Thursday, 1 January 2015

Natwar Singh’s Autobiography

As autobiographies are written with a personal touch, let me begin this write up on Natwar Singh’s autobiography with how I came to know about this man.

I have always been fascinated to read and hear news. Even during exam times, I would take time to listen to the BBS, BBC or NDTV. On one such day when I was in class VIII in Changzamtog school, I remembered watching news on how an Indian Congress minister named Natwar Singh was removed from office on charges of corruption (which are still unproven in court), and later the news that he and his son joined the opposition BJP.

It was not until 2014 when the change of power took place through the General Elections, many books came up one of which was Kunwar Natwar Singh’s autobiography, “One Life is Not Enough” came about and made a buzz in Indian media, which is otherwise never noisy.

His life through his book takes one through all the major world events from the independence movement led by Mahatma Gandhi to the grand election of Narendra Modi. In this write up, I will pen down some of his subtle moments that is interesting to mention for its humour and wit.

1.    Natwar Singh is born to a highly court official of the Maharaja of Bharatpur, one of the many princely states of British India. This office of Maharaja did not officially support the independence movement led by Mahatma Gandhi. So, when in 1945 when the train Gandhi was travelling in passed through Bharatpur railway station, young Natwar Singh gets through the crowd, climbs to the coach of Gandhi, holds on to the window railings and shouts “Bapu, autograph please”, stretching his hand with a newspaper cut out of Gandhi’s picture. He is admonished and shooed away the personal secretary of Gandhi. There he sees the great soul for the first and the last time and mentions, Gandhi looked much darker than the pictures (even the black and white pictures of then perhaps).

2.  Natwar Singh joins the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) and works closely foreign dignitaries on visit. In 1955, he attends to the visit of King of Cambodia, Norodom Sihanouk and his entourage of five Buddhist monks. To receive them, the foreign ministry took five of Indian Buddhist monks. The two groups spoke to each other in Pali. The leader of the Indian group of monks asked his Cambodian counterpart about their food preferences while in India. The Cambodians said they wanted to eat beef. The Indian monks all but collapsed. Such was the contrast of Buddhism from these two places (and illustrates the talk on vegetarianism of current days).

3.    Later when Natwar Singh serves as the Indian Ambassador in Islamabad, in one of his meets with Pakistani President, General Zia-ul-haq, he mentions that “Kashmir is in my blood”. To this Natwar Singh with his clever wit answers, “Kashmir is in my bone marrow”. Kashmir is a problem to these two nations and to describe biologically as blood, nothing beats better than going to the synthesis of blood. Blood is produced in the bone marrow!

4.    Natwar Singh through British novelist E M Forster goes to meet the renowned south Indian author of the 1960s, R K Narayan. He takes effort to find the address and locate the house where Mr Narayan lived. He rings the door bell and a man who looks not so dignified comes at the gate. He introduces himself as Natwar Singh. And the literary Narayan replies, “Are you a brother of Khushwant Singh?”

5.    While he was posted at the UN office in New York, Dev Anand approaches him to help contact R K Narayan to obtain copyright to make the latter’s book, “The Guide” into a feature film. To this Narayan obstinately rejects the idea. However, a few years after the death of Narayan, Dev Anand produces the movie which was heavily criticized by some while it was a successful houseful at theatres (The book and the movie is described in my other post).

In this write up, the readers may not understand the context of the short stories I have mentioned. But these stories in isolation, shows interesting points of wit and humour.

Thinley Dorji, New Year Day 2015, Colombo, Sri Lanka

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