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After Maamu, the mother

Nayantara Sahgal is back. Doing what she does best: sharing family secrets in an inimitable manner.



LEGACY AND LETTERS: Nayantara Sahgal in New Delhi. Photo: V. Sudershan.

WITH NAYANTARA Sahgal, the clock seems to have long stopped ticking. The same calculated yet feathery footsteps, the same mix of grey and black hair strands circling her delicate neck, the matching half smile to go with it. Measured. At times mordant.

And that refined style of conversation, opening a window to peek in and closing another to keep you on the fringe.

After coming to town with her last novel "Lesser Breed" a year ago, this daughter of the Nehru family is in news now for publishing "Before Freedom: Nehru's Letters (1909 - 1947)." Being released this Thursday in New Delhi, this Roli Book publication, Nayantara says, "is the last bit of maamu's letters." Having already published Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru's letters to his daughter Indira, to his father Motilal Nehru, she says, "this was long due."

After her illustrious mother Vijayalaxmi Pandit kissed death in 1990 at her house in Dehra Dun, all her papers were left with Nayantara which gave her an opportunity to go through them at leisure. And then, the idea struck.

Rare pictures

"Letters have a lot to do with whom they are addressed to. In these set of Maamu's letters, one gets to see the strong bonding between a brother and a sister with an age gap of 11 years. Also, it gives strong indications about him as a husband, a father and also as a statesman. Since they were written at a time when our country was going through its independent struggle, it naturally has a lot of historical value," the author of "Prison And Chocolate Cake" explains. Beginning with the year 1909 when Nehru was a student at Cambridge University, the letters also talk of his prison days till the grant of India's independence, enfolding a span of 38 years. "It is divided into seven sections, some part of it is serious and some humorous, some bit is about family relationships, some about the country's struggle for freedom and his world view," describes this Sahitya Akademi awardee. Clubbed with the letters are a set of pictures from the family album, most of which found place in print for the first time.

Popularly known as "Nehru's favourite neice", which Nayantara, of course, refuses to accept in toto, she agrees that her maamu features in all of her novels. "Despite being extremely busy in public life, he always used to have time for those he loved. After losing my father at a very young age, he became a father figure to me and left an indelible impression," the lady mentions as an instance, Nehru's contemporary and the Communist Party leader Hiren Mukherjee's comment that "Nehru is a gentle colossus."

"Even his opponents had to admit his geniality," she adds. A sense of oozing family pride gels so flawlessly with the mid evening ambience of the Capital. The winter is yet to set in.

SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY

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