Mainstream, VOL LIV No 47 New Delhi November 12, 2016
Some Memories of Nehru
Thursday 17 November 2016, by
It was in 1936 that I first met Panditji. I was in my second year at Cambridge and he had come to Europe in connection with the serious illness of his wife, Smt Kamala Nehru.
At that time he also came across to England and down to Cambridge and met us, the Indian students there.
Our family had known Pandit Nehru for a long time because when Panditji was at Cambridge, my father and mother were studying at Oxford but unfortunately since I was educated in England from 1927 I personally did not meet him till I was a student of Cambridge.
Those were the days when the whole student world in Europe was in ferment as Hitler and Mussolini through their instrument Franco had attacked the infant Spanish Democratic Republic and all of us, with a fervour, had thrown ourselves into the fight to save Spain. The anti-imperialist wave had touched the hearts of all the progressive young lads at college and we Indians were in the van of this powerful movement.
Such was the atmosphere when Panditji came down to Cambridge and met us Indian students and I remember vividly his coming to my room and sitting down for tea with some of the well-known intellectuals of Cambridge to discuss India, its past and future, its problems and difficulties. Even at that time nobody could fail to understand how great a man he was. And all these English professors and lecturers, the cream of Cambridge’s intellectual life of those days, were deeply impressed by his warm humanity, his complete lack of any bitterness towards the alien rulers, the British, in whose country he was at that moment, his refusal to allow his personal sufferings, the passing away of his wife, the time he spent in jail to colour his objective understanding of world and national problems; but above all they could not miss the passionate devotion to the cause of his people and his desire to break the chains of foreign slavery, so that India could take the high road of independence and freedom.
Innumerable questions were asked by these intellectuals—some of them even rude and many very penetrating, but to each one Panditji had his own answer and always a convincing one because he had studied deep about our own country, its past and present, its difficulties and how those difficulties should be solved.
Glowed with Pride
And to see Panditji at close quarters replying to searching questions was a rare privilege for us, young Indian students; he was always at his best with such as audience—soft and pleasant in his answers but firm and clear on all matters of principle. And we glowed with pride at a leader who could so impress all he met.
I remember at the end of this meeting how each person who had come (and there were some twenty intellectuals sitting in my room on that evening) said their farewells most warmly and expressed the hope that they would be able to meet him again and learn more. And the impression he created on all of us, the Indian students there: we became his warmest admirers for all would like a leader so steeped in humanism and so informal, and friendly to all.
Another sidelight of his visit during that period too cannot be forgotten—a meeting that was organised by the Left Book Club in Queen’s Hall in London. Panditji was due to speak there on the Indian struggle for freedom and all of us, young ardent fighters in the cause of Indian freedom as we were, had worked to our bare bones to make that meeting successful! We went around here and there, covering students, intellectuals, workers, trade unions, Left Book Club Groups and others, rallying people for the meeting and we were immensely proud that our leader was addressing, by London standards, a huge meeting in that famous Hall.
And we expected in response a powerful oratorical denunciation of British Rule from our beloved leader, Pandit Jawaharlal. When Panditji came on to the platform, all the audience applauded him to the skies because he symbolised the new India that was rising to its feet after years of oppression. But Panditji, instead of starting with a powerful denunciation of British Rule which was what persons like myself expected, began with a 20-minute introduction on Mohenjodaro, on the Indus civilisation which was one of the cradles of world civilisation over 5000 years ago, on the greatness of Indian culture and the wonderful genius of the Indian people. Young students like myself were getting impatient asking why he was wasting so much time and not coming to the point—the difficulties and sufferings of the Indian people and their heroic struggle for freedom. Later, of course, he came to that point but we still had a sense of dissatisfaction at the back of our mind that so much time had been “wasted” by him.
And yet, we were wrong; because after the meeting was over and when mixing among the audience I found many of the British audience had warmly appreciated the first part of his speech for they had been educated with the knowledge that their forebears were barbarians in the forests who knew nothing of civilised life, when the Indian people were building such a magnificent civilisation as that of Mohenjodaro and Harappa.
The next time I met Panditji was when I came to India in the summer of 1937 as the emissary of Indian students in England and Europe to the All India Students Federation. I was touring around India and went to Allahabad and stayed with him at Anand Bhawan. He told me a lot at that time about our country and to enrich my understanding he gave me his book India and the World which I still treasure with me.
After this throughout the years after my return to India, I used to meet him both for our political work and as a family friend. But it will take too long to describe all those meetings.
Instead let me take him after he became our Prime Minister. For his appointment to high office never changed the nature of the man. He remained yet the true son of India, the ardent fighter for Indian progress and socialism. But he was always heavily overburdened with work and in the last years, the weight of this work sat very heavily on him.
I remember even now the last time that I had met him—in June 1963. I had come back from my visit to the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Hungary and though I was only for two days in Delhi and he was full of work yet he gave me time—nearly an hour. I told him in detail about the reactions in Eastern Europe to our policies and the widespread sympathy for India. And only once he spoke himself—to say in bitter sorrow: “How I worked for friendship between India and China, fought for China’s legitimate interests in the world—and aggression was my reward!” How heavily he felt what to him was “betrayal” and nothing less.
But for the rest, as was the custom with him after he became Prime Minister, he used the time compelling me to talk but expressing himself very little. It was as though once he took up the work of government, he looked on all of us whom he had known well for many years as his listening posts, who had to bring to him the reactions of the wide world, of his own people and peoples of other countries.
He never used to speak very much when I met him in this later period except questions here and there so as to enable me to clarify whatever I wanted to say; but he was also never troubled if what I said was very critical of governmental policy because he was not anxious to get from me approval of the achievements of government. On the contrary, he was interested to know from me what people were thinking of the government, its policies and actions and he always listened most patiently to all I said.
But as I left him on this last occasion, I felt even then I was leaving one who would not be long with us. He looked so wan and tired; so heavily overburdened; the sparkle that always lit up his face had dimmed; and the quickly changing reactions always obvious on his so mobile a face were no longer there; he seemed to listen with an ominous quietness—so I felt on that last occasion.
For all of us therefore who have known him over our entire political life, it was a heavy and rude blow when he left us six months ago. Of course, the time had come, in a sense, because he has served his country well over half a century and the hard toil and work of service had taken their toll of his strength and he was bound to go one day or anoher as the successive illnesses of the last two years had warned us.
I remember in 1960 when he sent word through my father to ask me why I had not come to meet him for long; of course, the reason was that I felt that I was far too small and he was far too important and busy and hence I never troubled him.
But when I did go to see him and as we were going up the stairs to his room with my father in front, in a most friendly manner, he turned round and put his shoulders and asked, ‘Anything personal, Mohan?’ What else did he mean by using the word “personal” except that he was ready to hear any “Communist criticism” which I might not find easy to express in the presence of my father about the political developments in our country? So it was, that he remembered each one of us who came in touch with him and retained his personal friendship with all of us till his last days.
(Mainstream, November 21, 1964)