April 01, 2020
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A State Affair

Although ostensibly about the Raj, the freedom struggle and Partition, what it dwells on is the Nehru-Edwina love story

A State Affair
Indian Summer The Secret History Of The End Of An Empire
By Alex von Tunzelmann
Simon & Schuster Pages: 480; Rs. 895

Despite its pretentious sub-title, this is just another retelling of the end of the empire on which the sun was supposed never to set. Written in a lively style and painstakingly researched, Alex Von Tunzelmann’s focus is on the dramatic events preceding what the British call the ‘Transfer of Power’. Although Tunzelmann has written about the Raj, the freedom struggle and the mind-boggling turmoil that overtook the subcontinent, what she dwells on is the Nehru-Edwina love story—the "warmth shared by (Nehru) and Lady Mountbatten", that "Lord Mountbatten minded it not at all".

There are no fewer than 30 entries on the affair, but let me take two examples. First, according to S.S. Pirzada, Pakistan’s foreign minister in the late ’60s, Jinnah had been handed a "small collection" of intimate letters from Edwina to Nehru, one of which said, "Dickie will be out tonight, come after 10 o’clock". Other notes were equally compromising. However, in the end "Jinnah concluded that ‘Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion’, and had the letters returned". Secondly, she reproduces from M.O. Mathai’s My Years with Nehru, which Khushwant Singh famously described as the "Diary of a Namak Haram". Published when Indira Gandhi was safely out of power, Mathai writes of an "incident" when Nehru’s "old girlfriend" Padmaja Naidu allegedly locked herself up in her room for the whole day because Nehru arrived with Edwina.

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