The name of Kamla Nehru has a very special place in my heart. She was the mother of Indu, a friend of my childhood. When Indu was born, her grandmother was very unhappy that her first grandchild should be a girl. But her grandfather said that this girl would surpass a million boys. And what a prophesy it was, for who knew then that this girl, Indira Gandhi, would not only become the first woman Prime Minister but also one of the greatest stateswomen of the World.
I met Indira when she was ten years old. She came to visit us with her parents and we became friends. Her mother, Kamla Nehru was a wonderful person. She was the wife of Jawahar Lal Nehru, who later became the first Prime Minister of India. She and Panditji (as Nehru was called then) visited our home in Allahabad. I was charmed by her personality, in the very first visit of hers. I was almost hypnotized. How gentle and how affectionate she was? She treated me as her own child. She was so fond of children that she would do anything to please them. In 1930, when I had my summer vacations, my uncle made a program to visit Nainital, a summer resort in India. I had a great desire to accompany him on the trip. But my father was not agreeing to it due to the huge expenditure involved, and that too for only a ten day trip. I was very sad on that account.
When Kamlaji heard about it, she told my mother, "Gyanwati, why don't you let him go? Ten days stay in Nainital will do him a lot of good. He will have an outing, which will relax him. Children learn a lot, going on such trips, away from their parents." Her advice was very well received, and I was permitted to go. It is difficult to describe what a wonderful time I had and how much I enjoyed that trip in the cool and invigorating climate of that place.
I considered her to be just a goddess. There was not even a touch of ego in her. Her simplicity was unique. Clad in a white sari, made of khadi (hand spun and hand woven cloth), and with her slim body, she looked graceful. When leading processions, she sometimes, would don Churidar Payjama, Kurta, and a Gandhi Cap (a special outfit worn by Congress workers in India), like any other volunteers. In any case whatever she put on, suited on her very well. Most of the time, she was soft spoken and her behavior with others was always gentle. Of course she could not tolerate any nonsense from anyone, and whenever she noticed injustice anywhere, she would just blow up. Even then whoever met her and had any dealings with her, always showed love and respect, because everyone was aware of her good nature and pure heart.
During the non-cooperation movement, both my mother and she accompanied each other most of the time. Either my mother would accompany her in her car or else, she would ride with mother in ours. My father at that time owned an old second hand 'T' model Ford. The hood of the car was torn at many places, and it leaked like a sieve during rains. Yet at no time, she gave even an inkling of being inconvenienced on this count. I clearly remember that once, we had all gone on some political mission. En route, it started raining heavily. We got soaking wet. But she remained fully calm and relaxed. She did not show any signs of stress.
Once during summer vacations, mother was going to picket foreign liquor shops. I wanted to accompany her. But she refused to take me, on the plea that morning time should not be wasted and that I should study. She promised to take me in the afternoon. I agreed and did seriously study. In the afternoon, however, she said it was too hot for me to go.
"It is too hot for you also." I quipped.
"Well! I am a grown up. Moreover, I have to go as a duty to perform."
"Why did you promise that you will take me in the afternoon?"
We kept on arguing for sometime. Then she lost her temper and said that I must obey her. But I was too adamant and would not listen. Out of mere frustration, she yelled, "If you will not obey me, then I have nothing to do with you. You can do what you like." And thereafter she left to go. I also started accompanying her. She got fully enraged and inquired, "Why are you accompanying me?"
"When you have nothing to do with me, how can you talk like that to me? You won't address strangers in this manner." I replied. She was just seething in anger and I was enjoying her discomfiture. Thoroughly enraged, she reached the picketing spot. There she complained to Kamlaji, "Well you see, you favor Bhushan so much. He is so rude and insulting. He does not obey me at all."
"What is it Bhushan? Why don't you obey her?" She asked.
"Why don't you obey the orders of the British Government." I questioned Kamlaji.
"The British Government is a tyrant and an oppressor." Kamlaji explained.
"She is also a tyrant and an oppressor. She does not keep her promises." I replied.
"Well, she is your mother. She has a right on you. The Government of a foreign country has forcibly taken control on us."
"I think she also has forcibly taken hold of us. As long as I do not agree to her authority, what business she has to deal with me in this manner."
Anyway it was with considerable effort that she succeeded in getting the two of us reconciled. But it was remarkable that in the whole process, she did not display any anger. This only shows how much tolerance she had towards children, even when they were unreasonable and erratic.
In 1931, a strike was declared by the students of Allahabad on account of the misbehavior by the Dr. Ghose, the Principal of Modern High School, there. At the meeting that followed the strike, Pandit Sunder lal, the author of an inflammatory book titled, 'Bharat mein Angrezi Rajya' (British rule in India), delivered a fiery speech, exhorting the students to give up their studies and join the freedom movement. The speeches of Pandit sunder Lal were always very infuriating. On hearing the speech I decided to quit my studies and conveyed the decision to my parents.
Naturally they were much upset. They tried their utmost to dissuade me from my resolve, but that had no effect on me as at that time I was fully hypnotized by Sunder lal's speech as also intoxicated with the spirit of patriotism. Finally, it was decided that the matter should be put up to Kamlaji and her decision should be binding on both parties. We all went to her place and she, after hearing the whole thing addressed me thus, "It is not only the zeal, sentiments, and emotions that are needed for patriotism and the service of the country, but also along with them knowledge and education are also needed. In due course of time, you will also have an opportunity to show yourself, after completing your education and having acquired the ability to serve the motherland. You will then be in a position to serve the country much better."
"Do you want to crush our patriotic feelings?" I asked.
"No, I do not say that. Patriotic feelings are never crushed by studying in schools. Nor do they get any boost by not studying there. The spirit of patriotism should be there in each and every child wherever he or she is. But one should not be carried away by sentiments alone. One has to exercise one's judgment and determine how best can the country be served. If you decide not to complete your education, thinking that you are serving the country, you will remain uneducated. And an uneducated person is a burden to the motherland. How can he serve the country? Of course if the authorities ever tell you to do something which will betray the motherland, you do not have to carry out such orders. You have to, then, show your strength, resist, and be ready to even quit your studies. As far as service of the country is concerned, your parents are already involved in it and you will also do so in your turn."
By her explaining to me in this manner, I was satisfied and the idea of quitting school was dropped. Now in retrospect, I realize how pertinent and relevant her arguments were. If on account of mere sentimentalism, every patriotic child had dropped out of schools, who would have run the country after it gained its independence. How farsighted she was in advising that way.
I am reminded of another incident of that time. I had an attack of typhoid fever which lasted for almost seven weeks and thereafter, I had a relapse of another six weeks. I was, thus, in bed for nearly three months. Kamlaji used to visit me every third or fourth day. When I had the relapse, she was very angry with my mother that the relapse must have been on account of her neglect and not exercising due care in nursing me. She must have been indiscreet in not following the dietary restrictions imposed by the doctor. What could my poor mother say? She had done all she could. I can even now not forget how she had served me at that time. Being apprehensive of not being available when needed, if she dozed off, she would keep awake the whole of the night. Night after night she would keep herself awake, keeping herself busy at the spinning wheel.
The Indian national Congress celebrated the Jawahar week, and processions were organized everyday. Tableaus of various national leaders were taken out with great enthusiasm. Police would charge the marchers in the procession with their lathis (batons) and not hesitate even to shower them with their bullets. But the marchers were not afraid. There was great enthusiasm. I was very keen to see the procession somehow. The fever had subsided but the doctor had not relaxed his restrictions and not permitted me to get up from the bed. I was, however, insistent that I should be taken in a car to the procession route. At this point of time, Kamlaji visited our house. She also tried to persuade me but to no avail. Finally when she saw my keenness, being one of the organizers, she decided to change the route of the procession, and made it pass through the front of our house to enable me to view it. This is a small example of her love and sympathy for children and making all efforts to satisfy even unreasonable requests of theirs.
When my mother was in jail for a year, for the period Kamlaji was out of prison, she looked after me as her own son. So when in 1936, I heard of her death, I felt as if I had lost my own mother. Perhaps every child with whom she had come in contact felt the same way. Yet I did not cry, as she had inculcated in me the feeling that brave do not cry. The valiant always continue to smile under all adversities and follow their path of duty. Her own life was a living model of this motto.