Thursday, January 18, 2018
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indira gandhi

Today happens to be Indira Gandhi’s birthday. I am not going to write anything about her activities in the sphere of politics. All that is well known. Today I will recall her links with Allahabad and some of the glorious moments from her life.

For that we will go back to her childhood when often she was left all alone in Anand Bhavan as her parents were out on their political assignments. She once recalled that when Chandrashekhar Azad was being encountered by the British police in Alfred Park, she stood at a window in Anand Bhavan. Those were days when there used to be no trucks or their horns disturbing the peace of the surroundings. She recalled that when gunshots were being fired in the Park, she could hear the sound at her window. What must have passed across her mind is difficult to guess. But she must have been concerned for the safety of her own Papu and other great freedom fighters.

Indira wanted to do something for the country’s freedom too. But she was too small to participate in any movement as a child. However she organized her Vanar Sena (Monkey Brigade) in Anand Bhavan. Years later, when Pandit Nehru met Kavi Pradeep in Mumbai in 1964 during his last visit to that city, he asked the Kavi which other songs he had written apart from ‘Ai mere watan ke logo’. When he told Panditji that he had written the famous marching song of film ‘Bandhan’, ‘Chal Chal re Nau Jawan’. Pandit Nehru’s tired eyes brightened as he exclaimed, ‘Oh , this was the song which Indu would sing along with members of her Vanar Sena in Anand Bhavan’.

Before independence Mrs Gandhi was a member of Allahabad Culture Centre chaired by Mrs Walter Dutt who used to stay in a big bungalow on Mayo Road, very close to the Mayo Hall. My elder sister too was a member of the Culture Centre who recalled that Indiraji would also come once in a while to attend the meetings. As a child I had accompanied my sister to Mrs Walter Dutt’s house. Other members of the Culture Centre included late Mr Projesh Banerjee of the Amrita Bazar Patrika and Mr Fernandes, a teacher of St Joseph’s College who used to play excellent violin. Tragedy struck Mrs Walter Dutt when her husband was killed in a road accident. ‘It is too difficult to live’, she cried when my sister and I called at her residence to offer condolences. Subsequently, when Indira was staying with her father at Teen Murthy, she called Mrs Walter Dutt to Delhi and gave her an assignment that kept her busy.
Both Nehru and Indira were fond of cultural activities. When the then DM’s wife Mrs Vimla Raina, a famous playwright, produced and directed some hit plays that were staged in Allahabad, including ‘Savera’ and ‘Roti aur Kamal ke Phool’ Pandit Nehru invited the troupe to Delhi to stage shows there. My sister was also a member of Mrs Raina’s drama troupe, ‘Rangshala’ and so was Raja Zutshi, a veteran broadcaster who was then a teenager. He recalls exciting incident at Teen Murthy. When they were rehearsing a play late in the night and some dramatic scenes showing weeping and wailing were on, Pandit Nehru heard it all. He thought something was amiss. He sent Indiraji to inquire what was the matter. Indira came out of her room and stood at a distance, absorbing the reality of the situation. This is not all. When Indiraji learnt that a child artiste was unwell with an upset stomach, she went back to her kitchen and after some time sent ‘khichadi’ which she said should be served to the lad. That showed her concern for the comforts and welfare of the visitors from Allahabad.

Mrs Gandhi would always try to do her best for Allahabad when anything was brought to her notice by the people who knew her. It so happened that as a result of economic drive, the then Minister of Information & Broadcasting, Dr B.V.Keskar, decided to close down some radio stations. And AIR Allahabad was on his hit-list too.Orders were sent that the transmitter here should be dismantled and sent elsewhere and that the studios would continue. The programmes would be sent to Lucknow via the telephone and be broadcast from there. The orders were carried out. AIR Allahabad lost its transmitter. It is then that some local citizens, who knew the Nehrus, rushed to Delhi. Nehru was then inaccessible. So they told Indiraji about this. She promptly acted by asking Dr Keskar to stop the dismantling process. For four days AIR Allahabad was without a transmitter. But it was then reset here and the transmission was resumed. To cover the losses, AIR Allahabad became a part of the Allahabad-Lucknow-Patna combined broadcasts. Indiraji’s generosity was once again seen when she bypassed the schedule for setting up TV stations in the country and asked the Ministry to sanction a TV station to Allahabad immediately. According to the original schedule, Allahabad was to get a TV transmitter in 1984 or thereafter. But as a result of the intervention of the Prime Minister, we got a TV transmitter here in August 1983

Mrs Gandhi was very fond of her school- St Mary’s Convent—where she had studied for a while. When a girl from that school wrote her a letter she replied to her and especially mentioned how she too studied in that very school. On other occasions also she recalled the days when she would attend classes in the Convent. And how much regard she had for Allahabad schools was told to me by former Principal of St Joseph’s College, Father Thomas who had gone to Delhi to invite her to be chief guest at the centenary celebrations that were scheduled for November 4, 1984. He told me that he had called on her in the last week of October. She was extremely busy. And security round her was very tight. He was told that she was meeting very few people these days. But when he sent his card, she immediately called him in and, what is more, readily agreed to come to Allahabad to address the SJC on the occasion of its centenary celebrations. But alas! That was not to be because Destiny intervened on October 31, 1984.
I had the occasion to see her from very close quarters when she came to CMP Degree College to attend a function of a literary organization. I had then not entered the profession. I sat in the front row . Prof R.N.Goel had invited me. She was speaking informally. We asked her a couple of questions which she answered with a smile. She told us several anecdotes relating to the days when she was Miss Nehru. I again saw her from close quarters when Mrs Gandhi as Information and Broadcasting Minister in Shastriji’s Cabinet visited Barnetts Hotel to address the Rotary meeting. Mr S.N.Bagga was escorting her. When the car halted in the portico of Barnetts, Mr Bagga brought her into the hall before a cheering audience. I don’t recall seeing any special security for her.
And the last time I saw her was when during the 1980 Lok Sabha elections she came to address an election meeting in K.P.College grounds. The crowds were unmanageable and the people dispersing had blocked all traffic till Hanuman Mandir crossing on MG Marg. A colleague at NIP asked me: ‘What did you see?’ And I told him, ‘I foresee Indiraji’s triumphant return to power’. And that is precisely what happened too!

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