Our Ba (grandmother), Sushila Mashruwala Gandhi born August 24,1907, was a lady of grace and beauty, a force to reckon with, (for the apartheid government of South Africa), a wizard in the kitchen, a fabulous story teller, dignified simplicity personified, had the funniest sense of humor and above all was the most loving Grandma ever.
Every time she visited India from South Africa she naturally stayed in Mumbai with us. My brother, Tushar and I would spend every moment we could with her and around her. She regaled us with stories of our Dad and our 2 Aunts when they were kids at Phoenix. She filled us with awe with her stories of the struggles on the Phoenix farm she faced by herself after our Grandfather passed on. She educated us with the details of their participation in the freedom struggle in India and standing up for their rights in South Africa. She had us giggling with her when she reminisced about her and the children’s encounters with Mahatma Gandhi during their visits to India. And she had us in tears when she told us of the day they received the horrific news of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination.
I have the honor of being the oldest grandchild and I have always felt a special bond with her. I think I was 7-8 years old when she had me accompany her to the various Ashrams in India on one of her visits. Every evening we would recite secular prayers and she would have me lead in several of the Hindi and Gujarati hymns. To this day that one aspect of our time together has stayed with me, my Grandma asking me to lead in the singing of the hymns!
In 1967 our parents had to travel and stay in England for a year for our Mom’s Spinal surgery and recovery thereafter. Arrangements were made for Tushar & me to travel to South Africa and stay the duration with Ba at Phoenix. That time period of 10-12 months is a memory of sheer bliss & joy for us. Picking fruits & vegetables with her morning and evening just enough for our lunch & dinner so nothing would be wasted; reading Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys stories most afternoons on the veranda just outside the living room; picking flowers from the ground to adorn the lamp lit for the evening prayers; lighting paraffin lamps every evening because we had no electricity then on the farm; watching the stars come up in the night, standing on the top the hill where the house was situated; waking up every morning to Ba greeting the night watchman a goodnight and greeting her ‘simple minded’ African ‘son’, Mumu a good morning as he stopped by the kitchen door on his way to work the farm.
We accompanied her on her visits to all the families that lived and worked around us. We watched her as she took stock of everything going on around her, her Thursday Clinic openings where she had doctors and nurses volunteer their time in the care of the needy patients who came for medicines or treatment. Her daily visits to the Kasturba Gandhi School established on the grounds of the farm just beyond ‘Sarvodaya’ the House that Mahatma Gandhi had built for his dwelling while he lived and worked on the farm, despite the apartheid government’s displeasure in having to support it. Oh! Such nostalgia revisiting our childhood days as I write this.
On my wedding morning as I sat with Henna covered hands up to my wrists, Ba and my parents took turns feeding me breakfast, after the wedding ceremony as Hari & I went around the room to receive blessings & I dissolving in tears at every step she tried her best to crack a joke or make a funny face to bring a smile to my face and lighten up the room.
With all the strength & perseverance she faced her daily chores at Phoenix she also battled with debilitating Diabetes and in 1984 while she was recuperating in India the cowardly government of the time in South Africa watched delightedly as miscreants and squatters from the surrounding locals descended on Phoenix and razed it to the ground.
Ba never recovered from the shock of losing her beloved farm, her home since the age of 19 when she had stepped on the hallowed ground as a bride herself. She left us for her eternal abode in 1988, and yet for us her presence is around us always, her smiling loving face dwells in each of our hearts and shall be with us forever!
In Loving Memory,
Archana Prasad has worked at the Henrietta Public Library for the past 20 years. As a Gandhi family member Archana has shared her life lessons with area school children in the elementary through high school levels. She has also spoken at college retreat programs on nonviolence. On an ongoing basis Archana also gives talks at area Senior Living facilities. Archana has been involved with the Gandhi institute since it was founded by her parents Arun and Sunanda Gandhi in Memphis TN. She and her husband Hari have been married for 32 years and have two sons.