By Vengrai Parthasarathy
I am not a male chauvinist. I have always believed that while men are superior to women in some respects, women are in others. Simply stated they can never be equal. This is dispute .by, none else than the wife, mine and others. She clings to a meaning-less phrase ‘Better-half” being bandied about.. ..I am convinced that it is a facetious phrase. I prefer ‘the other half’.. Anyway that is not the subject of this piece but I may come to it later.
I have three heroes, men whom I admire. There are others too but these three top the list .Swamy Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. The first two . . I have only heard about or read about. But admire their personalities and what they have achieved or stood for. .
Vivekananda stirred my imagination, for his modern ideas and the speech which he delivered in Chicago by beginning to address the assemblage as “Brothers and sisters of America”.
While in school I had learnt by heart Tagore’s poem “Where the Mind is Without Fear”, an inspirational classic. I had even written an article on Tagore's classic.
Nehru, as someone said is not just a man but a procession of men.: Patriot, Statesman, Author, Freedom fighter, Barrister and above all a Humanist. It was in the late fifties that I had gone to Delhi in the month of October and happened to visit Gandhiji’s Samadhi on his birthday. There was a lot of police bandobust, and there he was followed by a bunch of political cronies and some members of the public. I joined the crowd and inched forward to a few feet of Panditji, when a police Inspector took me firmly by the hand and told me in no uncertain voice ‘Go back”. I did.. I had to but happy anyway, having had a glimpse of the great man--freckles and all..
Shortly afterwards, I met in Delhi a Law College classmate of mine, one Mr.Karta who was connected with the Indian Institute of Parliamentary Studies. “Why don’t you come ? Panditji is addressing an invited audience”. I jumped at the offer. And he took out an invitation from his brief case. I went.. Panditji spoke with great sincerity and passion about the Legislative wing and its importance. After the speeches were over, we moved over for buffet at an adjacent quadrangle.
I was trying to reach out for a samosa when another hand too was extended
in the direction of the potato chips plate nearby.. It had freckles on top of the palm and wrist. I looked up and there he was..: Nehruji.. He gave one of his charming smiles to no one in particular and before I could recover from it all, he was gone.. He sort of pranced away and on his way he gave, with a rolled up paper, a pat on the butt of an elderly lady who was bent over, picking up something.
A senior woman of the Congress party she was. Recovering quickly from the shock and a bit red in the face, and realizing who had played the prank she quickly gave him a paternal look and smile.. Nehruji was gone.
In. the late fifties, I was working for Indian Airlines , and was on duty at the Delhi Palam airport.The usual crowd of party leaders, politicians and others were there with garlands and bouquets.
Nehruji was returning from a foreign trip (Russia, if I remember right) and being in my uniform I could see him from very close quarters. He was gone. The next day a photographer who covers the comings and goings of dignitaries handed me a photo. There I was next to Panditji who was in a smiling mood.. I could not believe it. The photo is still one of my treasured keep-sakes --my daughter has it somewhere. Somewhere safe, she says.
Soon after my marriage I took out this photo from my album. My wife gave a look which I thought was not one of admiration. “Hey, that’s great”,. she said in a 'So-what' tone. I saw no more than passing interest in her eyes. “Oh, nothing”, she said. After a little persuasive talk she said ”Wait”. . She rummaged an old suitcase and produced from it a photo of Nehru visiting the Ramakrishna Mission in Bangalore. A slender girl was handing over a bouquet to a smiling Panditji..
”Who is it” ? I asked.
“ Thats me, I was wearing spectacles in those days”, said my better-half who had done one better than me... .