I have been visiting Allahabad so many times, partly because it was here that Feroze Gandhi spent most of his child- and boyhood and later on became an active Congress worker during the struggle for indepence, and partly because in Allahabad I “stumbled upon” an incredibly fine colleague and human being. His name: P.D. Tandon, a man who – in his own words – spent the best days of his life as a correspondent in Allahabad for the National Herald in Lucknow. He primarily covered anything and everything that happened at Anand Bhawan, eagerly watching Jawaharlal Nehru up to and beyond the day, when India became independent and Nehru the first Prime Minister of the nation. P.D. Tandon fought against the British rule in India and in 1942 he was confined to Naini Central Prison, Allahabad for seventeen months. He certainly has an alert mind, a poisonous tongue and he enjoys being sarcastic and quickly and sharply reacts to situations. He is vigorously anti-humbug.

His autobiography Flames from the Ashes (Memoirs of a Lone Traveller) – once mentioned as one of the onehundred best books in the world – is a brilliant piece of reporting. It is especially a wonderful document about an angry young man, who grow up in a small town in Uttar Pradesh, but instead of falling a prey to customs and traditions, he eagerly protested against things he disliked, and he questioned many a thing, which others took for granted. I think it is fair to say, that PDJi’s flames from his boyhood ashes sheds an interesting light on life in an Indian town in the beginning of the 20th century. Here is a short quotation from that book:

In my childhood, I was never fond of my home. It was never a sweet home to me. I was bitter against it. I almost hated it, because it was in a lane. The town was dirty and the majority of the people uneducated. The entire atmosphere was sickening and depressing. I always wanted to get away from there. No one ever encouraged me for anything. The standards of living were rather low. To get an ordinary job was considered a big achievement and to make money by shady means was not frowned upon. Many people made big fortunes by charging exorbitant rates of interest from the poor, and these money lenders were considered honourable and respectable. Any fellow who became rich, either by hook or by crook, considered himself virtuous and was ever ready to lay down a code of conduct for others, and inflicted long sermons on those whom he met. I was perpetually in revolt against the existing order of things. I could do nothing to improve matters and prayed for an escape from my home-town. My father believed that I would hardly be able to get any good job anywhere. In sheer despair one day he said, “My boy! You can’t get even a clerical assignment in a bank because your handwriting is so dreadful.” This hurt me deeply and I never forgave him for thinking so poorly at me. Later, he realized that he was very much mistaken in his forebodings. I am sure he was very happy about it.”

Of course. P.D. even became Minister for Information, Higher Education, Cultural Affairs and Scientific Research in the U.P. Government under Chief Minister Kamalapati Tripathi. When re-reading the above quoted lines, I am struck by two things. One. The scandals I have seen in my own society over the years proves that the Swedish duck-pond in the 1990’s is very similar to that Indian town 80-90 years ago in Uttar Pradesh – at least when it comes to corruption. Two. PDji’s father was at least right about his son’s handwriting. It is dreadful.

I have spent some of the most memorable evenings of my life on the verandah-like entrance-hall at 4, Elgin Road (actually nowadays supposed to be Lal Bahadur Shastri Marg). There, P.D. Tandon presides in front of the wrought-iron gate, reading his newspapers in the morning together with friends, who call on him before they go to their daily duties at the High Court or wherever. Here he is shaving, playing with children, talking over the phone, angrily screaming at me when we discuss things, lauhging, questioning, on one or two occasions even admitting that he may be wrong, and – once again – entertaining late visitors, while the revolution of earth is covering Allahabad in darkness and the sound of bikes and birds fills the air and the mosquitoes start pestering me. Now and then a former Prime Minister of India calls on him. He has known most of them long before they became Prime Ministers.

Tandon & Indira Gandhi

Over the years P. D. Tandon has written several books about Nehru, his daughter Indira Gandhi and many other prominent Indians. His books have been written in his studio. Actually, his studio with the typwriter and the table-lamp on the big desk in a room, where he is surrounded by books and newspapers and pictures, is a kind of extension of the vestibule or maybe it is the opposite way around. The picture to the right shows him teaching Indira Gandhi how to ride a bike. If you want to see him together with Nehru, you’ll find him on the page


PD Tandon was a freedom fighter, eminent author and journalist, whose name appears on fifty two books in Hindi and English, of which some were translated into Urdu and Tamil also. During the Quit India Movement of 1942.

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