Monday, March 4, 2024

Chacha Nehru lives in the hearts of the children of India


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By Omar Luther King

On 14 November 1889, the first Prime Minister of India was born. On November 14, every year Children’s Day is celebrated in India. Knowing him as I do, let me narrate about Jawaharlal Nehru. These two incidents speak volumes about him. A big meeting was organised for Nehru in a small town in the undivided Assam (which has now been divided into seven states, popularly known as the ‘seven sisters’). On the dais-rostrum was put up an ancient sort of mike. A mike or a loudspeaker or a P.A. system was just a new idea in those days in the provincial towns of India. The tribune of the people arrived and cat-like ran up the stairs to the high dais and took his seat.

Just to commence the meeting, my father requested Nehru to come to the rostrum and address the assembly. Nehru was in a good mood. He briskly entered the rostrum. As he was prefacing his speech with these words, ‘Aap logon ke sabhapati Tayyebulla Sahib ka hukum main kuchch kahoon (As ‘ordered’ by your President Tayyebulla Sahib, I rise to speak)’, the rusty mike began giving out a hoarse and distressing sound.

Smilingly, Nehru murmured: ‘Awaaz to gadhe ki de rahi hai (A braying sound is coming out)’. He was about to deliver his speech when a little girl with garland in her hands was seen coming in slow rehearsed steps towards the august guest who was already inside the rostrum. (She could not keep pace with agile Nehru: all miscalculations!) After finishing her welcome speech, the little girl was about to garland Nehru when he actually began his speech!

The girl with the garland stood like a statue. Providentially, the mike went wrong again, and this time it stopped totally. Nehru was furious. He said to the mike-man, in Urdu: “Go and tell your employer (‘munib’) to change his profession – ‘pesha badal lein’. He was moving inside the rostrum from one end to the other like a wild tiger in a cage. As the poor girl proceeded to garland the day’s orator, instead of extending his neck, as he was accustomed to, he snatched the garland from the girl and threw it violently on the dais to be sundered into shreds!

Nobody saw how the girl vanished into thin air without a trace. Meanwhile, an enterprising tea-planter had uprooted his own car battery and fitted it into the mike. The dumb mike became vocal. My father beckoned the unmindful Nehru. He re-entered the rostrum and began his speech that lasted for a full one hundred minutes!

During his whirlwind electioneering tour, Nehru raised a large amount of money for the Assam election fund. My father had accompanied him throughout the tour. In the snug back seat of a car were only Nehru and my father – Nehru chain-smoking and reading proofs of his manuscript, Discovery of India. He would now and then merrily gossip just to enliven or to break the monotony.

As soon as Nehru saw on the roadside a crowd – big or small – he would jump out of the car. He would leave his manuscript and his pipe and go among the people waiting for him. Nehru would talk in his high-flown Urdu, which my father had to interpret in Assamese to the simple awe-inspired country folk, curiously looking up to their idol standing right on the threshold of their humble thatched houses.

Touching his feet by people here and there on his way was all the time worrying him to the point of irritation. At the close of one of his speeches, which my father was interpreting, as it ran, he made an appeal to the people, fretting querulously thus: ‘Main koyee Sadhu, koyee dharmaguru, avatar nahi hoon; payer pakarne se mujhe ranj hota hai (I am no saint, no incarnation; feet-touching distresses me)’.

A septuagenarian village elder, who did not follow what had been said, instantly came up and fell flat before the idol and reverentially touched his feet and felt fully satisfied. A frowning Nehru fitfully flared up: ‘Yeh kiya wahiat? (What’s all this nonsense?)’

An Assamese simpleton (what could he understand of Nehru’s ‘Wahiat’?) clasped both the legs of his god. The furious flesh-and-blood deity freed himself forcibly from the ‘octopus’ and, jumping down from the high rostrum directly to the ground, made his way hurriedly to the waiting car – fretting and fuming and murmuring.

When the car taking Nehru and my father from Gauhati to Nowgong was sighted, the people coming from the town to greet their leader halfway, stopped it. After welcoming Nehru, all turned to my father with grave faces to tell him that my mother (who gave birth to me a few days ago) had suddenly developed a blood crisis and that doctors had warned my father not to proceed further with Pandit Nehru on the rest of his journey.

Full of the milk of human kindness that his loving heart flowed with, Nehru said, ‘Tayyebulla Saheb, then you should not think of going with me’. He consoled my father through the rest of the journey to the town, up to our house.

After seeing my mother in bed, my father hurried to join Nehru for a quick lunch, and then they parted. A few days later my mother passed away, leaving my father with no wife to love or to be loved by, and me a motherless infant. Nehru was in Karachi (then a part of India, now of Pakistan) at the time of my mother’s death. Seeing a press obituary, he sent a condolence telegram to my father from there. Such was the man Nehru.

This great and humble man, the children’s Idol, loved my dad and mom, and he considered them and me as members of his family, so much so that a photo that I took with him was preserved and it has now found the coveted place on the wall of Nehru Museum and Planetarium, Delhi, displayed for public viewing. The children of India know Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as Chacha Nehru. It’s almost five decades since he left this world, and yet he lives in the hearts of the children of India.

The author is a Delhi based contributor at The Shillong Times 

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