21 May 2001 Books impressions

The Truth About Indira

Indira had a unique affair with India. As she grew older it turned more passionate and powerful. She was true to her love till the last.

The Truth About Indira
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553
Katherine Frank visited me twice or thrice with her late husband. She wanted an interview with me about Indira Gandhi. She was so pleasant that I found it difficult to say no, but I suspected her intentions. I gently enquired: "How much would you pay me for the interview? I never give free interviews like most Congressmen." She replied: "I have no resources to pay for interviews." The matter ended there, but we met once or twice again over a cup of tea. I was glad I had not given her an interview when I read her book. I do not know in what ways she would have dragged me into her smutty biography.

Frank's appetite for gossip and carnality is gluttonous. She has talked about Indira's abortion, her relationship with Mathai, Dinesh Singh and Dhirendra Brahmachari, while admitting that, "it has never been proved one way or another that she (Indira) had many lovers. M.O. Mathai's books were published more than 20 years ago, so his claim of having had a long affair with Indira isn't breaking news. Mathai is also a suspect witness, as are the other men who proclaimed themselves to have been her lovers. I think it unlikely that she had any lovers, but one can't be...sure."

I'm perhaps the only person who was fortunate to see the Nehrus and Gandhis at close quarters for many years. I was eyewitness to many things at Anand Bhavan and at Nehru's official residence in Delhi. Anand Bhavan was my second home for long and I was treated like family. This, perhaps, entitles me to relate incidents about the Nehrus and prove that Frank's book is full of untruth and gossip.

Dhirendra Brahmachari was a frequent visitor to Anand Bhavan. He was really a very handsome man. Nehru had asked him to teach Indira yoga to improve her health. Sometimes Nehru himself watched Indira do yoga under Brahmachari's guidance. When people heard about it, tongues began to wag. Katherine met such people and used the gossip to sell her book. That is unfair to a person who cannot contradict her.

Mathai was my good friend. No one in the Nehru family liked him because of his ugliness. One day as Vijayalakshmi Pandit and I were talking on Nehru's verandah, Mathai arrived in a tonga, with a crate of cold drinks. I asked her who the man was. "Bhai's gift to Anand Bhavan," she laughed. It was Mathai's efficiency, however, that won Nehru over and none dared oppose him openly. Consequently, Mathai acquired enormous power as Nehru's private secretary. One day, I saw a well-dressed person waiting in Mathai's room in the prime minister's house. I asked Mathai who he was. "Chaprasi," said Mathai. The gentleman was in fact a big industrialist. This attitude made Mathai many enemies and led to his downfall.

After his dismissal, he turned bitter against Nehru, and drink became his greatest solace. In his more sober moments, he planned to take revenge on Nehru by maligning Indira. He shifted from Nehru's house to a bungalow where I visited him once or twice. He told me he was writing a book which would survive him. He wrote the book, and it survived, but only for those who deal with muck.

Indira had a weakness for smart, intelligent and well-dressed men. Dinesh Singh was one such MP. He had easy access to Indira's home and office. Dinesh started talking about his relationship with her. In due course, the news reached Indira. One day while talking to me, she said, "P.D., I feel sick when I hear certain things. I had not envisaged such things.... Did you?" A few days later I heard her angrily tell someone: "Don't mention the name of that undesirable man before me."

No one had the guts to write about Nehru's 'affairs' as long as he was alive. A few years after he died, his sex life came to be written about. Luckily, Janet Morgan, Edwina Mountbatten's private secretary and closest friend wrote her biography where she nailed those lies. All her life, Indira was a lonely woman. Her intimate American friend Dorothy Norman stated: "Frequent family imprisonments before independence left in their wake a lifelong loneliness and hunger for love and friendship." Frank's sick mind converts this loneliness into prurience. Indira had a unique love affair with India. As she grew older, it became more powerful and more passionate. She remained true to her love till the last.

Feroze Gandhi courted Indira for several years, but she did not accept his proposal. Nehru never interfered in his daughter's affairs. But when she did decide to marry Feroze, loads of letters started coming to Nehru, condemning the alliance. Some letters were received by Acharya Kripalani, many by Gandhiji and a few by me, saying: "If you have the courage and guts, denounce this alliance."

Once Indira decided to marry, she stuck to her decision despite the fact that Nehru wasn't happy about it. Once, I was standing near the steps leading to Nehru's room. Thrice, he nearly came down and went back again, but didn't go to his drawing room where some people awaited him. Then he came down again and asked me to come up. He took me to his library and said: "I've been getting letters asking me about Feroze. You meet him and send relevant details to the papers." I carried out his instructions and sent a paragraph about Feroze to the papers I represented.

When Feroze died in 1960, Indira wrote to family friend Mohd Yunus: "I feel so utterly desolate. You know more than anyone else how much Feroze and I disagreed and quarrelled over the years, yet instead of separating or slackening the bond of friendship, we were closer than before. We had a wonderful holiday together, a month in a houseboat in Srinagar, and made plans for the future. The boys are of an age when they need a father more than a mother. I feel lost and empty and dead. Yet life must go on."

(The author is a former journalist and associated with three generations of the Nehru family.)

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