There is a child in me that misses Nehru Chacha!
I saw Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, way back in the early 1960s from the shoulders of my father. The memory of that evening as he spoke to thousands from the canopy of Jaipur Museum is still vivid in my mind as also the rapturous applause that went up in the air after every few sentences. The gigantic rush for meeting Nehru as he walked through crowds at Ram Niwas Bagh, patting cheeks and shaking hands of children and adults alike, is incomparable to any of the rallies addressed by today’s political pygmies. The love and respect for the visionary leader were spontaneous and overwhelming, revealing why the charismatic man was everyone’s favourite Chacha Nehru. He was not a leader but a dear member of every Indian family, whom everyone trusted as their own. Though I did not receive his paternal pat, yet I saw him from close quarters to understand that he was an extraordinary human being with a loving soul that throbbed for all.
However, it was much later after I read his books that I finally fell in love with the idealistic Jawahar Lal Nehru. After all, who would not be moved by studying his books like “Glimpses of World History”, “Discovery of India” and “Letters from a Father to a Daughter” since each page drips with profound wisdom and enlightenment. Quite astounding that the freedom fighter, imprisoned for over eight and a half years, could author such marvellous texts for future generations. The books reveal the majestic stature of his erudition as, despite his overriding engagement with the independence movement, Nehru writes each sentence with remarkable insight and sensitivity. And his “book of letters” uncovers a caring father who is concerned for his only child even in the heat and dust of the political struggle.
Looking around and seeing how the nations of our sub-continent have suffered from martial laws, military rules and despotic tyrants in the last seven decades, I feel we all owe a debt to Nehru for strengthening the roots of democracy in India. It was his steadfast belief in the democratic institutions and rule of law that gave this country not just a democratic conscience but also a coveted standing in the pantheon of nations. While prejudiced minds have derided Nehru in the last few years, all because they cannot attain his stature, it is a fact that had it not been for the visionary Nehru, India would not have been blessed with sparkling diamonds like ISRO, SAIL, SCI, DRDO, AIIMS, IITs, IIMs, Agricultural Universities and hordes of PSUs that have brought prosperity and recognition to our talent, product and services across the globe.
Remember the nation he inherited in 1947 was traumatised by a tragic and violent partition, a festering wound that had hordes of poor, illiterate and impoverished citizens struggling for existence. But thanks to Nehru, the fires of communalism were doused and our energies were transmitted into the right spheres to nurture millions with hope, education, health and prosperity. They are dumb who cannot see the humungous curses and drawbacks that confronted Nehru and what, despite meagre resources and international apathy, India did achieve in his compassionate reign!
I remember the day Nehru died. Me and my family members were watching a Hindi movie in Jagraon in Punjab where we had gone for a relative’s marriage. The afternoon show was in full flow when in a choking voice, the theatre manager announced the show would not continue any further due to the demise of the beloved Prime Minister. There was a collective gasp of horror and as the audiences walked out in hushed silence, many, including my parents, had tears in their eyes. The atmosphere in the streets was even more sombre and bizarre as most people sobbed uncontrollably while clinging on to one another for comfort.
Late film director Lekh Tandon once told me that independent India had seen only three deaths which were universally mourned by all its citizens across the length and breadth of the country. While I wasn’t born when Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, I did see the overpowering grief of millions that burst forth after the deaths of Pandit Nehru and legendary singer Mohammed Rafi. Numb citizens across various villages and towns of India shed unabashed tears for the two of the most loved citizens of our times and yes, even Mother Nature mourned their deaths with torrential rains as if heavens too grieved at the demise of the two of the most noble human beings.
Like his ashes that mingled with the dust and soil of India to become an indistinguishable part of the nation, it is important that we all imbibe Nehru’s spirit of scientific temper, tolerance and understanding to break “shackles that bind and constrain” India. To save this country from any further communal calamity as well as increase the nation’s wealth, it is imperative that Indians inculcate Nehru’s overriding affection for humanity as that alone can bring prosperity and peace to us as well as the globe.