Singaporeans get glimpse of life and struggle of Kasturba Gandhi

A play depicting the life of Mahatma Gandhi’s wife Kasturba and how she stepped out of the shadow of child marriage, illiteracy and casteism to take on her husband and his mission, was premiered to a full house in Singapore on Friday.

”Being Mrs Gandhi” is being staged as part of the year-long celebration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi.

Singaporean actor of Indian origin, Daisy Irani is playing the title role of Kasturba, the “simple” woman who is sucked into the maelstrom of political history by virtue of being married to its famous protagonist, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

Commenting on the play, Irani said, “What we are treated to is a perspective of Gandhi, the man and Gandhi, the Mahatma from the best vantage point ever possible, that of his wife. As she relates her story, we realised that it is, indeed, his story.”

Gauraangi Chopra, who played young Kasturba, said “Kasturba was woven into his tapestry from start to finish – from Rajkot to Johannesburg to India, from ashram to ashram, from jail to jail, from suppression to freedom. It was a privilege to represent this wonderful woman on stage.”

Subin Subaiah, the writer and director, elaborated: “Listening to a wife talk about her husband is always interesting, provocative and gossipy. But having Kasturba tell it to you the way she saw her tumultuous life play out, speaks to the core strength of this remarkable woman.”

The play tells the story of how the wife traces her steps out of the shadow of child marriage, illiteracy and casteism to take on her man and his mission.

“And she says it all with her entertaining blend of passion, common sense and wry humour. Yes, she was ”simple”, but she was never dull and boring,” said Subaiah, a Singapore veteran writer who travelled to India and Johannesburg to write the script.

Daisy added “By today’s standards, Kasturba is the epitome of a woman breaking the glass ceiling of subjugation and making her contribution to history count. If for nothing else, then it is for this reason that her story needs to be told.”

Explained Subaiah that there are two points of universality in the form and content of Being Mrs Gandhi.

Firstly, at the very heart of the story is Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence and reasoning as a means to resolving political differences. “It doesn’t matter where in the world we live in today, we need to remind ourselves time and time again of the value of this approach to conflict resolution.”

“Secondly, too often the forgotten players in our battle to improve the human condition are the women. They and their stories need to be remembered, not because we want to commemorate their contributions, but because we need to set the stage for the women of today to be confident that we will not cast them as mere shadows in the light of the men they work with.”

Produced by Singapore’s Hum Theatre Ltd, Being Mrs. Gandhi, gives Kastur or Ba, as she was called, centre stage.

She gets to tell her story. She gets to opine on a man who the whole world has opined on. She gets to debate his greatness and his flaws with the candour that only a wife can, Subaiah noted in creating the play.

“She gets to look into our educated and emancipated eyes and say that her illiteracy and lack of education did not make her less of a person than any of us. She gets to speak to the mothers amongst us and tell us that she understands the tribulations of being one.

“She gets to say that being a loyal and loving wife does not mean that you have let yourself be dominated. She gets to say that sometimes the cause is so great that sacrifices have to be made and made with courage.”

The power of this story lies in the simple telling of it. “Kasturba along with her sons Manilal and Harilal will take us through their personal journey through tumultuous times with a view to engaging each one of us in a self-examination of who we are and what we can be.”

The premier of the play was attended by Indian community members and business leaders who gave a full house standing ovation. The play, an initiative of India’s High Commission in Singapore, will be staged daily from October 9-12 for public viewing.

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