Saturday, September 10, 2011

What three books say about Nehru

Having broken my ankle in a minor accident, I couldn't go to work for a few days.  Staying at home, I read three books which I had wanted to read long ago but couldn't for want of time.  One of them was Raja Rao's The Meaning of India, published in 1996.  The second book was Dom Moraes's travelogue, Gone Away: An Indian Journal, originally published in 1968 and now included in the collected memoirs of the author entitled, A Variety of Absences (2003).  The third book was Jawaharlal Nehru: A Communicator and Democratic Leader (1997) by A K Damodaran.  One of the interesting things about all these three books is that each of them has something perceptive to say about Jawaharlal Nehru.  

Raja Rao glorifies Nehru whom he always refers to as "Panditji".  He met Nehru for the first time in 1935 when he was 26 and Nehru 44.  Nehru wanted Rao, who was in France at the time, to act as an interpreter during his meeting with Malrux.  As Rao looked at Nehru at the entrance to Gare de l'Est, "his grey coat in hand, fair and fresh as ever, round in face and firm in stature, firm but supple", he seemed a Gandharva.  "One always felt with Panditji", Rao adds, "that he was listening to a music which arose indivisibly within him, and engrossed his mind and all of his heart."  Translating Malrux's French proved difficult as he spoke with "concentrated rapidity", and it turned out that Rao's translation was corrected several times by Nehru.

In Gone Away, Moraes offers, in just three pages, a thumb-nail sketch of Nehru, who, at 70, was still "beautiful" and "sensitive".  Nehru wished, says Moraes, that he had had  more time to read poetry.

Damodaran's tone is far from adulatory.  He describes Nehru as a "late starter" who, however, proved to be a "quick learner".  Nehru entered politics when he was thirty, but within ten years, he became the president of the Congress party.  In the very next decade, he was one of the six key figures in national life, sharing the limelight with Gandhi, Patel, Bose, Rajaji and Jinnah.  But Damodaran's insinuation that Nehru was a Hamlet in national life is not quite fair. As Sharada Prasad, a former information adviser to the prime minister, pointed out, Nehru never shirked decisions.  In an age in which political debate consisted of dogmatic assertion, Nehru was democratic enough to discuss problems in public before making decisions.  This perhaps lent credence to the Hamlet theory.

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