By I. Ramamohan Rao New Delhi, Nov. 13 : The nation will be observing the birth anniversary of India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru tomorrow.
I recall on the occasion my memories of Nehru and the affectionate leadership that he provided to India.
As a young probationer when I joined the Press Information Bureau in the middle fifties, one of the duties I was allotted was to receive media representatives as they arrived at the venue of a press conference.
It was a pleasure watching India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru interacting with the pressmen.
Except for the cameramen of the Films Division, Visnews and the Associated Press, there were hardly any other film cameramen.
Video had not yet made an entry. We did have some still cameramen, including a person from the Photo Division. Nehru held his press conference like a professor in a college. He would listen to the questions and if they were provocative, he would say "what fantastic nonsense" and then proceed to give an answer, which would explain the reason why he thought it was nonsense! His style was more like a teacher instructing students when speaking with reporters.
I recall the Photo Division photographer, Kundan Lal, father of late Mr. Virender Mohan, a former GM of UNI, telling me stories about Nehru during the freedom struggle. He told me that to take a picture indoors, he had to use a magnesium flash, which would explode and brighten up the place, while spreading some kind of powder.
Once, at a Congress session, he was told not to light his magnesium powder flash when the session was in progress, but Kundan Lal had no choice.
He had to get a picture and it was impossible without exploding the magnesium flash. So, like a journalist on the job, he disregarded the diktat and did just that. Nehru was so annoyed that he actually chased him from one end of the room to the other! Kundan Lal realised that he could not escape and stopped and said: "Maro, mujhe maro".
Nehru too stopped and burst into laughter. Another story that I remember is that the Publications Division, which was headed by my uncle U.S. Mohan Rao, used to bring out the speeches made by Prime Minister Nehru. These were edited by H.Y. Sharada Prasad, an editor in the Publications Division who later became Information Advisor to Indira Gandhi.
The Secretary of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry took objection that a mere 'Editor' had the gumption to edit speeches made by the Prime Minister.
He wrote a note and it was submitted by Information Minister B. V. Keskar. Mohan Rao received a rebuke. One evening when I went to meet my uncle, he was downcast. He told me that he had just returned after submitting an explanation that 'extempore' speeches made by the Prime Minister needed editing before publication.
The explanation was sent to Nehru by Keskar. And in a couple of days, Nehru returned it to him saying: "I am sorry; the Director of the Publication Division is right." My uncle Mohan Rao and the editor H.Y Sharada Prasad stood vindicated.
Mohan Rao told me, Nehru is a big man, he had the courtesy to say sorry, when the explanation was given." Nehru belonged to the country, even though he was a member of a political party.
I wish people in the country read the 30 letters written by him to his daughter Indira Gandhi. Letters from a Father to His Daughter was written by Nehru in 1928 to his daughter Indira when she was a 10-year-old, teaching about natural history and the story of civilisations.
At the time of writing of the letters, Nehru was in Allahabad, while Indira was in Mussoorie. The letters written by Nehru were in English. Those days there were no computers; he read books, analysed them and wrote the letters, which conveyed the history of the nation to his daughter.
Nehru tried his best to establish peace in the country after partition. I wish the present generation reads the speeches made by him during the early days of independence. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in London last year that India, which is the land of Gandhi and Gautam Buddha, is not intolerant.
Nehru practiced the philosophy of Gandhi and Gautam Buddha, and was able to establish peace in the country soon after the holocaust that faced the nation after partition.
He led the nation when it drew up the Constitution of India and gave full support to Dr B. R. Ambedkar and Sir B. N. Rau. He not only helped in drawing up the Constitution, but ensured that it was followed in true spirit. He was in communication with the Chief Ministers, wrote regular letters to them giving them details of the steps taken by the Central Government and the reasons for taking those decisions.
I myself had the opportunity of meeting him personally in 1956 when I visited Delhi to accompany my cousin, who was appearing for an AIR music competition from Bombay.
There was a gap of two hours for her turn to come and I strayed from the Broadcasting House to Parliament.
From a poster, I saw that the Bureau of Parliamentary Studies was holding a debate on the Constitution.
I went inside---those days there were no passes required and I heard Nehru speak to a gathering of Members of Parliament.
During the tea interval, Nehru saw me and came near the table where I was having tea, I was overwhelmed.
He saw me in a crowd of elders. I was barely 22 years old then. He asked me, I guess you are a student, did you find the discussion interesting? I replied, Sir, I have just finished law and M.
A. in political science and found the speeches absorbing. What are your views young men, he asked again. I took the courage to say that the Indian Constitution should have been more unitary in character than federal and there was a danger to the unity of the country with the demands for reorganization of states gaining momentum.
He smiled, patted me and told me to keep my interest alive in parliamentary democracy. Soon I joined the Press Information Bureau. I had the advantage of reading his speeches when he visited different parts of the country. His public addresses were an attempt to inform the masses. As a young officer, I had the advantage of being posted at the Red Fort on Independence Day to conduct photographers.
There was a pin drop silence when Nehru spoke to people stretching from Jama Masjid to the road leading to Chandni Chowk and Kashmiri Gate.
The nation is aware of his contribution to the freedom struggle, his role as the first Prime Minister of India, how he propounded non-alignment, emerged as a world leader and supported anti-colonial movements across the world.
In the fifties, one of the important events organized by the army was the Annual Horse Show at the Red Fort.
I was given the task of covering the Army Horse Show. The Chief of Army Staff or the Quartermaster General would distribute prizes at the concluding function.
If I remember correctly, the year was 1959 when I was detailed to cover the Horse Show. It was decided when the show was over that the Prime Minister would present a woollen drape to the best horse - Prithviraj later in the evening at his residence.
I had arrived at the Teen Murti Bhavan half an hour earlier to cover the event. The Prime Minister's vehicle approached the porch. He got down and asked me why I was there. I explained to him that I was from the Defence Public Relations and had come to cover the function of him presenting the shawl to the best horse.
He said let us go. I explained to him that the Quartermaster General B.M. Kaul was expected to escort him. He laughed and said, you have formalities in the army. To my utter surprise, he asked my name. He called me by my first name, asked me to come inside and sit down, and asked the bearer to bring tea and told me, "I will have a quick wash and join you." Soon after, General Kaul came and the function was over.
But I was overwhelmed to be invited to have tea in the Prime Minister's house. Next time I saw the Prime Minister was in 1962. The venue was the National Stadium and the occasion was a concert by Lata Mangeshkar. We still hum the song: Aye Mere Watan ke Logo, Zara Ankh me Bhar lo Pani, Jo Shaheed Hue Hai unki Zara Yad Karo Kurbani.
There was not one eye which was not moist. I saw the Prime Minister wipe his eyes. He had suddenly aged after the Chinese aggression. The last time I saw Panditji was when he passed away in May 1964. I was put on duty to conduct photographers covering the final journey of Nehru from Teen Murti House to the banks of the Jamuna.
The photographers were taken in improvised trucks. Many foreign correspondents were talking whether India will survive as a nation after Nehru. But we have and much of the credit goes to our first Prime Minister, who guided us through the turbulent years.
Mr. I. Ramamohan Rao is a former Principal Information Officer of the Government of India. He can be reached at email@example.com.