The Hindustani word or exclamation ‘arey’ is untranslatable. It could mean any or all of‘ but, oh…’, ‘oh, but wait…’, ‘just a moment…’, ‘incidentally…’, or simply, ‘also…’
H ari vans hr ai Bach chan’ s translation of Robert Frost’ s‘ Stopping by wood son a snowy evening’ is stunning. For the lines‘ But I have promises to keep/ and miles togo before I sleep and miles togo before I sleep ’, the author of‘ Mad hush ala’ gives‘ A rey, ab hi tom il on mujhko, mil on mujhkoc hal na hai’ .T he opening‘ a rey’ captures the reader’ s attention even more compelling ly than Frost’ s‘ But ’. Jawaharlal Nehru’s transcribing of these lines in his own hand unsteadied by a stroke has enhanced the poem’s currency in India. That Nehru kept the extract by his bed side, his death-bedside, hasting edit with path os. A few days ago the poem glowed a new in my mind when I came to read, in Rupert Snell’ s captivating English translation( In the Afternoon of Time) of Bachchan’s autobiography, a description of the poet’ s last visit to Nehru. The stroke had slowed the PM down. Bach chan was walking a few steps behind Nehru in the Teen M ur ti House gardens step by step. Dew lay over the grass and Bach chan noted that Pan ditji’ s right foot left footprint son the grass while the left foot drew a continuous line .‘ A rey, abhi to milon mujhko…’ What were the miles that Nehru saw lying ahead of him? What was the task ahead?
Hewas, like anyofus, many things – parent, grandparent, brother, friend to many who, like Bach chan, were not in politics, and to many who were in that murky line, a reader of books, fond of conversations, of anything that showed personal courage like adventure, sports, a writer, thinker. But unlike us, also a politician who thought of politics as a form of idealism, anMP, Prime Minister… In each of those roles, Nehru had miles togo. Asafatherhe worried for his daughter’ s future. Delhi is, after all, Delhi, the grave yard of empires where loyalties are bound to power, where smiling pickthanks drop affiliation son the road between office and crematorium, even turn hostile. Andheagonised, surely, for the fatherless grand sons whom he adored, billeted in boarding school, bereft of disinterested elders to guide them or dependable‘ youngsters’ to give them unselfish company. He must have worried about what would happen to his books, his papers, those that were official and personal-official, a combination that forms itself and is impossible to unravel, his more intimate papers, those he wrote not in shaded secrecy but in honest privacy to chosen ones who having received them, hadpassedon.
In those weeks after his stroke and he would have also been troubled by memories, of them an to whom he owed everything and who wrote to him in blessing in Hindi‘ May you live many( ba hut) a year and abide in those years as Hi nd’ s only Jawahar’, extending the loop in the Devanagari ‘bahut’ to make it‘ bahuut’ .Howf ar, how very far removed from 1964, the Mahatma must have seemed to him. And hemust have thought too, with some re morse, of his strained ties with Subhas Bose, with Sardar Pa tel, both gone into the mists. Equally, his out-of- joint-ness with Raj ago pal a char i’ s dissenting spirit, Jayaprakash Narayan’s revolutionary ardour, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay’s creativity. He may well have felt more than a pang of regret a this un-democratic dismissal of the Namboodiripad government in Kerala in 1959. And remorse of a very serious order over Sheikh Abdullah, friend of friends, comrade of comrades, being left by the most bizarre of inexplicable conspiracies, to the sharp needles of Kashmir’ s lonely pines.
Of these regrets, real and painful that all of them were, the most troubling, tormenting, has to have been the miles that lay, in unmapped confusion, to a solution to the Kashmir problem. The stricken Nehru must have asked himself where he went wrong. And then, there was China. How could a country he embraced when the powerful nations were shunning it, treat India, his India, to war? Where did that leave Panchashila, non-alignment ? Beyond these Nehru must have been torn by deep anxiety over two other, life-defining things for India and so for its PM: One, the stubbornness of poverty and two, the remorselessness of Indian bigotry. There can be no doubt that these thoughts would have be set hist wi light mind.
But, stepping back from these tormenting thoughts, if Nehru had looked at the India that he had indeed fashioned, he would have felt his fears giving way top ride. Contrary to the grim prognostications of the West, particularly of Great Britain, he would have seen that after three general elections India was a secure democracy, exercising freedom of thought and expression, of faith and of religious practices, with a press that was as courageous as it was unfettered, where politics was free from fear of the bully and the black mailer, where the judiciary was independent and where life expectancy at birth was rising steadily, as was the age of the girl at marriage.
Nehru was a human with human flaws and failures but a leader of shining veracity. And guts beyond the ordinary. Who but he could have turned to a group of bigots shouting ‘Mahatma Gandhi mu rd a bad’ outside the house where the 79-year-old lay fa sting, and demand :“Who said that, who? Let them an who said that kill me first …”
I am not sure if he used “Arey…” to preface his chastisement. But something of that admonition was definitely heard because them ur dab ad is slithered away.
Nehru is not to be be littled. He is not to be eclipsed by the saw dust haze of idealism’ s current drought.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi is distinguished professor of history and politics, Ashoka University
The views expressed by the author are personal