Diwan’s protegee to destiny’s child: Moti Lal Nehru


Read the preceding part here:

Moti Lal Nehru with his wife Swarup Rani and Children, Jawahar Lal Nehru, Vijayalakshmi Pandit and Krishna

Upheavals affecting his family including his father’s death before he was born notwithstanding, Moti Lal Nehru grew up as a promising young boy certain of himself. He was living in Khetri then under the tutelage of Qazi Sadruddin, the tutor of Raja Fateh Singh and studied only Arabic and Persian till the age of twelve. He amazed all with his proficiency in the latter impressing men much older. That, I think would not be music to the ears of those who might wished him to be more proficient in Arabic to suit their political agenda but that is a different tale for the different times. 

What Moti Lal Nehru really excelled in though was English which he picked up very late but masterd with elan after joining the highschool in Cawnpore. As B. R. Nanda shows, his letters, particularly to his head master- H. Powell beam of a confidence rarely found in writings of children who have just picked up a language and still learning its intricacies.

Forget the grammatical and spelling mistakes and sample the sheer confidence shown in this one… 

H. Powell Esq.

Head Master of Ch. Ch. School,


Respected Sir, I respectfully beg to inform your honour that I am quite prepare for the examination of both dasses i.e. 4th and 5th. Perhaps you know that when I informed to the Principal for my promotion in the 4th dass, he refused and said, "the other boys have also right as you have". Therefore now, I wish to be promoted in the 4th dass by my own power.

Hoping that you will grant my petition.

I remain,


Your obedient student,

Moti Lall.'

This was what Moti Lal (misspelt Lall in the letter when he was just 12) was to remain all his life. Flamboyant, confident and so certain of himself that he would not think even before challenging those in power. He would do this, though, with respect due to the person. 

Moti Lal Nehru’s next academic foray, in the then Muir College, now Amarnath Jha Hostel of University of Allahabad was just as indistinct as would be of his son Jawaharlal as we would see later. Yet, he would secure a lot of love and affection from his British teachers and friends alike. They would help him in many ‘escapades’ which Nanda mentions but does not elaborate upon. I suppose they would be small brawls for the athletic, wrestling lover Moti Lal. 

Moti Lal did not get his degree, he bunked the rest of the exams thinking he had flunked the first paper, only to find out that he had done remarkably well. A quick note here: today’s generations being turned into robots securing 100% marks even in humanities and social sciences would perhaps fail even to make a guess that I come from a generation which had something called Good Second Division (55-60%) and was celebrated more than their full on full scores. 

Coming back to Moti Lal, though he did not earn his degree, the college education left an everlasting impression on him that sowed the seeds of his beliefs in rationalism, public institutions and scepticism. It would also help him challenges the orthodoxies, especially superstitions. They would show in his defiance of going for a ‘purification’ ceremony after returning from a trip abroad as crossing the seas was considered a sin in Sanatani Hindu tradition and would get happily excommunicated by the Kashmiri Brahmin community. The excommunication, much to chagrin of the hardliners, would not make even a faintest dent in upwardly mobile journey. 

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