Tuesday, December 05, 2006


This post by TR got me all nostalgic. For me Roshan Seth has and will always be Jawaharlal Nehru. I didn’t think any actor has been as good as he has, playing a particular historical figure.

Of course, I wouldn’t really care much about how good a job Roshan Seth has done portraying Nehru on the big and small screens except of course for the fact that I really like Nehru. I always have. I think it all started when my mother bought me an abridged version of Letters from a Father to His Daughter when I was in class three. The unabridged some 1000 pages plus book is today known as Glimpses of World History. I don’t think a nicer, more intimate introduction to history has ever been penned. It kick started my fascination with Nehru. How wonderful I thought, that even while he was in jail he wrote these letters to his daughter covering everything from the beginning of time till the Russian Revolution.

In class nine, I discovered an old copy of his Autobiography in my library. I struggled with it for a month and reissued it thrice, before I could finish it. Of course it helped that there was no waiting line for people wanting to read it. My cousin once told me reading the autobiographies of Nehru and Gandhi offer such a contrast of character. Gandhi could come straight out and write things like, I wanted to give up sex but couldn’t (I am paraphrasing of course, but the gist remains). Nehru on the other hand would take some two pages to say anything concrete about, well, anything, by which time you have forgotten what he is trying to say. It doesn’t matter though because it is a wonderful read anyway. Then there is of course Discovery of India. I am so possessive about my copy that I was even reluctant to lend it to my grandmother when she wanted to borrow it for research!

Now that I am older and have a bit more intellect I think I can look at Nehru’s politics a bit more dispassionately. When I was small I would always fight with people who criticized him and because my argumentative skills were at best limited I would eventually break down in tears because I didn’t understand why people blamed him for everything wrong in the country. I still don’t. I think Nehru failed more than he succeeded, but I don’t think Indian politics has or will ever have a statesman like him. I think he is to blame for the license raj madness and a lot of other policies but, really, his daughter (and her thuggish son!) don’t get even half as much blame as they deserve. This is not meant to be an analytical post or some such. Just a sentimental one. I think my judgment when it comes to Nehru shall always be slightly biased

By the by, in school I once had an argument with someone who said Nehru had no moral character because you know he had an affair with Edwina Mountbatten. I mean, really!! Not like that was the only affair he had anyway. Though the story of Lady Mountbatten in her negligee, caught by the paparazzi opening the door of her house for the Indian Prime Minister in the middle of the night always makes me grin.

* The first picture is of Roshan Seth as Nehru in Gandhi. The second, a potrait of Nehru himself. The third is the utterly cute picture of Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten sharing a joke. Her husband looks so oblivious.


Tabula Rasa said...

happy to be your muse. and glad that you didn't start off with daughter of the east.

Surly Girl In The Corner said...

Ahhh, Nehru. Such mixed feelings. I've always had a soft spot for him even though I haven't read enough about him. I've heard many people [my grandfather] say that his brand of fabian socialism just wasn't right for India at the time etc etc, but he just looked so distinguished :). I never liked Indira though.

MISSquoted** said...

you know if ever you feel the need to be 'dispassionate'*heh* about gandhi, there is wonderful chapter in george orwell's shotting the elephant. he is entirely dispassionae as well.*heh heh* and do intimate me about ben kingsleys' portrayal.
i think nehru was always so proper. even while designing and implementing the 'license raj' model he was only of course tremendously influenced by the 'planning economy' of the soviet union. and he was not entirely wrong because the soviet union did appreciate economically after the successful implementation of the same.of course the recent mittal-walmart deal and the subsequent opposition has people blaming the poor man again.
people do that a lot. blame historical figures.
and his daughter certainly deserves a LOT more flak. it's amazing how many books i have read in the recent past has excoriated her layer by layer...erm...may she rest in peace.
try these- midnight's children[rushdie] and such a long journey[rohinton mistry]

hedonistic hobo said...

wasn't roshan seth nehru in 'a disovery of india' as well? i still haven't read the rest of the post just the first line and thought aha! someone remembers. he lives in gk1 in new delhi and his house is called at last. hahaha i've seen him walking down the potholed roads looking rather forlorn, it kind of made sense then why his house is called 'at last'!

hedonistic hobo said...

now i've read the rest. i don't, never will, resent nehru for the license raj. he wasn't the sole architect and it's unfair to pin the blame on him for it. his stance on kashmir at the time was utterly disappointing and i genuinely believe contirbuted to the current state of affairs. but the man's legacy is great, the book 'letters to a daughter' and 'discovery of india' ae amongst the best i've read. his daughter on the other hand....less said the better. the medieval monarchs she spawned, that party, even less said the better. the gandhi family is what i hold against nehru. :)

Szerelem said...

TR: hmm, a bit confused. whats the connection with daughter of the east? Its Benazir Bhuttos book right?

Surly: well it is called hindsight 20-20. At that time everyone thought fabian socialism was the way forward. And yes he really did look distinguished :D

Miss*: Haven't read Shooting an Elephant. Hopefully will soon.
Well about socialism same as what I said to Surly. Though its debatable whether the soviet economy 'took off' and what the reasons behind any growth they saw were. Indira deserves a lot of excoriating really. I am always astounded by these random polls magazines conduct where she comes up trumps amongst all the PM's we have had!

hobo: Roshan Seth was in Discover of India. I have seen him a few times in Delhi as well, but not always forlorn.
Agree with you about his Kashmir stance. It really has had disastrous repurcussions. I find that ironical and sad because in his writings you can just see the love he had for Kashmir.
After I wrote the post I was thinking about his "Tryst With Destiny" speech. It's one of the most touching and beautiful I have ever read. I think India's independence will always be connected with that phrase.

hedonistic hobo said...

i mailed to szerelem@gmail.com?
didn't get it? just sent one again

Tabula Rasa said...

just meant that your first exposure seemed to have some sort of imprinting effect, that's all.

小小彬 said...