Book Review: We Call her Ba by Subhadra Sen Gupta

posted by R's Mom , August 07, 2014

Kasturba has been one of the most intriguing characters in Indian history. She spent a lifetime with Mahatma Gandhi and is known as "Ba" by most people. When I grew up in Gujarat, I have heard some stories about Kasturba and we had a chapter about her in our Gujarati textbook, but for the strength and the wonderfully colorful personality she was, I don't think enough justice has been done to her in the children's world of books.

When I got the book, 'We call her Ba' written by Subhadra Sen Gupta and illustrated by Meeta Gangopadhya, I must admit, I wondered what this book had to offer. And let me confess I was pleasantly surprised. Here is a book which offers a very insightful account on the lady who was perhaps the largest force behind Gandhiji's success. Very little is know about her childhood or her relation with Gandhiji, but this book is definitely definitely recommended for teaching our students our history. I wish every library stocks this book and perhaps even makes it a part of the curriculum, so that children of the future generation realise that Kasturba was definitely someone who meets the saying 'Behind every successful man is a loving woman'

The book takes us through Kasturba's journey from her childhood (of which very little is known), how she got married to Gandhiji, how she was slightly older to him and her journey and stay in South Africa. Small incidents are narrated wonderfully which give us an insight into her personality and her relationship with her husband, children, and grandchildren. The book then proceeds to talk about her struggle in accepting certain norms which Gandhiji puts forth, how she overcomes her apprehensions and how she decides to be a partner to Gandhiji for all his freedom struggles.

One of the most interesting lines in the book was what Gandhiji said

She ultimately made me ashamed of myself and cured me of my stupidity in thinking that I was born to rule over her, and in the end, she became my teacher in non-violence.

The book also gives some incidents inter-spaced between the write up about Kasturba and her ways of handling Gandhiji. I found those incidents really sweet and adorable :)

A special mention to the illustrator. Loved her take on the various incidents described in the book, and I loved the way she has portrayed Kasturba.

I would love to have this book introduced as a part of a school curriculum, a way of introduction to the Indian history to children, and just as a lovely read about a strong wise and remarkable lady whom we all admire.

Author Interview: Subhadra Sen Gupta, Author of ‘We Call Her Ba’

Subhadra Sen Gupta, the author of ‘We Call her Ba‘ spoke to us about her thoughts on historical books for children in India, why she decided to write about Kasturba, and which one historical character she would want to write about now.

From the Penguin Books website,  Subhadra Sen Gupta has written over twenty-five books for children including mysteries, historical adventures, ghost stories, and comic books. Right now she is waiting for someone to build a time machine so that she can travel to the past and join Emperor Akbar for lunch. She loves to travel, flirt with cats, chat with auto-rickshaw drivers and sit and watch people.

Subhadra Sen Gupta

IMC: It's super great that we finally have a book for children on Kasturba which is interesting and page turning. Why did you decide to write about her out of all the historical characters we have?

Subhadra: I’ve done books on many historical characters like Ashoka and Gandhi (Puffin and Pratham) and also on various aspects of Indian history like great dynasties and the freedom movement. This book is a companion piece with ‘A Man Called Bapu’ published by Pratham.

IMC: How did you do research on Kasturba? Getting information on her must have been a difficult task as very little is known about her childhood and her struggle in South Africa? What were your main sources for getting information?

Subhadra: There are many books on Gandhiji that have material on Kasturba. Also, the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi library has a few books in Hindi about her. Her life was so closely tied to that of Gandhiji that one can trace her journey quite easily. Also, Gandhiji was a prolific writer and he wrote about his own life like ‘My Experiments with Truth’. What was difficult was that she rarely gave any interviews so I could not find much on what she thought, except in the writings of other people.

IMC: You have written a number of books on history? Is that your favorite subject? And if yes, then can you tell us how we can make it more interesting to our kids who study it in school? We loved the subtle sense of humor you have infused in the book ‘We call her Ba’ and it did make me chuckle while reading about Ba’s way of dealing with Bapu.

Subhadra: Yes, I love history and have been trying to make it interesting for children. And one way is to add human details and some humor. Many of my books on history have been published by Puffin and has one called ‘Let’s Go Time Travelling’ about life in the past done in a humorous way with cartoons.

Do check out Indian publishers, many are producing very interesting books on history that kids will enjoy. Also, let kids watch historical serials and films that make history come alive. Take them to historical places and museums. If you make an effort it is easy to get kids interested. I often take kids to see monuments and tell lots of stories and they love it.

IMC: What are your thoughts on the current Indian publishing industry, especially for children’s books?

Subhadra: Its getting better. The problem is awareness and availability.
Good books are coming out, the problem is that bookshops do not stock them as the profit margin is less than foreign books. Also, publishers are not willing to spend on promoting these books, so awareness is very low.

IMC: If there is one historical character you would definitely want to write about, who will it be and why?

Subhadra: Well I have already done Ashoka, Akbar, Gandhi. Now I want to focus on women, starting with Noorjehan. Why? Because their lives tell us something of value and are also very interesting.


Thanks, Subhadra for speaking to us 

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