Saturday, 21 December 2013

'I like the way Indians cheat'

Place: New Delhi

Time: 6.00 AM

It’s a cold, foggy morning in New Delhi. After finishing my morning regimen I stop at a road side tea stall to have a cup of ginger tea. Sameer, that's the name of the tea boy. He’s been operating this tea stall along with his younger brother, and uncle for the last 17 years ever since his father died. Alas, he could not even complete his schooling.

Sameer seems extremely upset over something today. I ask him the reason behind his sombre mood.

“Last night two policemen came to my tea stall and demanded bribes. When I expressed my inability to pay Rs 500 demanded by them, they threatened me of dire consequences. In the end I had to pay them. Saheb, why are these policewallahs always after poor folks like us and not the rich ones?” Sameer exclaims in a melancholic vein.

I cannot help but agree with him. Minor vices show themselves only in poor people who wear old and torn clothes. The vices of big people like judges get hidden behind the robes and furred gowns they wear. The fact of the matter is a sinner who occupies a high status in life, goes entirely unpunished, while a sinner who belongs to a low and humble life cannot escape punishment. Sigh!

As I stood rapt in these thoughts a white foreigner in his late 30s approaches the tea stall. 

“Would you make a coffee for me? No sugar and make it very strong,” he asks Sameer.

Meanwhile, at some distance some street urchins are playing amongst each other. One of them is singing a Bollywood song ‘Humko hamin se chura lo, dil me kahin tum chhupa lo’.

The white man looks at me with a smile and says, “They sound very happy. Don't they?”.

“Yeah, but isn’t it really great that they’re happy or at least pretending to be so despite all the hardships they face,” I respond.

He nodes his head in agreement. Jason, that’s his name. An Australian of German descent and a businessman by profession, he deals in export and import of goods and has been coming to India for the last 15 years. Jason has also managed to learn little bit of Hindi in the process.

“Bahot acchha (very good),” he compliments Sameer for making a good coffee.

“So would you like to share with me how’s your experience been in India so far,” I pose a question to Jason out of curiosity. 

He pauses for a second and then says, “Indians are nice people and India is a beautiful country. In fact some of the nicest and funniest memories of my life find their origin in India. I like the way Indians go about doing their work, communicate, celebrate their festivals, and I also like the way Indians cheat.”

“Do you really like the way Indians cheat? I mean what’s there to like about it,” I ask him with a wry smile on my visage. 

“Yes, I really do. The Indians are very smart and creative when it comes to cheating. From policemen to taxi drivers to tea boys, everybody is cheating in different ways. In fact every time they find new, ingenious ways to cheat. I know this because I have been dealing with them for the last 15 years and truly speaking, I have now got used to it,” Jason exclaims.

The conversation was now getting interesting and I thought of spicing it up.

I shared a recent experience of mine when I was cheated by a restaurant in Delhi, how they billed me for something I never ordered, and then how I dealt with those tricksters. Jason who was until now standing, dragged a chair next to the place where I was sitting and offered to share his own similar experience.

“Let me share an anecdote with you. Around three years back I had gone to Madurai, Tamil Nadu for a business purpose. One day I left my hotel for a morning walk and kept walking for half an hour. It so happened that while returning back I lost my way and couldn’t find the hotel. I asked an autowallah to take me to that particular hotel. I was flabbergasted when he asked Rs 500 for the same. 

“Surely my place could not be that far away, I thought. Thus, we bargained for a while and I agreed to pay him Rs 100. You would not believe what happened next. I sat in the auto and he took me to my hotel which was only a few blocks away in less than 30 seconds. I can never forget that incident,” he says as we both burst into laughter.

“Jason, This is embarrassing. I would like to apologize to you for the kinds of experiences you’ve had in India,” I exclaim.

He shakes his head and says, “Hey mate no need to apologize, for I’m fine with it. I can fully understand why these people cheat. They do it because they don’t have money. What else can one expect from a policeman who gets Rs 10,000 as salary in Delhi? After all he’s to look after his family, kids, their education etc. Life is tough here and for me it is survival of the fittest (now he sounded like a German). I have had to pay bribes to custom officials at the airports in India umpteen times. I’m sure if your government could pay them well, they’ll stop indulging in such practices.” 

But then, I say to myself in a soliloquy, what would he say about our ministers and politicians who indulge in massive corruption scams despite being paid handsome salaries and numerous allowances? What justification do they have to plunder the Indian tax payer’s money? The fact of the matter is we’ve morally degraded as a nation ever since the murder of Mahatma Gandhi by our own people for whose redemption he lived. We’ve forgotten his values and teachings and now today find ourselves in a deep abyss extrication from which seems impossible. I’m sure if Gandhi were alive today, he would leave India, and settle in Pakistan, for at least Pakistanis are not as corrupt and morally degraded as us. 

“Just look at the growing disparity between the rich and poor. In our pursuit of rapid industrialization and urbanization, we have left the rural India at the mercy of God. There are no jobs, opportunities, infrastructure, and sources of livelihood in our villages. Farmers are committing suicide and other landless laborers are flocking to our cities in multitudes to augment urban poverty which manifests itself in the form of filthy slums. Only God knows where we’re heading as a nation,” I exclaim in a vein of exasperation. 

Jason, again, nodes his head in agreement and says, “This is precisely why I like some of the great work some charity organizations are doing in India.”

“We don’t need charity, Jason. What the Indians need the most right now is good, quality, and affordable education which will enable them to stand on their own feet. These government schemes guaranteeing subsidized food, rural jobs (NREGA) and so forth are nothing but a complete waste of public money and will yield nothing. What's the future of these street children? Alas, our government and politicians do not have time and will to do something about these serious issues,” I retort.

“Hey mate don’t lose hope. I still think the future of India is bright,” Jason says even as he bids me farewell; his next stop is China.

And I cannot help but share Jason’s optimism about India. 

Aakhir umeed pe duniya qayam hai.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Gandhi’s forgotten sacrifice: A lesson neither India nor Pakistan learnt

By Sapan Kapoor, The Express Tribune, Published: August 14, 2013
At ten minutes past five on January 30, 1948, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was crucified on the cross of bitter Hindu-Muslim blood feud. This resolutely courageous man endowed with an indomitable spirit kept fighting for the Hindu-Muslim unity until he was, alas, assassinated by a Hindu extremist. The Mahatma, however, achieved in death what he could not achieve in life; peace between the two communities, although it lasted merely a brief period.
The next day, in a most memorable tribute of all, the editorial of Hindustan Standard read:
“Gandhi ji has been killed by his own people for whose redemption he lived. This second crucifixion in the history of the world has been enacted on Friday – the same day Jesus was done to death one thousand nine hundred and fifteen years ago. Father, forgive us.”
Father, forgive us?
The father can forgive his children, but can we forgive ourselves for what we did to him? What did he get in return for all the sacrifices he made for the sake of Hindu-Muslim unity? He got nothing but three bullets into his stomach from a Hindu maniac and apathy from the Muslims. The fact of the matter is whenever Gandhi needed their support, both Hindus and Muslims, turned their backs on him.
True, Gandhi was deeply disappointed with the unhelpful attitude of the Hindus, but, he was equally hurt by the callousness of the Muslims. India’s Iron Man, the biography of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel by Balraj Krishna, offers a vivid account of how Gandhi perceived Muslims’ apathy towards him and how he resented their uncooperative attitude. He seldom made his grievances against the Muslims public though, lest he should be misconstrued.
In the quiet, uncontaminated climate of the Yervada jail in 1932, and in the company of his most trusted colleagues including Sardar Patel, Gandhi, for the first time, revealed how much ‘sorrow and pain’ were caused to him by the Muslims’ attitude towards him in the Kohat communal rioting and at the 1931 Round Table Conference in London. In a depressed vein, Gandhi said,
“Whom should I tell the insults I have borne on behalf of the Muslims? For their sake I have drunk bitter cups of sorrow.”
One day while reading an Urdu school textbook, Gandhi admitted,
“The book pours out maximum poison. It was prescribed by the government as a textbook before the Hindu-Muslim conflict began; and today’s Muslim youth has been brought up on such books.”
On another occasion Gandhi referred to a fourth standard Urdu primer of Lahore’s Anjuman-i-Himayat, and regretfully observed,
“The reading of this book makes one sad. It appears the Muslim children are taught violence and bloodshed from their childhood.”
Gandhi told Patel and Mahadev Desai one day,
“Iqbal’s opposition to (single) nationhood is shared by many Muslims. Some speak out; others don’t. Iqbal now repudiates his ‘Sare Jahan Se Acchha Hindustan Hamara’ song.”
On another day, Gandhi asked Mahadev Desai to draw Patel’s attention to the distorted version of the same song in a government school textbook in Urdu. The song propagated Pan-Islamism, and its first two lines read:
“China, Arab hamara, Hindustan hamara; Muslim hain hum, watan hai sara jahan hamara.”
(From China to Arabia, the whole territory is ours; India is ours; we are Muslims , and the whole world is ours.)
Gandhi in a melancholic vein commented,
“The Muslim boys are brought up on such education. The book hasn’t a single lesson which should teach the Muslim boys that this country is theirs and they should take pride in her. Not only that. As a result, the Muslims have developed enmity with others.”
Gandhi’s regret was that all this was happening despite what he had done or undergone for the sake of Hindu-Muslim unity. Who can forget his heroic fast unto death, held to save the lives of those thousands of Muslims who were sitting ducks in Calcutta amidst the ongoing communal frenzy, in a wretched hovel at the city’s Beliaghata Road in August, 1947? Who can forget his last fast unto death in Delhi, after the cataclysmic partition, held to protect the lives of those vulnerable Muslims who had become refugees in their own country, and to ensure that ‘Pakistan gets its due share’?
Gandhi led the Khilafat agitation, boldly bearing attacks from senior Congress leaders, Hindu leaders and the saintly Britisher, CF Andrews. And it was at the Round Table Conference, which could have provided India with an opportunity to gain independence in 1931, that Gandhi met his Waterloo at the hands of the Muslims. Maulana Shaukat Ali had told the American journalist William Shirer:
“If the Hindus don’t meet our demands this time, we’re going to make war on them. We ruled the Hindus once. At least we don’t intend to be ruled by them now.”
This was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Gandhi had to admit to ‘an inglorious end’ to his years of labours. According to Shirer,
“This failure, as Gandhi often said, was the greatest cross he ever bore.”
One day Patel ruefully asked Gandhi:
“Are there any Muslims who will listen to you?”
The truth is nobody, nobody paid heed to Gandhi, neither Hindus nor Muslims. Yes, he was let down by all of us; we deserted him whilst the forsaken Mahatma fought alone for peace.
It’s a pity that 66 years since independence we have not learned our lessons yet. It’s a pity that we are allowing his sacrifice to go waste.
Father, forgive us.

Monday, 27 May 2013

IPL: A league of extraordinarily corrupt gentlemen

By Sapan Kapoor, The Express Tribune, Published: May 27, 2013
Players are fixed, umpires are fixed, team owners are fixed, and perchance the whole Indian Premier League (IPL) has been fixed and compromised by vested interests out to subvert the beautiful game of cricket. 

The world has come to know of appalling corruption involving the arrest of three Indian players and a franchise owner in alleged spot-fixing and wagering. If this was not enough, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has withdrawn Pakistani umpire Asad Rauf from the upcoming Champions Trophy for his alleged involvement in spot-fixing and betting being probed by the Mumbai police. Rauf abruptly left India earlier this week, forever.

In all this, the biggest losers have been those millions of naive cricket fans all around the world who blindly followed the IPL, cheered every six and four hit by their favourite batsman, every wicket taken by their team, who jeered at every dropped catch and tweeted every grotesque incident taking place on the field.
At the time of writing this blog, approximately more than six million tweets pertaining to the IPL have been counted. Alas, those credulous fans took it all for real.

The eyes of Adam Gilchrist must have shined with delight when he saw that loose short-pitch delivery by Sreesanth coming his way in Mohali. The Aussie veteran crisply dispatched it to the boundary without knowing that it was fixed. The former Indian test player had agreed to a bookie to yield more than 13 runs in that over for Rs4 million (Indian currency).

My mind today also dwells upon those several dubious decisions given by the umpire Asad Rauf in the IPL. Those questionable leg before wicket (LBW) decisions by Rauf could have been corrected by the third umpire had the Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS) been in place in the league. But the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is not in favour of using the system — why?

Why is the BCCI so vehemently against a system which aims to add transparency to the game?
Millions of cricket lovers and followers in India and the world at large were at their wits end at this stand taken by the BCCI on the UDRS. Now, the answer they have been seeking to this riveting question is obvious.

Apparently, the BCCI headed by N Srinivasan, whose son-in-law and Chennai Super Kings team principal Gurunath Meiyappan has been arrested in connection with alleged spot-fixing and betting in the IPL, did not want transparency in the game.

In these times when umpires can be manipulated and bought to spot-fix matches, the UDRS would have worked as a deterrent to such corrupt practices. Those in the business of fixing realised this fact and ergo, opposed it. What other reason could be behind the BCCI’s opposition to it?

With the arrest of Meiyappan, the BCCI chief’s position has become untenable. He shall find it difficult to distance himself from the alleged misdeeds of his son-in-law and also some of the dubious decisions he has taken during his tenure. For instance, he subverted the BCCI’s constitution, in connivance with others, to allow his firm India Cement to buy Chennai Super Kings and thus indulged in open conflict of interest. It has also cast a shadow of doubt over Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni who was recently named as the vice-president of India Cement.

Maybe Dhoni was not aware of all this whilst sharing team strategies with Meiyappan who allegedly used it for wagering and to fix matches. However, Dhoni’s close association with Meiyappan and Srinivasan has left him on a sticky wicket. Dhoni will have to come clean on this and the captain should know his silence is not helping his cause.

Moreover, if Delhi and Mumbai police are to be believed, this is just the tip of the iceberg. More players and teams are going to be exposed. We can expect some explosive revelations in the coming days.
With more and more pressure mounting on Srinivasan, ultimately he will have to go. But will that solve the grave issues that Indian cricket faces today?

There’s something seriously rotten in the BCCI and it all starts from the top.
When the top leadership of any organisation itself stands compromised, these kinds of things are bound to happen. The need of the hour today is to completely clean up the body and any effort to brush things under the carpet would only further damage Indian cricket.

The biggest challenge before the BCCI, however, is to win back the confidence of cricket lovers who feel cheated and duped today. Needless to say it’s not going to be an easy task, for the trust once lost is hard to regain.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Our people have gone mad

Pakistani prisoner Sanaullah Ranjay assaulted by a cashiered Indian soldier in Jammu's Kot Balwal jail Friday, a day after Indian death row convict Sarabjit Singh breathed his last in Lahore, is dead.  52-year-old Sanaullah, who was in deep coma and on life-support system, died in a hospital in Chandigarh this morning.

In an apparent retaliation to the death of Sarabjit Singh, who had been savagely beaten to sodden pulp by his fellow jail inmates a week before, Sanaullah was attacked by a brick by Vinod Kumar, an Indian Army man sentenced to life in a murder case by a military court of inquiry in Leh. Sanaullah was arrested in 1999 in connection with five cases related to terror activities.

My heart goes out to the family of Sanaullah. For their plight is no different from the agony of Sarabjit’s family. Like Sarabjit, Sanaullah is also someone’s father, brother, and son. His life and death makes a huge difference to his loved ones. 

Alack, yet another poor, wretched man has been crucified on the cross of lethal Indo-Pak rivalry. Yet another miserable fellow, notwithstanding his terror background, has been made a scapegoat to gratify India and Pakistan’s inflated egos.  But, what we don’t understand is that an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind. We’ve no right to play with the life of someone to gratify our insatiable craving for blood. Sarabjit's extra-judicial killing has stirred passions in India. But, that does not justify the retaliatory attack on Sanaullah.

For this ‘khoon ka badla khoon’ or ‘tit-for-tat’ proclivity will only lead us to the abyss of dark ages, extrication from which will be impossible. In that chasm there’s darkness, there are the burning fires of hell, there’s the burning and scorching of the flesh; there’s foul smell. Our thirst for human blood and depravity are disgusting; yes disgusting. It’s despicable. This shameful state of affairs itself calls for an immediate remedy.  But then this kind of barbaric savagery and sadistic disposition is not alien to Indians and Pakistanis. It has been an integral part of our tribal society for ages.

When I think of these recent horrific incidents in our prisons, or the ghastly 2008 Mumbai attacks, or the one on the LoC where an Indian soldier was allegedly beheaded by Pakistani forces, or the Gujarat riots of 2002, my mind dwells upon the ‘Great Calcutta Killings’ that took place on 16 August 1946 which served to catalyse into violence the rivalry of India’s Hindu and Muslim communities. It was Jinnah’s ‘Direct Action Day’, to prove to Britain and the Congress Party that India’s Muslims were prepared ‘to get Pakistan for themselves by “Direct Action” if necessary.  ‘We shall have India divided,’ Jinnah had vowed, ‘or we shall have India destroyed.’

‘Freedom At Midnight’, a book by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins offers a horrifying account of what transpired on that fateful morning. At dawn on 16 August 1946, howling in a quasi-religious fervor, Muslim mobs had come bursting from their slums, waving clubs, iron bars, shovels, any instrument capable of ‘smashing in a human skull’. 

They savagely beat to sodden pulp any Hindus in their path and stuffed their remains in the city’s open gutters. Soon tall pillars of black smoke stretched up from a score of spots in the city, Hindu bazaars in full blaze.

Later, the Hindu mobs came storming out of their neighbourhoods looking for defenseless Muslims to slaughter. Never, in all its violent history, had Calcutta known 24 hours as savage, as packed with human viciousness as this one. By the time the slaughter was over, Calcutta belonged to the vultures. 

Exactly one year later to this tragic event, in August 1947 in the Punjab two men rode side by side in an open car. Three decades of struggle against the British rule should have earned the Prime Ministers of the new nations of Pakistan and India the right to ride in triumph through jubilant crowds of their admiring countrymen. Jawaharlal Nehru and Liaquat Ali Khan rode instead in depressed silence through scenes of horror and misery.

Now as their car sped past devastated village after devastated village, unharvested fields, wretched columns of refugees, Hindus and Sikhs trudging dumbly east, Muslims dumbly west, the two leaders, an aide noticed, seemed to shrink into the back seat of the car, collapsing, almost, under the burden of their misery.
At last Nehru broke the oppressive silence. ‘What hell the partition has brought us,’ he said to Liaquat in a half whisper. ‘We never foresaw anything like this when we agreed to it. We’ve been brothers. How could this have happened?’

‘Our people have gone mad,’ Liaquat replied.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

A coffin night

'It's coffin night, Kapoor saheb, get ready,' my boss says to me. As I hear these words I seem to shrink into my chair, collapsing almost under the burden of my misery. When I had joined Air France as a Cargo Officer at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi half a decade back, I never thought I would have to carry out such a taxing task.

Once again a coffin bearing a body of young man is arriving from abroad and I'm being entrusted with a responsibility to hand it over to the family of the deceased after finishing certain formalities with the officials at the airport. Once again a melancholy coffin night awaits me and reluctant though I prepare myself to get lost in its endless darkness.

Air travelers sweeping towards the IGI Airport can easily get lost in the sumptuous grandeur of its terminal 3.  However, under the cloak of its splendor lie some harrowing tales hidden from the outer world. I still have a vivid memory of the days I spent there whilst working for Air France.  The work on terminal 3 was still in progress then. My job was to handle the import-export operations of Air France’s commercial cargo at the cargo section of the airport, just a few walks away from the terminal 2.

After finishing my late night flight operations at 2 am, I would often stroll off towards the terminal and spend hours there contemplating the multitudes of passengers darting in and out carrying suitcases, and valises in their hands; custom officials in their white robes preying upon usual suspects; the gorgeous air-hostesses of international airlines giggling and chattering among themselves. An aura of exquisiteness pervaded in the atmosphere of the airport due to their presence. The elderly rotund air-hostesses of Air India swathed in brightly colored sarees were conspicuously distinct in appearance from their counter-parts. They reflected the state of their airline: dismal and misshapen.

Interminable queues of passengers jostled round the check in counters; CRPF constables trotted about in all directions with sniffer dogs. I was literally drunk with all the spectacles that pulsated with life, vitality, and disorderliness.

The most difficult part of my job in Air France though was to hand over coffins bearing bodies arriving from abroad, mostly Canada, to their families.Those were the corpses of young men who had gone abroad to earn bread and better with dreams of better life in their hearts, but committed suicide after losing hope or died in accidents.   
 One of the formalities was to take along with me one acquaintance of the dead listed as the intended receiver of the body to the warehouse at the terminal where the coffin was kept. One unforgettable incident wherein I handed over a young man’s coffin to his father is still deeply engraved into my memory.

The body was that of a young Punjabi man in his twenties. His coffin arrived from Canada where he had gone in search of a better life. A farmer, he committed suicide after failing to endure the hardships of life. Two gloomy men, his father and uncle, came to me with a piece of paper where the latter’s name was listed as the intended receiver of the coffin.  I was supposed to take him along with me to the terminal to complete the formalities. Due to security reasons, only one man listed as the receiver – in this case the uncle - was allowed entry inside the terminal. Therefore, I asked the father to wait outside the airport until the formalities are done.

However, the heartbroken father, desperate to be the first one to get a glimpse of his young son’s body, entreated to take him along with me as well. I told him I could not do it and asked him to wait for a while. He would not listen to me. Now and then a large tear trickled down his delicate cheek. The miserable father with his hands folded, knelt down before me, and beseeched to take him to his beloved son.

His moving gesture shook me hard and left me speechless for a while. Cold shivers ran down my spine. I straightaway rushed to an official to plead for the wretched father’s case. After getting the necessary approval, I took him to his son’s coffin. The father broke down when he saw it and swooned forthwith.

Whilst witnessing this heart-rending spectacle, Shakespeare’s famous character King Lear’s words rang inside my head which he utters after seeing his daughter Cordelia’s dead body:

And my poor fool is hang’d ! No, no, no life !
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life,
And thou no breath at all ? Thou’lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never !
Pray you, undo this button: thank you, Sir.
Do you see this ? Look on her, look, her lips,
Look there, look there !               [Dies.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Nehru and Edwina: A subcontinental love

The relationship between India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Lady Edwina Mountbatten has long been shrouded in mystery and secrecy. It is a no go area for the Congress party in India which has always shielded the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty from controversies. Congressmen certainly do not want it to become a matter of public discourse, duh.

 'A great and unique love': brought together by their work with the victims of India's partition, Jawahar and Edwina can be seen holding hands during a visit to a refugee camp in this rare photograph.

However, the details about their intimate relationship are already in public domain in the form of a book. Indian Summer – The Secret History of the End of an Empire, by Alex Von Tunzelmann offers a vivid account of a special bond the couple shared and complex relationship between Edwina and her husband Louis Mountbatten, with the latter playing a role of a willing facilitator of this relationship and furthermore he encouraging it.

It is true there’s no age for falling in love, for love is timeless. All you need is two lonely people, mutual admiration, understanding, and a ‘spiritual’ connection.  Jawaharlal Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten had it all in them and yes, they were smitten and in love. In Edwina’s words theirs was a ‘treasured bond’.

They both felt a sense of emptiness. Nehru was a widower while Edwina shared a complicated relationship with her husband.True, Edwina had had affairs before as well and they all were approved and facilitated by Dickie Mountbatten. But "Mountbatten 'supported the relationship between his wife and Nehru more than any of her other affairs," Tunzelmann says.

The couple would regularly write letters to each other. Only after reading them one could understand  the deepness of their love and the kind of special and spiritual relationship they shared.

It was to her husband Edwina entrusted her love letters from Jawahar in 1952. Following a hemorrhage, she had to undergo dangerous surgery. She presented Dickie Mountbatten with a sealed letter before the doctor gave her the anesthetic, telling him where they were.

'You will realize that they are a mixture of typical Jawaha (sic) letters, full of interest and facts and really historic documents', she had written. 'Some of them have no "personal" remarks at all. Others are love letters in a sense, though you yourself will realize the strange relationship - most of it spiritual - which exists between us. J. (Nehru) has obviously meant a very great deal in my life in these last years and I think I in his. Our meetings have been rare and always fleeting but I think I understand him, and perhaps he me, as well as any human beings can ever understand each other.'

'They really dote on each other in the nicest way: Edwina and Jawahar walking together in the forests around Mashobra.

It was an odd sort of confession, and not an apology. Edwina pulled through the operation, but Dickie opened the letter. 

‘I’m glad you realize that I know and have always understood the very special relationship between Jawaha and you – made the easier by my fondness and admiration for him and by the remarkably lucky fact that among my many defects God did not add jealousy in shape or form’, he wrote to her. ‘That is why I’ve always made your visits to each other easy and been faintly hurt when at times……you didn’t take me into your confidence right away.’ 

There’s an interesting tale told by S.S Pirzada, later Foreign Minister of Pakistan, that Jinnah had been handed a small collection of letters that had been written by Edwina and Jawahar. 

Dickie will be out tonight – come after 10.00 o’clock,’ said one of Edwina’s.

Another revealed that:  'You forgot your handkerchief and before Dickie could spot it I covered it up.’ 
A third said: ‘I have fond memories of Simla – riding and your touch.’

Pirzada claimed that Jinnah discussed what to do about these letters with Ftima and his colleagues. In the end, Jinnah concluded that ‘Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion’, and had the letters returned.

On another occasion, when Jawahar and Edwina were staying together in Nainital in the Himalyan foothills, the Governor's son was sent to summon the guests for dinner. Unwittingly, he opened the door of the Prime Minister's suite, and was confronted by the sight of Jawahar and Edwina in an embrace. He tactfully retreated, and nothing was ever said about the incident. These were the days of discretion in political life. 

Though such stories were never made fully public, hints of them leaked out. An anti-Nehru party in Delhi began using the slogan,

'Break open Rama's heart, you will find Sita written on it; break open Nehru's heart you will find Lady Mountbatten written on it.'

So deep was Nehru’s love for Edwina that he sent her presents from wherever he was in the world: sugar from the United States, cigarettes from Egypt, pressed ferns from Sikkim, a book of photographs of erotic sculptures from the temple of the sun in Orrissa.

'I must say they took my breath away for an instant', he wrote. 'There was no shame or of hiding anything.' 

Edwina replied that she had found the sculptures fascinating. 

'I am not interested in sex as sex', she wrote. 

'There must be much more to it, beauty of spirit and form and in its conception. But I think you and I are in the minority! Yet another treasured bond.'  

Tunzelmann writes Nehru’s relationship with Edwina was not without political implications for India. It was Edwina who extracted concession from Nehru and persuaded him that India should accept an initial phase of dominion status. This was no mean feat. Dominion status was seen as an unacceptable halfway house by Congress since its declaration of ‘purna swaraj’ (complete self-rule) in 1930, and by Nehru, who had been behind that declaration, for longer still. 

I have often wondered how Jawaharlal was won over by Mountbatten’, wrote Nehru’s close friend Abul Kalam Azad, the highest-ranking Muslim in Congress.

“Jawahar is a man of principle, but he is also impulsive and amenable to personal influence……..perhaps even greater was the influence of Lady Mountbatten. Where several viceroys and sir Stafford Cripps had failed, Edwina Mountbatten succeeded – saving her husband’s political career as well as the entire process of the transfer of power."

Alas, Edwina breathed her last on 21 February 1960 in Jesselton, British North Borneo.  She suffered heart failure. One of the world's richest women had had no splendid possessions with her: only a pile of old letters on the bedside table. She must have been reading them when she died, for a few, having fluttered from her hands, were strewn across her bed. 

They were all from Jawaharlal Nehru.