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New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai, Chandigarh, Pune

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Vol. 3 No. 45




NEHRU Plus, in his inaugural column for Lounge, Sunil Khilnani questions the need to commemorate long dead leaders



In artist Paresh Maity’s largest solo show till date, the medium overwhelms the message >Page 17

>Page 10


Indian Ocean guitarist Susmit Sen on the band’s upcoming projects >Page 17


For the past 170 years, the ‘mounties’ have controlled football fanatics and criminals at Kolkata’s Maidan >Page 18


in today’s edition of

Jawaharlal Nehru at Rajghat in 1949.



First published in February 2007 to serve as an unbiased and clear-minded chronicler of the Indian Dream.













FOUNDING EDITOR RAJU NARISETTI ©2009 HT Media Ltd All Rights Reserved


hen The Wall Street Journal did a big story on Shahnaz Husain last year we kicked ourselves. Why hadn’t we ever thought of profiling the lioness with the other-worldly burgundy mane that drank 16 egg whites, olive oil and lemon juice (twice a week), we wondered. The Journal reminded us that Husain’s empire snaked through 300 salon franchises, 53 beauty schools, 3,000 employees and two dozen product lines sold through 150,000 stores in India. And that was last year. Husain’s updated backgrounder states that her company operates in more than 100 countries. In my 20s I loved the smell of Shahnaz Husain products, especially the ones that used flowers. Shamoist, my favourite Shahnaz BEAUTY Husain moisturizer that’s perfect for a dry Delhi winter, was apparently created for Indira Gandhi. Gandhi, according to Husain, used the sandalwood protective cream Shabase when she was campaigning. Husain later created Shamoist from wild lilies especially for the prime minister. Gandhi joked that she should get royalty. I know this story because recently, Husain’s PR machinery sent me a long essay on Gandhi by the lady and asked if I wanted to meet the Princess, as she is known. They also emailed me a list of “prestigious global awards” that Husain has won recently—The Asian Woman Power 100 award, the Leonardo Da Vinci Diamond Award, the World Medal of Freedom, the International Star Award for Quality 2009 and whatnot. Husain’s success as an Ayurvedic entrepreneur is indisputable but, somehow, in my 30s I’ve drifted more towards brands such as Forest Essentials (my favourite Indian beauty brand), Body Shop and Clinique. I can’t even remember the last time I


Write to us at



In the column ‘Chetan Bhagat is not so mass’, 7 November, Lakshmi Chaudhry writes: “Yet Bhagat’s books are aspirational fantasies....worst kind of middle­class materialism.” Is there something wrong with that? The middle­class readers also belong to the masses, don’t they? And doesn’t a writer have the right to write about whatever and whoever he wants? Why should he have to write about the dhobi’s daughter to gain legitimacy? I am not a great fan of Bhagat, but I could recognize many of the community characteristics mentioned in the column, including the chicken­eating TamBrahm bit and the Punjabi “remarks” that are rooted in ignorance. There is no “hatred” that I as a reader see here and yes, these attitudes do exist in real life. SREELATA MENON (The writer of this week’s winning letter wins a gift voucher worth Rs3,500 from Wills Lifestyle, redeemable at any of their outlets countrywide. Wills Lifestyle offers a complete lifestyle wardrobe incorporating the latest fashion trends. Choose from Wills Classic workwear, Wills Sport relaxed wear, Wills Clublife evening wear and Wills Signature designer wear.)


MF Husain, untitled but animated BY ANINDITA GHOSE


Glow girl: Shahnaz Husain (right) says Indira Gandhi was her friend. bought a bottle of hair oil from Husain’s Flower Power range. Yet, I guess all the news about Husain registered somewhere because earlier this week, I decided I had to try a Shahnaz Husain salon, something I had never done before. A 26-year-old colleague says that by the time she reached parlour-going age, it was no longer cool to go to an SH salon. The rickety steps in the heart of a Delhi market led to a battered allwhite room that looked mouldy and deserted except for one client getting her hair done. She turned out to be the supervisor and, when I asked for a facial, she insisted I opt for the Diamond facial (at Rs4,000, it was the most expensive). After a repeated no thanks, she finally suggested the Pearl Facial (Rs1,500). I told her that her beautician was recommending another one, but she insisted that the Pearl would be perfect for me. The facial room was dirty and messy, the bedsheet stained. The window was open and sounds from the noisy marketplace strode into the room. Run now, all my senses screamed, but I smelt a good story.

Of course, it turned out to be a horror story. The beautician massaged my face (and for some unfathomable reason, my breasts) with the vigour that one usually reserves for scrubbing a pan that has been used to brew masala chai. When she applied the Pearl gook, my face was on fire. Don’t worry, it will get better, she said. Take it off NOW, I yelped. I told you not to pick the Pearl, she said, before wiping it off and switching to another facial. The supervisor doesn’t know anything about the facials, she added. Later, she applied a pleasant-smelling cooling mask, but when I inquired what it was, she said it was made of lotus flowers and great for “whitening”. Unbelievably, the Shahnaz Husain machinery had made this anti-whitening warrior use a whitening product. I don’t think I can ever forgive her for that. Write to Priya Ramani blogs at


ere’s the problem. The guests have all staggered home, the place has been swept clean, the lights and music have been turned off. The party is most definitely over, but Sony Ericsson’s new Yari insists we’re just getting started. Their “gesture” and “motion enhanced” gaming phone arrives two years after Nintendo’s Wii made waggling fashionable, and delivers half the experience. It comes a good year after every second application exploited the iPhone’s accelerometer to much giggles and cleverness. So why, in November 2009, is a tennis game that involves flailing your arms wildly a fresh new thing? Elementary, my dear reviewer, says the Yari. It’s a sleek little ultra-portable, not-too-smart phone that’s the first to feature motion and gesture thingamajigs in such a compact package! So is that a good thing?

The good stuff The Yari is an elegant-looking slide phone with a bright 2.4-inch screen. The Build quality is good, and the keypad, while a little painful for serial texting, is elegant and neatly laid out. The 5 megapixel camera at the back is robust, complete with flash, 4x digital zoom, smile and face detection, and on-the-fly photo-fixing. The phone comes with a fairly generous 60MB of internal memory, expandable with an SD card. The Yari also checks most of the connectivity checkmarks—it’s Bluetooth-enabled and GPS ready with Google Maps bundled.

The not­so­good Nothing in the above section is remarkable; they’re standard features from any mid-level phone, exactly what the Yari wishes not to be. But turning to what makes this phone different—that is

where the problems start. The motion-controlled games are remarkably vague, relying more on blind luck than skill. Random flailings produced better results than reasoned strokes in the bundled tennis game, and merely shaking the phone up and down seemed to prove satisfactory in Fitness, which asks you to perform actual squats in front of the phone’s camera, like punishment in school. Only Loco Roco, a mobile port of Sony’s famous PSP title, proves a saving grace, and proof that a game done right on the Yari can be both motion-enhanced and fun. Minor quibbles abound elsewhere as well. Getting a call or a message in between a gaming session, for instance, freezes the phone for a good 30 seconds.

Talk plastic The Yari is a solid, neat phone that would be easy to recommend at a lower price. It’s built on the solid platform that the late Sony Ericsson “K” series and Walkman models sport. So far so good, but at Rs16,950, you’re paying a premium for features you’ll never use. Krish Raghav


Nehru’s India D

ancer Mrinalini Sarabhai was there when Jawaharlal Nehru received a tumultuous welcome at the Marina Beach in Chennai in the late 1920s. Sculptor Ram Sutar recalls an appreciative Nehru inaugurating a 45ft statue at the Gandhi Sagar Dam on the Chambal river in 1960. The intervening decades paint a fascinating picture of a complex man. Journalist Ronald Vincent Smith recalls a Nehru sometimes aloof, and downright impetuous, while architect Mansingh Rana’s Nehru is a witty and charismatic leader. Ranoj Basu, who served as Nehru’s office


natwar singh, 78


assistant as a youth, saw both sides at the Congress party office in New Delhi. Nehru’s encouragement was a turning point for a young M.S. Swaminathan, and his words of praise one of Verghese Kurien’s most abiding memories. From chance encounters to sustained friendships, be it as leader, equal or companion—the memory of Nehru burns strong in all these people. They remember an intensely curious patron of the arts, a politician with a sense of humour and a famous temper, and a flawed leader who, in the end, “made India respectable in the eyes of the world”.

Yes, minister No one wanted to be at the receiving end of Nehru’s temper, but sometimes there was no escape B Y H IMANSHU B HAGAT

···························· he times were different when Natwar Singh joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1953—after clearing the UPSC examination, each candidate was personally interviewed by the foreign minister. At the time, the prime minister also held the foreign minister’s portfolio, so Singh found himself before Jawaharlal Nehru. “Hamein China se koi khatra hai (Do we face any danger from China)?” Nehru asked the young candidate. “Jee haan, khatra hai bhi aur nahin bhi (Yes, there is a threat and there isn’t),” he replied. “Hai bhi, aur nahin bhi. Tum Chanakya niti sikha rahe ho! (There is, and there isn’t. You are teaching me Chanakya’s philosophy!)” “No sir,” Singh replied “Your nearest neighbour is your best friend and your worst enemy.” He was selected. Nehru remained the foreign minister till his death in 1964, and over the next 11 years Singh got to see much of him.


Singh (extreme right) introduced the writer R.K. Narayan (second from right) to Nehru in 1961.

He was appointed secretary to the secretary general R.K. Nehru in the foreign ministry, which meant that his office was on the same floor in South Block as Nehru’s. The office of the secretary general ranked above that of the foreign secretary, until the position was scrapped about 30 years ago. “He would walk into the secretary general’s room or my room,” Singh recalls. “It was exciting to be in the same building as him.” But the proximity had its perils, as Singh was to discover. In 1960, the king of Nepal dismissed his prime minister, B.P. Koirala. Dismayed, Pandit Nehru wrote a long stinker to the monarch. The letter landed on Singh’s desk; he was to forward it to the foreign secretary. “It was the last file to come to me in the evening,” recalls Singh. “I used to get in by 9 in the morning and Panditji used to get in by 9.30. So I put it in my cupboard.” The next morning, Singh went to Palam airport to see the secretary general off to China. “In those days, Palam used to look like a bus stop,” he says. The flight was delayed and while Singh was waiting someone came over. “Aap Natwar Singh hain?” he asked Singh. “Aapko Panditji bula rahein hain (Panditji wants to see you).” He knew he was in trouble. Nehru was looking for the letter locked in his cupboard. “I ran, took the car and (on reaching South Block) took the file to the foreign secretary. The foreign secretary asked me to give it to Panditji’s private secretary, Khanna.” S.P. Khanna told him, “Natwar Singhji, leave the file here or he will throw something at you.” Singh later discovered that Nehru had arrived at 9 sharp and gone straight to the foreign secretary’s office asking him what he thought of his letter to the king of Nepal. The secretary had not seen the letter. As the minutes ticked by, with the file locked in Singh’s cabinet and no sign of him, Nehru had become furious, asking for the police to be called and the lock of the cabinet broken! For the next week, Singh made sure he steered clear of the prime minister. “His room was about 15 yards away from mine,” says Singh. “So to avoid him I used to take a different route.” A week later, he dared to take his regular route again and promptly ran into Nehru. Singh was carrying a book and Nehru


Acolyte: Singh credits Nehru with laying the foundation of India’s foreign policy.

asked him what book it was. “Sir, I have Amaury de Riencourt’s Soul of China,” he replied. “Yes, I have read his Soul of India,” said Nehru. “Rather Spenglerian, I thought.” Singh had never read OswaldSpengler, but he wasn’t bothered. “I thought (Nehru’s) temperature is okay (now),” he says with a smile. According to Singh, the period from 1947 to 1957 was the best for Nehru. He admits India’s GDP might not have been “worth recording” at the time but, at international fora such as the Non-Aligned Movement, the United Nations or the Commonwealth, the world paid heed to Nehru’s words. “When he was going to Yugo-

slavia for the first Non-Aligned summit, we were working on the programme,” he recalls. “So he asked the secretary general if Castro was coming.” Told that Cuba’s Fidel Castro was indeed coming, Nehru said, “Then you please add one more day to my trip because he will speak for 8 hours.” The trip was extended. But there was a cloud on the horizon, and it eventually took its toll. “China killed him,” says Singh. “The attack (by the Chinese in 1962). He had invested so much in China. Historically also, he had a romantic view—he didn’t practise realpolitik, which the Chinese did. So in 1962, we just weren’t prepared.” Singh had a ringside view of some of the events that led to the

sad denouement of 1962. When the Chinese premier Chou en-Lai visited India in 1960, he was the liaison officer. “The visit failed… Partly it was our mistake,” he says. The number of border “incidents” started increasing and exchanges between Chou en-Lai and Nehru became abrasive. “Nehru was polite but Chou en-Lai got into the communist vocabulary, calling Nehru an imperialist lackey.” Singh was posted in New York when Nehru died in 1964. He put together a book of tributes for him, writing to Bertrand Russell, Martin Luther King Jr, Clement Attlee, Arnold Toynbee and Adlai Stevenson, among others. They all responded and the book, titled The Legacy of Nehru, came out on his first death anniversary.



Art lover: Nehru congratulating Mrinalini Sarabhai after the Manushya performance in Delhi.


mrinalini sarabhai, 91


Family matters Mrinalini and Leenaben Sarabhai on meeting Nehru in formal and informal surroundings


··························· rinalini Sarabhai had a double connection with Jawaharlal Nehru—her mother Ammu Swaminadhan was a freedom fighter and a politician who knew Nehru well; her husband Vikram Sarabhai’s


family too had a close association with him. In her autobiography, The Voice of the Heart, Mrinalini mentions meeting Nehru when he had come to Chennai and had a meal with her family. “I don’t remember the year clearly. It must have been between 1926-28, when he was

the general secretary of (the) All India Congress Committee. We rode in our car, down the Marina, and on all sides, the crowds surged and waved back; I have only a hazy recollection as a child but it was a tumultuous welcome to Panditji, who stood up to greet the crowds while my mother and I sat beside him. Then again in Santiniketan, when he came to open the new Hindi Bhavan Hall with his daughter Indira, he made a few of us sit down in the frame of an artistic window and took a photograph of Buridi (Nandita Kripalani), Indiraji and myself.” Sister-in-law Leenaben Sarabhai’s family and the Nehrus were friends too. In a translated email interview, Leenaben, 95, recollects meeting Nehru for the first time when he visited their house in 1921, during a trip to Ahmedabad to meet Mahatma Gandhi. She says he used to come to their house with his father, Motilal Nehru, and sometimes with the whole family—mother Swaruprani, wife Kamala, two sisters Vijayalakshmi and Krishna. In later years, Nehru’s brother-inlaw Ranjit Pandit would also join them. “The family would always stay for a few days. At the time, we lived at the Retreat, a very big house with spacious grounds.” One among eight siblings, Leenaben says she was always given the freedom to interact with the guests and found that “Jawaharlalji was extremely approachable. He was jovial and open, and his laughter was very attractive”. She recollects putting up a dance performance for him when he was a guest at the Retreat. “In the later years, whenever we met him, I always carried a red rosebud and used to fix it on his achkan.” Nehru was very encouraging

about Mrinalini’s dance performances. In 1948, she first performed Manushya, a dancedrama, in New Delhi. “In those days, Kathakali was not approved of and not many people appreciated it, especially in Delhi. But Jawaharji came for the performance and afterwards he came to see me. He hugged me and congratulated me. There is a photograph of us together,” she says over the phone from Ahmedabad. A few years later, the photograph was published in a Swiss paper with a caption which read that the image was forbidden for publication in India. “Vikram was very amused and even wrote to Jawaharlalji telling him about the ‘foolish caption,’” she recalls with a hearty laugh. Mrinalini says she always made it a point to invite Nehru to her recitals in Delhi. “He always told me not to wait for him in case he was late for my performance. He was a very punctual man and if for some reason he was late, he preferred to slip into his seat quietly rather than making a fuss. In fact, a couple of times the organizers wanted me to wait until Jawaharlalji arrived, but I never did because I knew he would not have liked that.” Nehru also visited Shreyas Foundation (set up in 1947 in Ahmedabad by Manorama and Leenaben Sarabhai with the aim of providing education) twice. “He freely mixed and played with the children at the foundation. He often sat on the hood of his car. People cheered and ran after his car. Sometimes he got irritated and even angry when they did that.” Whenever Leenaben visited Delhi, she was invited to breakfast with Nehru. “He preferred that because that way he would be free to spend some time with us,” she recalls.




ram sutar, 84


Idolized: Nine of Sutar’s Nehru statues have been installed at public places.

A patron and a muse As a young sculptor Ram Sutar was impressed by Nehru’s keen understanding and appreciation of the arts

Sutar (third from left) showing Nehru a portfolio of his designs during a meeting at Teen Murti Bhavan in 1963.


verghese kurien, 87



······························ am Sutar always wanted to make large-sized sculptures. When he graduated from the Sir JJ School of Art in Mumbai, he got a job with the department of archaeology and joined the team that was working on restoring the sculptures at Ajanta and Ellora. This was where he first met Jawaharlal Nehru. “He used to bring a lot of foreign dignitaries and very proudly show off India’s art heritage,” Sutar says. The young restorer was introduced to Nehru during one of the prime minister’s visits and he was stunned by Nehru’s understanding and appreciation of art. After four years in the department and a short stint at the Directorate of Audio-Visual Publicity, Sutar quit his job in 1959 to work as a freelance sculptor. His first big assignment was to make a memorial at the Gandhi Sagar Dam in Chambal. The sculpture was commissioned by the Madhya Pradesh government. “When I went to the site, I heard the story that when the dam was commissioned, the Rajasthan government was not allowing for its foundation to be laid in their state. Apparently, it took two


years for the two state governments to reach a consensus and it was decided that the dam would be shared by them,” he recalls. The person in charge of the project was a strong believer in the presiding deity of the Chambal river. “So he told me to make a sculpture of Chambal devi. But I thought of the story and I designed a sculpture of Chambal devi with two boys on either side. These were brothers and they depicted Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh,” he says. The statue, named, Brotherhood, was 45ft tall. When Nehru came to inaugurate it in 1960, its craftsmanship and size impressed him. Sutar was introduced again, this time as the man behind the sculpture, and Nehru had good words for him. When the Bhakra Nangal dam was inaugurated in 1963, Nehru felt it too should have a monument—this time, commemorating the labourers. Artists were invited to submit their proposals. As it happened, Sutar’s neighbour was a personal assistant to Nehru. He talked to him about the difficulties in getting anyone to see his designs for the project and the neighbour suggested he fix an appointment and visit Nehru.

With the neighbour’s help, Sutar walked into Teen Murti Bhavan and was granted an audience with Nehru. He told him about his difficulties. “Nehruji said, ‘Your work is very good, you can go ahead’,” Sutar recalls. The main activities that labourers in the dam project were involved in were drilling and concreting. So Sutar designed his sculpture accordingly; an inspiring sardar flanked by a driller and a concrete mixer. Nehru personally saw and approved the design. Wanting it to be bigger than the Chambal sculpture, Sutar pegged its size at 50ft. It was to be cast in bronze. When asked for a price estimate, he made some rough calculations and quoted Rs15 lakh. The committee was stunned by what was a very high price at the time, so they sent the costing to Lalit Kala Akademi. “They were perhaps not told about the size of the sculpture or the fact that it was going to be in bronze, so they replied saying this price was fantastic,” Sutar says. He soon received a letter saying that the proposal for the sculpture had been shelved due to paucity of funds. Sutar tried to meet Nehru again but could

not—Nehru died soon after. In the early 1980s, he went to meet Indira Gandhi, carrying a bust of Nehru with him as a gift. In the course of the conversation, Gandhi mentioned that there were no good sculptures of Nehru. Sutar jumped at the opportunity and volunteered to create one. Gandhi commissioned the project—a 12ft-high bronze statue to be installed in Jaipur. Sutar worked on it, cast it and went to Jaipur. The pedestal was made and the statue placed on it. Gandhi was to inaugurate the statue a few days later, so Sutar returned to Delhi—only to hear that she had been assassinated. Sutar, who is now busy making scultpures for Mayawati, has installations of Nehru statues in places such as Lucknow and Mauritius. In 1995, he finally did get to install a statue at the Bhakra dam—an 18ft bronze Nehru now stands at the same spot where the ambitious labourer statue would have been. “Meeting Nehru was inspirational,” Sutar says. “He had such a high appreciation of art and artists. Despite being the prime minister of the country, he always had time to discuss, commission and admire works of art.”

History of a compliment Verghese Kurien can’t forget Nehru’s words to him at the inauguration of his dairy in Anand



···························· n 31 October 1956, in the town of Anand in Gujarat, a group of nervous, overworked engineers waited for prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s arrival. Among them was the “Milkman of India”, Verghese Kurien, who’d spent the last three years as part of a team putting together what was then Kaira District Co-operative Milk Producers’ Union’s first milk-powder plant. The brand became famous as Amul. The dairy in Anand, whose inauguration Nehru was presiding over, was the largest of its kind in Asia, and the first in the world to produce milk powder from buffalo milk. “(Nehru) came to Anand as the guest of honour for the inauguration of Amul. He stayed in my house on that day,” says Kurien over the phone. “A lot of people at the time said it was not possible to finish the milk powder plant on schedule.”


Among the sceptics was home minister Morarji Desai, who’d arrived in Anand 10 days earlier, worried about the speculation that the plant would not be ready in time. Kurien assured him Nehru would not only see a finished plant, but “milk powder being manufactured right in front of his eyes”. A mere 24 hours before Nehru’s arrival, the first batch of milk powder rolled off the production line at the dairy. An excited Kurien is reported to have sprinkled it like champagne over the head of Amul’s technical expert H.M. Dalaya. Minor technical hiccups notwithstanding, the inauguration, which began in the dairy’s boiler room, went off smoothly. An overjoyed Nehru embraced Kurien and the Amul team at the end of his visit. Kurien still remembers Nehru’s exact words. “He said ‘I’m glad there are people like you in this country—who can get things done that cannot be done.’”

Achiever: Kurien still remembers Nehru’s words.



Pioneer: Rana at his New Delhi residence.


mansingh rana, 86


Nation builders When Nehru was stuck in a lift, and other stories by Mansingh Rana bring alive a man and a time B Y H IMANSHU B HAGAT

···························· ansingh Rana first met Jawaharlal Nehru in the university town of Madison in faraway Wisconsin in the US. How that meeting came about is an interesting tale in itself. When he was a fourth-year student of architecture at the Sir JJ School of Art in Mumbai, Rana read Frank Lloyd Wright’s autobiography and was much impressed. He wrote to the great architect in America, expressing admiration for his “organic” approach to the discipline, while lamenting his own “mis-education”. Much to his surprise, Wright wrote back, though Rana almost didn’t get the letter. The year was 1942, the peak of the agitation for freedom from British rule. In the wake of Gandhiji’s Quit India call, a


Rana (centre) with a model of the Bal Bhavan building in 1952; Indira Gandhi is to his left.

general strike was being observed and government offices, including the post office, were shut. It was Rana’s good fortune that a fellow student was an avid stamp collector and went to the post office looking for easy pickings of foreign stamps and, improbably, among the huge piles of letters lying in the empty post office building, stumbled upon Wright’s letter to Rana. Wright’s one-line response was to the point: “If you can come on your own steam, we will put you to work.” It was only in 1947, when he received a scholarship from the maharaja of Porbunder, his native place, that Rana set sail for the US. While Rana began his apprenticeship in what he describes as Wright’s “ashram”, the British finally quit India. And in 1949, prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru made his first trip to the US. There, he gave a talk at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and Rana, along with Wright’s wife and daughter, was in the audience. Later, they all went to meet Nehru, who was there with Indira Gandhi. Olgivana, Wright’s wife, told Nehru that her husband had read and admired his book, Glimpses of World History. Rana then introduced himself. “Padhai khatam kar ke aa rahe ho na? (You are returning after your studies, aren’t you?),” Nehru asked him. A surprised Rana replied in the affirmative.

(from left) Rana, Nehru and Babu Jagjivan Ram on the day the Bal Bhavan foundation was laid in 1953.

“Aao to milna (meet me when you come),” said Nehru. Rana trained and worked with Wright on various projects, including the design of the Guggenheim Museum in New York, before he headed back to Mumbai in 1951. He didn’t like it much there, and moved to Delhi, where he began teaching architecture at the Delhi Polytechnic at Kashmere Gate. A year later, on a friend’s prompting, he wrote to the prime minister. Nehru’s personal assistant replied, telling Rana about the prime minister’s daily morning meetings with visitors at his Teen Murti residence. Nehru immediately recognized him, “Aa gaye tum? (You are back?),” he said. Rana told him he was teaching. “Very good,” replied Nehru. “We must put you to work.” Soon he got a call from a joint secretary in the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) and Rana’s career as one of the pioneering architects of independent India began—designing freedom fighter Asaf Ali’s tomb in Delhi’s Nizamuddin cemetery was his first assignment. Between then and 1964, the year Nehru died, Rana worked on a number of important projects, which included the first Bal Bhavan building in New Delhi and the first India pavilion at the New York

World’s Fair of 1964. One project was especially close to Nehru’s heart, though—the design of the modest-sized house that Nehru wanted built for himself on the Teen Murti premises. The prime minister often tired of his grand residence, with all its hustle and bustle, and longed for some privacy. On one occasion he complained to Rana how he would go to his bedroom for a post-lunch nap, only to find CPWD men milling about repairing a light fixture or something. “I ask them why they have to do this during my nap time!” Nehru said. “He would discuss little details of the house with me,” recalls Rana. “The tables, bookshelves, light fixtures, windows.” But it was all for nothing. Opposition figures such as Syama Prasad Mookerjea questioned the need for the house in Parliament. “Rana, yeh to khatai main pad gaya (Rana, this whole thing has soured),” Nehru said to him one day. And there the matter ended. Nehru’s wit and sense of humour was legendary. When he went to review the construction of the newly designed Vigyan Bhawan, to everybody’s dismay the makeshift elevator, with Nehru in it, got stuck for a good while. When the ordeal ended, Nehru turned to the nervous chief engineer who was with him in the lift and said: “Mr Rijhwani, let me sug-

Rana (pointing), with Nehru to his left, at the opening of the first Bal Bhavan building in New Delhi in 1955.

gest something to you. Put a shelf in the lift with some books in them. When someone gets stuck, he’ll have something to read.” The 2,500th anniversary of the Buddha’s enlightenment was in 1957 and Nehru wanted to commemorate the occasion with a suitable memorial. A committee headed by then vice-president S. Radhakrishnan was appointed and a competition for the memorial announced. Artists and architects from the world over submitted designs, none of which enthused the committee members. Rana suggested that a garden or a park might be more apt, and the idea appealed to everyone. Though not a landscape architect himself, Rana worked out a plan for the park. Shivram Murthy, the first director of the National Museum, told him that in his last sermon, the Buddha had preached, “Anything that you do has to respond to nature.” Rana bore this in mind when he designed the Buddha Jayanti Park in the southern part of the Delhi Ridge. In 1964, while attending the Bhubaneswar session of the Congress party, Nehru suffered a stroke. Some days later, ailing, he flew back to Delhi and—as Indira Gandhi later told Rana—said he wanted to make a detour on the drive to Teen Murti from the airport. “There is a viewing terrace at the Buddha Jayanti Park entrance,” recalls Rana. “Back then you got an uninterrupted view of the city from there—you could see the minarets of the Jama Masjid on one side and the Qutub Minar on the other.” Nehru made his entourage stop at the park, walked up to the viewing terrace and, after a brief while, left. “Rana ko batana ki main Buddha Jayanti Park gaya tha (tell Rana I visited Buddha Jayanti Park),” he instructed Indira. “Tell him I saw a lot of children playing there and I was very happy.” He died some months later.



Personal encouragement and attention from Nehru set the course for a young agricultural scientist

m.s. swaminathan, 84

Before the revolution B Y S AMANTH S UBRAMANIAN


···························· . S. Swaminathan will turn 85 next year, but his mind remains scalpel-sharp. He calls up, without any effort, the date his father died: 12 October 1936. He remembers the name of the British district medical officer who had been summoned to the Tamil Nadu town of Kumbakonam to treat his father’s eventually fatal pancreatitis: “A tall man, named Kelly.” And of course, he remembers Jawaharlal Nehru visiting his family in Kumbakonam three weeks later, offering his condolences. “I have a specific memory of him consoling my mother.” Swaminathan’s father M.K. Sambasivan, a doctor, was a disciplined Gandhian. Once, Sambasivan carried out to his yard heaps of clothing he’d acquired during his student days in Vienna and made a bonfire. Everybody in the family was required to spin the charkha for an hour or two a day. Sambasivan had met Nehru twice in Allahabad, and his house had become a de facto destination for Congress leaders travelling through south India. “Mahatma Gandhi stayed with us once, and C. Rajagopalachari stayed a number of times,” says Swaminathan. “In fact, my father came to call one room ‘Rajaji’s room’.” This was, however, Nehru’s first visit. “He patted all of us on


the back but”—and here his memory uncharacteristically lets him down—“I don’t quite recall what he told us.” Shortly after independence, when riots were still roiling northern India, Swaminathan made an unsettling train journey from Chennai to New Delhi, to begin postgraduate studies at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI). The very next year, he met Nehru again. “He came to IARI, and there wasn’t all this security in those days, so a professor asked me to help out, give the guests water, and so on,” Swaminathan says. “In that hall, Nehru made his famous statement: ‘Everything else can wait, but not agriculture’.” Later that day, Nehru sat the directors of various IARI divisions around a table and interrogated them; Swaminathan observed discreetly. “There is a food shortage of 10%, and I want to know how to solve that,” Swaminathan remembers Nehru declaring. So, one by one, the directors offered their thoughts. “Get rid of rats, and we can get 10% more,” a director said. “Figure out how to kill insects, and we can get 15%,” an entomologist said. “Grow new varieties, and we can get 10%,” a breeder said. At some point in this auction of ideas, Swaminathan says, Nehru started to laugh. “Gentlemen,” he said, “I only wanted 10%. You’ve given me far more than that already.” Despite his much publicized love of industry, Nehru was keenly aware of the significance of the agricultural sector, which supplied the food to drive the men to drive their machines. When Swaminathan won the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize in 1961, and when Nehru couldn’t make it to the ceremony to give away the award, he invited the young scientist to Teen Murti Bhavan


Turning point: Swaminathan cherishes the memory of an invitation to tea at Teen Murti Bhavan. instead. “I think he must have felt bad that he wasn’t there,” Swaminathan says. “One day, I just got a call from his office, asking me to come. I didn’t know what was what—I was still a young man then.” In the library of Teen Murti Bhavan, Nehru sat, accompanied by his daughter. “Young man, you have won the Bhatnagar prize, I understand?” Swaminathan admitted that he had, in fact, won the Bhatnagar prize. “Now tell me,” Nehru said. “What did you do to get it?” For the next 45 minutes, over tea and biscuits, Swaminathan lectured the prime minister about the architecture of the wheat and rice plants. Nehru rarely interrupted, and Indira

Gandhi sat in silent absorption. “That was a turning point for me,” Swaminathan says. “To have encouragement from the highest level, to have somebody like Nehru asking what I was doing.” But even beyond the strategic importance of agriculture, Nehru proved to be an inveterate lover of nature. Every year, when IARI organized its annual Rose Show, somebody would send a note to Nehru, inviting him to the gardens. “One year, he arrived slightly late, and as I was showing him around, he was joking and chatting. He asked for the latest variety of rose and slipped it into his buttonhole,” Swaminathan says. “The next day, I read in the papers about (the Indian Army’s liberation of)

Goa. He must have taken a lot of important decisions that day, but he was so relaxed.” Swaminathan would recall the incident when, years later, he found himself beside a tense Indira Gandhi on a long car journey. “So I told her this story, and she smiled. The rest of the trip was very different.” It was his love of nature, in Swaminathan’s agronomist eyes, that made Nehru a compassionate man. “Even at the Rose Show, he’d spot a labourer’s child standing nearby, and he would immediately pick him up and play with him,” Swaminathan says. “It wasn’t for a photo op, it wasn’t put on. That image of Chacha Nehru was born of completely genuine affection.”

The angry patriarch FIRST MET NEHRU IN

ranoj basu, 81


Ranoj Basu cherishes the memory of serving as Nehru’s office assistant as a young man


···························· anoj Basu, a permanent secretary of the All India Congress Committee (AICC), says he is the only Congress leader in the party’s 125-year history who has worked with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi—all the Congress presidents from the NehruGandhi family. He doesn’t divulge his exact age. “You can say 81-plus,” he


says with a smile that exposes his toothless gums. “I started working in the Congress headquarters during Pandit Nehru’s time.” In 1951, when Nehru became Congress president, replacing Purushottam Das Tandon, Basu says he was “just a chhokra (youth)” at the party office at 7, Jantar Mantar Road in New Delhi. Basu’s job was to assist M.P. Bhargava, who was “permanent secretary” to the Congress presidents, and P.R. Chakraborty, another secretary RAJKUMAR/MINT

The constant secretary: Basu has served all the Congress presidents from the Nehru­Gandhi family.

who used to take care of Nehru’s parliamentary duties. Chakraborty, a friend of Basu’s eldest brother, facilitated Basu’s entry into Nehru’s office. “One day, while I was sitting in the office, Chakraborty caught me by my collar and took me to Nehru’s office,” Basu recalls. “It was empty. He showed me a small chair in the corner and asked me to sit there. I was really scared. After a few minutes, Panditji came in. Bhargava told him that I would be sitting in that chair to assist him. He looked at me. I was really scared and trembling. Panditji asked me ‘What’s your name?’ I answered. ‘Can you speak English and Hindi?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Will you sit here quietly?’ ‘Yes.’ After a few minutes, Panditji called me. He asked me if I knew K. Santhanam (the railway minister in Nehru’s cabinet). ‘Go and find him. Bring him to come to my room,’ he said, adding, ‘Go through this back door. Do not tell anyone else.’ I found the gentleman in the corridor, looking very tense. When I told him the president was looking for him, he started trembling. ‘Why? What have I done?’ he said. ‘You come with me,’ I said in response. A flood of questions followed: ‘What did he tell you? Did he

actually ask me to come? Was he angry?’ He and Panditji had a brief conversation in the office which I could not follow. He left through the back door.” Basu was once witness to Nehru’s short temper at a central election committee meeting at the party office. “The three of us assistants were sitting right behind Nehruji at the meeting. Suddenly, he became very angry as he was looking at a file. ‘What rubbish! Who made this file?’ He shouted and threw away that file. ‘Correct it and bring it to me by 9.30am.’ I took the file to the office and started typing it. Mridula Sarabhai and Padmaja Naidu—two Congress leaders—came offering help, but I completed the work myself.” The other memory he has of Nehru is of the day Feroze Gandhi, Nehru’s son-in-law, died: “His face, otherwise very fair, looked very dark that day.” Basu clearly remembers the day Nehru died. “We all knew that Panditji was ill. On that fateful day—27 May 1964—I saw a crowd in front of the Hindustan Times news ticker at Connaught Place. I went there and came to know that Panditji died. I cannot explain how I felt. I came back to office. Nobody there was talking. We all were worried about the future of the Congress and the country. We could not imagine how the country would go forward without Panditji,” Basu says.





ronald vincent smith, 71

Recall value: Smith at his residence in Mayapuri, New Delhi.

Newsmaker A father and son, both journalists, witnessed Nehru and his era up close B Y A KSHAI J AIN

···························· awaharlal Nehru was right on all fronts, except one,” says Ronald Vincent Smith categorically. “He never figured out China’s designs. He got carried away by the idea of a Third World front. It was that, and the subsequent criticism of Krishna Menon, close friend and defence minister, that finally killed him.” Memories of Nehru come easily to Smith. The relative anonymity of life in west Delhi’s Mayapuri Industrial Area or the 13 years that have passed since he retired from The Statesman have done little to weaken them. They bring a smile to his face as we sit chatting on a small bench in a neighbourhood park. “My first memories of him,” he says, “come through my father, Thomas Smith, who interviewed him in 1937 at his relative Dr Katju’s house in Agra.” Once a soldier in the auxiliary army, Thomas Smith had joined The Statesman in 1930 as a correspondent in Agra. Over the course of his 25-year career with the paper, he’d interviewed Nehru a number of times. In 1954, he moved out of Agra, leaving behind a set of signed telegraph forms, and instructions to his son to file stories on his behalf. R.V. Smith thus inherited not only the memories and transcripts of some of the interviews but also a job that would bring him into contact with the prime minister frequently over the next decade. In those years, Nehru used to visit Agra frequently. The city was home to a large community of Kashmiris who’d settled there in the late 19th century. They’d bequeathed to the city the Kashmir mohalla and bazaar, the latter infamous for its dancing girls. Most of the Kashmiris had migrated subsequently, but a few, including Nehru’s cousins, the Kunzrus, had stayed back.


Nehru used to visit them. On some of these visits Nehru displayed an almost childlike enthusiasm. In 1955, he took Soviet leaders Nikolai Bulganin and Nikita Khrushchev to the city to show them the Taj Mahal. He was very keen on taking them across the river Yamuna to I’timad-ud-Daulah’s tomb, but security considerations prevented that. “He loved Agra,” says Smith, “often when he took foreign dignitaries there, he’d take on the role of tour guide.” Between 1958 and 1960, Nehru gave election speeches at the Ramlila and Agra Club grounds. Smith was present on most of these occasions. Nehru’s style of speaking, he recollects, was unusual. He’d linger so long on every word that the audience was left guessing where the sentence was going. It was as if he was thinking aloud. “There’s one other funny thing about Nehru that nobody’s written about,” Smith tells me conspiratorially. “He really did not like being questioned by young people. I always had the feeling that he was either trying to brush me off or run away.” When he wasn’t being aloof, Nehru could be downright impetuous. In December 1959, he and American president Dwight Eisenhower visited an agricultural university funded in part by US aid, in Bichpuri, Uttar Pradesh. When their helicopter landed, a large crowd that had gathered surged forward. The security personnel tried to push them back, at which point the famous Nehru temper flared up, and the people were allowed to stay. Nehru then took Eisenhower’s hand and proceeded to show him around. But at some point the crowd grew restless and started moving forward again. “It was then,” chuckles Smith, “that Nehru put the baton he carried under his arm to good use.” In late 1961, Smith moved to Delhi to become a reporter with the Press Trust of India. His first assignment was to stand at the Ramlila pandal gate at Red Fort. He remembers seeing Nehru being driven in, sitting with grandsons Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi in the back seat and pointing out various things to them. A year later, Smith bumped into Nehru at a reception at the Vatican Legate in Chanakyapuri

at which J.K. Galbraith, then US ambassador, and vice-president Zakir Hussain were present. During the course of the evening, reminisces Smith, the papal nuncio had turned to a senior home ministry official and enquired whether Delhi, like Agra, had Christian links. Seeing the official fumble for a reply, Nehru pitched in, informing the nuncio that Delhi had Armenian churches that dated back to the times of Jehangir and Shah Jahan. One of these, he told him, had been destroyed by Nadir Shah in 1759. “He was a very keen student of history,” says Smith. Even though he’d been in Delhi for nearly two years, Smith disliked the city intensely. Ever so often he’d flee to Agra. One of those trips coincided with Nehru’s visit to inaugurate the new Yamuna Bridge in Agra. There was a reception in the prime minister’s honour. Smith wasn’t keen to go, but his father dragged him to it. It was there that he noticed that Nehru’s face was red and bloated. “He was a very sick man. That evening I knew that he wasn’t going to live very long,” he says sadly. On a hot May day, a few months later, he was passing by the Indian Express building when he saw “Nehru taken ill” on the spot-news board. He rushed to The Statesman office, where colleagues told him that the president, Radhakrishnan, had already left for Nehru’s residence. A few minutes later there was a snap on the teleprinter. Nehru was dead. The day after, Smith stood watching VIPs filing in for the funeral—Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was one of them. “I noticed,” says Smith, “that Morarji Desai came smiling and waving to the people. He probably thought he’d become the next prime minister.” At night, he and a couple of friends went to Shanti Van (where Nehru was cremated). “It surprised me how quiet it was there. A complete contrast to the life Nehru had lived, always surrounded by people,” he tells me. He went back home that night and wrote a piece about it in The Statesman. Nehru’s greatest legacies, according to Smith, are the Fiveyear Plans and his idea of India as a socialist republic. “He made India respectable in the eyes of the world. Till him, we were just another British colony.”

NEHRU INTERVIEWED IN AGRA Interview at Dr Katju’s house, 1937 Nehru was in Agra to address a meeting and Thomas Smith knew that after the meeting Nehru would have dinner at his relative Dr Katju’s house. Luckily for Smith, Dr Katju was an acquaintance, and that is where this brief interview took place. Nehru was clearly in a hurry. How soon do you think India will gain independence? Depends on the whims of the British. But it is sure to come sooner or later. Do you see a clash between the Nazis of Hitler and Great Britain? Who can tell? I’m not an astrologer. How does the Congress hope to tackle the demands of the Muslim League? There is always room for discussion. Will Mr Jinnah adopt a more flexible attitude? Ask him. I have seen your pictures with George Bernard Shaw, Einstein, C.V. Raman and Rabindranath Tagore. What do you think of them? They are all great men. A lot has been made out of the reported differences between you and Subhas Chandra Bose. Any comments? Differences, if any, have been exaggerated by the newspapers. Is there a power tussle between you and Sardar Patel? Who told you? We are on the best of terms. Does Mahatma Gandhi regard you as his heir? The question is preposterous. What is the India of your dreams? A land of peace, harmony and plenty. No more questions, I think I’ve said enough and Dr Katju is Thomas Smith (above) waiting for dinner. interviewed Nehru many times.

A brief interview at the new Yamuna Bridge, November 1963 Nehru was visiting Agra to inaugurate the new Yamuna Bridge. A reception was organized in his honour in the evening. Thomas Smith had taken his son along to the reception. The elder Smith tailed Nehru and finally managed to corner him. It was at this interview that R.V. Smith noted how ill and tired Nehru was looking. Sir, you have laid the foundation of a new Jamuna bridge at Agra. What are your comments? Agra has always been dear to me as much for the Taj Mahal as for I’timad­ud­Daulah’s tomb, with which I have a special affinity. A new bridge over the Jamuna will be a welcome addition to the existing two. Are our ties with the USA strained? Strains and pulls make good news stories. Let us remain friends. Our relations with Pakistan over Kashmir seem to be deteriorating. Is it true? Kashmir is a part and parcel of India, but our relations are not as bad as made out to be. Some think that Mr Krishna Menon’s attitude at times harms the government. What do you say? Nobody is harming the government, least of all Mr Menon. Any comment on the India­China conflict? None. I’ve had enough of it. There is a lot of concern about your health and questions are being asked ‘After Nehru who?’ My health is as fine as it should be at my age. Who comes after me is not my problem. Jai Hind!








Branding the past, selling out the future We use history’s sparkling brand­dust to powder over cracks in our present realities, argues Sunil Khilnani in his inaugural column for Lounge


or a people reputedly uninterested in our history, we’re lately up to our ears in remembrances. A whole calendric cult of political birthand death-days has sprung up, and these last weeks have been particularly busy. Today marks 120 years since Jawaharlal Nehru’s birth. A fortnight ago, Sardar Patel’s birthday bumped into Indira Gandhi’s 25th death anniversary—or, as we are now informed, her “martyrdom”. Here in Mumbai, solemn-faced politicians keep shuttling from one commemoration to another, having already spent lakhs to plaster the roadsides with sentimental hoardings and fill the newspapers with fullpage reminders of the occasion, as if last season’s leaders were now on deep discount at Vijay Sales. Commemorialism, you might call it. Rampant commemorialism: It’s getting to me. Now, I’m someone who is interested in our past, and in why that past matters to our present and future. So I suppose I should be grateful for any invocation of history, at a moment when young India is giddily insouciant about its progenitors. Chetan Bhagat, purportedly our most popular writer in English, dismisses history and declares an interest solely in the future. Rahul Gandhi, purportedly our coming leader, states that Jinnah—his great-grandfather’s most decisive political sparring partner—doesn’t merit more than a few minutes’ attention. In the face of such determined forgetting, what could possibly be the harm in a few posters and remembrance rituals? At some point between Indira Gandhi’s death anniversary and the birthday of her father, an answer struck me. It had something to do with what was on the Mumbai roadsides, just under the posters: slum dwellers, many thousands of them, more than usually distressed. For weeks now, this city’s poorer citizens have been taking to the streets, not with arms like some of their rural counterparts, but with buckets. They’re

searching for water, since supply has been cut by 15-30%, according to official figures, and much more than that, according to the taps they might be lucky enough to share. On one road in the north-west suburbs, positively shellacked with the faces of dead leaders and their aspiring replacements, dry-tap refugees queued hundreds deep at a petrol pump, hoping for a bucketful of a commodity more precious than what the pump usually supplied. It was easier to look at the faces of the departed leaders than the faces in the queue. The great dead, pristine and unthirsty, don’t ask anything of us. I couldn’t help think, first, of the short-term opportunity cost. Politicians spend days, weeks, and many rupees planning and enacting anniversary rituals—time and money not spent figuring out how to fix what are often described as merely “local” problems: from water shortages in cities, to fights over land rights in villages. (A riddle that dogs me: How many local fuse-outs does it take to change the national light bulb?) But our commemorative fever has other, more significant costs that may be worth thinking about on this anniversary day—and the next dozen we’ll be obliged to nod to. Our parties and governments delight in parading our national icons because it’s a profitable product tie-in: a chance to promote the new-generation politicians angling to be the icons’ modern-day replacements. Perhaps a few of these political aspirants are staying up at night reading history as a guide to present crises. But their parties see history in purely cynical terms: Blur your candidate’s shiny-faced photo into the profiles of the Great Dead. If the eminent departed happen to be in the family, all the better: Either way, promote brand-recognition. Thereby hawk to the citizenry commemorations emptied of historical meaning. Trim once-real and edgy historical actors and thinkers into logos to be sported by those AP

Family value: Rahul and Sonia Gandhi at the Indira Gandhi memorial on her 25th death anniversary on 31 October.

currently in pursuit of office. Proceed to power; recoup your marketing costs. The roadside hoardings and newspaper spreads may be lesser in scale than the statue parks of Lucknow (a Blue Elephant if ever there were one), or the ornate MGR and NTR memorials in the south. But they’re all efforts to use history’s sparkling brand-dust to powder over cracks in our present realities. It’s as if reciting the big old names at anniversaries, or embossing new names on roads, airports and public buildings, might fix us, steady us, in this time of perplexing change. The future is indeed full of uncertainties: about the effects of unequal growth, our regional neighbourhood, Naxals, China, our natural habitat. The problem is that branded history obscures a more relevant and potentially powerful sense of the past. Any surprise that the young are turned off by the historical cartoons they’re constantly shown? Our cut-out Nehrus have dulled their imaginations before they’ve had a chance to see how understanding history—our complex, bumpy history—might illuminate our current and future predicaments. The great figures of our history—those now totemic fossils? Their aim was to spread ideas—outlandish, sometimes radical ideas—in order to change the world. A salt march to rid us of our imperial rulers? Giving the vote to every adult Indian, literate or not, when many other countries around the world were afraid to enfranchise the so-called ignorant? Steering a poor, newly independent country between the ideological sirens of the two superpowers during the Cold War? In doing such things, they created—and left us—a remarkable repertoire of precepts: hard-headed political realism, seriousness in reversing the inequality and injustice our society had perfected, inventiveness in the face of real resource constraints, a confidence not rooted in imitation or flashiness—and remarkable ambition, given the sheer unlikeliness of what they sought to do. Out of the history they made, they created a distinctively Indian way of seeing and acting upon the world. Some of their ideas were failures, some just wrong. Yet still we bristle when people, outside and inside India, point out our contradictions or demystify our heroes. Whether our political founders or the new crop, a decidedly flimsier bunch, we prefer the Amar Chitra Katha version. Think of how much wiser we’d be as a nation if we judged our leaders, rigorously, on the quality of their ideas—and on whether those ideas have lifted the lives of ordinary Indians. One poster campaign I’m waiting to see: a celebration of our history of ambitious, improbable ideas, all more relevant to our tense present and difficult future than the commemorabilia we’re daily being sold. Sunil Khilnani is the author of The Idea of India and director, South Asia Studies, at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC. He will write a monthly column for Lounge. Write to him at

Idle worship? (clockwise from left) Remembering Indira Gandhi on her 25th death anniversary in Bhopal; Parliament also remembered Sardar Patel, whose birthday was on the same day as Gandhi’s death anniversary; children light candles in Gandhi’s memory at Karad, Maharashtra; and Jawaharlal Nehru and Muhammad Ali Jinnah in 1946 during the Simla Conference. PTI







Public (and private) relations As Nehru’s PRO during his London visit, Khushwant Singh had his hands full


Excerpted with the permission of Penguin Books India from Truth, Love and a Little Malice by Khushwant Singh Penguin, Rs399.

hen there was Pandit Nehru’s first visit to England as Prime Minister to attend the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference. We had decided to bring out a weekly tabloid, India News, to mark the occasion. Jamal Kidwai and I had been to the press many times to finalise the layout, select typefaces and provide the news we were to carry in our first issue. The front page was to be devoted entirely to Panditji’s visit and the importance of the Commonwealth Conference. We sent material for the first page a couple of days ahead of his arrival to the printers. The banner headline read ‘Pandit Nehru in London’. When the proofs came for correction, the letter ‘P’ had been substituted by ‘B’— ‘Bandit Nehru in London’. Was this some kind of joke? I rang up the manager of the press and ticked him off roundly. He was profuse in his apologies. His typesetter had never heard of the word Pandit and thought we meant Bandit. The second set of proofs had the word right. The evening before the great man’s arrival, another setter was on the job and likewise ignorant of the existence of the word ‘pandit’. Once again ‘pandit’ was changed to ‘bandit’. We had to scrap the whole issue and sent a member of the staff to see that the word was printed right. Senior members of the staff were ordered to be present at Heathrow airport to receive the Prime Minister. It was a cold winter night when the plane touched down. “What are all of you doing here at this unearthly hour?” he demanded, obviously expecting us to be present and pleased to note that we were discharging our duties. Menon asked me to introduce myself to the PM and ask him if he desired me to do anything. I did so only to be snubbed. “What would I want of you at this hour? Go home and get some sleep.” The next morning when I reached the office I saw a note from Menon lying on my table asking me to see him immediately. I took a quick glance at the headlines of the papers to see if anything had gone wrong.

The Daily Herald carried a large photograph of Nehru with Lady Mountbatten in her négligee opening the door for him. The caption read ‘Lady Mountbatten’s Midnight Visitor’. It also informed its readers that Lord Mountbatten was not in London. Our P.M.’s liaison with Lady Edwina had assumed scandalous proportions. The Herald’s photographer had taken the chance of catching them, if not in flagrante delicto, at least in preparation for it. He had got his scoop. When I went up to see Menon he barked at me, ”Have you seen The Herald? The Prime Minister is furious with you.” “I had nothing to do with it,” I pleaded. “How was I to know that instead of going to his hotel Panditji would go to the Mountbattens’ home?” “Anyway, he is very angry. You better keep out of his way for a day or two.” I did not have to do much dodging as Nehru got involved in the conference. The only function we had organised for him was a meeting with the international press and a luncheon with editors of the top English papers in his hotel suite. Details of both were given to his secretary, M.O. Matthai. The press conference drew a large crowd, including Pakistani journalists. Their main interest was Kashmir: the Western press was generally inclined towards the Pakistani point of view. People were eager to hear what the Prime Minister of India had to say in his defence. The conference was scheduled for 10.30am. Till 10.45 there was no sign of Panditji. I rang up Matthai to tell him that the press people were getting restive. Fifteen minutes later the Prime Minister arrived looking very agitated. Menon and I escorted him to the dais. “What’s all this? Why didn’t anyone tell me I had to meet the press?” he hissed loudly enough for the microphones to carry his voice to every corner of the room. Then he switched on his beaming smile for cameramen and asked, ”Yes, gentlemen, what can I do for you?” The Pakistani pressmen sprang to their feet and asked

Mutual adoration: Edwina Mountbatten with Nehru at the Kensington Palace Gardens in London in 1955. him to explain India’s position on Kashmir. He did so very lucidly. It was evident that he had prepared himself but wanted to create the impression that he was speaking extempore. The conference was a great success. Afterwards, when I tried to show him his printed programme mentioning the conference, he brushed me aside. He had made his point at my expense. Matthai also warned me that no photographs of the Prime Minister were to be issued to the press without first being cleared by the Prime Minister. He was a vain man who did not want to be caught picking his nose or yawning. The luncheon for the editors was an unmitigated disaster. The menu had been prepared by Kamla Jaspal and provided for clear vegetable soup for Menon, followed by relays of cups of tea. The editors of The Times, Telegraph, Manchester Guardian, Observer and New Statesman and Nation were present. We started with sherry before we sat down at the table. Soup and the first course with chilled white wine were then served; Panditji had no food or drink fads and quite enjoyed dry sherry and wine. He lit his cigarette to indicate that informal dialogue could begin. He asked why the conservative press was generally hostile to India. The editors answered in turns protesting that it was not so, but that they were constrained to carry dispatches sent to them by their correspondents in India whom they trusted to be impartial. If there were any factual errors they would be willing to carry any corrections sent by India

House. Everyone turned to Menon. His head was sunk low over his chest and he was nodding sleepily. Panditji whispered angrily to me, “Can’t you see your High Commissioner is unwell? You must not expose him to outsiders like this.” Then Panditji himself lost interest. When an editor asked him a question, he stared vacantly into space. The question hung in the air without getting an answer. I tried my best to fill in the gaps of silence. Before the dessert was served, Panditji was also nodding with his head sunk on his chest. The editors left without waiting for coffee to be served. There was more in store for me. After the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference was over, Panditji had a couple of days free to indulge in his favourite hobbies, buying books and seeing Lady Mountbatten. An afternoon was reserved for book buying. Menon deputed me to escort the Prime Minister and sign for any books he got. He also instructed me to tell the PM what a good job he was doing as High Commissioner and that there was no truth in adverse reports Indian journalists had been sending to their papers. I picked Nehru up from his hotel and asked: “Sir, what sort of books would you like to see?” He snapped back, “Books to read, what else!” I tried to explain that several bookstores specialised on different topics—rare books, the Orient, religion, philosophy, travel, etc. He brushed aside my queries and ordered the chauffeur to drive to a well-known bookstore on Oxford Street. We arrived at our destination. He was recognised and the sales assistants fawned

on him. He browsed over a few titles. When one of the assistants asked him if there was anything special he was looking for, he replied, “Bernard Shaw.” Shaw had died a few weeks earlier and there was a revival of interest in his books. The works of Shaw were put together and I signed for them. Some people came to ask Nehru for his autograph and he happily signed for them. I bought a book of poems and had him inscribe it for me. The shopping expedition was over. On the way back to the hotel I asked if he got much time to read books. “Of course not,” he snapped. Two evenings before Nehru was due to leave he invited Lady Mountbatten to a quiet dinner for two at a Greek restaurant in Soho. The restaurant owner recognised them and rang up the press to get publicity for his joint. The next morning’s papers carried photographs of the two sitting close to each other. I knew I was in trouble again. I arrived at the office to find a note from Menon on my table saying that the Prime Minister wished to see me immediately. I rushed to Claridges Hotel and reported myself to Matthai. “Go in,” he said mechanically. “Have you any idea what he wants to see me about?” I asked nervously. “None! He’ll tell you.” I gently knocked on the Prime Minister’s door and went in. He was busy going through some files. “Yes?” he asked raising his head. “Sir, you sent for me.” “I sent for you? Who are you?” “Sir, I am your PRO in London.” He looked me up and down and said, “You have strange notions of publicity!”



Leadership style With an ‘achkan’ and a ‘bandhgala’ hybrid, Nehru created his own unique look B Y R ACHANA N AKRA

···························· n a close-fitted, knee-length tailored coat, with a rose tucked into the buttonhole, and churidaar, Jawaharlal Nehru made a style statement that went on to become a fashion trend. “In his capacity as the leader of the nation he created a look unique to India and made it global,” says designer Raghavendra Rathore, who has become synonymous with bandhgala and jodhpur trousers.


Rathore gets many requests for what clients call the Nehru jacket. “But when they say Nehru jacket, they visualize a jacket with a bandhgala collar,” he says. According to designer Ritu Kumar, achkans are knee-length or longer coats of heavy brocade that were worn by the royalty in Lucknow. “Nehru started wearing them in khadi, with a white churidaar and always knee-length, and made them his trademark,” she says. Rathore’s speciality, the suit-length bandhgala jacket, is quite popular with his clients. “A coat of the length Nehru used to wear cannot be worn with trousers. Men now prefer the bandhgala look in a suit-jacket length because it can be worn with formal jeans or trousers.” If a thoroughbred Nehru look is what you want, then Rathore



1. Arjun Khanna: Linen bandhgala with leather belts, at 14th Road, Khar West, and Aza Men, Kemps Corner, Mumbai, approx. Rs50,000.

suggests wearing a bandhgala waistcoat with a kurta and churidaar for the summer. “A modern interpretation is a futuristic bandhgala jacket with a zipper in the front, worn with jeans,” he says.


3 Fan club: Nehru on a visit to rural Uttar Pradesh in 1953.

Young India A child’s­eye view of India’s first prime minister Ashok Nehru, 72

2. Manish Malhotra: Grey tweed bandhgala, at The Collective, Palladium, Phoenix Mills, Mumbai, Rs38,000.



3. Raghavendra Rathore: Classic woollen bandhgala, at DLF Emporio mall, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, Rs40,500. 4. Park Avenue: Jacquard bandhgala, at all Park Avenue stores, Rs7,999. 5. Canali: Black bandhgala suit from the Nawab collection, at JW Marriott, Juhu, Mumbai; and DLF Emporio mall, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, Rs79,500. PHOTOGRAPHS





Sign of the times Three generations who occupied the prime minister’s chair, on one page


y grandmother is a fanatical autograph collector. Over the last 60 years, Usha Jain has stalked every person worth the name, from boxing legend Muhammad Ali to Nobel laureate physicist C.V. Raman and sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar. The pride of her collection, however, is a single small page that contains, in chronological order, the autographs of (most of) the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty: Jawaharlal Nehru, followed by Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. At 84, her memory isn’t as good as it used to be. She thinks she got Nehru’s autograph when he visited Lucknow in August 1940. How and where in Lucknow, she doesn’t remember. Indira Gandhi’s was obtained by her daughter when she’d gone to receive the Nuffield Scholarship in 1966.

Hat­trick: The Nehru­Gandhi page in Usha Jain’s autograph diary. And Rajiv Gandhi’s came through the offices of his powerful personal secretary, Vincent George. It’s no longer easy for her to get around, but the hunt for autographs continues. She

often wonders why I refuse to ring Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s doorbell and ask for his autograph. I’ve tried explaining to her that times have changed and that I’d probably be arrested if I did

that. But if she were ever to ask me to get Rahul Gandhi’s autograph on that page, I might just go knocking. Akshai Jain

Motilal Nehru and my great-grandfather Nandlal were brothers, which makes me Jawaharlal’s Nehru’s grand nephew. Apart from breakfasts at Teen Murti Bhavan, I have a few other memories of Panditji. As a child, I remember listening to his famous Tryst with Destiny speech on the radio on the midnight of 15 August 1947. I also recall being at the Republic Day parades from 1952 to 1957 at Rajpath during my teens and Panditji—who had to be there ahead of the president’s arrival—coming down to chat with us kids who would be seated on dhurries in front of the stands. When I was 14, I was coming back to India from the US, where my father was posted, to attend boarding school. My parents wrote to Panditji saying that I would like to say hello to him. He got his private secretary to call me and I went to the PM’s house. Nehru asked me if I enjoyed a swim. I said yes. “Come along with me. We will go for a swim together,” he said. We went to the swimming pool at Rashtrapati Bhavan—he was 62 at the time and my recollection of him is as a vigorous and warm person. Much later, after I had graduated from college and had started working in Chennai, I broke my leg in a scooter mishap and ended on the hospital bed. He was in town on work and visited me in hospital. When he found out that I was to fly to Delhi the next day, he said, “Come along in my plane.” My mother gave her assent, but on the condition that we would pay for the ticket. When the plane landed in Delhi, I was the last person to come out. He was waiting for me at the bottom of the steps.

Satya Sheel, 56 Purushottam Das Tandon, president of the Congress party in the 1950s, was a friend of my grandfather Achintya Ram, a freedom fighter and member of the Constituent Assembly. Tandonji would stay with us at our residence at 2, Telegraph Lane in Delhi and Nehruji would come to visit him. On occasion, a black Morris car with a small red bulb at the head of the bonnet, near the legend, would come to a stop, and the prime minister would jump out from the back. We drank tea at home but my grandfather knew that Panditiji preferred coffee, so when he came coffee would be served—just like tea—in kulhads (earthen cups). They would all sit on the gaddas (mattresses) on the floor and sip coffee. Even as children we were in awe of him. No matter how serious the situation, he would address the concerns of a child—I saw this not once but many times. Once, during the Republic Day parade, he picked up my little brother first. At which point I started howling because he had ignored me, and my brother—who was just a baby—started howling too because a stranger had picked him up. He was naturally attentive to kids. My only memory of having been over to Teen Murti Bhavan for breakfast once is that I was fussed over. Another time we went to Teen Murti Bhavan, he received us at the main door, called me out the first thing, opened a box next to a table and gave me two sweets. Once, later, he asked me to accompany him in his car to his office in South Block. Once there, he first asked for defence minister Krishna Menon and then directed someone, “Baba ko biscuit do (Give the boy some biscuits).” I got two ginger biscuits. Even as a child I noticed that after the Sino-Indian war of 1962, he was looking preoccupied. But I recall how courteous he was to my mother even at that time. Today, I am not an admirer of him as a politician but he was a great statesman who stood head and shoulders ahead of his peers. As told to Himanshu Bhagat





Titans: (from right) Govind Ballabh Pant, R.A. Kidwai and Nehru at the Meerut Congress session in 1946.

The united provinces of India In Partition’s aftermath, Nehru strove to make his plural and secular vision the reality in what is Mayawati’s Uttar Pradesh today B Y Y ASMIN K HAN ···························· ehru is often described as a Kashmiri Pandit but of course the province closest to his heart was the United Provinces, or Uttar Pradesh, as it came to be officially known after independence. He knew the districts of UP intimately: its hill stations and capital Lucknow, its prisons, schools, courts, universities and rural districts; this was where his friends and colleagues resided, where the most memorable and nationally decisive Congress meetings had been held, where he was elected to Allahabad’s municipal corporation and where he first joined peasant activism in Rae Bareli. UP was the place of his childhood home. It was where his daughter was born, where he wrote his books, where he first tasted satyagraha campaigns and experienced local and regional politics. He knew its sugar-cane tracts and its industrial towns, had visited hundreds of its villages and travelled on its


railways and rivers. Although a socialist, and a vocal supporter of land reform, he was comfortable in the drawing rooms of zamindars and taluqdars. Their contradictions were in many ways his own as the heir to a Persianate Hindu family with historic connections to the Mughal court. Nehru’s connection with UP was timely and played an important role in his eventual rise to national leadership: The epicentre of politics had been shifting westwards, away from the old capital Calcutta after World War I. The districts of western UP bordered the recently constructed imperial capital New Delhi. Commercial cities such as Allahabad were ripe for linking up local, regional and national power brokers. Democratic calculations based on population statistics benefited UP in national politics when the British introduced new constitutional arrangements with the Government of India Act of 1935. But this was more

than a political convenience for Nehru. The emotional pull of UP was strong; even when he was prime minister Nehru lamented that he could not visit UP as often as he wished. UP stayed as the heart of India in his cartographical imagination. Much of what made UP special for Nehru was its social melange, the intermingled Muslim and non-Muslim communities. His own reading of the cultural genius of India came from his experience of the region and it was where he revelled in the pleasures of food, music and architecture. Although he felt most comfortable talking in

Taking stock: Nehru and Gandhi (centre) meet refugees from North West Frontier Province and Punjab at Haridwar in June 1947.

colloquial Hindustani he appreciated the cadences of Urdu poetry. During 1947, when ethnic cleansing threatened the western districts, Nehru personally intervened to prevent UP from becoming a second Punjab. After independence and Partition, Nehru continued to fear for UP and for its changing character and social composition. He pressed the provincial government tirelessly on the question of Indian Muslims in the state, constantly urging the protection of their rights. His message to Govind Ballabh Pant, an old friend and prison cellmate who was now chief minister, was unequivocal: “I also hope that there will be no migration of Muslims from the UP.” And in an interview with a journalist some weeks later, “It is not our desire and it is not the wish of the UP government to send away a single Muslim resident of the UP.” The region was the crucible in which Nehru forged his own commitment to secularism and he had to fight some of the toughest battles in the earliest years of independence to establish it, seeing off the right-wing faction in the UP Congress. When the Ayodhya dispute first raised its head in 1950 Nehru intuitively recognized its importance and offered to go to the scene. His role in pushing the UP ministry is evident in his letters and notes at the time—he took a personal interest, quizzing local officials on how many Muslims were still in the police, asking local people about their experiences, trying to offset the hardships and needs of incoming refugees from Punjab and the rights of pre-existing communities. He made sure Aligarh Muslim University was steered successfully through independence and recognized that Muslims needed to fight and win elections in independent India; although the Congress

party was assured of a resounding victory in the first general election of 1951-52, he championed the selection of Muslim candidates, arguing that this could be done “even at the risk of losing a seat or two”. The factionalization of politics, the ascendancy of a more reformist and exclusionary form of nationalism and the erosion of Urdu all saddened him greatly; his old province felt like a “foreign land” to him, he lamented to Pant in 1950. But at the same time, he could look back knowing that something of the fabric of UP had held. Today, the Nehru family connection with Rae Bareli continues into the fourth generation. Nostalgics can still find traces of the old social and cultural life in UP, even if politics has got more messy and brutish. As a (mostly) impeccable democrat and pluralist, what would Nehru have made of the “passive revolution” which has brought new parties and politicians to power in the epicentre of his old political world? Nehru understood well that the privileges of his class and background would have to give way to the voice of the people. At the same time he assumed that he had the right to discipline and direct the “masses”. This tension remained throughout his life. It is unlikely that he would have admired its aesthetics, but he probably would have had more sympathy for Mayawati’s rose pink and granite colossus than we might think. Yasmin Khan is a London-based historian. Her first book, The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan, won the Royal Historical Society’s Gladstone Prize. She is currently writing a narrative history of India during World War II. Write to




The Mancunian way




Turkish?… Delight. American?… Pie. Manchester…United! It’s as simple as that. Even if you aren’t a football fan, the Beautiful Game defines the city today as much as textiles symbolized it during the Industrial Revolution




SPORTS We could simply replace the word with “football”. Home to two giant football teams—Manchester United and Manchester City—the city sees some of the most exciting sporting

4 THINGS TO DO Get on to the Wheel of Manchester ( for a bird’s­eye view of the city. u Visit Heaton Park ( or Platt Fields ( for a breath of fresh air and much more. u Go to The Comedy Store ( or The Frog and Bucket ( for typically Mancunian humour. u Drop in at the Manchester Evening News Arena (­ to listen to every genre of music, from pop to heavy metal. November events include Beyoncé, Arctic Monkeys, Taylor Swift and London comic Michael McIntyre.



action of the English Premier League. For Man U fans, a tour of the Theatre of Dreams is a must: Tickets for the museum and stadium cost £12.50 (around Rs975) and are available for all days, except match days. Visit for details. If it’s City, the world’s richest football club, that you are a fan of, tours are available for £7.50 ( An hour away from Manchester is the National Football Museum ( And oh, there’s also a cricket ground, also called Old Trafford, which is the home of the Lancashire Cricket Club. Visit for details. For a different kind of spectator sport, try greyhound racing: At the Belle Vue Greyhound Stadium (, races are held three evenings a week round the year. Admission prices are from £3. And if you’d rather play a sport, there are plenty of options for that as well. The Manchester Sport and Leisure Trust (www. runs 19 public indoor sport facilities in the city, outfitting everything from swimming to martial arts.

CULTURE Some of the hangover of the days when Manchester was the place for intellectual ferment persists today in its diverse museums. Through March, the Imperial War Museum ( will showcase Living with the Wall: Berlin

1961-1989, a must-see for anyone interested in modern history. Till January, there’s Captured: The Extraordinary Lives of Prisoners of War, featuring soldiers of World War II. There’s also the Manchester Jewish Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry ( and the Museum of Transport. You could also access the free-to-download Radical Manchester self-guided tour from for a comprehensive trail through the city’s past. If you go for more contemporary stuff, try The Sound of Manchester (music), Creativity and the City (fine arts) and A City Performs (theatre) guides from the same site. Alternatively, drop in at Cornerhouse ( for three floors of contemporary art, or Urbis ( to see an exhibition about city life. Manchester has a long musical history, having produced bands from the BeeGees in the 1960s to Joy Division, Stone Roses, Simply Red, Oasis, Take That (who had a song called Mancunian Way) and Verve through the 1980s and 1990s. Many venues continue to thrive, including the Twisted Wheel (, once a must-stop for American soul artists of the 1960s, and The Hacienda, the heart of the late 1980s-early 1990s “Madchester” music scene. Possibly the best way to experience the current music scene is to hit the city’s bars and pubs. Among the must-visits: The Roadhouse


Like many English cities, Manchester has Roman origins. But it was a late bloomer, coming into its own only during the late 18th century, as textile manufacturers homed in on its hilly landscape, abundant water supply and the proximity of the port of Liverpool to set up cotton mills. History books go so far as to call it the world’s first industrialized city. Interestingly, it was also the hotbed of Left-wing politics; Engels is known to have met Marx frequently at Chetham’s Library ( In the latter half of the 19th century, Manchester was also an important theatre of action for the suffragettes, for new artistic ideas, for education and trade. In this, the city’s golden age, fabulous new buildings came up; many of them still survive. Later, Manchester diversified into industries such as chemicals and engineering—it made aircraft for Britain’s Royal Air Force—so much so that during World War II, the city was methodically blitz’d.

Seeing Red: (top) Old Trafford and Wayne Rooney; the pubs at Deansgate Locks. (, MoHo Live ( and Night & Day Café (, all of which play live music.

FOOD AND DRINK Mancunians (as Manchester residents are known) divvy up the city into six party locations: the Northern Quarter (among the pubs and bars to try: Walrus, Trof, Odd, Socio Rehab); Canal Street/Gay Village (Velvet, Taurus, The New Union, Vanilla); Deansgate Locks/Castlefield (Baa Bar, Fat Cat Café Bar, Barca); Deansgate (Cloud 23, Living Room, Slug and Lettuce, Label, Prohibition); the Printworks (Pure, Norwegian Blue); and Oxford

Road (Thirsty Scholar, Revolution, Joshua Brooks, Jilly’s). For British food and takes on it, go to The Market Restaurant (, Mr Thomas’ Chop House (, Northern Quarter (, Opus One and Sam’s Chop House ( Besides, the city offers a wide gamut of cuisines, from Chinese (Yang Sing) and Indian (Shimla Pinks) to fabulous grills (Fat Loaf, Grill on the Alley). Harshada Karnik




‘I feel I belong to six worlds’ The author on Nehru, writing his books from mem­ ory, and Sikh cab­ bies in New York

Daddyji: Lotus/Roli, 195 pages, Rs295.

Mamaji: Lotus/Roli, 334 pages, Rs375.



····························· n his books about his family, his own life, India and a variety of other subjects, Ved Mehta has created a mini-universe that in its richness of fact and detail, and in its easy readability, at once educates, elevates and entertains, but most of all transports the reader to Mehta’s own universe. Mehta—who became blind at the age of four—has lived in the US since 1949, when he was 14. In town to promote the republication of Daddyji and Mamaji, biographies of his father and mother respectively, a jovial Mehta was clearly enjoying his wife Lynn’s discomfiture as he wondered how her new set of undergarments went missing from her suitcase on their plane journey from New York to New Delhi. Edited excerpts from an interview:


How was India seen in America in the years following independence? At the time, everything about India was anathema. If you said you wanted to write about India, publishers groaned. The popular image was that of a place where beggars, legless, would be crawling in the streets. Nothing about India could sell. Now it’s a 180-degree change—everything about India sells. There was so much ignorance about India then. I would be asked, “Do they eat ice cream in India?” And I would then reply that yes they do. Then I would be asked, “Do they like it?” India was unknown except for the book Mother India by Katherine Mayo (a very unflattering portrayal of India’s myriad ills written in the 1920s). What did the Americans make of Nehru? There were at least two things about him that went against the grain for the US: One, he was constantly preaching against seeing the world as two monolithic halves, divided between capitalism and communism. Nehru wanted India to be neutral and the Americans didn’t like to hear that. Two, he had this moral stature and he would be preaching to the US, telling them what they should do, and they

Keep walking: Ved and Lynn Mehta at the India International Centre in New Delhi. They have been married 26 years and have two children. didn’t like that. The intelligentsia loved his aristocratic background. They used to write in the American papers that he had a perfect Oxford accent, but he in fact went to Cambridge. Any personal impressions of Jawaharlal Nehru? As a person Nehru was irresistible. He had me over for lunch by myself in 1959—there was Nehru, Indira, Sanjay and Rajiv. My first impression was that Sanjay and Rajiv were very nervous. It turned out that after lunch they had to go to the doctor to get their warts removed. Why has the forthcoming series of your republished books been titled ‘Continents in Exile’? There are 12 books in the series (of which) four are set in India, two in America and one in England. I feel I belong to six worlds at the same time—the world of blindness, India, America, England, the old New Yorker (magazine) where I worked for 33 years, and the world of psychoanalysis as I

underwent therapy. How has ‘The New Yorker’ changed over time? I always clarify that I worked for the old New Yorker. Tina Brown put a match to it—after pouring kerosene on it! (The current editor) David (Remnick) is much more to my taste, but it’s not the old New Yorker. When I was there, everything was totally non-commercial. It was like the 19th century magazines, which would serially publish novels, great ones by writers such as Dickens and Tolstoy. I wrote 100,000 words on Mahatma Gandhi and 250,000 words on India over a three-year period for The New Yorker. That would be inconceivable today. You left India for the US at the age of 14. Do you still speak Punjabi? My cousin came to America at age 16, a year after I did. After a year or two, if anyone spoke to him in Punjabi, he replied in English. There are many Sikh taxi drivers in New York now. I

speak with them in Punjabi and then they won’t accept any money. They say they like America but find it difficult when they bring the girls (from back home) to America. They complain that the girls want to apply powder on their faces; they want to cut their hair and want to shave at different places. I say to them, “Sardarji, in Rome do as the Romans do.” They agree, then add, “But not for girls.” How did you research for ‘Daddyji’ and ‘Mamaji’? Writing is about talent, not researching. In my case, lot of it is memory—people, describing colour, the change of seasons. For Mamaji, I interviewed my parents, dug up wills, land deeds and the diary my grandfather kept. But that is preliminary work. You have to create a story that is factually accurate and then make it interesting. These books were written 35 years ago. Have you read them again? Never. I have great horror of

repetition. Though that doesn’t apply to sex. Any observations on the differences between your parents’, yours and your children’s generations? My grandfather, Lalaji, only travelled once—in a bullock cart to Haridwar. My father went once to England and once to America. Father had seven children and 18 grandchildren, who are now settled in Australia, America and England. As Gandhiji said, we are industrializing so rapidly we’ll soon go back to oil lamps. We are consuming the world’s resources so rapidly. My coming to India for 13 days would have been inconceivable (a) hundred years ago. In my first 10 years in the US, I called India six times. For a 3-minute call, I would have to book two-three days in advance. Are you pessimistic about the future? Freud said that if you have been breastfed then you have to be optimistic.

multiple narrators who passed control of the story around the way a salt-shaker is passed about at the dining table, so The Museum of Innocence takes on a special interest and depth from the writer’s use of the idea of a museum to record every mood and memory and object (earrings, dresses, maps, glasses, cigarette packets) of a great love affair. Like one of his novelistic mentors, the French writer Stendhal, Pamuk loves to ask searching questions about the nature of love and of happiness. Kemal argues that the happiest moment of one’s life can only be fixed retrospectively, and never in the moment that one is actually living it, and both exults in and suffers the miraculous sweetnesses and lacerating torments exerted by time on a person in love. One great three-page chapter describes in minute detail the agony of waiting for someone who does not arrive at the appointed hour and probably will

not come, while the book’s longest chapter, an exquisite 40-page set piece, describes the festivities of Kemal’s engagement ceremony in a manner that recalls the ornate ballroom sequence that appears at the close of Luchino Visconti’s film The Leopard. Very rarely has a novelist in his 50s written so convincingly of the energy and ardour of youth, shuttling smoothly between moments of seriousness and mischief (among the guests at Kemal’s engagement in the year 1975 is the 23-year-old Orhan Pamuk, “nothing special about him beyond his propensity to act nervous and impatient”). Istanbul is very densely and lovingly evoked, but above all this is a book about time. Pamuk builds a museum of innocence twice over: the first of objects, and the second in words.


Wings of time The Nobel laureate’s latest is about a love affair—its pains & beauty crystallized in time B Y C HANDRAHAS C HOUDHURY ···························· t is sometimes forgotten—or at least insufficiently acknowledged—that novels are set not just in a place, but also in time. In fact, much of the power of novels as persuasive representations of life comes from their ability to dramatize the passing of time. Time, then, is always implicitly one of the themes of a novel; it is one of the presiding gods of the novelistic universe. As soon as a writer begins a story with the phrase “In those days...”, we settle down into a story; or when we hear the narrator say, as he does in Orhan Pamuk’s new novel,


that “So it seems all these years later, but at the time...”, we become conscious of a self looking at a past version of itself and the world in which it was immersed, and the shape of the story begins to emerge. Since time is so important to the novel, it follows that novels are often principally about memory; they enshrine memory in words, and are often told in flashback. The passing of a beautiful time, and the desire to capture that time in any way possible, is the central theme of Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence, which records one man’s attempt to build a museum—a real place

that serves as a resurrection of a different time—to love. When we first meet Kemal Basmaci, the young business scion who is the protagonist of Pamuk’s novel, he is a month away from getting engaged to a beautiful and accomplished woman from his own class and station. One day, popping into a store to buy a handbag for his fiancee, Kemal comes across Fusun, a beautiful teenaged shop-girl who happens to be a distant cousin, and whom he last met when she was a child. Sparks fly, and the two are soon deeply involved. Kemal cannot understand what is happening to him, especially since life has already given him everything that he had apparently wanted, but he knows that he cannot bring himself to give up Fusun. Pamuk’s unabashedly sensual novel tracks, in the greatest and most pleasurable detail, the peaks and troughs of Kemal’s days as he attempts to balance his pub-

The Museum of Innocence: Faber & Faber, 536 pages, £12.99 (around Rs1,000). lic life of duties and appearances with his secret life with Fusun, and indeed with himself. Pamuk’s great talent as a novelist has always been his ability to be an ambitious writer without being a difficult one. Just as his great novel My Name is Red took on a spiralling, kaleidoscopic quality from the device of using

Chandrahas Choudhury is the author of Arzee the Dwarf. Write to




All form, no play




In artist Paresh Maity’s largest solo show till date, the medium overwhelms the message


···························· iant bronze ants made with motorbike parts crawl menacingly on the floor, Cubist sculptures kiss and a Durga with a headlight for her third eye looks down on the viewer. The room that hosts artist Paresh Maity’s bronze sculptures at Mumbai’s Jehangir Art Gallery is also home to a 20-minute video, Kolkata to Kozhikode, that traces the path of the monsoon. In the other, larger space are Maity’s oil on canvases, mixed media and photography works. A sole watercolour stands testimony to what has long been the artist’s trademark—landscapes and seascapes. It depicts a fishing village in Orissa, one that Maity visits every year, and one that he brings alive here in ethereal blues. Most striking of all, however, are the black and white photographic portraits of children, young girls and fisherfolk. Maity has worked over the photographed images in pen and ink, rendering them with a dreamy exuberance. His canvases, with their straight geometric lines, evoke Picasso. Supervising installations a day before his show opens, Maity even points to a painting that is a less aggressive interpretation of Picasso’s famous Guernica, the painting that depicted the bombing of Basque country during the Spanish Civil War. Montage Moments Memories is Maity’s largest solo show till date. He has been prolific: The 44-year-old artist has had 52 shows so far. But this one comes after a four-year break. This is the first time the prestigious Jehangir Art Gallery has lent two spaces to a single artist. Viewed independently, some of the works on display are fabulous. The canvases are an interplay of warm hues and vibrant colours. Several large panels are


Mixed media: (above) Maity with a photo­ graphic work; Mystic City, oil on canvas.

tableaus that criss-cross the figurative, the representative and the stylized. The one that Maity refers to tentatively as Varanasi shows a number of characters from the holy city, each in a different act—praying, bathing, getting wedded, dying. But apart from the artist himself, there seems to be little that connects the four disparate parts of the show: The sculptures are called Face to Face, the suite of canvases is called Mystic City and the photographs, Faces of Life. The artist says, somewhat unconvincingly, that what con-

nects them is water. “I grew up next to the water and I believe water is life,” he explains. He alludes to milk, curd and cheese—different forms of the same stock; a transformation to another language. Then he offers another explanation: The people in the black and white portraits were working and living around his studio in Santiniketan in West Bengal. Born in Tamluk, situated on the banks of the Rupnarayan river in south Bengal, Maity did grow up seeing water. He graduated in fine arts from the Government College of Art and Craft


in Kolkata and obtained his master of fine arts from the Delhi College of Art, topping his class. Known earlier for his watercolour landscapes, he moved gradually from atmospheric scenery to representations of the human form. He has won a number of awards, including one from the Royal Watercolour Society of London in 2002. For the last few years, photographer Nemai Ghosh—best known for his portraits of Satyajit Ray—has been documenting Maity at work around the world. The photographs will be released as part of a documentary-styled book early next year. Brushing some fibres off one of his canvases, Maity comments on the presentation at the show. “They’re all museum frames,” he says, while emphasizing the multiplicity of artistic media in the two rooms. Evidently, that’s the crux of the show. Paresh Maity takes Marshall McLuhan’s aphorism very seriously: The medium is the message. Montage Moments Memories, which opened at Jehangir Art Gallery on 10 November, will show there until tomorrow and will then be on display at Art Musings Gallery, Colaba Cross Lane, Mumbai, until 9 December.

The Indian Ocean guitarist on the band’s recent world tour and its upcoming projects

···························· ndian Ocean has always had trouble describing its music. The famous four-piece band freely mixes folk tunes and protest songs with fluid, jazzy guitar noodlings giving way to classical vocal solos and cathartic rock sections. They’ve just finished a four-month world tour through Russia, the US and Singapore, a tour that was abruptly disrupted when


ome days ago I had a let’s-listen-to-new-Bollywood-tracks day, and the experience left several questions in my mind. One of them has to do with the idea of perfection, and with a musician’s constant desire to sound pitch perfect. Most and possibly all systems of music lay great emphasis on accurate pitching, and most students of Hindustani music will acknowledge the importance of being sureelaa that is sure to have been drilled into them through their mentors and gurus. Despite that, I found myself wondering whether perfection in pitching can, at times, be unreal. I think the key to that discussion definitely lies embedded somewhere in the complex world of Indian film music. I write what I am about to write with great trepidation and even greater humility, and with absolutely no intention of running down contemporary film music. But I wonder why voices in the Indian film industry these days often tend to sound a bit unreal; perfect but almost like mannequins with a fixed glassy stare and a stiffness that is Synthetic: Pitch correction sounds artificial. lifeless and unnatural. Likewise, the voices too are dressed up to sound pretty, almost perfect, but there is something about them that is too processed and hence too perfect, and to my ear, it is this quality of being over-perfect that actually lets the cat out of the bag. I am an ardent admirer of technology and gadgetry, but when it comes to listening to music I still prefer to rely on the good old pair of ears that the good Lord has blessed me with. And what that pair of ears is detecting is an overdose of technologically manipulated and modified voices that is turning some lovely and many not-so-lovely voices of singers into aural mannequins—with an unreal sheen and perfection that is too cosmetic for my taste. I also sought some informed advice. A brief conversation with award-winning audio engineer Tanay Gajjar revealed that pitch correction software is, and has been for some time, the rage in Indian film music. It is used possibly on every single track that is recorded for Indian films. So does that mean that today’s singers do not pitch accurately, or in plain terms, sing off-key? No, says acclaimed composer and music director Debajyoti Mishra, who unhesitatingly vouched for the tonal accuracy of singers in the film industry. But he also added with a tinge of regret that pitch correction software is indeed applied almost universally. Strangely, pitch correction seems necessary only for voices of singers, and not for instrumental sections of a track. On this issue though, Gajjar and Mishra, with their vast and varied experience, have differing views. The former confirms having used pitch correction technology on instruments such as the flute and violin, particularly in solo parts. Mishra, on the other hand, stated that the treatment is reserved only for singers. While there has been severe criticism of the overuse of these plug-ins outside India, it seems a pity that in a country where beautiful voices are being discovered every day, we are letting auto tuners and pitch correctors get the better even of voices that are known to be pitch perfect. In the meantime, I am considering following the example of American indie band Death Cab for Cutie, who wore blue ribbons to the 51st Grammy Awards to protest the use of pitch correction software. Join me, anyone? Write to Shubha at musicmatters


‘None of us are trained musicians’ B Y K RISH R AGHAV


singer-percussionist Asheem Chakravarty suffered a heart attack in Qatar in October, on a transit stop en route from their US leg of the tour. The band, however, did not cancel any of its subsequent concerts, choosing to continue with substitute musicians. Edited excerpts from an interview: How is Asheem Chakravarty? The recovery is going to take a lot of time. You’ve just come back from a

huge world tour, where you performed in a number of places for the first time… Russia was a first for us, yes. But in the US we’ve performed a number of times. It was a fantastically successful tour; unfortunately, it ended on a bad note. You’ve had shows in a number of interesting places—from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to Moscow’s Gorky Park. Which have been the most memorable? When you’ve performed more than 800 shows, it’s very difficult to say which are the most memorable. Each show is a beautiful experience for us. It was great performing in Moscow,

Sound waves: Susmit Sen. where 99% of the crowd was Russian. There’s a different thrill to play for people who do not know your music, and you convert them on that one particular day. Any upcoming film projects you’re working on? One is an Aamir Khan production

(directed by Anusha Rizvi). Then there’s another called Bhoomi. A third, which is an Indo-Australian production, we’re in talks with. Does Indian Ocean’s activism go hand in hand with the music? We’re not a political band at all. We are aware human beings, and we will be concerned with certain things happening in the world. I’d also say that looking only at the political aspect of a certain song is lose out on the larger essence of the song. Do you follow any other contemporary Indian indie artists, such as Avial or Mrigya? I don’t get the chance much, we’re continuously caught up. Mrigya I’ve heard. Avial I haven’t. I like Kailash Kher’s singing, and Shubha (Mudgal)’s singing is also fantastic. I like Mrigya too. The ‘fusion’ tag that’s

sometimes attached to your music…do you agree with the use of that term? No, we don’t. We call our music “Indian Ocean music” because no one has been able to pigeonhole our music into a phrase. In my mind, “fusion” is basically about two people, maestros in their own field, coming together to see what kind of musical conversation can happen. We’ve all grown up in the same place, and have similar influences, though our musical tastes may vary. And none of us are trained musicians! Indian Ocean will play in FROGfest 2009 on 14 November, 5pm onwards, at The Garden of Five Senses, New Delhi. Daily passes are available at the venue for Rs750.




Charulata to the rescue PHOTOGRAPHS



For the past 170 years, the ‘moun­ ties’ have control­ led football fanatics and criminals at Kolkata’s Maidan



wish I could count the number of times I’ve visited a restaurant and been discouraged to try murgh musallam or meen moilee. “Don’t have this one,” I’ve been urged. “It has no spice in it. It is white in colour.” In the Indian restaurant trade, there are a number of cardinal sins, but none greater than serving white or yellow gravy to your guests. I personally am not fond of chillies. I find that they add no other dimension to the food except “hotness”, but the rest of the country seems not to be able to do without the little red devils. So much so that any cooked dish without the trademark red colour seems to put people off. And that’s the surprising aspect. After all, chillies have only been around for four centuries. Before that, says Chef Jacob, a Tamil Nadu-based researcher of the ancient foods of his state, pepper was the chief “hot” spice of the state. He assured me that the Kungunad region of Tamil Nadu still uses much more black pepper and ginger than chillies, and indeed Rasam on Raja Annamalai Road in Chennai does have fewer red-coloured curries than most other restaurants. Rasam is the only Kungunad restaurant in the state and appears to set great store by authenticity. Raja Bhojanam Kozhumbu is pale yellow in colour but I am in raptures because of the name: King’s Food Curry is the approximate translation. In neighbouring Kerala, meen moilee is a pale yellow fish curry that contains two slit green chillies for the spice quotient. Coconut milk, turmeric and half a teaspoon of cumin are the other ingredients. It is almost identical to the Goan fish caldine, further north up the western coast. Caldine ranks as the only Goan seafood/meat/poultry preparation sans an angry red hue. Hyderabadi cuisine contains Hind qorma, whose base is curd as well as coconut milk—which it shares with Kerala’s avial. The combination of coconut milk and curd is an extremely unusual one. Hind qorma contains green chillies for the all-important spice quotient (because in India, rarely does white gravy mean completely non-spicy), flavoured with cardamom. INDRANIL BHOUMIK/MINT


our times a day, the buses and cars that tear pell-mell down Surendra Nath Banerjee Road in central Kolkata stop and give way to the two dozen-odd thoroughbreds and their riders as they walk past leisurely. The Kolkata Mounted Police (KMP), a nearly 170-year-old force that has been patrolling the Maidan—the vast expanse of green in the middle of the city—remains a signature sight. It still makes the job of the city’s police force easier. “Our exact date of inception is shrouded in mystery, though official documents from 1840 mention the existence of a force of two sowars (riders) under a dafadar (head officer) whose job it was to inform the harbour master whenever any ship was sighted on the Hooghly,” says Inspector Chandi Charan Panda, who is in charge of the KMP. “The true predecessor of today’s KMP was formed in 1842, when mounted policemen were asked to patrol the Maidan,” says Inspector Arvind Kumar Mishra, the additional in-charge of the KMP. “In those days, as today, the mounted police kept the Maidan free of the thieves, thugs and criminals who used to frequent it,” he adds. The Maidan is where most of the city’s sporting action takes place. Indian football’s big names—East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting—are all headquartered here and have their grounds here. Then there’s the 100,000-seater Eden Gardens cricket stadium and some 70-odd “tents”—makeshift pavilions that house sundry other big and small sporting clubs. “Crowd control during all matches on the Maidan, patrolling to ensure law and order, and ceremonial duties are all handled by the men and horses of the Kolkata Mounted Police,” says Mishra, who joined the force in 1988 as a sergeant. The mounties, as they are affectionately called, also participate in equestrian sports such as polo, showjumping, tent-pegging and dressage. Rana Pratap Rai, the seniormost sowar with the force,

Horsing around: (clockwise from top) The KMP is a common sight in central Kolkata; horses exercise at the SN Banerjee Road stables; Vikram Singh Rathore (left), a second­generation mountie. gives us an idea of what crowd control, the KMP’s primary duty, entails. Thirty years ago, as a still wet-behind-the-ears horseman from Chhapra in Bihar, he had his first taste of the city’s craze for football. Deputed to control crowds during a match at the Mohammedan Sporting ground, Rai and his horse waded into the crowd to control the serpentine queues that stretched from the ticket window and threatened to spill over on to adjoining Red Road. “We galloped up and down to keep the queues in single file, prevent scuffles and brawls, all the while keeping an eye out for troublemakers who would try to slash our horses with blades or burn them with lighted cigarettes,” says Rai, due to retire from his beloved force next year. “My forearms hurt for days afterwards,” he recounts as he prepares to mount Antigraph, his current steed. Mishra, too, recalls the back-breaking work that the mounties put in. “Those days, we used to be in the saddle from 11am to 7pm during the soccer season,” says Mishra, who keeps finding his way back to the KMP whenever he is posted out of it. “I have spent 15 of my 20 years in service with the mounted branch because I love the horses and I love this place,” he says, sitting on an improvised saddle-chair in his small office off the bustling SN Banerjee Road. Throughout the 19th century, the KMP (then Calcutta Mounted Police) performed various duties—patrolling and maintaining law and order, along with ceremonial processions, honour guards, etc. “In those days, when many of the roads were not paved and were lit by lamps, we also did night patrolling,” says Mishra. In 1911, two momentous events occurred. Delhi became

Bengali staple: Doi machh can be categorized as a white curry.

the capital of British India and Mohun Bagan won the IFA Shield, defeating several European teams, giving football a permanent place at the Maidan. Since then, the mounted police has become a permanent fixture at all sporting activities in the Maidan area, including the international matches at Eden Gardens. Mishra says two horsemen are as effective as a hundred constables when it comes to crowd control during big matches. The KMP has sanction for 98 horses—it currently has 67. It recently received three horses from the Royal Calcutta Turf Club and has requested the state government to authorize the purchase of 10 more. These horses are stabled either at the KMP headquarters on SN Banerjee Road or the Bodyguard Lines in Alipore. “The BG Lines stable is both the nursery and old-age home for our horses as the new ones are trained here and the old ones live their retired life there,” says Mishra, pointing to a young foal undergoing the “lunging” exercise—it is made to run in a wide circle while the trainer stands at the centre. Mishra, who hails from Ballia district in eastern Uttar Pradesh, which has its own Wild West culture and love for horses, does the rounds of the stables at the crack of dawn, hollering whenever he finds any slack on

the part of the syces or sowars. The day begins at 4.30am for the horses, when they are roused and given a light snack before being prepared for their morning duties—either patrolling or working out at the paddock or rolling (walking with the syces) within the KMP compound. Later in the morning, after they have been scrubbed down, they get another meal. Then it’s time for a siesta in the cool confines of the Victorian stables fitted with fans. The routine is repeated in the evening, the only difference being that more horses are on patrol. “That’s when most of the football matches are played,” says Mishra. Typically the horses operate from dawn to dusk, so the day and night cricket matches, especially the Indian Premier League, are particularly tough on them. Despite some decline in Maidan football over the past few years, the KMP remains important to the scheme of things. “Football’s craze may have diluted a bit but it is sure to look up in a few years,” says Mishra, stroking his mount Pritilata, a thoroughbred bayroon mare who, along with Charulata, a similar horse, are his favourites. “Charulata is camera-shy and doesn’t like the flash,” says Mishra, smiling indulgently.

Bengal’s doi machh is white—not only is there no red chilli powder, there’s no turmeric either—and Assam’s tenga has a yellow gravy. Tenga is mouth-puckeringly sour and may contain either fish or vegetables and is usually spiced with green chillies that are just slit and added to the gravy while it is being cooked. The heat of the fire helps to release the capsaicin into the food without changing the colour. You could conceivably do the same with a whole red chilli. A whole red chilli is used in the Kashmiri classic, haaq, especially when it is steamed in an open vessel, has only water for its gravy, with a pinch of hing (asafoetida). Yet, it’s the one dish that can give Kashmiris withdrawal symptoms if they don’t eat it thrice a week.

Moru Kozhumbu Serves 4 Called moru kozhumbu in Tamil Nadu and kachi moru in Malayalam, this great standby lunch preparation can be made as thick or thin as you like. It is the south Indian equivalent of kadhi. Ingredients ½ coconut, grated 250g curd 2 green chillies ½ tsp cumin 200g of any one vegetable such as okra, white gourd or colocasia leaves A pinch of turmeric 1 tsp mustard seeds 1 whole red chilli A few curry leaves 1 tbsp sesame or coconut oil Method In a food processor, pulse together the coconut, green chillies and cumin into a paste. Keep aside. Sauté the okra with minimal turmeric till partially cooked, then add a quarter-litre of water and cook till done. Whisk the curd till smooth and empty over the vegetable, mixing well. Immediately, add the coconut paste and continue stirring. In a small kadhai, heat the oil and temper with the mustard seeds, whole red chilli and curry leaves. Pour the oil on the vegetable, bring it to a boil and serve immediately. Write to Marryam at This is her last column for Lounge. Every Monday, catch Cooking With Lounge, a video show with recipes from well­known chefs, at

Lounge 14 November 2009  


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