Kindergarten that Jawahar was born into: Nehru’s Schooling


I am one of those few lucky people who loved their schools as kids unlike countless others who pass through a really long and often painful initiation, I grew up seeing children being dragged inside the school gates howling. Nothing marks the dichotomy between inside and outside world in a fortunate enough to get schooled human’s life is that initiation. The initiation of going to the school far away from the protection of home, or at least perception of it . I often wondered what if the school came home. 

Jawahar must have thought the same almost a century before the Deschooling movement began in the 1960s. He never went to school in his childhood. He was rather tutored or call it schooled at home, first by two British governesses followed by Irish-French Theosophist Mr. Brooks we have met in an earlier post who taught him English Poetry and science with a lab they rigged up at home. Brooks' influence on Jawahar went beyond poetry and science though, he was instrumental in inculcating in him a lifelong love for reading. 

Motilal had also engaged an imminent Sanskrit scholar as a tutor for Jawahar. By all accounts of Jawahar’s life including by his autobiography, the tutor seems to have had little success with his charge. This did not affect his understanding of Hinduism though, as being a Theosophist, Brooks encouraged him to read Sanskrit scriptures extensively, albeit in English translations. Jawahar did that. 

Interestingly, one very important point most of the biographers of Nehru (the Jawahar) seem to miss to elaborate upon is his, and by extension the family’s clean break from Persian tradition at least in literary sense after almost two centuries. Jawahar was to be first to not have formal knowledge of Persian, even if he was well versed with Urdu. I am no expert on Nehru by any means, yet, I think someone must study the impacts of this in greater detail. This should be done, maybe, along with the counter influence Mubarak Ali, his family’s chief retainer had on him- he was both a loving and caring uncle figure as well as Jawahar’s closest entry point into the lives and times of Muslims, not only a sizable minority. Jawahar remembered Mubarak Ali fondingly in these words...

“With his fine grey beard he seemed to my young eyes very ancient and full of old-time lore, and I used to snuggle up to him and listen, wide-eyed, by the hour to his innumerable stories.”

This reminds me of yet another striking anomaly, almost stupidity in the Hindutva Fanatic idea of Akhand Bharat (Undivided India). In today’s term, that would include India, Pakistan and Bangladesh bringing Muslim population in country to almost 35% with large swathes of area having absolute Muslim majority. Not a single scumbag from that intellectually bankrupt clan has ever answered how they reconcile with this reality with their very visible and in fact visceral hatred for all minorities, but for Muslims in particular.

Akhand Bharat is an idea every genuine Indian (in the broadest sense of the world going back to the British India days at least) cherishes deep within. The honest ones with a sense of an eventual federation, howsoever loose as was shown by the enthusiasm across the subcontinent for Jawahar’s own idea of South Asian Solidarity that first discussed in Asian Relations Conference held in April 1947, months before Indian independence. Born finally, thanks to Rajiv Gandhi’s efforts in the main in 1985 as South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), it led to people to people contact, including “Track Two” diplomacies (peace processes initiated by citizens instead of governments) like never before. 

That is the closest India has ever come to Akhand Bharat. SAARC was first quietly buried by the current regime in aversion to everything Nehruvian, and as it is with everything else, is struggling hard to revive it. Remember we would keep Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act alive as a monument of United Progressive Alliance to MNREGA becoming only escape route for them to avert the collapse of rural economy, and perhaps even food riots, after the brainless lockdown in this pandemic era? 

Coming back to Jawahar, the school coming home, though, was no dreadful experience for Jawahar in the reassuring presence of his mother, aunt and cousin sisters. That was, of course, unless the threat came from the father, an extreme disciplinarian as was, and perhaps is, the norm in India. Until even my growing up, there was this tradition, at least in rural areas, of grown up sons going out of home as soon as father came in and return only for dinner so as to avoid conversations. They would always take place through mothers, and at times, elder sisters or aunts. 

Jawahar would remember one such encounter forever. Motilal had two very fine pens which caught Jawahar’s fancy. Thinking that his father couldn’t require both at the same time, he took one for his lessons. When Motilal found that missing, a frantic search ensued. Frightened Jawahar hid the pen and himself but was soon found out. What followed was, in Jawahar’s own words

“a tremendous thrashing. Almost blind with pain and mortification at my disgrace, I rushed to my mother, and for several days various creams and ointments were applied to my aching and quivering little body.” 

Jawahar learnt a lot from this experience, as Shashi Tharoor puts it “not to cross his father, not to lay claim to what was not his, not to conceal evidence of his own wrongdoing, if ever he were to do wrong — and never to assume he could simply “get away with it.” It was a lesson which had much to do with the sense of responsibility that became a defining Nehru characteristic.”

I don't really agree with the first assertion. Nehru never hesitated in crossing anyone, including his father, when convinced of his position. Only person who he never would never was yet to emerge on the scene. He would be Mahatma Gandhi, still far away in South Africa. Together, the duo would make a tryst with destiny.

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