Jawahar: A child at the confluence of cultures


So our hero, Jawaharlal has made yet another dramatic comeback to the story: looking at his father and others drinking blood. He was to find later that this was red wine, not blood. 

No one knew then that making dramatic appearances would become a signature Jawaharlal style. I was just as bewildered, if not more, when I saw him in a museum in Hanoi, Vietnam. He was standing tall next to Ho Chi Minh, waving at cheering crowds. The picture was taken just after the Viet Cong’s victory over French Colonial Forces and liberation of North Vietnam, with complete withdrawal of the French was inevitable. 

Why was Nehru there, of all the people? And I was to learn this fascinating tale of courage, of Asian, nay, Asian African solidarities, or perhaps, the solidarities of all the oppressed nations. The battle of Dien Bien Phu was over. Viet Congs, under the leadership of General Võ Nguyên Giáp had made history, Vietnam had become the first colony to militarily defeat a colonial power, France. ( It was to defeat another- only superpower left the USA  two decades later, but that is tale for some other time.). 

Vietnam People’s Army entered Hanoi on 9 October, 1954. Yet, to the surprise of the world, expressed by the reporters and photographers, they would come to be called photojournalists later, of any mediahouse worth its salt being in the town, the hero of the victory, Ho Chi Minh was nowhere to be seen. 

He would be, arms in arms, with Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India, 2 days later on 11 October. Why so? Because, Viet Congs were still not certain of the intentions of defeated but not disbanded colonial forces. Intrinsically suspicious of their designs, they wanted a guarantee against any assaination attempts and the likes. The guarantee came in the form of Jawaharlal Nehru. His presence ensured that howsoever powerful, no country would attempt anything untoward. Nehru would keep appearing at most unlikely places all his life- right from presidency of the Congress to Bangdung in 1955 where the foundations of formidable Afro Asian solidarity that culminated into the Non Alignment Movement were led. 

He is perhaps the only world leader from a newly independent, underdeveloped country, whom one would encounter in the modern histories, of their liberation struggles to be precise, of the colonies that fought to free themselves and became independent nations. Be they the fascinating history of China’s liberation to Cultural Revolutions by Ji Chaozhu, aka Little Ji, who was Mao’s interpreter and later Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations or the gripping tale of Vietamese war of independence against the French told by Fredrik Logevall in the Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam is a 2012.

Nehru remained the same boy all his life whose signature was to make dramatic entries and making brilliant discoveries- just like the one recounted above- that red can be red as in wine too, it need not always to be red as in blood. 

I often wondered at his ease in different cultural milieus. He could be, in fact was both the persons: one with with a modern outlook, scientific temperament and almost fundamentalist opposition to and aghast at superstitions to dragging religion in public domain and another taking dips in the Ganges, revering Bharat Mata and wishing to get his ashes scattered in all the rivers of this Bharat Mata to become one with her (do read Professor Purushottam Agrawal’s definitive account of Nehru and his Bharat Mata in his recent book titled Who is Bharat Mata?': On History, Culture and the Idea of India : Writings by and on Jawaharlal Nehru).

So how did Nehru, son of then an almost Anglophile Motilal Nehru, grow up into such a citizen of the world despite carrying the weight of being prime minister of India?

The answers to these questions take us back to Anand Bhawan, into his childhood. Born in unimaginable affluence- his father bought the first car in Allahabad, his suits were sewn by the Saville (which propagandists expanded to getting dry cleaned in Paris), his bungalow had electricity back then. His bungalow also had the first swimming pool of India along with a stable of Arabian Steads. 

He was a product of at least Four cultures coexisting in the household- father Motilal Nehru, the Anglophile who once ordered that then onwards conversations would be held only in English only to realise that no woman of the family was ever taught English! Perhaps this brought the change for the next generations- his daughters and the daughter in law. 

Second were of the women of the family. They were all deeply religious and rooted in their sub culture of Kashmitri Brahmin families. Jawahar listened to the stories from the epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata from them. They also gave him the entrypoint into religion. As it was, his father did participate in some religious activities he was supposed to but never took them seriously enough to give in to orthodoxy. 

Third would come from Mubarak Ali, Motilal’ chief retainer and loyal servant. He told him the tales of the Great Mutiny, which, incidentally had greatly affected both his and the indulgent servant yet fatherly Mubarak Ali’s families at a very personal level. 

Fourth was his private tutor- Ferdinand Brooks, whom Annie Besant, Fabian socialist, Irish nationalist and also a member of the Theosophical Society had personally recommended for the job. Incidentally, she was also a member of the Indian National Congress. His ideas influenced young Jawahar enough to join the society at just 13, though he soon fell out. 

Jawhar was not only growing up on the banks of confluence of the Ganga and Jamuna, he was growing up in a cultural confluence inside his home too!

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This post is also part of the global Blogging from A to Z 2021


  1. How beautifully you bring the cultural confluence, here from atoz https://poojapriyamvada.blogspot.com/2021/04/layogenic-newnormal-a2z.html


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