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HomePageTurnerBook ExcerptsWhen Mahatma Gandhi washed Kasturba’s soiled petticoat

When Mahatma Gandhi washed Kasturba’s soiled petticoat

Between 1943 and 1948, Gandhi’s grand-niece Manu kept a diary, writing about every small thing that happened during her stay with him and Kasturba.

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Bapu gives great attention to cleanliness. If there were to be any dirt, he prefers to clean it himself rather than point it out to someone else. An object had to be returned to its designated place; till it was done Bapu would be uneasy. Even if he were lying down, he would get up, and return the thing to its place.

In the last phase Motiba was rather unwell. Every five to ten minutes she would need to defecate. Sometimes even her clothes were soiled. I would wash her clothes each time they were soiled. One day I had stayed awake all night. Sushilabehn insisted that I should sleep. She said that if I did not sleep, I would not be allowed to do my ‘duty’. I went to sleep. Someone placed Ba’s soiled petticoat in her bathroom. And that day, as fate would have it, Bapu went inside Motiba’s bathroom to wash his face, as Sushilabehn was bathing in his ‘bathroom’.

Bapu saw the soiled petticoat and began to wash it. Just then, I woke up and went to the bathroom to wash my face. I saw Bapu washing soiled clothes. I told Bapu, ‘Bapuji are we all not here? I went to sleep against my wish. Why do you harass us so? Will this not cause us pain? We are so many of us, won’t we have washed them?’

Bapu replied, ‘You were asleep. You need proper sleep. If you do not sleep, how are you going to be of service? It is not your fault in the least, but it appears that Ba’s petticoat has been laying here for quite some time because faeces has spread and hardened. I do not believe that so far no one has noticed it and that I am the first to see it. Sushila has been at her bath for some time now. Hence, neither you nor her are to be blamed. But, I believe that others have seen it. It is possible that my belief is wrong. But why has it not been cleaned? Not because people are averse to it, but because they have been careless. I asked around as to who had placed the petticoat in there. There was a female attendant who had done so. I asked the others if they had not seen the soiled clothes. Everyone admitted to having seen it but said that they did not realize that they were Ba’s clothes.’ Bapu said, ‘It is sufficient for me to know that we are careless.’

Also read: Kasturba Gandhi, the feisty woman whose patience inspired Gandhi’s call for satyagraha

One day after my studies, my books were strewn around. For some reason I had to go inside for some work of Ba. From one task to another I forgot to place the books at their designated place. The books were lying around in the middle room used by Mahadevkaka. Bapu was about to step out for his walk. I was with him. The pages of the ‘Reader’ fluttered in the wind. Bapu said nothing to me, but he stepped inside.

We wondered as to what had happened. I was ashamed; I took the books from him and placed them at their place. Bapu laughed, gave me an affectionate pat on the back and pulled my ear. He teaches us so much with good humour! And he also teaches us not to repeat the mistake. This is an art that he has.

I take two to five minutes to eat my meals. Ba complained to Bapu that since I eat so hurriedly I do not put on weight. Bapu said that from the next day I should take my meals with him. Ba said that I was so shy that I would not be able to eat anything in his presence. She further said that sometimes I took stir fried vegetables from her portion as we sat eating on the table and that I would not do so in his presence. She told Bapu to advise me against eating hurriedly.

Bapu asked me, ‘Manu are you shy in my presence?’ I replied, ‘Bapu who can be shy in your presence? That is Ba’s way of saying things.’ Bapu said, ‘I do not like that you eat in a hurry.’ I said, ‘Bapu, however much I try I end up eating fast.’ Bapu said, ‘These days it has become our way in the country not to care for our bodies. It seems to have become a fashion to be a weakling and brittle bodied, isn’t it?’

I replied, ‘Bapuji I know nothing about the fashion as for the past one year I have been with you. Don’t you know whether I am simple or fashionable?’ Bapu said, ‘You are simple in every way, save in eating where you indulge in fashion.’ I said, ‘But Bapuji, my weight had gone up to 16, but this time I lost two pounds and I am berated by everyone, they tease me.’

Bapu said, ‘We wish to train you thus, unless we tease you, you will not learn to care for your body.’ I told Bapu, ‘But I have this habit of eating hastily for quite some time now.’ Bapu replied, ‘It pains me that no one cared to explain this to you.’

There were many such small and subtle events and Ba and Bapu’s care for me would come forth.

This book excerpt from The Diary of Manu Gandhi 1943-1944 (first volume) edited and translated by Tridip Suhrud has been published with permission from the Oxford University Press.

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