I discovered that Warsaw city authorities had named roads in honour of Mahatma and Jawaharlal Nehru.

 

Hitler attacked Poland on 1 September 1939. World War II had begun. Warsaw, the capital was captured and destroyed in a month. Not one country came to Poland’s rescue.

In the autumn of 1967, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi paid a state visit to Poland. I was a member of her delegation. The Prime Minister did not go out of Warsaw. The Polish leader Wladyslaw Gomulka had a lunch for her at the architecturally attractive Villanova Palace, a few miles away from Warsaw. The Poles did not maintain the palace well. To our discomfiture, the toilets did not function; while creature comforts were lacking, cordiality and warmth were not. The Prime Minister was received with respect verging on reverence.

Three and a half years later I arrived in Warsaw as ambassador. Warsaw was then a grim, dreary capital, a client state of the Soviet Union. My residence, Alia Ruz, was ducal, but in a state of disrepair. During the war it was used by the German Gestapo to torment and torture innocent Poles. The location of the residence could not have been better.

My wife and I visited Auschwitz, most deadly of concentration camps built by the Germans. Four million persons perished at Auschwitz. Most of them Jews. Even after 45 years the horrifying memory has not diminished.

Soon after my arrival I discovered that Warsaw city authorities had named roads in honour of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.

On 19 February fell the 500th birth anniversary of one of the greatest astronomers of all times, Nicolaus Copernicus. Curiosity led me to Torun, the city of his birth. It is an enchanting place to be born in. The Vistula river adds to the beauty of Torun.

Copernicus challenged the Ptolemaic system of the universe, which asserted that the earth was the centre of the universe, with the sun, moon, planets and stars revolving round it. His questioning amounted to heresy, punishable by rigorous imprisonment, if not death. His treatise, “De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium Libri…”, “On the revolutions of the celestial spheres”, earned him immortality. Copernicus was a cautious and timid man. For fear of the Vatican he kept postponing the publication of his theory, till he was near death. The first completed copy was placed in his hands as life was slipping away. It is not known for certain whether he was able even to flip the pages.

I wrote to the Ministry of External Affairs suggesting that to mark the 550th anniversary of the Polish astronomer a road in New Delhi should be known after him. I should have known better. After several weeks came the negative response. I was outraged. My proposal was both imaginative and reasonable. Being the man I am, I decided to write to the Prime Minister. Routine, bureaucratise incensed her. I brought to her notice that many roads in New Delhi and other cities of India were named after third rated viceroys, barbaric despots like Tuglak and a bigot like Aurangzeb. The friendly and gracious Poles had named roads after two of the greatest Indians. The least we could do was to name a road after Copernicus. I even suggested we should do away with Lytton Road. Soon H.Y. Sharda Prasad, the erudite media adviser to the Prime Minister and a close friend informed me that Copernicus had scored over the forgotten 19th century Viceroy. It gave me malicious pleasures to inform the bosses in the Ministry of External Affairs that the Prime Minister had accepted my proposal.

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On 2 October, my elder brother, Lt Col Girdhar Singh passed away. He was reading a book, sitting on a sofa. The book slipped out of his hand. He was gone, aged 95.

Why am I writing about so personal a matter? The reason: He was one of a handful of officers who had served in the Royal Indian Air Force and Royal Indian Navy during World War-II. If I am not mistaken, he was sacked after playing a minor role in the naval mutiny in 1946. After Independence, he joined the Indian Army. In the 1965 Indo-Pak war, he missed death by a whisker. A Pakistani shell killed his commandant who was standing two feet away from him.

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