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A Glimpse Into the Emotional Side of Indira Gandhi, An Excerpt from ‘Indira Gandhi: A Biography’

Indira Gandhi was the first female Prime Minister of India. While most of her life was dominated by politics, only a few knew Indira’s non-political persona.
Pupul Jayakar’s ‘Indira Gandhi: A biography’ seeks to uncover the many personalities that lay within Mrs Gandhi. The book also reveals the complex personality of Indira Gandhi—her thoughts and feelings, her hates and prejudices, her insights and her faults, her loves and emotional entanglements.
Here’s an excerpt which gives a glimpse into the emotional side of the late prime minister.
Motilal Nehru died in Lucknow in the early hours of 6 February 1930. His son Jawaharlal Nehru, released from jail a week earlier, in view of his father’s deteriorating condition, had, in desperation, moved his father from Allahabad to Lucknow where the medical facilities were
better. Motilal had been like an elder brother to Gandhiji and it was as part of the family that Gandhiji, released from detention by the British Government, hastened to see Motilal and accompanied him to Lucknow. He found Motilal’s face swollen beyond recognition, his body racked by asthma and his kidneys failing. The old patriarch died cradled in the love of his family and friends. He remained a nonbeliever to the end of his life; scorning priests and the recitation of mantras, he had joked with Gandhiji, challenging him to a race to heaven. He said if they were to die at the same time, the Mahatma would probably walk alone across the river of death, while he, Motilal, would speed across it in a motor-boat and shoot past the gates of heaven. Whether he would be allowed into heaven or not was a totally different matter. In a more serious mood he told Gandhiji, ‘I am going soon and I shall not be here to see Swaraj, but I know you have won it and will soon have it.’
On the night of Motilal’s death Jawaharlal was with him till midnight. Jawaharlal later told Gandhiji:

A very strange thing happened to me. Papa told me last

night that he had been taught the Gayatri Mantra in his

childhood, but he never cared to repeat it and thought he

had forgotten it completely long ago, but that night as he

lay in bed it all came back to him and he found himself

repeating it.

Motilal’s body, wrapped in the Congress flag, was brought from Lucknow to Anand Bhawan. He was cremated at the Sangam in Allahabad, at the point where the three rivers met. His ashes were cast into the rivers, to journey to the oceans. Vast mourning crowds accompanied the cortège. Gandhiji was present, so were Swaroop Rani, Vijayalakshmi, Krishna, Kamala and Indira.
Jawaharlal cried out in grief at the loss of his father, a mountain had crumbled; he was now head of the family, responsible for his mother and sisters. He resolved to make them feel that nothing had changed in the old home. The bond between father and son had matured beyond love into mutual respect and pride; a relationship that united them in a commonality of work though, perhaps, not of mind. Jawaharlal was in those early years an austere man of few needs,
Motilal, a man whose laughter filled the vast house, who could gather his extended family and friends in his embrace, savour abundance and give with a generosity of heart. He had a razor-sharp intellect and a joie de vivre seldom seen amongst Indians in the third decade of the twentieth century.
Indira had loved her grandfather with the intensity of a child. He had protected her, come to her aid when her parents rebuked her, listened to her tiny problems and laughed them away. He was the anchor in her insecure, chaotic world; the foundation stone that was always there; a presence so total that there was no space left to be alone or insecure. Alone, almost forgotten in Anand Bhawan, Indira wept, hidden behind a pillar. It was her first introduction to sorrow; her body was racked by an emotion with which she was not familiar.
Referring to her grandfather Motilal five decades later, Indira said, ‘With his death Anand Bhawan was silent. His resounding voice no longer echoed in the rooms or along the verandahs.’ She described his warmth and his fierce short-lived anger. Smiling at her memories, she said:

He always seemed to fill a room, although I now realize

he wasn’t really that tall, but at that time I thought he was

very tall and broad . . . and when he laughed the whole

house sort of shook and laughed with him. He was a

biform human being, both man and woman, with strength,

intellect and an abundance of feeling.

With a twinkle in her eye she went on to say that she felt that she was like him. Jawaharlal felt depleted. After his father’s death, he felt the need to renew himself, to lay down the complex political problems that surrounded him, to relax, to look at trees, meet people, to have a holiday. So he sailed with Kamala and Indira on the S.S. Cracovia to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

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