My reminiscences of the Nehru Dynasty
It was the year July 15, 1924, to be precise, when I joined the
Allahabad University, a residential ensemble modelled on Oxford and
Cambridge Universities. In stately pile of magnificent buildings,
modelled on the Taj Mahal architecture, in beauty only second to the
marble grandeur of the Nehrus, the Ananda Bhavan, standing across the
Banks of the Ganges
When I joined the Allahabad University in 1924 to do post-graduate
work, I was staying at a religious centre - Krishnashram - on the banks
of the Great Ganges which in summer was a small stream about half a mile
from our Ashram.
But later in the Summer when the snows melted in the Himalayas, the
river was in spate. Then it was about two miles broad and the water came
to the fence of the Ashram. Boatmen came to the gate and we used to go
boating on this flooded river.
Where do the Nehrus come into this?
In our Ashram there was Montessori school filled with a whole
assortment of delightful Indian children. It was a delight to the
inmates of the Ashram to see these children tumbling, playing, chasing
each other rolling in the grass of the Ashram lawn.
Krishna Nehru, the daughter of Pandit Motilal Nehru - the great legal
luminary of North India and sister to Jawharlal Nehru, was an honorary
teacher in that infant school. We used to meet her almost everyday after
her classes and she was a delightful person, with no ‘superiority
complex’ as being of the great aristocratic Nehru clan.
She had the Nehru cut, and looked a little like Indira Gandhi, who
was known as the uncrowned queen of India. Krishna Nehru used to come
from Ananda Bhavan, the marble palace of the Nehrus, only half a mile
from our Ashram.
Though an aristocrat and a beauty, she was at home even among the
poor, so that we could talk to her as if she was a friend. Sometimes she
played tennis with us at the Ashram court. Now she is Hathee Singhe, for
she married a merchant Prince of Bombay.
The other sister
In her teens Vijayalakshmi, the other sister of Jawharlal, was a
ravishing beauty. There was story in Allahabad that she ran away with
the most handsome man in Allahabad, an Appolo of a Muslim journalist,
Syed Hussein by name. And the irate Motilal Nehru chased the runaway
couple with his hunting Mauser at the ready.
He brought the repentant Vijayalakshmi home and married her to Mr.
Pandit, a barrister from Bombay. He was one of the finest men I know,
gentle and unassuming, avoiding the limelight, the antithesis of his
wife, who became the President of the UN General Assembly and thus
became a world figure.
The story is repeated among Allhabadites, not to belittle the Nehrus,
but to show their love for them, for they are proud of the great family
who have made Allahabad their home and brought them honour.
I met her for the last time when she visited Sri Palee, Horana in
1951 where I was the Principal at that time - the Shanthiniketan of Sri
Lanka, named and blessed by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore.
In my final year, I moved into the University College hostel and
became fully residential. I left Krishnashram because I wanted to be
near the University library and play cricket.
Our hostel was in the garden next to the Nehrus’ with only a low wall
separating us from Ananda Bhavan, where the greatest men of the world
came and went.
Young Jawaharlal, the apple of his father’s eye, had just returned
from Harrow and Cambridge, a shelly-like idealist with a slight stammer,
dreaming of the days when he would be in the thick of the fray in
India’s turbulent political arena.
On some evenings, he would walk in to our hostel and speak us of the
life in Europe, India’s destiny and other interesting topics.
Especially, I remember how he rendered a quotation from Danton (of the
French Revolution) and translated it for our edification. His delicate
hands more like a lady’s gestured to drive his point as he spoke.
We hung on his lips not to miss a word as if our very life depended
on it, for Jawaharlal was a Nehru, young like us, and just returned from
England, all of which were beyond our reach, even in distant dreams.
Besides, it was rumoured that his clothes were laundered in Paris and
was flown back to India, and that he smoked only Abdullas (Turkish
cigarettes) and was imbued with revolutionary ideas.
Soon he entered politics and was in and out of jail many years, where
he wrote his famous autobiography, The Discovery of India, and the
letters he wrote to his daughter - Indira - were collected and published
with the title ‘Letter to a Daughter’. It was rumoured he was a star
class prisoner (political) and he had all the home comforts and was
allowed to keep his dogs.
Those were the days of Mahatma Gandhi and the non-cooperation
movement. Great days they were. Gandhi would fast in Yeravada jail near
Poona and he was immediately set free, because the Indian (British)
Government refused to take responsibility if he died in jail.
When Jawaharlal Nehru was in Naini jail (two miles from our
university) his father the great Motilal, a prince among the famous
lawyers of India and lived like a virtual Maharaja, could not bear his
beloved son being in jail. He too, courted political arrest by breaking
the law by holding a political meeting in a prohibited place. He too was
clapped in jail, whose rigours were too much for Motilal Nehru, and he
died in jail.
And what a rage spread in the hearts of Indians when the news of
Motilal’s death was flashed in the Indian papers. Riots broke out, and
the whole Nehru family, Jawaharlal’s mother, wife Kamala, Krishan were
all clapped in jail, but soon released.
When Jawaharlal came out his first stay in jail, at a great national
ceremony, he formally presented his marble palace to the nation, for
Motilal in his will had given Ananda Bhavan to his great son.
What a thrill of pride went through our hearts when we listened to
Jawaharlal, who had now blossomed overnight into and All-India Figure
only next in importance to the great Mahatma himself.
Those were thrilling times. It was the height of Gandhis Satyagraha
movement ‘Lathi Charges’ by the police on unarmed crowd was an every day
occurrence, and the might of the British Empire was confronted with
soul-force and non-violence, soul-force won and India was free.
When Nehru became the first Prime Minister of India, his wife was
dead and Indira Gandhi became the first lady who kept house for her
great father and went about not only in India, but all over the world,
meeting the great Statesmen, and other public figures and thus the fate
trained her for the role she played as the Prime Minister of India.
At that time Indira was a little lanky, lonesome girl whom we used to
see playing in the Ananda Bahvan garden. She used to line up her dolls,
and address them “My dears, don’t forget you are satyagrahis like my
father. You are not to be afraid of the police and their lathis.”
Even in her teens, nobody was impressed by her appearance for she was
a mousy little girl who didn’t seem to have any political ideas” (Mrs.
Lasky). “She made no impression on me except as the reflection of her
father” (Reginald Sornson).
Though that was what others thought of her, in her dreams she was
Joan of Arc, as politics was mixed in her blood. Her name was
Priyadarshani, a child of the Indian Revolution. Born in the year of the
Russian Revolution (1917) Indira Gandhi in 1971 succeeded her father’s
throne as the uncrowned queen of India.