When a Book Told me Nehru was Dead

As I write this my eyes can feel the dried up clog of a drop of tear in their corners. The moistness has turned into a tangible object which I can feel as if placed under my eye lashes. Why did this happen? Unlikeliest is the reason. The part of a sentence from Ramachandra Guha’sIndia after Gandhi that had my voice muffled as I read it aloud was “Nehru had died” on page 359. The sentence following this threw the tongue into a fit of quasi quivering. However, I completed the sentence, “Abdullah at once broke into tears and sobbed” with the last word almost frozen in my throat. For a while I stopped reading. I had been with Nehru courtesy Guha’s lively and perspicacious description of events leading up to Kashmir dispute and then China border war of 1962 for quite a time. His death halted the narrative. Abdullah’s mawkish outburst and lurid reaction to Nehru’s death only intensified and heightened the emotional quotient of my response to this untimely demise. 

I resumed reading. Sentences like “he (Abdullah) cried like a child, Sheikh Abdullah leapt on the platform and weeping unrestrainedly threw flowers on to the flames” sent me into a state of negative stimulus laden with sorrow. This was unnatural and unthinkable for me sitting in my room 45 years, 120 kilometers and humongous social distance away from the locus of tragedy. 

But arousal of emotion resulting in spurting of moistness or even tears may not necessarily mean the admiration for the object which stirred them. Sheer dramatization of events and aesthetics of art can move the audience. For any object more so a historical character is not only what comes under the purview of a contrived description but also what lies beyond its confines. Were it not for Nehru would it have elicited the same emotion? Nonetheless how can we afford to be opinionated so as to lead ourselves to sing paeans of our object of emotional arousal? Bearing this in mind I hope I am not letting the tragic event of death of one of the greatest sons of India get better off my rationales. 

Modern India owes a very substantial part of her inception, her mind, her heart and her strong legs to Nehru. He gave his nation those possibilities which today’s India could milk to regain and improve upon the status and position she held once in her fragmented form in world politics before the onslaught of British imperialism. People fail owing to their lack of vision but for Nehru it was his rectitude and ability to see beyond the parochial gains that sometimes didn’t find the place befitting their grandness in the world rhyming with selfishness, egotism, betrayal and deceit. His influence may have given way in his last days but for him it was not his influence but ideals that reigned supreme on his conscience. 

Only a week ago I had visited Teen Murty House, the residence of Nehru and now a museum. The majestic building I stared at standing beside the entrance fronting the sprawling lawn reminded me as if it were not a house but an edifice that mirrored the persona of its famous resident. Once inside I came to feel the vestibules of greatness once surrounded these walls from much sharper glance. Standing in the door of his study I marveled at the intellect quotient of a person who had got to live in clover since his birth but had deliberately chosen to live amongst the radiance of books rather than inside the darkness of flashy curtains. I pictured him sitting at his desk with bare head, crouched and eyes buried deep into some file or book. 

The Spartan attitude that won him admiration of entire world must have helped his books encased in wall sized bookcase along the rear wall endure the passage of eras. A simple table and even simpler chair that he sat in and pondered over mountains of problems hissing at his infantile republic stood testimony to assiduity that characterized his mien. Framed photographs of Abraham Lincoln, young Indira, Gurudev Tagore, children Rajiv and Sanjay and one of his own with his colleague Maulana Abul Kalam Azad encapsulated the man when seen from a vantage view other than his quest though quest was never free even from his leisure. Few paintings and a portrait of Gandhiji summed up the fragments of his inner being. 

A few steps ahead stood his bedroom where he passed away. I imagined him lying down supine on a bed-linen spread on that facile wooden structure. Only few could believe prime minister of India slept on that bed. A stool so simple that at least half of India even in those days could have had access to it was on the right side of the head of his bed still housing a stack of books. An old style table fan occupied its place of pride near the door. 

Nehru was never a just a politician. Politicians are never resilient. Their calculations dictate their actions. Nehru was a leader. He stood firm against mighty tempests whether inside or outside his own being or his party or the country. As is with all great leaders he too had his share of controversies and flaws which of course were human not deliberative but his inner being towered above all what plagued his shadows. In him lived a life that had had never any other greater aim than attainment of social justice in all its forms at every conceivable level. Independence of country was just only one step towards achieving that. He was busy doing exactly that literally hours before death played spoilsport and left millions of Indians in grief and mourning. 

Today a slight mention of his death and grief of Sheikh Abdullah on page 359 of Ramchandra Guha’s un-put-down-able page turner made me part of what happened on 27 May 1964. I was not even born back then but in the death of that great apostle of humanity however fleetingly that trembling moment pierced through me when India after 1948 had once again become orphan. 

As things stand today Kashmir is still a Gordian knot, skirmishes with China keep rearing their heads and his dream of equality in diversity is far from being a reality. Each of last 45 years of India’s history since Nehru’s death was pregnant with immense possibilities which got birthed as realities: good, bad and ugly. Some of those consequences were combustible. The charring of the soul of the nation threatened to set in but India rose through these travails and survived and kept the light of her search for gangajal (sacred water) from putting out. Today with all the problems burdening her back and complexities influencing her course India, referred to as a power, called a frontrunner in some industries and held in esteem for her democratic values is well on its path though sometimes foundering, sometimes lumbering and sometimes picking up pace to make the visions of Nehru and others who mid-wifed this modern unique republic turn true. 

A book told me Nehru was dead. But that was death of flesh. Today Nehru is as much an idea as his country. 


More by :  Pramod Khilery

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