THIS book is a collection of letters received by Natwar Singh over a long period of time from people distinguished in many walks of life such as politics, literature, arts and the like which are revealing of a friendship between two beings coming from different backgrounds. Natwar Singh’s correspondence include Indira Gandhi, her two aunts Vijayalakshmi Pandit and Krishna Hutheesingh, Mulk Raj Anand, RK Narayan, PN Haksar, Nirad Chaudhuri to mention a few but he was also in touch with Han Suyin, Kenneth Kuanda, Morarji Desai, Shabana Azmi, the Dalai Lama, Dr Manmohan Singh and EM Forster – quite a galaxy of stars.
Kanwar Natwar Singh or K Natwar Singh as he is known, does not really need any introduction. A controversial figure and a scion of a distinguished landed family, Natwar married the daughter of the late Maharaja of Patiala. A former Chief Minister of Punjab Amarinder Singh is his brother-in-law. Such social status in India, as indeed anywhere, helps one in establishing close friendly relations with the great and the mighty. Natwar Singh did what comes natural to his class. He studied at Mayo College, Gwalior, St Stephen’s in Delhi, Corpus Christi College in Cambridge and even went on to study Chinese at Peking University. He joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1953, went up the administrative ladder, later joined politics and in due course became India’s Foreign Minister. This brief reference to his personal career-there are many things that can be said which are better unsaid-is necessary to understand his friendship with leaders like Indira Gandhi, seventeen of whose letters to him are herein published. These letters make fascinating reading even when they are short-at times consisting of no more than six lines-but they reveal Indira Gandhi in a new light.
Natwar had the good sense to preserve them. They may be personal in tone but they add to a better understanding of her true personality. Natwar says that for some strange reason, he got on well with older women-like Indira Gandhi, her aunts, Han Suyin and Santha Rama Rau. With Indira, especially, he sounds quite close. When Natwar wrote to her informing her that he has become father of a girl, Indira’s reply was: “you certainly have done better planning than many of us! My heart has always yearned for a daughter_”. On another occasion when he wrote to say that he is suffering from a slipped disc which happened when he bent down to give his son a teddy bear. Indira’s tongue-in-check reply was: “Now you know the pleasures of fatherhood”! When Natwar turned forty one, she again wrote “Forty one is a good age and I am glad you are facing it with equanimity!”.
In later years, Indira had trouble with her second daughter-in-law Maneka. But when Maneka married Sanjay, Indira wrote to Natwar: “The marriage was quiet, but dignified and elegant. Maneka is a delightful girl, and joyous”. Famous last words! Her opinion about Lord Louis Mounbatten is interesting. In January 1975 she wrote to Natwar: “Lord Louis is, as you know, incorrigible. He is friendly with all the wrong sort of people and presumably believes what they tell about me and about India_” Incidentally, Mountbatten himself once wrote to Natwar, saying his “personal friendship with all the Nehru family remains as ever, regardless of what Indira Gandhi may have done during the emergency”.
Some of the things she has written have to be read to be believed. About Badhshah Khan, for instance. About a niece of hers who reviewed a book on her written by Inder Malhotra. Natwar had a tiff with then Prime Minister Morarji Desai-and that must have taken some courage. Natwar had an interesting but very enlightening correspondence with EM Forster, the writer, who once wrote: “Like most people, I am pretty gloomy in the days…” Rajaji was occasionally a cynic. In another letter, Rajaji wrote to Natwar: “Without the Englishman, India under the Hindus will go to rack and ruin, that was what EM Forster, his hero Fielding and Englishmen were sure of. Perhaps it has proved true!”. That was written in January 1968.Han Suyin, a Chinese, was scared that India might in a surge of resurgence, turn into a Hindu Republic. “Then what will happen to the Islami minority” she wanted to know. All these and other such letters from celebrities may not be important in any way, but judged in the context in which they were written they reveal a mental framework of intelligent people.
Towards the end Natwar Singh had to resign his Foreign Ministership under some painful circumstances. He was even asked why his name should not be removed from membership of the Congress Party. His reply is included in this collection- and, perhaps, just as well included in this collection, he says, are letters from “the less imposing, less famous but very worthwhile friends” who pulled him back “from the wastelands of life, which is a journey without maps”. For that Natwar deserves praise. Personal letters tell more of a person that any biography written about him or her. This book shows that beyond any shadow of doubt. It makes for good bed- side reading.
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