In the end, her last wish came true. Shobha Nehru had wanted to die at Kasauli — where her husband B K Nehru, diplomat and cousin of Jawaharlal Nehru, had chosen to live out his retirement quietly. At 109, Shobha Nehru was the oldest resident of Kasauli, where most residents knew her as Aunty Fori. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, a frequent summer visitor to her home, arrived Wednesday morning for her last rites. She was cremated in Mashobra. Ashok Nehru, her eldest son, lit the pyre in the presence of two other sons, Aditya and Anil.
A caretaker at Fairview Villa said she passed away at 5.30 am Tuesday. “Aditya bhaiya had been here for some days with his mother. She was being looked after by two private nurses.” She loved Kasauli so much that she chose to stay on after the death of her husband, a former governor of Assam and Jammu & Kashmir, in 2001. Although she was known as a person who kept largely to herself, avoiding the media till the end, she was at the same time a prominent voice on Kasauli’s local environmental issues such as sanitation, construction and green cover. She went to vote in the 2012 assembly polls, recalls a Solan-based journalist.
The caretaker described her routine: “She used to get up early morning. She was very punctual at breakfast and lunch and would then take a two-hour nap. She went about most of her daily routine on her own — watching TV, reading newspapers – except for one or two occasions when she asked for assistance.” Those who knew “Fori” speak of her memory, how she could vividly recall anecdotes from the colonial era and the freedom struggle, which she had witnessed herself . Her guests included Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar, besides judges and foreign guests. A former DC of Solan recalled that she loved to discuss democracy, modern India’s growth, technology and books.
Born Magdolna Friedman to Hungarian Jewish parents in Budapest on December 5, 1908, she met B K Nehru in England in 1930. She changed her name to Shobha after the marriage, and was the first foreign national to marry into the Nehru home, which was then Anand Bhavan in Allahabad, in 1935. Kasauli residents who had the opportunity to interact with her recall her as a strong environmentalist, and a humane person. She spoke about her memories of the Second World War. As a child and teenager, she had been witness to the ravages of the war when her family escaped the holocaust. She played a leading role in the rehabilitation of women refugees after Partition. Her efforts led to the setting up of the Central Cottage Industries Emporium.