Lal Bahadur Shastri, Sunil Shastri, Konark Publishers Pvt Ltd, Pp 145 (HB), Rs 395.00
WRITTEN by the protagonist’s son, this book is a tribute by him to his father while providing glimpses from his life beginning as a freedom fighter and till his later years as Prime Minister. In other words, Lal Bahadur Shastri’s life story chronicles India’s history from the freedom movement to Independent India’s war with Pakistan in 1965 – with its underlying focus on Gandhian values of honesty, simplicity and truth.
It is through anecdotes from the late Prime Minister’s life that Sunil Shastri tries to bring out the characteristics of his father. He describes an interesting incident when as a young boy he approaches his father to seek permission to go to Bombay but Lal Bahadur (called Bapuji by his sons) replies, “Listen Sunil, you have just returned from a foreign tour (from Rangoon). I want you to visit the rural belt of the country instead.” Sunil does not like it and thinks grudgingly that while Bapuji is going away to Tashkent, he is packing me off to visit the rural areas of Madhya Pradesh to learn about the life there and collect money, at least 10,000 rupees for the National Defence Fund. Anyway Sunil embarks on his tour of Madhya Pradesh where he sees the sorrow, the expectations, he hopes and fears of the rural people and an emotional bond develops with them. That is more Sunil collects more than three lakh rupees for the Defence Fund at which “I just wanted to fly and stand before Bapuji and pour out all the emotions and happiness in my heart. I was just sixteen and raw in emotions when I started on my tours of the rural areas of Madhya Pradesh.”
But as luck would have it, it is a little after four in the early hours of 11th January that Sunil is woken up to leave for Bhopal immediately. From there he is flown down to Delhi and on reaching home, he sees his mother without her trademark red vermillion dot on her forehead. It is then that he realises that he has lost his father, who had gone on that fatal trip to Tashkent.
In 1980, when Sunil is appointed Deputy Minister in the Uttar Pradesh government, his mother tells him, “Do whatever work that is assigned to you with honesty, devotion and dedication.” This reminds him of his grandmother’s advice to his father Lal Bahadur Shastri, “Nanhe, no matter whatever happens to you, you should see to it that nothing ever happens to our motherland. You should serve your country wholeheartedly without carrying about yourself.” It was then that Sunil realises that “life had come a full circle for me at that moment.”
Sunil Shastri narrates another incident involving his paternal grandmother, who lived only tortuous nine months after her son Lal Bahadur Shastri’s death in Tashkent. Sunil finds his grandmother talking to his father’s photographs every now and then and once she tells Sunil, “…this Nanhe (my son) had given me lots of trouble for nine months in my womb before coming into the world, but I didn’t know that he would leave this world, troubling me for another nine months.” Strangely enough, she dies exactly nine moths later “making me wonder how she anticipated her death in nine moths so precisely,” adds Sunil Shastri.
In another incident when their father becomes the Prime Minster, Sunil and his brother Anil take the Impala Chevorlet to a dinner and return late at night. Next morning, Lal Bahadur Shastri tells his sons without showing any anger, “Aha! You boys like driving a big luxurious car.” He then calls the driver to ask for the logbook. When the driver tells him that the car had been driven 14 kms, Lal Bahadur tells his personal secretary to note down how much petrol has been consumed and asks his wife to give the amount applicable for 14 kms to the personal secretary. At which “both Anil bhaiya and I were in tears.”
In another incident when Lal Bahadur Shastri was in Faizabad Jail during Gandhi’s freedom movement, he discovers that his wife Lalita has brought two mangoes covertly for him to eat. He becomes very angry and chastises her saying that her action smacks of selfishness as she did not want to be deprived of eating mangoes herself without her husband taking them first. His wife is saddened at this outburst but after a few days, he writes a letter of apology to her.
There are other such incidents narrated from the late Prime Minister’s life. On reading his book one cannot help but admire Lal Bahadur Shastri for his self-sacrificing nature.
(Konark Publishers Pvt Ltd, 206 First Floor, Peacock Lane, Shahpur Jat, New Delhi – 110 049; www.konarkublishers.com)