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Magic memories

Watching Pamela Mountbatten on the Karan Thapar show took me back to the 1940s when I was in school, writes Ila Pant.

india Updated: Jul 30, 2007 23:39 IST
Ila Pant

Watching Pamela Mountbatten on the Karan Thapar show took me back to the 1940s when I was in school. It was summer and we were eagerly waiting for a special visitor. The excitement mounted as the appointed hour approached. Then, we saw him, the Prime Minister, Pandit Nehru, in a spotless white churidar and kurta, looking princely and magnetic on a white horse. Beside him, on another horse, was Lady Mountbatten, relaxed and comfortable in breeches. There was something so memorable and striking about that scene that the moment has been framed forever in my gallery of memories. There were no crowds, no officious security personnel. As the riders drew near, a boy wearing a Doon School blazer waved at them. Panditji smiled and waved back.

Three decades later, I was reminded of this scene. My husband was then in Indira Gandhi’s government. The occasion was a banquet at Rashtrapati Bhavan for Prince Charles and Lord Mountbatten, who could be seen expertly guiding the young prince and making him feel at ease as they circulated among the guests. At dinner, I found that I was sitting next to Lord Mountbatten. He was full of charm and memories of his days in Rashtrapati Bhavan. The conversation veered round to my hometown Nainital and led to my telling him that I had seen Lady Mountbatten many years ago on horseback. His interest was aroused and he wanted to know when and how, etc. I recounted the school visit by Pt. Nehru and Lady Mountbatten and added, perhaps too truthfully, that I remember everything so clearly because the occasion is associated in my memory with the joy of getting a holiday after their visit.

My next encounter with Lord Mountbatten was at King Birendra’s coronation at Kathmandu. My husband and I were accompanying Vice- President B.D. Jatti and his wife. Lord Mountbatten was also there, representing, I think, the Queen of England. An imposing figure, he was full of questions, about the coronation ceremony, the rituals, the welfare of people he knew in Delhi and so on. He seemed to know, or at least know about, the European and American guests attending the ceremony, and was not above mentioning some not-so-well-known stories about some of them. His company made the long ceremony endurable. I still have a photograph (above) standing next to this tall, patrician figure, fitting perfectly in his role of a blue-blooded guest at an exotic oriental royal ceremony.