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Nehru: Dreamer or Warrior

K.R. Narayanan

By Sarvepalli Gopal
Jonathan Cape, London, 1975, 398, 10.00

VOLUME I NUMBER 1 January - March 1976

Biography, according to Lytton Strachey, is ‘the most delicate and humane of all the branches of the art of writing’. It is also a difficult art particularly when the story told is that of Jawaharlal Nehru, a man who strode the world like ‘a gentle colossus’ until very recently, and whose life was an open one, openly lived almost in ‘the glorious privacy of light’.  The task if further compounded by the fact that the character of the hero is a complex mixture of the dreamer and the fighter, the aesthete and the politician, the thinker and the activist, the reformer and the revolutionary and the conformist and the iconoclast—all contained within the trembling general equilibrium of a rounded and integrated personality. It has been said that the biographer’s task is to reveal the real man lurking behind the well-known personality. The real Nehru, for all we know, is very much the familiar Nehru, and it is just as well that in this first volume of what promises to be a great trilogy on Nehru. Dr. Gopal has not embarked upon a Freudian exploration into the origins of his hero’s psychological make-up, but has adopted the historical method of biography. In a sense the method was determined by the nature of the subject matter itself and by the fact that the author is himself an eminent historian. Nehru was a man of immense reticence, and as Dr. Gopal points out about the Autobiography, after 600 close-knit pages of it Jawaharlal’s ‘privacy remains unbroken’, a privacy which still remains unviolated even after the 400 pages of Dr. Gopal’s book. Though the author has eschewed the unprofitable psychological approach, the book contains a series of brief but penetrating glimpses and analyses of the mind and character of Nehru and of the formative influences that fashioned his personality and outlook. Some would have us believe that Jawaharlal was primarily a product of English education. Nirad Chaudhuri, that brilliant literary knight-errant of the British Raj, has drawn a picture of Nehru as ‘an English volunteer who had taken up the cause of Indian independence’ and whose personality and ideas were fully formed when he returned from England in 1912. To claim great Indians mainly as the outcome of the British impact is a kind of wistful, residual colonialist-intellectual attitude very much in vogue in English literary circles .. Gandhi, who in his time ...

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