the dictates of an otherwise stringent husband. The chronology then shifts to the beginning. We are gradually introduced to the Kapadia household where Kastur was born to the governor of Porbandar. She is shown to grow up in the pages with an alacrity that is short lived. She gradually speaks from her heart about the different facets of her life — losing her first-born, an often difficult marriage, her husband’s immersion in politics and its consequences on their family, their troubled sons, and, most importantly, her own desires and hopes.

Usually Gandhi biographers write about the legends that we have come to associate with the name. Neelima’s story is that of a human, riddled with one too many flaws. We are shown the tantrums of a husband and the failures of a father. As such it is not the same man that we’ve learned to expect but someone as seen through the eyes of his wife.

Neelima’s writing is crisp and comes effortlessly. Her narrative whips up a vivid imagery, albeit a lengthy, one which renders the reading experience a tad boring. The book could have been easily accommodated in just half of its present length. The biggest drawback of this book is the narrator’s omnipresence. It has come out more as story about Gandhi than a journal of Kastur’s. None of what makes up this book is new; some of it is blinkered, some is extraneous; but enough of it is vivid to impress upon latecomers the role of the woman behind the force that is known as the Mahatma. However, it should be read for what it is — a work of fiction rather than a historical study.

About the Author:

When Neelima Dalmia Adhar wrote Father Dearest: The Life and Times of R.K. Dalmia in 2003, she was on the bestseller list and labelled a daredevil “family chronicler” who had exposed some fiercely-guarded secrets. She then wrote a novel, Merchants of Death in 2007 to be established as a mistress of the genre. 

Educated in a convent school and a reputed college in Delhi, she has a Master’s in Psychology with a specialization in “personality.” Her first and only job was to teach Psychology to undergraduate students of Delhi University. 

A passionate “people-watcher,” she is drawn to oddities and thrives on writing about personalities and human behaviour, from the quirky to the mysterious to the bizarre, a subject she does chillingly close to the bone. 

She lives in Delhi with her husband, children and two grandchildren.

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* I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
** Picture courtesy: 

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