To write on Jawaharlal Nehru is a source of great joy to one who does it. It provides him with an opportunity to contemplate on a life which in its length - 70 years - has not reached the same extent as it has in its depth and breadth.
Jawaharlal Nehru’s life, in its various aspects, has indeed been a full and rich one.
In its depth, it has reached the limit where he has been able, through the residue of centuries and the vicissitudes of history, to touch upon the very soul of India.
In its breadth, it has been able, despite colonialism and its legacies, to respond to his closer world- Asia and Africa and to show moreover a comprehensive understanding of the other peoples who live beyond Asia and Africa.
I have had many an opportunity of meeting Jawaharlal Nehru. Regardless of the friendship which it was my good fortune to forge with him and whose threads are now closely knit, any meeting I have had with him was a great and productive adventure.
Our first long meeting was on board a steamer in the Nile. Mostly we talked about planning. Nehru’s understanding of the subject and the role which planning played in modern times reflected a genuine consciousness on his part of the nature of the delicate and intricate phase through which the nations of Asia and Africa were passing. He believed that their peoples who had been compelled, under the influence of many historical forces and circumstances, to remain backward in comparison with others and were later touched by the influence of the great revolutionary awakening which pushed them forward towards emancipation, have no other course open to them in order to catch up with those who had gone ahead but to “plan” their path. To them planning is not only a means; it is a necessity.
Nor is the purpose of planning merely to accumulate figures about production. The training of human beings is the most important part of it. I remember Nehru’s words to me at that time: "Remember, the future of any country is closely bound up with the type of people who live in that country."
On one occasion, I had the opportunity of attending a meeting addressed by Nehru at a mass rally which was held in the spacious Ram Lila grounds in Delhi. The masses who had waited to hear Nehru’s speech were composed of a hetero- geneous group of people: young men and young women, squatting on the ground along with children on the threshold of life; close to them sat elderly men, advanced in age, almost on the threshold of the other world. To this mixed gathering, Nehru began to talk.
I know how easy it is always for a speaker who wishes to keep his audience spellbound to stir up their emotions; but Nehru did nothing of the kind. His voice never rose. He never got into a passion. Nor did the enthusiasm of his audience run high or their feelings get stirred up. They merely listened to what he said, albeit eagerly. At times they would all laugh, both men and women, children as well as the aged.
Despite their diverse nature, they all understood what this man said, this man who had spent the years of his youth in the remote universities of the West and yet had never detached himself from his people until destiny placed upon his shoulders the task of leading them during an important transitory period through which their country was passing.
I was sitting on the dais behind Nehru trying to grasp the significance of the occasion. I did not understand the language he spoke, but I could see that his thoughts and words had a great reaction on the heterogeneous masses who listened to him. I pondered over his words about Gandhi, whom he had described as one of those leaders who had gone into history not because they brought new things to their people but because they could fathom their innermost recesses and bring up what was there to the surface, clean it and brighten it by removing the moss that enveloped it.
As I sat on the dais behind Nehru watching him speak to his people I was moved and felt how much what he said about Gandhi applied to himself.
The truth is Nehru is not only the exponent of the dreams deeply nestled in the hearts of the people of India. He is also the expression of human conscience itself particularly for people who lived more or less through the same experiences and faced the same problems as the Indians did.
If Nehru has interpreted, and indeed interpreted well, the urges and aspirations of his people as well as those of Asia and Africa, he has also made another contribution no less significant.
He has also interpreted both to his people as well as to the peoples of Asia and Africa, the dreams and aspirations of other peoples in the rest of the world.
Those who had the opportunity of attending the meetings of the Afro-Asian Conference at Bandung will realise the full meaning of what I say. At the meetings of the Political Committee of the Conference, which may be regarded as a turning point in our history, Jawaharlal Nehru, the man who never forgets to give that touch of beauty which lies in the rose that always rests in his buttonhole, gave to it many a beautiful touch of thought and ideal, understanding and experience, art and culture, even of philosophy and history.
He interpreted others to Asia and Africa, and interpreted Asia and Africa to others. He was the finest example of mutual interpretation that I have seen.
They say a real artist never gets lost in his art or thought. As a matter of fact, Nehru is as much capable of action, of fighting for his thoughts and ideals as he is in expressing them.
Talking of my association with him I shall always remember the message which I received from him at the time of the British-French-Israeli aggression on Egypt, in which he said:
“If colonialism succeeds in coming back to Egypt, it will reverse the entire course of history and return to every other country from which it had been forced to go. Therefore, ... colonialism should not be allowed to succeed in Egypt. Otherwise it will signal a new and long fight for whole of Asia and Africa.”
What a quick comprehension of a complicated situation. And with what scintillating and brave words he conveyed it! It gave us courage and stirred us to fight back.