Posted in History, India, Jawaharlal Nehru

Jawaharlal Nehru: as a writer

kamala_nehru_pandit_nehru_indira_family_pic

Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, died on 27 May 1964. Memories on his death anniversary.

(First published 2003)
“ Last month I went back to Kashmir after an absence of twenty-three years. I was only there for twelve days, but those days were filled with beauty, and I drank in the loveliness of that land of enchantment. I wandered about the Valley and climbed a glacier, and felt that life was worthwhile.”
These words were written by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1940, in the midst of political struggles and prison sentences. Today we tend to forget that Nehru was not merely a leader of the fredom movement and India’s first prime minister, but also an accomplished writer. His books include Glimpses of World History, Discovery of India, and An Autobiography, as well as collections of essays, and of thousands of his letters and speeches.
During the course of the freedom struggle, Nehru was imprisoned by the British authorities for a total of more than nine years. In this enforced isolation from political activity, he found time to think, reflect, and write.
Glimpses of World History offers a panoramic sweep of the history of the world, and was written mainly between 1930 and 1933, in the form of letters to his young daughter, Indira. He writes about the Greeks, about Asia and Europe, Africa and America, about Mohenjodaro which has just been discovered, and intersperses his account with advice to Indira, and comments on life in jail.
Discovery of India was written in Ahmadnagar Fort, where he was imprisoned from 9 August 1942, the start of the Quit India Movement, to 28 March 1945. Though he begins with ancient India, the best sections are of the India in which he lives, the India that is struggling for independence. His style is graphic, fluent and compelling. Thus on the Bengal famine of 1943, he writes “ Famine came, ghastly, staggering, horrible beyond words. In Malabar, in Bijapur, in Orissa and, above all in the rich and fertile province of Bengal, men and women and little children died in thousands daily, for lack of food.” Adding his personal comments, as he usually does in most of his writing, he says, “Death was common enough everywhere. But here death had no purpose, no logic, no necessity; it was the result of man’s incompetence and callousness, man-made, a slow creeping thing of horror, with nothing to redeem it”.
He writes also about the personalities which shaped India, and tries to understand the growth of communalism, the strange idea of partition. Jinnah puzzles him. He was head and shoulders above other members of the Muslim League, he says and that is how he became their leader. Once Jinnah was considered the apostle of Hindu-Muslim unity, but now, “ Some destiny or course of events had thrown him among the very people for whom he had no respect.” This book thus looks at history from within, through the eyes of a man who participated in and created history, and should be compulsory reading for anyone wishing to understand the tumultous years befor independence.
His Autobiography, the most introspective of his books, was written mainly in Dehra Dun jail between 1934 and 1935. Here he writes not only of his life and the ongoing political struggle, but of his jail companions – hordes of wasps, bats, a puppy he nursed through a serious illness, a kitten he made friends with; he describes the weather, the incessant rain, and the glorious view on a freezing cold day, of the mountains, covered with snow.
All these books were written before independence. After 1947, he continued to write thousands of letters. His Speeches have been collected in five volumes, and reflect India’s growth and problems in the early years of independence.
Nehru’s historical perspective, wide knowledge, philosophical approach and subtle wit, make whatever he has written worth reading even today.

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Posted in History, India, India: States and Union territories

Lalu Prasad Yadav–his life up to 2002

 

Lalu Prasad Yadav

Ever since I read Lalu’s biography many years ago, I have appreciated a lot about him. It narrates how as a child, when he was herding buffaloes, the zamindars attacked him for wearing clean clothes and chappals. Later, when he became chief minister, for many months he continued to live in his brother’s room in the veterinary college, where his brother worked as a peon. At night he drove through the streets of Patna, distributing blankets to those sleeping on the pavements. Even later I heard about how he retained his down to earth nature, how his chief minister’s residence was an open house, where tea was constantly served and no one was turned away. Did he change, was he involved in corruption, or implicated in  something done by others? That the courts will decide.

Below is an extract from a book I wrote in 2002. However, this section on the states of India was  published in a very truncated form, as the book had become too long. Sharing it here. I have not added to what I wrote at that time, hence the narrative stops in 2002.

Bihar

After the emergency

In 1977, when elections were held again, the newly created Janata Party won in Bihar . In 1980, the Congress was back in power in the state and remained in control of the state government till 1990. During these years there were repeated changes in chief ministers.

1990 -2000

From 1990 onwards, Lalu Prasad Yadav  dominated the politics of the state. In March 1990, when elections were held in the state, the Janata Dal, into which the Janata Party had merged ,  won 132 seats out of 324 in the assembly. Along with their allies, which included the CPI, they formed the government.  Lalu Yadav was selected as chief minister and promised a new era.

 

New trend

In some ways Lalu represented a new trend in politics, as he was from a poor family, and identified with the common people.  Born in 1948, in village Phulwaria, in Gopalganj district of Bihar, he was a Yadav, one of the backward castes. His father had a few buffaloes and a small patch of land.  He was the sixth of eight children and they lived in a thatched mud hut at the edge of the village, away from the higher castes. There was little money and food. As a child, Lalu seemed different from the others, more independent and intelligent, and so was taken to Patna where his uncle and his brother had jobs in the Patna Veterinary hospital (as milkman and peon  ). They decided to educate him, and he passed school and college.  When studying at  B.N. College in Patna, he became interested in politics. In 1970, he got the job of a clerk in Patna Veterinary College, but left in 1973,  joined a law course and was  elected president of the student’s union. The same year, he married Rabri, a fourteen-year old girl, chosen by his parents.   In 1974, as we saw earlier, he led the student’s agitation, which soon became a nation-wide movement.  In 1975, during the emergency, he was arrested under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA). ( His eldest daughter, born at this time, was named Misa). He was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1977, and to the state assembly in 1980and 1985. He became the opposition leader in the Bihar assembly in 1989, and the same year was again elected to the Lok Sabha. His political career reached a height when he became chief minister in 1990. He was re-elected in 1995.

 

A popular leader

Initially, Lalu was quite popular, particularly among the backward castes. He spoke Bhojpuri, a local dialect and tried to help the poor. He mixed with the lowest castes and had houses built for them, as well as schools for  poor boys . The minimum wage for agricultural workers was raised. But despite all these schemes, the administration remained poor and development did not take place. Later, corruption cases further injured his image.

A new party

In January 1996, he became president of the Janata Dal. After this however, a decline started.

There were charges of his involvement in corruption in the animal husbandry department. Crores of rupees had been withdrawn through false bills, for the import of pigs and medicines, that were finally never imported, and for providing fodder. This process started at the time of the Congress, but continued under Lalu. The Janata Dal now wanted to remove him as president, and so Lalu split the party, forming the Rashtriya Janata Dal in July 1997.  On the verge of being arrested, he made his wife Rabri Devi,  the chief minister.  He was imprisoned for short periods, but claimed he was innocent and continued to supervise his wife’s government from jail. In February 1999 President’s rule was imposed in  the state. The next elections were held in the state in February 2000.

 

2000- 2002

Surprisingly, though even Lalu did not expect it, the Rashtriya Janata Dal again won the state elections, supported by the Congress. Rabri Devi continued as the chief minister. There were two main reasons for his success. One was in-fighting among the opposition, and the other, that no matter what his failures, many common people continued to identify with him, because he was of a backward caste, talked like them and knew how to communicate.  ‘Vote Lalu ka, raj hamara’ (if we vote for Lalu, we will rule), was one of the slogans used in elections, and having suffered from upper caste oppression for centuries, many genuinely felt this. Muslims also felt that they were safe under his government.

———————————————-

Lalu again went to jail in 2001-2. The fodder case goes on. Rabri continues to be the chief minister [2002]. And Bihar’s problems, which started long before Lalu came to power, also continue. In 2002 Lalu achieved a new success, as he was elected to the Rajya Sabha.

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Posted in Dehradun, India

Dehradun, memories

hathibarkala1

On the 29th of September, I was invited by WIC, Dehradun, to talk about life in Dehradun, memories and stories. It brought back memories of this house, where we lived for some years, in Hathibarkala, Dehradun.

The garden was huge, with fruit trees of all kinds, guava, litchi, mango, plum, lemon, mulberry. Pink lilies grew wild, and we ate wild mushrooms, trusting the old woman who came to cut the grass to choose and give us the non-poisonous ones.

Birds were so numerous then, the paradise fly-catcher with its gorgeous ribbon-like white tail, flying across several times a day. Golden orioles, green pigeons, long tailed blue magpies, owls, big and small, woodpeckers, the list is endless.

The garden faded off into the forest, from where jackals visited. One could hear the barking deer, and occasionally see the wild jungle cat, that looked like a miniature leopard. Of course, there were plenty of snakes too, which I wasn’t fond of in those days–I came to appreciate them later. And small creatures of all kinds lived in the space above the wooden ceilings and the roof.

The house itself is symmetrical, built in British days. I haven’t visited lately, but I know the house and others like it are still there. Hathibarkala, the Survey of India estate, is still an oasis of greenery.

Posted in History, India

Lal Bahadur Shastri–and how he got his name!

Yesterday was the birth anniversary of both Mahatma Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri. I asked friends if they knew Shastri’s real name, but none were aware of it. Below is an extract from my book The Puffin History of India volume 2, that reveals his name. It had always struck me as strange that such a simple man who dropped his own surname so as not to be identified with any caste, then took on a brahmanical one.

Looking back on those days I remember the food shortages. Shastri requested everyone in the country to skip one meal a week. Would that really conserve food? I don’t know, but most people, including my family, followed this.

The extract is below:

‘After Jawaharlal Nehru died, the major question was, who would

be the next prime minister? Gulzarilal Nanda, who was the

acting prime minister,was one possibility, while others were Morarji

Desai, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Jagjivan Ram. Kamaraj was in favour

of Shastri, and persuaded others in the Congress to support him.

Thus on 2 June 1964, Shastri was unanimously chosen as prime

minister by the Congress and assured the support of all the other

leaders. He was a short, slim man, 155 cm (5’2”) tall, always neatly

dressed in dhoti, kurta and cap.

A heavy responsibility

On his appointment, Shastri said, ‘I have been entrusted with a very

heavy responsibility, with the highest charge. I tremble when I am

reminded of the fact that the country and Parliament have been led

by no less a person than Jawaharlal Nehru . . . I can assure you I will

try to discharge my responsibility with utmost humility.’

Early life

Lal Bahadur Verma was born on 2 October 1904, at Mughalsarai

near Varanasi. In 1906, his father, a school teacher, died, and he was

brought up by his mother and various relatives. During his school

days, he dropped his surname, as he did not want to be identified

with any particular caste. In 1921, in his last year of school, he heard

Mahatma Gandhi speak, and left school without completing his final

exams to join the freedom movement.

A new name and a new life

Later the same year, he joined the Kashi Vidyapeeth, a national

educational institution, and graduated in 1925 with the ‘Shastri’

degree. From this, he took the name Shastri.After this he joined the

Servants of the People Society, an organization of service to the

nation, and worked both for this and for the Congress. He

participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement and other

Congress activities, and like Nehru, was imprisoned for a total of

nine years. In the meantime, in 1928, he married Lalita Devi, a

young woman of seventeen and over the years had four children.

His family lived in great poverty, specially when he was in jail.

Between 1937 and 1939, he was part of the United Provinces (UP)

Legislative Assembly.

After 1947

After independence he became the UP home minister and transport

minister and then held several posts in the union government. He

was minister for transport and railways in 1952, for transport and

communication in 1957, commerce and industry in 1958, and home

minister in 1961. He resigned in 1963 under the Kamaraj Plan, but

again joined the union cabinet in January 1964, on Nehru’s request.

As prime minister

When he took over as prime minister, the country was full of

problems. The sense of mission and dedication to a cause that had

been there at the time of independence, had diminished. The

Chinese war was a shock from which the economy had not

recovered. The Third Five-Year Plan had begun to show declining

growth figures.’

There is more on him in my book!

Posted in Books, History, India

Why is 2008 an Unforgettable Year for India?: ‘India at 70’ — An Excerpt

Penguin India Blog

Author Roshen Dalal in her new book, ‘India at 70’, explores the journey of India through its 70 years since Independence in the minutest details. The enthralling read is not just a dive into the rich history of the country, but also a celebration of the major milestones in every aspect and field of society.

In the following excerpt from the book, Roshen Dalal takes a deeper look into why the year 2008 will always be considered unforgettable in the history of modern India.

The year 2008 had some unforgettable moments.

Floods are not uncommon in the monsoon season, but in August that year, the floods in Bihar were exceptionally severe. River Kosi changed course, and over 2.3 million people were affected.

In October, the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Agreement was signed and was considered a landmark treaty. According to this, the US would provide India with nuclear fuel and technology…

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Posted in death, Hinduism, India, Religion, Upanishads

Life after death

The Brahma Sutra, a Sanskrit text assigned to various dates between the 5th century BCE and the first Century CE, is one of the most complex texts, impossible to understand without a commentary. What, for instance, can the average reader understand from a one word sutra that says, ‘kampanat’, i.e, ‘trembles’. Only the commentators know what this refers to, and which passages in the Upanishads are connected with this.

After many passages explaining Brahman, the ultimate cause of the world and the only reality, the third chapter begins with  a discussion on reincarnation. Quoting various Upanishads as usual, the commentators explain the terse short statements. When the individual soul departs from the body, they say, it is accompanied by subtle elements, as well as prana, or the breath, and by the eleven indriyas or senses. After spending some time in a heavenly world or in hell, the soul returns to earth to a new body, based on its residual karma, that is those actions that still have not been exhausted by enjoyment or sorrow in heaven or hell.

This brief account is of course, a simplification of the text, but provides some indications on theories of reincarnation.

 

 

Posted in History, India

When the Journey Began: ‘India at 70’ — An Excerpt

Penguin India Blog

In 2017, India’s spacecraft Mangalyaan is orbiting Mars, satellites are regularly sent into space, the economy is growing rapidly and India’s diverse art and culture is appreciated globally. And, most importantly, India is the largest democracy in the world.

The story of India as an independent nation began seventy years ago, in 1947, when the country gained independence after almost 200 years of British rule. For the first time, India became a united political entity, a nation with clearly defined boundaries. What type of country would the new India be? Would it remain united and strong?

At this time, the territory known as India consisted of eleven British provinces and some additional areas directly under British rule as well as 565 Indian states (also called princely states) where the British had overall control. The Muslim League, led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, wanted a separate state of Pakistan, and finally it…

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Posted in History, India

India: 70 Years of Independence

Penguin India Blog

By Roshen Dalal

India celebrates 70 years of independence on 15 August, and we may wonder why this date is so important. A simple answer is that on this date in 1947, India gained freedom from almost 200 years of British rule. But further questions follow. What was wrong with British rule? How was it different from that of earlier invaders and settlers? Through the narrow passes and river valleys in the high mountains, India had seen many invasions from ancient times. Darius I (522-486 BCE)of Persia (Iran) included part of north-west India in his territories. Alexander, the Macedonian conquerer, too, came to the north-west in 336 BCE, but could not stay long. The Bactrian Greeks (from 200 BCE), the Parthians (1st century CE), Kushanas (1st to 3rd centuries CE), Indo-Sasanians (3rd -4th centuries CE), and Hunas (5th century CE), and were among other invaders. All of them set up…

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Posted in India, J Krishnamurti, president of India, Rukmini Devi Arundale, Theosophy

Rukmini Devi Arundale–the woman who could have been president of India

India’s presidential elections take place next month, with two main candidates, Ram Nath Kovind, who has been an MP and governor of Bihar, and Meira Kumar. It is more or less definite that Kovind, the BJP candidate will win, though Meira Kumar too has excellent credentials–a woman, a Dalit, who had a career in the foreign service before joining politics. She has been a union minister, a speaker of the Lok Sabha, and is the daughter of the late Babu Jagjivan Ram.

The only woman president so far has been Pratibha Devisingh Patil.

But Rukmini Devi Arundale was the one who could have been the first woman president of India. She was a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha in the 1950s. In 1977 she was invited by the then prime minister Morarji Desai, to become the president, or at  least to stand for election, but she refused. Perhaps there have been others who have refused over the years?

Rukmini Devi  (29 February 1904- 24 February 1986) was an extraordinary person. Her father, Neelakanta Sastri, an engineer and Sanskrit scholar, joined the Theosophical Society and moved to live near its headquarters at Adyar, Madras [now Chennai], after his retirement. Influenced by Theosophy, she was a beautiful young girl of 16, when she decided to marry George Arundale, an Englishman, a Theosophist, and a man who at 42, was much older than her. Her decision created a furore in the sedate circles of Madras, but she went ahead, and soon became even more closely involved with the world of Theosophy. At the same time she revived and made Indian dance respectable again, founded Kalakshetra, the dance institute in Madras [Chennai] and laid the foundations for  animal welfare in India. In the course of her life she received numerous awards, and wrote and lectured on several topics.

Just as Jiddu Krishnamurti was put forward by the Theosophists as the messiah and world teacher, Rukmini Devi was named the ‘world mother’. [see earlier post: Two Philosophers of Modern India, for more on J Krishnamurti]. In 1925, at the Order of the Star meeting at Ommen, Annie Besant announced: ‘Rukmini of glorious past will be Rishi Agastya’s messenger to the women and young ones In India….Young in body, yet she is old in wisdom and power…’. Rukmini did not openly repudiate her, but gradually moved away from the role.

Was her marriage a happy one? Yes, it seemed to be so. He supported and advised Rukmini, and she did the same with him.

These are just some snippets of the extraordinary life of Rukmini Devi.

Posted in Hinduism, India, Philosophy, Upanishads

The Upanishads–1

The Upanishads are a series of Sanskrit texts that form part of Vedic literature. As I am writing a book on the Upanishads, a sequel to that on the Vedas, I have been posting a few snippets from them. Here I have put together some of those snippets, with a few additions.

There are 108 classic Upanishads with different themes and varied contents. The main aim of every Upanishad, is however, the realization of Brahman, the ultimate source of all, which some schools of philosophy consider identical with the atman, the soul in each person.

The Brahma Sutra is a text that recognises this central theme, and puts together the main ideas on Brahman from the Upanishads.

The first sutra in this text is ‘athato brahmajijnasa’, ‘now therefore the inquiry into Brahman’. This small word ‘atha’ has been so extensively analyzed by commentators, that the commentaries amount to over a hundred pages. ‘Now’ , implies that there are some prerequisites before one can start such an inquiry, into that immutable and undefinable concept of Brahman. These prerequisites are extensively described, though commentators don’t agree on what they are. Without the commentators it is impossible to understand a sutra, which is a short, terse, minimalist statement.

The Upanishads are of different types. Some form a link between the earlier Vedic  texts and the philosophy of these.
The most important are termed major Upanishads, They have commentaries of the great philosopher Shankara of the 9th century [Adi Shankaracharya].

Studying the Upanishads enables one to understand the identity of the atman with Brahman. One cannot realise this when one is totally immersed in activities in the world.

The Upanishads write about ‘guha’ the cave in the body. This is often qualified as the ‘inner cave’ or ‘the cave within the heart’. It is there that the eternal light of the atman or soul, is to be sought. This special place is called a cave because of its hidden and secret nature.

How does one reach this ‘cave within the heart’, where the eternal light shines? An ethical life and control over the mind and senses, are the first step, according to the Upanishads.

‘This atman, resplendent and pure, whom the sinless sannyasis behold, residing within the body, is attained by unceasing practice of truthfulness, austerity, right knowledge, and continence.’ Mundaka Upanishad, III.1.7.