Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2007 > November 17, 2007 > Portraying Nehru’s Essence through Use of Metaphors

Mainstream, Vol XLV No 48

Portraying Nehru’s Essence through Use of Metaphors

Sunday 25 November 2007, by V.P. Dutt

BOOK REVIEW

Use of Metaphors by Jawaharlal Nehru by Prof Rakesh Gupta; Shubhi Publications, Gurgaon; 2007; Price: Rs 495.

Prof Rakesh Gupta’s breadth of reading, his cosmopolitan outlook, his prolific writings, the sensitivity of his comprehensions and the broad range of his interest testify to his remarkable personality—academician, writer, artist, painter, critical analyst of music and movies, knowledge of literature, theorist, combined with his humility and absence of egotistical narcissism; all this is abundantly evident in this book.

The canvas he covers is remarkable. The very first chapter is an erudite discussion of the place of language, communication and metaphors, particularly in relation to leaders. As he puts it, The use of metaphors is indicative of process of use of language and at another level of arriving at understanding. Both Aristotle and the modern linguists regard men to be speech-making agents.

Metaphors have radical linkages with image making. Mind and reality interact and this interaction involves a dynamic relationship between reality and the metaphor.

The Discovery of India shows these functions of communication. The work by Nehru on World History shows not only these but also the phatic function, i.e. to have a prolonged engagement. One cannot deal with Nehru without the world of feeling, imagination—that semiology focuses on.

The second chapter is a pithy and precise summation of world developments and the Indian scenario. It is amazing how much he packs into it. The book in fact could be titled as “Jawaharlal Nehru through his Metaphors”. Rakesh Gupta has built a hugely realistic and truthful portrait of the personality of Nehru through the selection of metaphors used by him. It is not just Nehru’s use of metaphors but Rakesh Gupta’s use of Nehru’s metaphors to tell us what kind of a person Nehru was, his beliefs, his convictions, his concerns, his apprehensions, his likes and dislikes.

Prof Gupta aptly depicts Nehru as a campaigner, fighter, negotiator, mobiliser and story-teller, and subsequently, a rationalist and agnostic, yet deeply influenced by Buddhism and Vedanta.

Rakesh Gupta picks up the term “mass nationalism”. There could not be a more appropriate term, for Nehru had no use for just gentlemanly politics of the desk variety who could not tolerate mass politics, and the practitioners of such politics included Jinnah who became a Muslim communalist. What was “mass nationalism”? As Prof Gupta quotes Nehru, There was a strange mixture of nationalism and politics and religion and mysticism and fanaticism. Behind all this was agrarian trouble and, in the big cities, a rising working class movement.

He graphically brings out Nehru’s disdain for the rise of absolutist states in Europe and Machiavelli’s power vacuum and balance-of-power theories meant to justify imperialism and colonialism and Nehru’s disposition towards the great movements that arose in response and which broke out in revolution. In Nehru’s language,……beneath the kidglove of civilisation there is the red claw of the beast.

This led to establishment of the absolutist states.

Germany became a kind of nursery for professional and mercenary soldiers.
In the context of France, Nehru said that enlightenment prepared the public opinion through education “the tool and machine raised man above creation”. And yet Nehru sensed the danger. As Rakesh Gupta quotes Nehru,
Nehru’s use of social dialectics is witnessed here. He says, “But the big machine and all its allies have not been unmixed blessings. If it has encouraged the growth of civilisation, it has also encouraged the growth of barbarism…and has made life a dull routine for millions, a mechanical burden with little joy or freedom in it.”

THE dialectical approach Nehru adopted remained his forte throughout his life. This dialectics, even contradiction, remains an integral part of Nehru’s own activity and thinking. He was deeply immersed in mass mobilisation and in the peasantry and equally deep realisation of the peasant’s pain and agony and hope and how he looked up to Gandhi and Nehru for his salvation.

This duality in Nehru’s thinking, Rakesh Gupta brings out importantly, the combination and the contradictions in a man of thinking and a man of action, for Nehru was not deeply a man of contemplation, acutely aware of India’s glorious past and philosophical achievement, his commitment to scientific thinking and yet his attraction towards India’s philosophical traditions. As Rakesh Gupta delves into Nehru’s fascination with India’s historical and philosophical traditions, In dealing with the issue he goes to mythology and traverses to the Vedas. It is here that he uses the metaphor of rivers to describe plural currents of thought in Indian as well as Buddhist philosophy. Nehru observes,

and Prof Gupta quotes:

“From these dim beginnings long ago flow out rivers of Indian thought and philosophy, of Indian life and culture and literature, ever widening and increasing in volume and sometimes flooding the land with their rich deposits. During this enormous span of years they changed their courses sometimes, and even appeared to shrivel up, yet they preserved their essential identity. They could not have done so if they had not possessed a sound instinct for life.”
He moves on to describing the synthesis as the watchword of Indian philosophical method that finds its culmination in plural terms. This is Advaita Vedanta and on a grander scale to composite culture. As in the hymns from the Upanishads, Nehru marches along for philosophy gave way to history in India, as far as he was concerned. All the motion was so connected with the river Ganga that it stands for that history and philosophy.

And the lyricism over Nehru’s deep affection for the Ganga:

The mighty river of India accompanied by civilisation’s longevity, supporting the changing, marked by sermons of Buddha at Sarnath, Ashoka’s stupas all over and a penetrating discursive mind of Akbar at Fatehpur Sikri along with objects of art and culture, created in Nehru an emotion of nationalism and the thought of rationalism to penetrate the layers of continuity and change in the identity of India in an international environment of his days. Ganga is itself a sign of a transference that a metaphor is.

And, in my view, the piece d’resistance: how he saw and described India.

“She is a myth and an idea, a dream and a vision. And yet very real and present and pervasive. There are terrifying glimpses of dark corridors, which seem to lead back to primeval night, but also there is the fullness of warmth of the day about her. Shameful and repellant, she is occasionally, perverse and obstinate, sometimes even a little hysteric, this lady with a past, but she is very lovable and none of her children can forget her wherever they go or whatever strange fate befalls them. For she is part of them in her greatness as well as her failings, and they are mirrored in those deep eyes of hers that they had been so much of life’s passion and joy and folly, and looked down into wisdom’s well.”

Yet Nehru died a brooding man, somewhat disappointed and dejected and even a little disillusioned. In 1962, as Prof Gupta recalls, he told his friend Marie Seton: “People have become more brutal, in thought, speech and action.” He went on: “All the graciousness and gentleness of life seem to have ebbed away.” There were at least three dimensions to this depression. The first was his illness. The second was the decline in India’s parliamentary democracy. And the third was the behaviour of the Chinese in 1962-63.

Prof Rakesh Gupta’s book can be described as a toure d’force, as few people could even think of portraying the essence of Nehru through his use of metaphore.

The reviewer, a former Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Delhi University and an erstwhile nominated Member of the Rajya Sabha, headed the Department of East Asian Studies in the Indian School of International Studies, and subsequently the Department of Chinese and Japanese Studies in the Delhi University.

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