PUNE: “Kasturba Gandhi’s health became worse. We sent for oxygen. As her condition worsened, nursing became more and more taxing. She could not breathe without oxygen. She expired exactly at 7.35 pm. On February 22, 1944 with her head on Mahatma Gandhi’s lap, Devadasbhai, her son, put his head on her breast and calling out her again wept like a child. A tear stood in the corner of Gandhi’s eyes also. But he collected himself, got up and gave instructions to remove everything from the room.”
This was the scene at Pune’s Aga Khan Palace on a rain-soaked evening as described by noted Gandhian, Sushila Nayar, in a book on Kasturba Gandhi. Under house imprisonment, Ba, as Kasturba Gandhi was better known, breathed her last and was cremated at the same place on February 23, 1944.
BA HAD BEEN Gandhi’s companion to the last. Strong-willed though he was, Ba’s death left Gandhiji shaken. “She was his strength. He could not imagine his life without Ba”, says another Gandhian, Ms Usha Mehta.
Indeed, Ba’s death left Gandhi completely shaken. As Sushila Nayar noted in her book that Ba’s body on the funeral pyre at the Aga khan Palace had become waterlogged.
The cremation took a long time and Gandhi and many of his friends stayed on the cremation ground until 4 p.m. Several times, it was suggested that he should go and rest, but Gandhi refused.
“How can I leave her like this after 62 years of companionship? I am sure that she won’t forgive me for that,” Gandhi laughed. The Father of the Nation was experiencing deep pain, according to Sushila Nayar.
“Gandhi was a sage and a great man but with all that he was human. When everybody had left, we had a glimpse of what was passing within his breast. As he lay in bed that night, he remarked:” I cannot imagine life without Ba. I always wished her to go in my hands so that I would not have to worry as to what will become of her when I am no more. But she was an indivisible part of me. Her passing away has left vacuum which will never be filled”, noted Sushila Nayar quoting Gandhi.
Kasturba was arrested along with Dr Sushila Nayar when she tried to address a mass gathering at Mumbai’s Shivaji Park after Gandhi was arrested following the Quit India call.
She was later shifted to Aga Khan Palace at Poona where Gandhi was interned.
In December 1942, she suffered two heart attacks. Ba’s health started deteriorating in January 1944.
Today, the same Aga Khan Palace is a preserved monument. Situated near Yervada Jail in Pune it gives glimpses of day-to-day life of the great freedom fighters who were interned at this place.
Though open to public, very few people visit it, for that matter, not even the caretakers at this historical place are aware of the great contribution that Aga Khan Palace made to the freedom movement and where Gandhi’s companion for life left him all alone to bear the cross.
By Ketan Narottam Tanna