Monday, May 29, 2006


Humorous tidbits from Nirad Chaudhuri's "Thy Hand Great Anarch"
(The event is the 1937 Congress Working Committee Meeting held at the home of Sarat Bose, eminent lawyer and nationalist and elder brother of Subhas Chandra Bose. Important leaders of the Indian National Congress such as Gandhi and Nehru stayed at the Bose home for a few weeks. Nirad Chaudhuri worked as Sarat Bose's private secretary.)

Putting up Gandhi did not present a difficult problem: feeding him did. Mahatma Gandhi's dietary prescriptions were not only rigid and numerous, but also odd. Since they were not identical with the well known Hindu dietary rules but somewhat esoteric, Sarat Babu asked an orthodox disciple of Gandhi in Calcutta to let him have a list of vegetables Gandhi ate. The list I saw was formidably long and representative of the ecology of Bengal. Of course he did not eat the full range of vegetables at one meal or even on one single day, but he or his secretary in charge might demand one or other of them on a particular day or for a particular meal in order to test the resources or loyalty of his host.
The supply of milk for Mahatma Gandhi presented no less difficult a problem for he took only goat's milk and would not touch cow's milk because he felt that it excited concupiscence. But, before being permitted to serve Gandhi, the she-goats had to be screened by his principal private secretary, Mahadev Desai, and therefore no goat's milk could be bought or stored in advance.
For the first time I saw the formdable Mahadev Desai. His reputation for efficiency was known all over India but I had not known he was so impressive physically. He was also very grave looking. He slowly walked from the left end of the row of the she-goats to the right end, and stopped before each to examine it carefully. I could not find out what he actually was looking for, but I saw that he looked severely into the eyes of the animals, and at last selected one. So I went about telling everybody frivously that he was trying to find out which she-goat was the chastest among the lot and selected that one which stared back equally hard at him, instead of lowering her eyes from consciousness of guilt.
I also saw Jawaharlal Nehru often, because he was staying with the Boses, and had been given the bedroom in the ground floor.He would always be dressed in dhoti and kurta, both in white khaddar, i.e. homespun cotton.
One morning he was writing in his room, when a man in the entrance hall became curious about him. Nehru's room opened into the hall, and the door was open because in India doors even of bedrooms are never kept closed. Only curtains hang there. The man drew them aside and peeped in. Nehru jumped up from his chair, caught hold of the intruder by the scruff of neck, and did not let go until he had marched him to the garden gate.
Along with the men who ran the Congress, I also saw their women counterparts. The most eminent among them was Sarojini Naidu. She was fifty-eight at that time, being exactly midway in age between Nehru and Gandhi. She was deeply respected and valued as the prima donna of the nationalist movement.
One day I was passing through the large waiting hall of Sarat babu's house and was checked by a sudden pull at the tail of my tunic. Turning around I saw to my utter surprise Mrs Naidu holding it and feeling the material. 'Bhagalpur silk?" she asked graciously. With a low bow I replied: 'Yes, Madam.'


Blogger Aditi said...

Nirad C in a bhagalpuri "tunic"... hahahah a very characteristic translation of bangali 'panjabi', I guess.

Nice to read what you post, Shampa. Now that MM has shut up thought of saying hi through your blog page.


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Blogger shampa said...

thank you Aditidi. Nirad babu is not a favorite writer but I enjoy his historical recounting of pre-1947 days.

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