These days they don’t make them like him anymore. My grandfather was a revolutionary who fought the freedom struggle alongside Bhagat Singh — a man who despite being jailed several times preferred to give up his identity than compromise on his beliefs. Yet, he never gave his own family, let alone an outsider, an inkling of the legacy he was to leave behind.
The year was 1935, my grandfather Virendra or Vir ji as everyone knew him, was working at the family newspaper Pratap in Lahore when he first got acquainted with Jawahar Lal Nehru. The leader was in Badenweiler, Germany for his ailing wife Kamla’s treatment.
Nehru returned to India the following year after his wife’s death. It was then my grandfather met him at Anand Bhavan in Allahabad to convince him to campaign in Punjab. “Impossible” was Nehru’s prompt response, “Congress will not be able to get a majority even if I spend a whole month there”. Finally, he agreed. “I can give you two days, but can you arrange an aircraft?” It was 1936, a plane was rented and used in election campaigning in India for the first time.
As soon as Pitaji left Allahabad, he heard strong rumours of Nehru re-marrying. No journalist would want a scoop like that to slip away, so my grandfather bravely sent a telegram. “Our Allahabad correspondent informs us that you are about to re-marry. Please confirm”. “Fantastic nonsense”, came the reply.
Pitaji campaigned with Nehru and remembered how the Sialkot airport was packed with British folks who were “curious to see this khadi clad man creating serious problems for their government”. Indians those days were not allowed to enter the airport.
The next time they met was after Nehru had been arrested and turned back from the Kashmir border by the Maharaja’s government. He decided to go around Lahore in an open convertible for a show of strength.
Pitaji was one of barely a handful of people who had such a car, a German Adler that is no longer in the market, and drove him personally. “My car was full of flowers. I was very nervous because I had just learnt how to drive and the jostling crowds worried me. But Pandit-ji was thrilled. Crowds turned him on as nothing else would”.
On the way they saw a house lit up for a marriage and Nehru asked Pitaji, “What is that?” My grandfather replied that someone was probably getting married. “I was also married on a Basant day” saying that, Nehru stayed silent for the rest of the journey.
They met many times afterwards and it was not always work. Once a little under the weather, Nehru complained how ‘they have imprisoned me here’ and asked my grandfather to drive him around for some fresh air.
It was dark, he was anonymous and they sat by the banks of a canal for several hours. When they returned home Nehru thanked him saying, “I was able to relax in such a peaceful atmosphere after a long time. Otherwise people never leave me alone.”
Ironically, while his daughter Indira, who my grandfather was also acquainted with, censored the press in later years, Nehru personally fought against the censorship of our newspaper Pratap for writing against the British and jokingly told my grandfather, ‘Virendra, you turned out to be very clever. You have hung your own problem around my neck’.
History sometimes isn’t what you just read in the books, unlike Pitaji, there were many forgotten heroes who had no one to tell their story.