Author's note: My father Sri. O V. Alagesan was a freedom fighter, President, Tamil Nadu Congress Committee, Union Minister and Ambassador at various points of time in his political career. Therefore, he had a close association with Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri. While in jail as a political prisoner, he translated Nehru's Glimpses of World History into Tamil. Hence, this piece of writing contains some of his personal recollections about Panditji.
This happened way back in 1956. The day was February 28, 1956 and it was raining cats and dogs in Delhi. The rain poured and poured; so did the tears from the eyes of a little eight-year-old girl that I was. Some days or weeks (I don't remember) earlier, I had won the gold medal for Indian Classical Dance (mine was Bharathanatyam; other Indian dances were also featured) in a show called ‘Little Theatre' organised by Shankar's Weekly, a prominent publication at that time. I was to perform the same item again (Natanam Aadinar in the ragam Vasantha) on the 28th before Chacha Nehru, who was my hero as he was to thousands of children in India during the1950s.
And what else? He would present the gold medal to me. What more could I ask for? I remember how we kids would wait excitedly on Independence Day, Republic Day, and Children's Day to see him. He always came near our enclosure, smiling delightedly, often with hands behind his back. We would wave and cheer and shout happily Namaste Chacha' and Chacha Nehru zindabad. We felt so close and drawn to him, as if he was our own Chacha. Whenever we drove close to the Teen Murti Bhavan Circle, I used to wonder "What will Chacha Nehru be doing now?"
And so, my big day arrived. I got up early but could see nothing outside my window because the rain was lashing on the window panes. I ran to the verandah to see the rain - a sight I enjoyed, little knowing that the rain would be the villain that would take away all my happiness that day. The programme had to be postponed and rescheduled for March 1. But, Nehru could not come. Instead, Vice President Radhakrishnan was to be the Chief Guest and give away the prizes.
My little heart broke and I cried & cried. My parents didn't expect such a strong reaction and were taken by surprise. They became very concerned with my non-stop crying and refusal to eat and kept consoling me the whole day. My father kept saying, "You know, the Vice President is a bigger man than the Prime Minister. Only the President is bigger than the Vice President." Slowly I started believing what he said; but, the Vice President was not Nehru, was he? Only Nehru was Nehru. Later on, when my father met Nehru he told him about how upset I had been. Nehru was truly concerned and asked, "How did you console her?" My father replied, "By saying that the Vice President was a bigger man than the Prime Minister." Nehru said, "You said the right thing; I feel very sorry to have brought such sadness to a little child".
Another amusing anecdote that my father often used to recollect is this: Nehru was capable of peeling an apple fully without a single break. Once when he was doing this, my father remarked that the peel contained all the vitamins. Nehru did not respond but went on with the task. When he was done he flung the whole skin on my father's plate and said, ''Here it is. You can have all the vitamins." He did not like people using the word plantain. He would frown and say, "Why do you say plantain? Say banana."
When the Tamil translation of Nehru's Glimpses of World History, called உலக சரித்திரம், was published, my father went to see Nehru to hand over a cheque towards his copyright, since he was the original author. Nehru asked, "Why are you giving this to me?" My father had to explain that it was his due as the he had written the original. Such was his innocence.
© Urmila Vaidyanathan. Published July 2019