Being part of the ‘first family’ of Indian politics is no easy task and this book is an intimate, innocent, almost naïve portrayal of the men and women who Nayantara called Mummie, Mamu and India calls its first women cabinet minister, its first Prime Minister. But it is because of this naivety that this book is refreshing, a far-flung cry from the usual non-fiction books littered with metaphors and complicated words.
Written in 1952-53 recalling the revolutionary 1940s, the book moves from scenario to incident seamlessly and never at one point is there confusion or complication. Being a young Indian in
Sahgal talks with ease about her travels and education in the U.S, her association with ‘Bapu’( Gandhiji), her angst about the fact that people abroad couldn’t even point out where India was in a map and the pride and the responsibility that came with being ‘Nehru’s niece’. Her relationship with sisters Rita and Chandralekha and the playful teasing and wit that comes with it is a beautiful part of the book.
The book is as much about the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty as it is about
Sahgal considers three people as her parents- father Ranjit Sitaram, mother Vijayalakshmi Pandit and uncle Jawaharlal Nehru and this book is a tribute to all three. Several invaluable, adoring anecdotes about these people find place in the book, leading way to the only possible criticism, that of the book being too obviously partial having been written by an insider.
Sahgal and her sisters asks Nehru questions that anyone who has read his Discovery of India would want to – ‘Do you believe in God?’ ‘Don’t you get sick and tired of traveling so much?’ Nehru’s answers, his flair for life, his witticisms are quite certainly the greatest treasures unearthed from the book.
The book ends on the tragic note of Gandhiji’s assassination and recalls the reaction of the public and several famous personalities. As Sahgal points out how struck by grief, Nehru bent down to Gandhiji’s body and forgot himself for about a minute, it is a single but powerful expression of the relationship between these two great men. Sarojini Naidu’s reaction to the assassination ‘What is all the sniveling about? Would you rather he had died of decrepit old age or indigestion? This was the only death great enough for him’ is delightfully typical, as Sahgal points out.
There are a dozen wondrous and uniquely Indian instances and emotions in the book- admiration, pride, love, angst, grief, bravery and conveyed in Sahgal’s simple yet effective style, the book stays with you long after you’re done reading it. A must-read for every Indian and a treasure for anyone who aspires to know more about