22 October 2009

Truth, Love and a Little Malice by Khushwant Singh

A history book that’s fun to read
It seems the film Indian Summer which was going to tell us more about the great romance between Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten is not going to happen. Reading that reminded me of this book and something Khushwant Singh wrote about these alleged lovers during the time when he was Press Attache and PRO at the Indian High Commission in London:
"Senior members of the staff were ordered to be present at Heathrow airport to receive the Prime Minister. It was a cold winter night when the plane touched down.
“'What are all of you doing here at this unearthly hour?' he demanded, obviously expecting us to be present and pleased to note that we were discharging our duties.
"Menon asked me to introduce myself to the PM and ask him if he desired me to do anything. I did so only to be snubbed. 'What would I want of you at this hour? Go home and get some sleep.'

The next morning when I reached the office I saw a note from Menon lying on my table asking me to see him immediately. I took a quick glance at the headlines of the papers to see if anything had gone wrong. The Daily Herald carried a large photograph of Nehru with Lady Mountbatten in her négligé opening the door for him. The caption read “Lady Mountbatten’s Midnight Visitor”. It also informed its readers that Lord Mountbatten was not in London. Our PM’s liaison with Lady Edwina had assumed scandalous proportions."

I had read this book many years ago, and recently misquoted something I read in it – about newspapers in England reporting Bandit Nehru in London. In fact, this never actually happened. The headline was for a new weekly tabloid, India News, and was to go on a page devoted to Panditji’s visit and the importance of the Commonwealth Conference he had come to attend. Though Khushwant Singh and Jamal Kidwai, who were working on it together, corrected the word back to “pandit” a number of times, the final proofs were set by a new typesetter who had never heard of the word. In the end the issue was scrapped.
This well-known photo was shot by Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Anyone interested in Indian history should read Khushwant Singh. He’s funny, readable, completely irreverent, and his perspective is fabulous.

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