I am reading Indira Gandhi’s Biography. Written by Pupul Jaykar.
I have read her Biography before, written by Dom Moreas.
There is a stark contrast and I like it.
You get the paraphrase of the Indian Freedom Struggle along with Indira’s life in Jaykar’s book while Dom Moreas went deep into “Indiran” psychology when he wrote it.
Somehow Pupul Jaykar treats her as more of a “phenomenon” and Moreas looked at her with an amused curiosity, that of a writer looking at his subject as if she is after all a woman, behind all the razzmatazz of her political persona.
I have always had an intrigue for Mrs. Gandhi.
I know she is one of those kinds of people who command awe and hatred together. Who are liked and disliked. Who always stand on the thin line that separates Love and Hatred. We see those kinds of lines even for people who are very close to us. Every time I publicly express my respect for her, there is someone in the audience who comes charging down on me. Elaborating how stupid she was. What kind of grave mistakes she has made and what kind of hardships she has made people go through. They are always referring to the days of the Emergency and the tyrannies of her son Sanjay Gandhi. More over it always comes from a deep ire for the Nehru lineage itself. I do not understand that kind of anger so I usually keep my opinions to myself.
What I like about her is her childhood. The only daughter of one of the greatest leaders of India and a helpless “daughter-in-law”, she was the product of two polarities coming together. Somehow, Nehru’s resplendent political career and her mother’s withering away with illness coming to light simultaneously in front of her at such a young age made her who she was. There are references to her being despotic as a child and then turning inward and becoming totally silent, almost mute as a teenager. She grew up reading History and Literature. She was born in affluence and one fine day her father and her grandfather burnt all the imported luxuries to take up Mahatma Gandhi’s ideologies.
I like her transformation from the “girl who questioned everything” to the “woman who never answered anybody’s questions”. I like her silence. It made her strong. I like her grit, for she took a devastated marriage, single motherhood, and her sometimes tainted and sometimes glorified political career with extreme grace. Not all women are capable of this. Many of us take years to finally come out of our Cinderella stories. She could have been one of the most beautiful women ever but no one remembers her for that, in fact she had harbored over the years, a serious inferiority complex about her looks that stayed put even at the cost of adulating admirers. She chose to be remembered as one of the most powerful women; perhaps one of the most powerful Indian Prime-Ministers. She used all the loopholes well and yet she remained popular. This is what great politicians are made up of. She grew up to be accused of using everything right from the sympathy for her favorite son’s death which even if I try to kind of “wickedify” her to the hilt, cannot bring myself to believe.
As a child she liked to climb trees! She was fiercely possessive about her things and her people. She liked to fantasize and glorify herself. She liked to be the center of attention. She was doted on sometimes and sometimes when the “nation” needed the family, she was forgotten and ignored.
Yet, she was given her share of History, her share of letters written from jail by a helpless father. Her share of condescending aunts and grannies and her share of trying to stand up for a frail and out-of-place mother. What made her who she was is written mostly in the years that she was brought up from a baby to a child to a woman. Parents or grandparents did not raise her. She was raised by circumstances. By the freedom struggle, by Mahatma Gandhi, by the love that she yearned for and the silence that gave her much needed comfort. She was raised by larger than life events in a larger than life world. She played a “Satyagrahi” when girls her age played “house”.
While her father comes out to be this idealistic “dreamer” to me, who thought of the world as how it “should be” rather than how it actually might turn out to be, she grew up to be strikingly practical in a family full of wise men and women. She had this earthly sense that kept her attached to power, yet she had this single-minded detachment within her that was brought about by years of disrupted family life and too many powerful people trying to raise her. Her biography speaks volumes about the fact that men and women of power are not created out of square and happy families. The idiosyncrasies, eccentricities and the sharpened intelligence cannot come from a satisfied and happy childhood. Either you have to be completely spoilt or completely ignored to be able to fight back with the world with an indescribable vengeance.
I get inspired not because I realize all of this, but because it is worth getting inspired to know that a tall lanky young woman almost orphaned at the age of eighteen in a foreign land, with her own homeland going through nothing short of a political Renaissance, her father playing the pivotal role in the new beginning and the World looking at her as “Nehru’s daughter with no political opinion of her own” could have given up like they do these days at the fall of a hat!
True leadership lies in gathering oneself together and then moving on to the masses.
I think if we go beyond our judgments we will find her as helpless, as betrayed by destiny as we think we were by her.
As a life, it may have not been what it ought to be. But it shows us what happens when an intelligent, curious and betrayed mind implodes into something splendid yet ironically painful. It gives us the glimpse into the lives of people who rule, terrify, are glorified and condemned. People who pay for their mistakes and as they do, they are graciously absolved by the majority and brought back to power. People who are hated, partly because they are reckless and partly because the others are not “good enough”!
Indira Gandhi would always be the one life I wont regret living all over again. I think she is what women of substance are made up of and I think she is the benchmark that every Indian woman needs to look at to make anything of herself in Politics. For they’d happily reserve even a half of everything for Women, but they will see to it that none of their “Sisters” ever make it there!