Girish Joshi

Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire

6 min read

I read Indian Summer in the summer of 2018. I was interested in reading history and I don’t exactly remember how I stubbled upon this book. But I know for sure that it had something to do with the first paragraph of the book. I just had to read the book to find out more.

“IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WERE TWO NATIONS. One was a vast, mighty and magnificent empire, brilliantly organized and culturally unified, which dominated a massive swathe of the earth. The other was an undeveloped, semi-feudal realm, riven by religious factionalism and barely able to feed its illiterate, diseased and stinking masses. The first nation was India. The second was England.”

All The Rumours Were True – In the Defence of Nehru

He saw a policeman fiercely approaching him on a horseback with a stick. Fear shivered down his spine, his first instinct was to hide and save his life, but he mustered the courage to stand tall. Brave isn’t the man who knows no fear but one who stands tall in the face of it. But why would this young man not run away? He had his entire life in front of him with all its glory and he was willing to sacrifice it, but for what? And why?

Jawaharlal was the name his father gave him and Pandit Nehru was he later called in the reminiscence of the place from where he came from, Kashmir.

The only son of British India’s top lawyer, Jawaharlal was heavily privileged. To young Nehru good-looks and confidence came through genes and wealth and prestige through inheritance. He was schooled at Harrow and studied natural science at Trinity College, Cambridge. He would go on riding, learn ballroom dancing, read fashionable books, pursue romances, and lead a very satisfying social life. Oblivious of his destiny, Nehru enjoyed a comfortable youth in London and developed a taste for radical politics.

After Cambridge, he went to the Inner Temple in London to follow his father into the legal profession. Nehru was in awe of social and political life at London. He became interested in socialism, votes for women, and Irish independence. That’s where he started leaning left.

When he came back to India having spent a good fortune of his father, he was a prig with little to command him. Nehru was having a successful legal career, he was married to an extremely beautiful woman but he wasn’t happy. Surprising how life can sometimes give you everything but satisfaction. Jawaharlal looked for an escape, often in mountains.

His salvation came in form of a Mahatma. He found a guru in Gandhi and Gandhi found his heir in Nehru. Together this duo, although of different political ideologies, would lead India to its Independence. And for this Nehru was ready to give away everything he cherished all this life. All his prized possessions and all his comforts. In the hindsight of all the commotions, Nehru finally had found the meaning of his life and that was to discover India.

Gandhi was going to deploy satyagraha and Nehru was adamant about participating in it despite his father’s opposition. Motilal Nehru was sceptical about the impact of sending few individuals to prison, moreover, he was unhappy with the thought of Jawaharlal ending up there. Father and son argued for several days. When rest of the family ate in crystal and china, in form of a protest Jawaharlal began to eat from steel bowl. It was just another night at Anand Bhawan before the dinner when Jawaharlal commented, “I wonder what it feels like to have a noose round one’s neck?” his mother nearly fainted and Motilal walked out slamming the door. Motilal secretly tried sleeping on the floor, wanting to understand the hardship his son would suffer in prison.

Nehru had given up himself to the country. He wasn’t afraid to spend years in prison or to die mercilessly. What he was afraid of was to die meaninglessly. Nehru’s charisma soon brought him to the top of Congress leadership.

In November 1937 an amusing article was published in the Modern Review (Calcutta), under the title “The Rashtrapati (President)” written under a pseudo name Chanakya. It described Nehru as a godlike figure, moving through multitudes as their serene and natural leader; then turned to criticism of how this adoration had spoiled the man. “What lies behind that mask of his, what desires, what will to power, what insatiate longings?” it asked. “Men like Jawaharlal, with all their capacity for great and good work, are unsafe in democracy. He calls himself a democrat and a socialist, and no doubt he does so in all earnestness, but every psychologist knows that the mind is ultimately a slave to the heart and logic can always be made to fit in with the desires and irrepressible urges of a person. A little twist and Jawahar might turn a dictator sweeping aside the paraphernalia of a slow-moving democracy. His conceit is already formidable. It must be checked. We want no Caesars.” This powerful vilification caused great outrage among Nehru’s loyal followers. What they did not realize was that “Chanakya” was actually Jawaharlal Nehru himself. In Nehru’s writing, there is no piece more telling of his personality than “The Rashtrapati.” Introspection, honesty, wit and mischief —few other politicians in history could have written such a lucid essay in self-deconstruction.

Growing up I held a pristine and spotless image of Jawaharlal inspired from my social science textbooks. I chose to disregard every rumour that I came across about Jawaharlal. Now that I know that he, just like rest of us, was a mortal human and culpable brings me to peace. Holding high expectations from others and yourself can be suffocating. So all the rumours were true, but without context, a rumour is still a rumour and not a fact. Jawaharlal was in love with Vicereine, Edwina Mountbatten. That was a rumour but it was true. She made him the man he was and influenced him and he loved her deeply.

Britain wasn’t particularly fond of Indians, Winston Churchill loathed Indians and formed alliances with Jinnah. It was Mountbatten’s who represented our case and helped us have undue favours over the proposed state of Pakistan. All because Nehru was in love with Edwina. It was because of this love that Nehru had the power to make necessary changes in Indian Independence Bill before it was signed by the king. It was also due to his love for Edwina that India has the international borders that we have today. And yes it was due to his love that we have Kashmir today otherwise Pakistan always had an upper hand with Kashmir keeping demography in perspective.

One of the fondest memory of me studying social science was reading about Unity in Diversity. To be honest, it was when I felt proud to be an Indian. India whose architect was Nehru. Had it not been for Nehru and Gandhi, it won’t be far-fetched to say, there wouldn’t have been India, but Hindustan. I’m glad history unfolded the way it did. I’m glad all the rumours where true, I’m glad Nehru fell in love with Edwina. I’m glad Nehru stood tall.

And now I know why that man did not run away. He was Nehru, the first prime minister and the architect of my nation. The one who truly discovered and conquered India.

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