In the transformation of Mohandas Gandhi into Mahatma Gandhi, there was one person who played a very prominent but silent role. Needless to say, but it was his wife, Kasturba Gandhi (1869 -1944), on whose death after more than sixty years of life together, Gandhi mourned – "I can't imagine a life without Ba. She went away to freedom, imprinting on the heart to work or to die." Gandhi, the apostle of ahimsa (non-violence) and satyagraha (non-violent resistance) has admitted more than once that he learned the art and science of satyagraha from Kasturba. Hers was a life of love, devotion, sacrifice and silence. Gandhi said in his autobiography that she had worked with him voluntarily or otherwise, in all the great transformations of his life. He felt that her life was an extremely sacred one. In discharging her duty as a wife she had even sacrificed her conscience. She never stood in between him and his sacrifices. Everyone called her Ba in great respect. "She had assisted me properly in my observance of celibacy", he certifies in 'My Experiments with Truth', his autobiography.
Kasturba was born in 1869 to Gokuldas Nakanji, a trader in food grains and cotton textiles in Saurahstra. She was not given formal education, as was the custom in conservative families of the period. She was given in marriage in 1882 to Mohandas, the younger son of Karamchand Gandhi, the dewan of Porbander. Both the bride and the bridegroom were of the same age, 13. The husband taught the wife to read and write in their mother tongue, Gujarati and she picked up enough language to go through the daily newspapers. During the early period of their married life, the husband insisted that the wife obeyed strictly what all was told by him to which the wife was not willing to oblige and this resulted in occasional wrangles between the two. Brought up in conservative style, she could not compromise with many of the progressive styles of Gandhi. But later she obliged and there was no problem.
Kasturba gave birth to a male child in 1885, but it died soon. They had four more sons – Hiralal (1896), Manilal (1897), Ramdas (1898), and Devadas (1900). When Gandhi went to South Africa, Ba accompanied him with the two kids. They lived in Durban, South Africa for more than 19 years. In 1904 Gandhi purchased a plot near a railway station in Durban and set up a hermitage there. It grew into a village and it was in 1906 that Gandhi took the penance of celibacy.
In 1915 they returned to India. When Gandhi set up the satyagrahashram in Sabarmati, Ba was his chief assistant in running the ashram. When Gandhi started the khadi (handspun clothe) movement, Ba organized its propaganda. Whenever Gandhi went into a fast against what he thought was unjust, Ba was with him. The husband's goal was the wife's motto. The wife was the husband's shadow, especially when the husband had been sacrificing his life for the country. She gave leadership to the women in the satyagraha movement and had been jailed many times. The frequent fastings that Gandhi undertook ate into her health also and her own internment in prisons added fuel to this malady. Medical attention was there but to no avail; and on 22 February 1944, this great lady who was the shadow of her husband who became the Father of the Nation and one of the greatest men of all times, breathed her last, lying on the lap of her beloved.