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A missing but not closed chapter in the life of Indira

Years later a copy of what purported to be the missing chapter of MO Mathai’s Reminiscences of the Nehru Age started doing the rounds. Today it’s even available on the net.

columns Updated: Sep 27, 2015 02:50 IST
Karan Thapar
Karan Thapar
Hindustan Times
Indira Gandhi,Nehruvian era,MO Mathai
File photo of Indira Gandhi.

There are many weird and wonderful things that fascinated me when I was young but now hardly matter. Alas, that’s one of the penalties of growing up. However, last week I was able to leap back in time and discover that, at least in one instance, my roguish delight in the trivial but salacious has survived intact.

I think I was barely 20 when I discovered MO Mathai’s Reminiscences of the Nehru Age. Everyone I knew was talking about it. But not for what it contained so much as what it didn’t. On page 153, which is where chapter 29 should have been, there was, in its place, a note from the publisher: “This chapter on an intensely personal experience of the author’s, written without inhibition in the D H Lawrence style, has been withdrawn by the author at the last moment.”

That was enough to fuel my curiosity. I knew of Lady Chatterley but who was Mr Mathai protecting by this act of voluntary censorship? The question obsessed my generation.

Now, as you know, rumours rush to fill a vacuum and soon get accepted as fact. In this instance many of us were only too happy to let this happen.

This is why we disregarded the book’s publisher, Narendra Kumar, when he claimed the note on page 153 was just a teaser and that no such chapter existed. In fact, his denial only strengthened our suspicions.

The missing chapter, we believed, was about Indira Gandhi. It was the story of her alleged love affairs. We had no proof of this. None whatsoever. But in your 20s who needs proof!

Years later a copy of what purported to be the missing chapter started doing the rounds. Many were convinced they knew who was circulating it but that’s just a bit of detail. Today it’s even available on the net. But two critical questions remained unanswered.

First, was this chapter credible?

About 10 years ago Katherine Frank, Mrs Gandhi’s biographer, wrote: “Mathai wrote an account in his autobiography of what he claimed was a 12 year affair with Indira Gandhi, in a chapter entitled She — a chapter that Mathai himself suppressed when the book was about to be published.” I guess that was the best answer we could hope for.

Second, was this really Mathai’s missing chapter?

Last week — and from the most unusual of sources — we got the answer. It comes from a book called India The Crucial Years written by T V Rajeswar who was director of the Intelligence Bureau under Indira Gandhi. He writes in early 1981 he called upon M G Ramachandran, then chief minister of Tamil Nadu, who gave him “a copy of a chapter written by MO Mathai, who had been Jawaharlal Nehru’s Assistant, about Mrs Gandhi.” Rajeswar adds: “I took it without comment. On return to the headquarters I handed it over to the Prime Minister.” On Monday, in an interview, he told me Mrs Gandhi accepted it without saying a word.

So, suddenly, almost four decades later, a mystery that had become a riddle but remained unsolved has been answered. The child in me finds that very satisfying.

One last ‘juvenile’ point: when I asked Mr Rajeswar if he had read the chapter he first said “I don’t think so” but then hastily claimed he had not. Given that he would have been aware of its significance and, therefore, its incendiary nature I find that hard to believe. Do you agree?

The author’s views expressed are personal.

First Published: Sep 27, 2015 01:37 IST