On Jawaharlal Nehru’s death anniversary, here are some unusual snippets about our first Prime Minister, which show his lighter side.
(This is part of the series Make History Fun Again, where the writers introduce historical facts, events and personalities in a fun way for parents to start a conversation with their kids.)
By Archana Garodia Gupta and Shruti Garodia
Freedom at midnight
British Viceroy Mountbatten had grandly announced August 15, 1947 as India’s Independence Day, as it was important to him, personally; it would be the second anniversary of Japan’s surrender in WW2 with him as Britain’s Supreme Allied Commander for South East Asia. However, he forgot to check with Indian astrologers! After the announcement, they all consulted their books and said that the 15th of August 1947 was an extremely unlucky day and foretold gloom and doom for the newly independent country! However, Mountbatten was now stuck with this day as it was public and had been accepted by British Parliament.
To break this impasse, Pandit Nehru suggested, “Never mind we can have a midnight meeting and just before midnight strikes we’ll transfer power.” Thus, the dramatic transfer of power was done at midnight only as a practical Indian-style solution to an impractical, Indian-style problem!
Scenes from Independence Day
On the morning of 15th August 1947, the new Government was sworn in at the Viceroy’s house (now Rashtrapati Bhavan). They then all drove slowly over to Parliament House amidst crowds like never seen before, where people had climbed onto every rooftop and high point – lakhs of people swarmed the streets of Delhi.
As the Indian tricolour was hoisted for the first time at the Parliament House (Rashtrapati Bhawan), the defeaning crowd started shouting “Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai”, “Pandit Nehru ki Jai,” and also, amazingly, “Mountbatten ki Jai”!
In the evening, as the Mountbattens made their way to the Red Fort in a grand gilded carriage, accompanied by hundreds of horse-mounted guards, Nehru apparently ran and fought his way into their coach and piled in “like a schoolboy”.
When they reached the Red Fort, the crowd was overwhelming and all planned speeches and parades were quickly abandoned, and they skipped straight to the flag-raising. As the Indian national flag was hoisted for the first time from the Red Fort by PM Jawaharlal Lal Nehru, a brilliant, unexpected rainbow appeared across the sky. There was great wild cheering at this good omen.
On the way back, the coach with the Mountbattens and Nehru kept picking up people who needed help or had fainted! They ended up with four Indian women with their children, a Polish military wife, and an “Indian press man”!
An Indian-style Holi
In 1958, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru spent a night in Rangoon, Burma en route to the Bandung Conference. The next day was Holi. An eyewitness account by his cousin BK Nehru who was there –
“The Burmese also play Holi…At the President’s Mansion we were issued with a set of Burmese clothes, Loongyi aingyi and Gaun Baun. Bedecked in this dress of Burmese gentlemen, the party consisted of the heads of government of India, Egypt and Burma with sundry other foreign ministers in tow, with myself as the sole interloper.
The Burmese way of playing Holi, at least as far as VIPs are concerned, is to receive them in various Pandals (tents) which are set up in different neighbourhoods. There they sit down and are ceremoniously sprinkled with a little water from beautifully carved silver bowls, the medium of sprinkling being the fingertips of elegantly dressed young women. The distinguished guests in return sprinkle the water from the same silver bowls, delicately eat some sweets and depart to the next Pandal.
Having performed this routine twice or thrice, the Prime Minister of India got fed up and said he wanted to show the hosts how we played Holi in India. Nasser’s enormous entourage which had come in a separate chartered plane was by now a part of our group. This, consisting mainly of young men, was enlisted by Jawaharlal into finding buckets or other large receptacles from wherever they could, and filling them up with water from taps or hydrants. Thereafter the Prime Minister of India upset the entire contents of these buckets on the President of Egypt, the Prime Minister of Burma, and whoever else was in sight. Thereupon, they retaliated in kind… In a jiffy three heads of government and their most distinguished Foreign Ministers were running after each other in the street like little boys.”
(For more fun journeys through India’s history, check out the newly released two-volume set, The History of India for Children Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, published by Hachette India, which is now available online and in bookstores across the country.)