Summary And Review of The Reminiscences of The Nehru Age by M. O. Mathai

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A few years ago, an old friend of mine suggested to read some books on Modern Indian Political history to get some shocking facts about the prominent leaders who played great and unforgettable role in the freedom struggle and afterwards in shaping the modern India. As far as I can recall, I can remember two books now, the first was Reminiscences of the Nehru Age by M. O. Mathai and The Intellectuals in India by Nirad C. Chaudhary was the second. A few days ago, I got the link to download the PDF format of this book on Goodreads from an online friend. The book was banned by the then Indian government and even today, it is out of the print. I downloaded and enjoyed the book thoroughly.

The Author

Before taking you in the contents of the book, let me tell you briefly about the author. Mathai was Nehru’s Special Assistant from 1946 to 1959. Erstwhile, he had worked with US Army, in the organization named American Red Cross on the Assam-Burma border region, till the end of 1945. After that, he acted as the ad hoc Personal Secretary of Nehru for thirteen years. Later, he was alleged by some communist leaders for the abuse of power, and so, he resigned in 1959. Though, the allegations couldn’t be proved due to the lack of satisfactory evidences, but he didn’t resume the office again. He was in touch with Nehru till his death on 27 May, 1964. Mathai died in 1981.

The Book

The book has 49 chapters and 5 appendixes in which the Chapter 29 titled as “She” is omitted. As it is quoted in the book- “ …On an intensely personal experience of the author’s, written without inhibition, in D. H. Lawrence’s style, has been withdrawn by the author at the last moment.” First I thought that it might be based on the psycho-analytic treatment of sex or on Oedipus or Electra Complex, and then I read it on internet. Anyone can read the chapter on different blog-sites and websites. The chapter describes the love-affair of Mathai and Indira Gandhi like a B-grade Bollywood movie. I can’t put the stamp of authenticity on the content of the chapter, as I nowhere read any such description about Indira Gandhi. I am not an admirer of hers also. Sources on the Internet say that it was made available by Menka Gandhi. How did she get the access to make it public, from Mathai or from the Publishers, it is unknown. Well, the writing style perfectly matches with Mathai’s, so it won’t be easy for anyone to deny that it’s not written by him.

Apart from this controversial chapter, all the other chapters are also written describing the eminent personalities; merits and demerits of various prominent leaders, in a blatant manner. Mathai hasn’t forgiven anyone for his/her mistakes, malice, ill-motives and sycophancy. Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai, the Mounbattens, Sarojni Naidu and her daughters, Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur, Firoz Gandhi, Vijay Laksmi Pandit, Govind Vallabh Panth, T. T. Krisnamachari, Kamraj, Lal Bahadur Shastri, MorarJi Desai and other leaders as well. He has given five chapters to criticize V. K. Krishna Menon representing him almost the most pompous, schizophrenic, satyr and satanic person of the post-independence era till 1962. Nehru had to be ashamed of his acts, but Menon’s chemistry with Nehru was incomprehensible for many.

While criticizing Nehru, I noticed, Mathai hasn’t used harsh words; possibly because Nehru was his boss and there was a better understanding between both of them. He has described Nehru’s personality-traits leisurely. There are chapters like, “Nehru and I”, “Nehru and Press”, “Nehru’s Sensitivity to His Surroundings”, “Nehru’s Attitude to Money”, “Nehru and Alcoholic Drinks”, “Nehru and The Services”, “Nehru and Women”, “Nehru and Socialists”, “More on Nehru” and, “Nehru’s Meeting with Bernard Shaw”- this shows that how keen he was about Nehru, but whatever he wrote, it was just straight.

The book starts with the making of Interim government on September 2, 1946 and describing the then communal hatred, ubiquitous in Delhi, Punjab and West Bengal Province; and also making of the constitution. Nehru gave in to many obscurantists while making provisions in the constitution, like the protection of cows; there was a similar demand for monkeys, descendants of the mythical Hanuman.

Rajendra Prasad wanted the name of the country as Bharat only, but Nehru said, “I don’t want to put India in an absurd position internationally” and pointed out that in such case India would loss all the benefit of a ‘succession state’, such as original membership of UN and other international bodies. Finally all agreed to, “India that is Bharat” and it is now in our constitution. Mathai has described Ambedkar also as a victim of obscurantism and barbarous intolerance. Some of Ambedkar’s quotes are worth mentioning,

 “The Hindus wanted the Vedas and they sent for Ved Vyas who was not a cast Hindu. The Hindus wanted an epic and they sent for Valmiki who was an untouchable and now the Hindus want a constitution and they have sent for me.”

“The greatest tragedy of Hindi belt in India is that they have discarded Valmiki and installed Tulsidas.”

He was not happy with Tulsidas because he had hidden some fact of veal-eating of Lord Rama in the ashram of Rishi Bhardwaj, while Valmiki described it.

Mathai has criticized Mahatma Gandhi on various topics of his preaching claiming it ridiculous and illogical- like preaching of Ram Rajya and cow worship to everyone while these can only be revered by The Hindus (excluding untouchables), preaching celibacy to married couples, his unscientific remark on the earthquake of 1934 in Bihar that it had been a punishment for the sin of untouchability, fanatic advocacy of Hindi, Gandhian economics-a sure source of backwardness, his advice to the women raped in Punjab during partition, his rejection of modern birth control etc and there are many more in the book. Mathai says that he could never have been a follower of Gandhiji however much he tried.

Though he has praised C. Rajgopalachari for his moral courage and logical insight, yet he never failed to describe him like a squirrel, who however old always wants to climb. Rajaji was also not detached from selfishness.

Rajendra Prasad wasn’t Nehru’s first choice as the President, first because of his conservative, traditional and obscurantist outlook, second because Nehru wanted a balance- if the PM was from North India, the president should be from the South and his first choice was Rajaji. Rajendra Babu wasn’t in any mood of compromise, besides, other MPs was in his favour. Even Patel (Sardar) didn’t like Rajaji to be the President. Finally Nehru had to give in, and thus, Rajendra Prasad became the first President and his first act after being the President of India was shifting all the Muslim servants from his wing in Rashtrapati Bhawan. Mathai recalls that the relationship between first PM and the first President of India was just formal, lacking personal warmth for each other. According to him, Radhakrishnan was the best president of India while Faqruddin Ali Ahmad was the poorest specimen.

Talking about Rafi Ahmad Kidwai, he says that he was an absolute and total secular person of the country, and that, his followers were called, “Ruffians”. Firoz Gandhi was one of them. Rafi was a very informal person and a great host, and for the expense of this hospitality, he could shamelessly ask for anything to someone as a gift. Once he extracted Rs 2 lacs for National Herald from Maharaja Pratap singh of Baroda while States’ Ministry was preparing to initiate legal action against the Maharaja. When Nehru came to know this by Patel, he wrote to Rafi to return the money, but Rafi tricked him saying that he had instructed Firoz who was the then MD of Associated Journals Limited to do this, but in fact he had done nothing of this kind.

Rafi, at a large extent, and Maulana Azad, less so, were responsible for persuading Nehru to oust Sheikh Abdulla as the CM of J&K in 1953.

Kamla Nehru knew Firoz Gandhi from his very childhood, as he accompanied with her as a Congress volunteer in his early days. He was good for nothing in comparison of Nehru family. At her death-bed, in Germany, in 1935, Kamla Nehru expressed her strong disapproval for any future prospect of marrying Indira with Firoz, not on the basis of any religious prejudice, but because that she didn’t consider Firoz as a stable person, and not even least qualified to go for any worthwhile profession and to support Indira.

After Kamla’s death, in 1936, when Indira was in England, Firoz tried to get some financial assistance from his relatives, and went to England on the pretext to study, but he was the laughing stock for other students there, yet he somehow succeeded to convince Indira. After the end of WW1, when Indira returned India, in 1941, she spoke of her wish to get married with Firoz. Nehru and the whole family was against this, but Indira threatened to leave the country so they had to give in, and thus, they married in 1942. And soon after the marriage Nehru appointed Firoz Gandhi as the MD of the Association journals Ltd which owned Navjivan, National Herald and Qaumi Awaj newspapers. And this led to the disastrous consequences.

Mathai mocked Sarojni Naidu as a short woman with a wide mouth of frog who was fond of sweets and delicious food . Sarojni and her family (her son Jaysoorya, and daughters Leelamani and Padmja) were of pure Hyderabadi culture and somewhat a little pro-Muslim; they had great liking for the Nawabs of the north and contempt for the Andhra’s Reddys.

There is another lady on whom Mathai has used a lot of ink- Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur. Once she told Mathai that as a young girl she was one of the three outstanding beauties in India, the other two were Maharani Gaytri Devi, princess of Cooch Behar state and Tai Rajwade, and also that, she fell in love with an English man, but her family didn’t let her marry. The author admits that the two most elegant Indian women that he had met were Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur and Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit. Both were extremely beautiful, and so was Maharani Gayatri Devi. In Nehru family, Vijay Lakshmi Pandit was the most extravagant. She was in the habit of canceling the appointments at the last moments. Soon after the assassination of Gandhiji, a sealed file kept by Gandhiji was handed over to Nehru, he opened the file and said after a cursory perusal, “These are the papers about young Vijay Lakshmi’s elopement with Syed Hussain. You had better burned them.” The writer obeyed.

Mathai has described Maulana Abul Kalam Azad as a super-alcoholic person. I hadn’t read anywhere about it, but Mathai’s description is beyond suspicion. Though Maulana was respected among the Congressmen, especially Muslims, but it was because of his vast knowledge of Islam and his internationally acclaimed commentary on Koran. Overall he was a worldly person who loved to enjoy the life, not to sacrifice it fully for any ideal. He was so indulged in drinking that after dinner in the evening he didn’t like to meet anyone, however important, but to remain in his room downing pegs after pegs of alcohol. His book, “India Wins Freedom” is dictated to Humayun Kabir (a disciple or follower of Maulana) by Maulana in the evenings when he was totally drunk.

There is an interesting chapter titled, “Nehru and Women” in which the writer has admitted that Nehru was of Napoleon’s mind in the matter of women- “Women are the occupation of the idle mind, and relaxation to the warrior.” Yes, Nehru had affairs, or one can say Nehru was vulnerable to get in affairs, because after the death of his wife, many prominent women of the then times tried for a chance. Nehru liked some of them, some of them liked Nehru. The writer mentions four names mainly- Mridula Sarabhai, Padmja Naidu, Sharda Mata and Countess Edwina Mountbatten.

Mathai has mocked Kamraj-the Kingmaker bitterly. Look, how he describes Kamraj’s appearance, “Beautifully black as ebony, with lips like those of anteater, Kamraj always reminded me of Homo Erectus…An anthropologist seeing Kamraj for the first time might have had second thoughts about the place of origin of man and might have concluded that man originated in Africa and not in India. An American who had a wry sense of humor, once remarked that Kamraj’s mother must have been an inkpot.” Similar comments are made on Lal Bahadur Shastri also. Mathai describes Shastri as a shrewd dwarf of man who never offended anyone. Once an elderly congress woman told Mathai, “Whenever I see little Lal Bahadur, I feel like placing him on my lap and feeding him with some milk.” Mathai also accused him to be flatterer of Nehru, even once Mathai told him to change his approach, at this Shastri said, “Mathai Sahab, I know you don’t want anything from Punditji; you can even scold him, but I am a humble political worker, I can’t afford to adopt your approach.” He is labeled as a fence-sitter and of sterile mind.

And I must not leave the point of how the author described Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel. According to Mathai, Sardar came from peasant stock, he possessed considerable organizing ability and a sense of ruthlessness. To be the boss of the party machine came naturally to him. Patel wasn’t wholly free from communalism. He detested Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Rafi Ahmad Kidwai. During the partition and the mass migration of the people Patel took delight in making fun of Nehru. He once told a group of Congress MPs that there was only one nationalist Muslim in India, they all guessed it about Rafi, but to their surprise Patel told them, “No, It is Maulana Nehru,

So, it is just the quick snapshot of the book. Nehru, Menon and Indira are described vividly in the book. This book is neither History nor Biography, it can be said the memoir of the writer. He describes what he saw and experienced about various so called great men. The book gives shock to the reader now and then in every chapter as there is always something which has been tried hard to hide from the common man. The book gives the impression that every great man described in our history had the head and heart of just a common selfish man and it was just the chance that made him/her great. I liked this book most. It was the first book that I read so earnestly in the Pdf format that I am not accustomed of.

~ Ravi

Note- first published on

( This version is a bit edited )

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