I carried a photograph of Gandhiji in the hope of getting it signed by him. All I could manage was a brief glimpse.
I saw Gandhiji only once. It was on 15 or 16 June 1945. On 14 June, the Viceroy, Lord Wavell, made a historic broadcast in which he said he proposed to invite Indian political leaders to consult them about farming a new Viceroy’s Executive Council. For the first time the Home, Finance and Foreign Affairs portfolios would be in Indian hands.
Wavell also announced that he had ordered the immediate release of members of the Congress Working Committee who had been in detention since 9 August 1942.
Mahatma Gandhi was also invited to the conference. He would be travelling by the Frontier Mail, which made a five-minute halt at Bharatpur railway station. I told my father that I would be at the station to see Gandhiji. This posed an acute dilemma for him. Had he not been an important member of the Maharaja’s establishment, he would have had no problem in allowing me to do so.
Finally he relented. The station was a sea of chaos. Local Congress leaders and their followers were awaiting the arrival of the train. Five rupees in hand (the amount the Mahatma charged for his autograph), I carried a photograph of Gandhiji in the hope of getting it signed by him. All I could manage was to have a brief glimpse of Gandhiji. “Bapuji, your autograph please” I kept shouting. He was darker than I had imagined. The train started to move. No autograph. But I had his darshan. I was 14 years old.
In 1921, Gandhiji made a memorable statement, which shows the profundity of his philosophy.
“I do not want my home to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”
One of the most moving and exquisite tributes to Gandhiji on the 150th anniversary of his birth was paid by Mrs Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representative in the US Congress. At a function in Washington on 2.10.2019 she said that “Mahatma Gandhi made all the difference in the world in our country.” She reminded the audience that Martin Luther King had been inspired by “Gandhi’s concept of satyagraha and non-violent struggle…That was the debt we owe to India.”
She recalled that she first heard of Gandhiji as a schoolgirl in the 1950s. She borrowed every book from the library on the Mahatma. “Just as the torch passed from Gandhi to Dr King…the torch now belongs to us.”
External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, who was present at the function said, “Today if there is one challenge that Gandhiji would like us to focus on that would be climate change.”
I have been re-reading Robert Dallek’s book, Nixon and Kissinger. During the events leading to the defeat of Pakistan in December 1971 in East Pakistan, the duo supported Pakistan, ignoring the genocide the Pakistan army was indulging there. The two used foul and vulgar language against Indira Gandhi, whom he kept waiting for 45 minutes at the White House before turning up for his meeting with the Indian Prime Minister. In private he called her a “bitch”. Kissinger was no better. He called Indians, “bastards”. He also called her a “bitch”. Nixon called Indians “treacherous”.
That the President of the United States of America and his Secretary of State should resort to such obscene and vulgar language against the Prime Minister of India, exposes them as lacking decency and diplomatic courteousness is deplorable beyond words.
I always called him Shankar, seldom K.P.S. We were contemporaries in St Stephen’s College in the late 1940s. In the IFS, he was two years my senior. He was, like his father, a superb diplomat with sound judgement, initiative, wisdom and a cultivated mind. I used to tease him by reminding him that he belonged to a tribe called, “Menongitis”. Three of the family became Foreign Secretaries.
In January 1987, the Prime Minister dismissed the then Foreign Secretary at a press conference. The obvious successor was K.P.S. An intriguing PMO official convinced the Prime Minister that an officer, three years K.P.S. Menon’s junior should succeed Venkateswaran. I told the Prime Minister that it would be outrageous to supersede K.P.S. Eventually, he was appointed. As Foreign Secretary he did a splendid job. Younger colleagues looked up to him. He was low key, but decisive and firm.
The last time we met was at his home in Thiruvananthapuram in 2004. I spoke to him on phone a few months ago. The news of his death deeply distressed me.