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Volume XLIV, No.47

Jawaharlalji : Some Reminiscences

Tuesday 24 April 2007, by Hajrah Begum


Divali at Anand Bhavan in the late thirties used to be a children’s affair. In one of the verandahs, a clay image of Laxmi surrounded by a number of toys, dolls and other presents would be installed. In front of it would be thalis heaped with sweets, fruit, kheel and other traditinal offerings.

Not only Jawaharlal’s young nieces but all the children of the AICC staff from Swaraj Bhawan, plus Hari’s family and the mali’s children would be squatting round in a semi-circle gazing at the lavish feast in front of them. As it grew dark the children would be impatient and restless but Smt Pandit (who was called Swarup Didda, Nan or Mrs Pandit never Vijay Laxmi) would make them wait till Bhai could come.

At last Jawaharlalji would be there and with a smile at the children in their new stiff clothes, light the first lamp. From this Hari and others would light the hundreds of little divas already arranged round Anand Bhawan, and these would find reflection in the joyous eyes of children, now happily munching their sweets.

Other celebrations were equally informal those days. Nehru’s birthday, for example, was neither a national event nor specially connected with children. I remember one birthday very vividly. A few of us who were on intimate terms with the family had been invited to a stand-up dinner and after this, games had been suggested.

Some one explained how ‘Murder’ was played. Every one present had to draw a card from the pack without disclosing his hand. The one who drew the Jack of Spades was the murderer and could choose his own ‘victim’. The lights were turned off for a minute during which the ‘murderer’ was supposed to attack his victim and at the same time get away from the vicinity of his ‘crime’ so that detection would be difficult when lights were turned on again.
At that particular dinner there was present a certain Miss ‘P’. She was the Principal of one of the local girls’ colleges, and among ourselves we used to refer to her as ‘the bouquet’ as she was fond of dressing her hair with enormous zinnias of the same colours as her bright South Indian saris.
During one of the intervals when the lights were turned off Miss P gave such a realistic horrifying scream that the lights were immediately turned on. We found Miss P slumped on the sofa panting like a steam-engine, and her face a beetroot red. Obviously she was the ‘victim’ but who was the murderer? No one could guess and Miss P could not, or would not enlighten us and became more and more embarassed when pressed.

It was Jawaharlalji who provided the solution by saying with a deprecating smile, “I am afraid I was a bit too realistic. I was the murderer.”

Travelling with Jawaharlal was an experience in itself. Usually when he travelled at night Upadh-yayaji, his secretary, would telephone to the station and the Station Master would attach an inter-class compartment at the end of the train. It was in one such compartment that I travelled with Jawaharlalji, Upadhyayaji, Dr Ashraf and Shah Abul Faiz, to take part in the election of Hafiz Mohammad Ibrahim who had resigned from the Muslim League in order to seek election on a Congress ticket.

While it was early evening Jawaharlalji could be recognised by persons on the platform who would immediately greet him and then rush off to purchase some sweets or fruit and place these in the compartment. Jawaharlal would pick up a grape or two from these modest offerings but the rest passed on to us—sweets to Ashraf and Upadhyaya, and fruit to Abul Faiz and me.
After ten o’clock Jawaharlal wished to retire. The compartment had five berths and we each took one. Upadhyaya opened his brief case and took out three little bags made of bottlegreen khadi which he slipped over the rather dim lights in the compartment. Most intrigued, I asked him if he always travelled with these shades. “Always,” said Upadh-yayaji. “But I seldom remember to take them off in the mornings.”

During the night whenever the train stopped Upadhyayaji would immediately jump up, stand guard at the door and direct would-be entrants to go further up. At one particular station, however, two young men peeped in and seeing the compartment sparsely occupied, insisted first politely, and then aggressively, to be allowed in. Upadhyayaji resisted as long as he dared and then reluctantly allowed the men to enter, whereupon one sat down on Upadhyayaji’s berth, while the other tried to find place on the berth where Jawaharlal was stretched out. This was too much for Upadhyayaji who burst out, almost ordering the second man not to sit on that berth. Naturally with all this commotion, Jawaharlal woke up and enquired the reason for the row which I explained to him.

By this time the young men, obviously students, discovered who the person was with whom they were insisting on sharing a seat; at the same time the train started moving from the station. It was a sight indeed to see the two youngsters simultaneously trying to touch Jawaharlal’s feet, offer apologies and to jump out of the moving train.

Jawaharlal saved them from unintentional suicide by insisting that one of them sit beside him and enquiring from both very kindly about their studies and future plans. When Jawaharlal once again dropped off to sleep, the two young men stood reverently with hands folded gazing at Nehru’s recumbent form while Upadhyayaji with great satisfaction and in an almost venomous whisper said, “I told you not to enter, now stand there all night. This serves you right.”

I shall pick out just one more instance from the many memories of pre-independence days.

This was again at Anand Bhavan where I had gone to see Jawaharlal in connection with some programme and found him talking to Lal Bahadur Shastri. Hari, Jawaharlal’s personal attendant, came in and announced that a boy was outside insisting on seeing Nehru but refusing to disclose the reason why. Jawaharlal asked Lal Bahadurji to look into it and as I also walked out at the same time I witnessed his meeting with the young man.
At first he would not tell Lal Bahadur why he wanted to see Nehru but was obviously very excited and nervous. Finally on being pressed, he said, “I wanted to hand this over to Jawaharlalji” and thrust into Lal Bahadur’s hands a round object wrapped up in a newspaper. It was so heavy that Lal Bahadurji had to hold it with both hands.

In the minds of both of us flashed the image of a bomb exploding in Nehru’s hands. Somehow Lal Bahadur managed not to drop the parcel. He sharply enquired, “What is it?”

“Open it and see,” said the young man. On unwrapping the newspaper, we found what looked like a stone football and a stone mortar. Completely baffled both Lal Bahadur and I stared at the young man trying to guess what these objects were.

By now he was calm enough to give us his explanation. It seemed that he had gone to the Alfred Park, had broken off the mace and the sceptre from the statue of Queen Victoria and brought them as an offering for Nehru.
With these objects in is hand, Lal Bahadurji went back to Jawaharlal’s office and told him the whole story. Jawaharlal’s first reaction was one of sharp annoyance.

“What a stupid thing to do,” he said. “Why on earth should he come to me with these objects? Why should I see him?” But both Lal Bahadur and I thought of the young man’s agitated face burning with the zeal to accomplish daring deeds, and of his disappointment if Nehru should not meet him. Almost simultaneously we both said: “He thought this was the finest thing he could do to express his patriotic and anti-imperialistic feelings. You cannot disappoint him by refusing to see him.”

Of course Nehru saw him after all, spoke to him very gently but firmly, appreciated his desire to free the motherland from British bondage but said in the end: “Don’t you realise this was a futile action? Would you like me to return these objects now to the Municipal Board which is supposed to be in charge of such property? Will you try in future to use your revolutionary fervour in more fruitful ways?”

The young man, slightly abashed, touched Nehru’s feet but when he walked out it was with a conscious glow on his face and a proud lift to his head.

(Mainstream November 13, 1965)

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