Tribune India


Grandeur of human spirit

VERY few persons in the world are blessed with the real grandeur of the human spirit. Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson, Gandhi, Tagore and such others are still remembered because of it. I do not long to remember Nehru, but find it difficult to forget him as he too had it in abundant measure. Some incidents come to my mind which tell us of his vast human sympathy.

In October, 1953, a few pensioners went to Anand Bhavan to complain to Nehru that they had not received their pension for four or five years. The shivering, emaciated old men attracted a lot of sympathy there that day and almost everybody advised them to place their case before the Prime Minister. Even the officials, who were present there, felt somewhat ashamed when they realised that the old men had not had their pensions for the last several years. One of them said to the pensioners: You need not fear anybody. This delay is criminal. You must bring it to Pandit Nehrus notice

The Prime Minister came out to meet the visitors and when he saw these old men standing in a corner, he went up to them and politely enquired: Kaho Bhai kya baat hai? Acchhe to ho (Tell me brothers what is the matter? I hope you are all right). One of them almost broke down and with a trembling voice said: Huzoor char saal se pension nahin mili. Bhukon mar rahe hain. (Sir, we have not received our pensions for four years. We are dying of hunger.) Nehru was shocked. He exclaimed: What? Have you not had your pensions for the last four years? They bowed respectfully and replied: Sir, what we are saying is correct. You can ask the District Magistrate.

This deeply hurt Nehru. The face that had been wreathed in smiles took on the furrows of extreme irritation. He promptly summoned the District Magistrate and when he appeared, said to him: Do you hear what they say? This is shocking. This is incredible. What have you to say about it? The District Magistrate tried to explain things, but Nehru interrupted: Explanations will not do. See to it that they get their pension without any further delay.

The pensioners exclaimed with tearful gratitude: Huzoor salaam! Aap ki meharbani se bhukhe logon ke pet bhar jayenge. (Thank you sir. Thanks to your kindness, hungry men will now have food.)
This incident so upset Nehru that he immediately turned away and was in no mood to talk to anybody for quite some time.

The Prime Minister came to Anand Bhavan for a brief visit one day. After breakfast he came into the drawing-room where a small crowd of distinguished people had collected. He gave a charming smile of recognition to everyone and joined hands in salutation. He stood there adjusting the rose in the button-hole. He suddenly saw some young boys standing in the verandah. He looked at them and stood still. Others around him stood quiet and alert. He did not talk to the big and the distinguished and went out to meet the boys. How are you? he enquired. The lads smiled and said: Panditji, sab theek hai (Panditji, everything is all right.)

Any difficulty? he asked.

The boys looked at each other and hesitated to say anything. Come along, what is the matter? he enquired.

One of them blurted out: Panditji, during rains our books get wet and we get drenched when we return home.

Really! Is that so? he queried affectionately.

He said Jai Hind and went away. The boys echoed, Panditji ki jai.

Nehru went to Delhi and the same day sent a man to the market to buy some canvas bags and rain coats for the youngsters. These items were bought and shown to him and sent to Allahabad for the boys who had told him that their books and clothes got wet during rains when they returned home from school. He had many big problems, most of the time, to attend to, but the little needs of insignificant people also attracted his attention and he used to help them.

Thakur Chandra Sigh Garhwali, one of the military officers who had refused to fire on unarmed men in Peshawar and was consequently sentenced to imprisonment for life, was released in 1941, when Nehru was in Dehra Dun jail. Chandra Singh wrote a letter to Nehru after his release and acquainted him with his problems. Nehru realised that Chandra Singh had come out of jail after so many years, had little contact with the outside world, and would, naturally, welcome some help. He wrote the following letter to Chandra Singh from jail:

Priya Chandrasinghji,

Aap ka patra mila. Aapke chhutne ki khabar sunkar mujhe khushi hui. Aap Anand Bhavan me bahut itminaan se jab tak chahen rahen, hamare mehman bankar. Mujhe afsos hai ki mai khud wahan nahi hun apse milne ko. Jab Bapuji aapko bulaven, aap Wardha jaayne aur jitne din tak kahen wahan unke pas rahiye. Phir vapas Allahabad aakar Anand Bhavan me thehariye, maine Mahadeva Bhai se zikr kar diya tha.


Jawaharlal Nehru

(Dear Chandrasinghji,

Received your letter. I was glad to hear of your release. You may surely stay in Anand Bhavan as my guest as long as you like. I am sorry that I am not there to meet you. When Bapuji (Gandhiji) calls you to Wardha, go there and stay with him for as many days as he wants. After that, return to Allahabad and stay at Anand Bhavan. I have told Mahadeva Bhai about you.


Jawaharlal Nehru)

Nehru was instinctively generous. When he gave you something, he felt shy and a little hesitant as though he felt that he had not given enough. He was particularly considerate towards those whom he personally knew and tried to help them in all possible ways.

Sensitive men must have found it difficult to ask any favour from Nehru for they knew that he felt embarrassed. He helped people, forgot the good turns he did, never referred to these and never wanted anything in return.

In the pre-Independence era, all sorts of people approached him for help which was hardly ever denied. I remember that in early 1942 a Congressman, who had suffered much in satyagraha movement, came to Anand Bhavan and asked Nehru for some money. He went up to his room and sent quite a substantial sum for the visitor through his private secretary. But the Congressman threw the currency notes away in the corridor of Anand Bhavan saying, Nehru is my captain and I must get more money to get over my present difficulties. Nehru was informed about it and he quietly sent more money and the man went away saying, Jawaharlal Nehru ki jai.


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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