The Discovery of a Writer

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Freedom fighter, nationalist, politician, secularist, lawyer, world statesman, and patriot - these are commonly used nouns for Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India. The noun "writer" is seldom used in place of his name, even though Nehru has written several books.

Jawaharlal Nehru, a master of the English language and a man of letters, would not sign a document that had been prepared by anyone else. He was proud of his command of the language and wrote all of his works in English. He once told the court at his own trial, "I am a lover of words and try to use them appropriately."

Once delving into them, it is difficult to set Nehru’s well-written books aside for long. He is not merely chronicling events but enlivening them, telling readers how these events have affected his thoughts, moods, actions, hopes, and fears. Dull and dry historical details come alive in his books. The conversational style of his writings seems to come from two things: first, he wrote only after he experienced an action; and second, he frequently had conversations with the masses who were largely uneducated and who needed to be spoken to in simple words.

Where did Nehru write? He wrote most of his works in British gaols. British authorities imprisoned him numerous times during India’s freedom movement, but it is hard to ascertain how many years he remained behind the bars. For example, Time magazine reported that he spent 13 years in jail in its October 17, 1949 issue, but then in the July 30, 1956 issue it mentioned 14 years. At any rate, any time in jail for a wrongful reason is too long for anyone. In one book, he asks himself a question about his time in prison: "Was it worthwhile?" He then replies, "There is no hesitation about the answer."

Why did Nehru write? "The primary object in writing…was to occupy myself with a definite task, so necessary in the long solitudes of jail life." He wrote his books on note pads by hand and without any reference books, for there were no typewriters or libraries in jails.

Toward the Freedom is Nehru’s autobiography and was written entirely in prison from June of 1934 to February of 1935. However, the postscript and certain minor changes were added later on. In this book, he writes among other subjects about his life in prison, his roots and childhood, his education in Britain at Harrow and Cambridge, his wedding, and the death of his father.

Letters from a Father to His Daughter contains letters from Jawaharlal Nehru to his daughter and only child, Indira Priyadarshini, when she was 10 years old and in Mussoorie without him during the summer of 1928. He wrote to her about the making of the earth, the evolution of human and animal life, the formation of tribes and languages, the evolvement of civilizations and societies, the Aryans, and the epics of India.

Glimpses of World History is actually a series of lengthy letters (196) that Nehru began writing from Dehradun Jail in 1930 again to Indira. He introduces his teenaged daughter to the world from the Indus Valley civilization to the beginning of World War II. It contains Nehru’s opinions about events and his strong sentiments about the British imperialism.

Nehru wrote The Discovery of India during his imprisonment from 1942 to 1945 (1040 days) in the Ahmadnagar Fort. It is culled from letters to his daughter and was published in 1946. He writes about India’s culture, history, and heritage; our ancient books such as the Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana, and Mahabharat; and his mentor Mahatma Gandhi. This book is known to fill a reader’s eyes with tears, heart with joy, and chest with pride for being an Indian.

In Jawaharlal Nehru, author John Alphonso-Karkala comes to the conclusion that:

Jawaharlal Nehru was not a professional author who devoted his lifetime to writing but a man of public affairs who became a writer by necessity. By training he was a scientist and a lawyer; by choice he was a politician; by attitude he was a humanist; and by sensibilities he was a poet. Yet what he wrote was historical prose, or prose that has become historical… Perhaps Jawaharlal Nehru may survive longer in the memory of mankind as an author than as a politician.

For whom did he write? Jawaharlal Nehru did not have a specific group in mind when he wrote: "But, if I thought of an audience, it was my own countrymen and countrywomen." His books are considered classic. They enrich Indian literature, as do his essays, articles, speeches, and statements.

November 14, 2013 marks the Nehru’s 124th birth anniversary; we celebrate his birthday as Children’s Day, Bal Din. What better way to remember him on his birthday than reading a few pages from any of his books? What better way to remember him every day than teaching his books in our schools and colleges?

(Adapted from this author’s article published in "One India One People" magazine.)

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