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When Indira's birth drew long faces!

Saturday November 19, 2011 09:32:38 AM, Rasheed Kidwai, IANS

When Indira was born on Nov 19, 1917, the Scottish doctor who was attending to Kamla Nehru announced to Jawaharlal Nehru: "It is a bonny lassie, Sir!"

The womenfolk around Jawaharlal's mother, Swaroop Rani, pulled long faces in sympathy. This irritated his father, Motilal, prompting him to chide his wife: "You must not say such a thing. Have we made a distinction between our son and two daughters in their upbringing? Do you not love them equally? This daughter of Jawahar's, for all you know, may prove to be better than a thousand sons."

The baby was named Indira by Swaroop Rani, who was a strong-willed and dominating woman. Jawaharlal and Kamla wanted to name their daughter Priyadarshani ('dear to behold'); so she was named Indira Priyadarshani. As per the Nehrus' custom, after a few days, the young baby was taken to the major-domo of the house, the ailing Mubarak Ali.

Wrapped in an exquisite Kashmiri shawl, Indira was carried to Mubarak Ali's cottage. When the pink and white baby was placed in Munshiji's outstretched hands, tears of joy rolled down the old man's cheeks, wetting his long white beard.

He looked up to Motilal, Jawaharlal, Kamla, Swaroop Rani and the rest and said: "Mubarak ho, Bhai and Bhabhi Saheb! May Allah's blessings go with the child, who should be a worthy heir to Jawahar as Jawahar has proved a worthy and wonderful son to you, and may the child illuminate the name of Nehru."

According to Indira's aunt, Krishna Nehru Hutheesing, who was there when Mubarak Ali said this, Munshiji was told that the baby was a girl but he kept addressing her as the 'grandson' of Motilal Nehru.

Writer and filmmaker Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, a close friend of Nehru's, witnessed Indira's acumen in economy first hand in August 1954. Abbas had just screened his film, "Munna", the first songless Hindi movie, for a select audience including Nehru.

Nehru, a movie buff, was so moved by child star Master Romi's performance that he invited him for breakfast the next morning. Abbas asked Nehru if the entire unit, including the other actors and technicians, could accompany Romi. Before saying 'yes', Nehru called up Indira and asked her in a low voice: "Indu, have we got enough cereal and eggs to invite this whole gang for breakfast?"

Later, Abbas met up with Indira and asked her why she had not said an outright 'yes' to her father's query. To the filmmaker's surprise, the prime minister's daughter, who ran the household at Teen Murti House, said: "It's no joke running the house of a hospitable and large-hearted man like my father on the fixed salary that he gets!"

Indira told Abbas that quite often the prime minister's salary was not enough to pay the grocer's bills and at the end of the year, Nehru owed a substantial amount to various creditors. The debts were paid when the prime minister received his yearly royalties from the foreign publishers of his books.

Rasheed Kidwai can be contacted at

Excerpts from the book "24 Akbar Road"

"24 Akbar Road" has been published by Hachette India.







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