Memories of Jawaharlal

Motilal Nehru was born in Agra, after his family left Delhi in the wake of the Mutiny of 1857. But his son Jawaharlal Nehru was born in Allahabad (where the family had moved later, though it had the option of going to Mathura too, where Motilal's elder brother lived). AN Takru, a contemporary of noted journalists C Chintamani and Rama Rao, often spoke about Jawaharlal's childhood in Anand Bhavan. Takru was two years older than Jawaharlal and remembered the latter as a child who was very possessive of his playthings, including the English bicycle gifted to him by his father. If anyone rubbed the boy the wrong way he would immediately start crying, which meant trouble for the offender - in most cases Takru. The old man used to reminisce about those far off days in the newspaper agency that he ran in Agra, which is now run by his grandson.

Alan Barclay, grandson of the famous Martin Sahib who built the Hallingar Hall in Agra, was a known figure both as a PWD engineer and as the scion of an illustrious family. His grandfather, it is said, had followed the Rani of Jhansi from the fateful battlefield after her defeat. The young Lt Martin was stopped in his tracks by the Rani who told him to set fire to a haystack to camouflage her escape, in lieu of a treasure she had left in the Jhansi Fort. The lieutenant did as told but the Rani died soon after. This story was related by Barclay to Nehru when the latter came to open the new Jamuna Bridge in Agra in May 1964. Nehru, a student of history himself, listened to the story attentively. He then pointed out some flaws in the tale. Barclay maintained that what he had heard seemed to be true. At this, Nehru asked: "Did your grandfather get the treasure?" "He did find a few jewels, but not much," replied Barclay. "Ah, that's the catch," said Nehru triumphantly. 

Once a delegation of prominent Muslims, led by barrister Nuruddin Ahmed who was thrice mayor of Delhi, met Nehru to protest against the demolition of an old Muslim cemetery. But Nehru was not amused and turned the delegation back, saying: "Do you want to stay in a modern city or in a graveyard?"

At a reception at the Vatican Legate in Chanakyapuri, the papal nuncio wanted to know whether like Agra, Delhi also had old Christian links. The question was addressed to a senior official of the home ministry. The man was fumbling for a reply when Nehru spoke of the old Armenian churches that had existed in Delhi since the time of Jehangir and Shah Jahan and one of which was destroyed by Nadir Shah in 1739. Count Ostrorog, the flamboyant French ambassador, was the one who applauded the most.

During Dwight Eisenhower's visit to Bichupuri in UP, Nehru accompanied the US president to the agricultural university in a helicopter from Agra. When they landed, there was a big crowd of villagers waiting. The security staff tried to shoo them away but Nehru flared up and so the crowd stayed put. He walked around holding Eisenhower's hand, but there was some trouble in store when a section of the villagers surged forward. It was then that he used the baton he carried under his arm to good advantage and order was restored. Bishan Kapoor of Blitz and Hindustan Times, wearing a silk achhkan, managed to get the best photo and chuckled with excitement when my father, a fellow scribe, congratulated him.

When Jackie Kennedy came to Delhi, she and Nehru went missing from the official gathering. A frantic search was made and both were found sitting cosily on a secluded staircase, having an animated discussion. Later, somebody remarked that Nehru still had an eye for pretty women. Well, he did, and was fascinated even by historical beauties like Noorjehan and Mumtaz Mahal. The prime minister provided ample evidence of this interest when he guided Eisenhower during his visit to the Taj Mahal and Etmaduddalah.

More than four decades have passed since the death of Jawaharlal Nehru but the man's charisma refuses to die, as also his memories!