A love that dares speak its name
Nehru was a public figure and he was not ashamed of his love for, or relationship with, Edwina. For his heirs or this government today to demand ‘suitable’ changes would suggest there was something improper. Karan Thapar writes.columns Updated: Oct 20, 2009 22:54 IST
Were Jawaharlal Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten in love? Her daughter, Pamela Hicks, says “the answer undoubtedly is yes”. His sister, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, agreed. How do I know? Her daughter, Nayantara Sahgal, is my mami. She told me.
Did Jawaharlal Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten make love? Pamela Hicks thinks not but can’t be sure. “Panditji was a widower,” I asked her in 2007, “he needed female affection and he must have wanted it. Your mother was alluring and beautiful. They were so close together. It would be natural for the emotional to become sexual.” This was her reply: “It could be and maybe everybody will think I’m being very naive… but I don’t believe it.”
Nayantara Sahgal tells me her mother always hoped the answer was yes. Speaking for herself: “I won’t know for sure. It was between two people in private. How can one know?”
Given that Jawaharlal and Edwina loved each other deeply — and Edwina left behind suitcases of his letters; indeed, several were found on her bedside table — the answer could be yes.
Of course, none of this is clinching. The truth is we can only make intelligent guesses. We don’t know for sure. But what is beyond doubt is that none of Nehru’s heirs — including Sonia Gandhi, who never ever met him — or any historian can speak definitively on the subject.
So objections to Joe Wright’s proposed film on Edwina and Nehru, based on Alex Von Tunzelmann’s book Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire, on the grounds that this romance is not proven by historical facts, are themselves patently and verifiably wrong. For the government to deny permission to the producers to film in India unless they amend the script and delete kisses or declarations of love flies in the face of what Edwina’s and Nehru’s own relatives would accept as fact.
Here’s proof. This is what Pamela Hicks told me in a formal interview: “I believe that they loved being together… they might like to hold hands or to hug or something like that.”
It’s also, I would add, not the business of government to ‘protect’ the image of Jawaharlal Nehru and to do so in this way is nothing short of censorship.
First, this business of protection. Nehru was a public figure and he was not ashamed of his love for, or relationship with, Edwina. For his heirs or this government today to demand ‘suitable’ changes would suggest there was something improper, even morally unacceptable. That’s an insult to both Nehru and Edwina.
Second, is it the business of governments in a democracy to determine or approve how film directors treat historical relationships? The answer is an unequivocal no and both Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi know this. They wouldn’t dare stop biographers — Stanley Wolpert, for example — suggesting Nehru experimented with a homosexual relationship during a holiday in Scandinavia. The only reason they feel they can tamper with Wright’s film is because he wants to make it in India. But isn’t that an abuse of their power to grant permission?
Instead, the government should focus on what Edwina and Jawaharlal meant to each other. As Nehru wrote in his letters: “I realise that there was a deeper attachment between us, that some uncontrollable force drew us to one another.” Lord Mountbatten confirms this. As he told his other daughter, Patricia: “She [Edwina] and Jawaharlal are so sweet together. They really dote on each other.”