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Monday, March 13, 2006

Pandit Nehru & the poet Nirala: an anecdote

Guha narrates a delightful story in a piece on Nehru and Nirala by way of suggesting that "the statesman and the poet belonged to an India that was very different from the one we live in." For more on Nirala, go here.

"MANY years ago, the anthropologist Triloki Narain Pandey told me a story featuring Jawaharlal Nehru and the poet Suryakant Tripathi "Nirala". The Prime Minister had just returned from a visit to the People's Republic of China. He was addressing a public meeting in his hometown, Allahabad, where Nirala then lived and where Triloki Pandey then studied. The poet sat in the front row, bare-bodied, his chest rubbed up with oil — for, he, a passionate wrestler, had come straight from a session at the akhara. He cut a striking figure, the shining torso contrasting with the white beard and shock of white hair.

Nehru accepted a garland or two from his admirers, before launching into his speech. "I have come from China," he began, "and heard there a story of a great king who had two sons. One was wise, the other stupid. When the boys reached adulthood, the king told the stupid one that he could have his throne, for he was fit only to be a ruler. But the wise one, he said, was destined for far greater things — he would be a poet." With these words, Nehru took the garland off his head and flung it as an offering at Nirala's feet."

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