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OPINION | Films, Play Sessions with Indira, Feroze: Details From Rajiv Gandhi’s Childhood No one Knows About

Feroze Gandhi, a devoted parent, constructed toys for his sons Rajiv and Sanjay, and encouraged them to find out for themselves how machines worked and how to take things apart and arrange them back. He wanted both Rajiv and Sanjay to become engineers.

Rasheed Kidwai | @rasheedkidwai

Updated:August 20, 2019, 11:58 AM IST
OPINION | Films, Play Sessions with Indira, Feroze: Details From Rajiv Gandhi’s Childhood No one Knows About
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru with Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. (Image: Getty Images)

Rajiv Gandhi was born in Bombay on August 20, 1944 at Cumballa Hill hospital run by Dr V N Shirodkar, a well-known gynaecologist. Indira Gandhi was in Bombay to be with her aunt Krishna Nehru Hutheesing, younger sister of Jawaharlal Nehru, because both Feroze Gandhi and Nehru were in jail. Indira’s husband Feroze had insisted on she not staying alone at Allahabad’s Anand Bhawan. While Feroze was released a few days before Rajiv was born, Nehru was in the Ahmadnagar Fort prison where he had to spend 963 out of 3,259 days in jail during the freedom struggle. It took Nehru over 10 months to get the first glimpse of his grandson after getting released from Almora Jail on June 15, 1945.

In her book, Dear to Behold – An Intimate Portrait of Indira Gandhi, [Macmillion 1969], Krishna recalled her nervousness when Indira was in the labour room. “I harassed Dr Shirodkar by repeating over and over again, “Doctor, it has got to be a boy, because my brother [Nehru] has no son.”

Even the news of Rajiv’s birth reached Nehru several days later due to censorship. Rejoiced, Nehru wrote back: “The birth of a new member of the family always makes one feel reminiscent and remember one’s childhood and other births…. Nature goes on repeating itself, there is no end of its infinite variety and every spring is a resurrection, every new birth a new beginning, especially when that new born is intimately connected with us, it becomes a revival of ourselves and our old hopes centre round it.”

Indira returned to Lucknow after a two-month stay in Bombay. When Nehru saw his grandson for the first time he remarked, “The forehead seems to be rather like Feroze’s”.

Rajiv’s name was selected by Nehru from a list of names Feroze had sent him in jail. Nehru chose Rajiv because it meant ‘lotus’ in Sanskrit and had the same meaning as Kamala, Rajiv’s grandmother who had died eight years before he was born. Rajiv’s full name was Rajivratna – ratna or a jewel also means ‘Jawahar’ so Rajiv had inherited names of his grandparents.

Nehru had also given a Persian name to Rajiv – Birjees, the legendary king of gods. In Persian, Birjees means ‘Jupiter’ and the ‘auspicious one’. Nehru also wanted Feroze and Indira to use Nehru as an additional name to Rajivratna Birjees.

In November 1946, when Rajiv was 15 months old, Feroze joined the National Herald, a newspaper founded by Nehru as its managing editor. The job required Feroze to stay in Lucknow where he took a small house and furnished it with great care. He designed his own furniture and planted over a dozen roses. Indira busied herself with housekeeping and looking after Rajiv.

The couple was a sought after company in Lucknow’s social and political circles but both Indira and Feroze avoided limelight. They shared love and affection and helped each other out. Rajiv grew up with an inquisitive mind and interest for mechanical toys and gadgets. This trait was ignited in him to a great extent by Feroze who, too, enjoyed gathering the know-hows of whatever he came across. Over a passage of time, both Rajiv and his younger brother Sanjay got involved in the domain of mechanics, be it car, plane or any type of engine. It invariably aroused their curiosity to the hilt.

Feroze, a devoted parent, constructed toys for his sons and encouraged them to find out for themselves how machines worked and how to take things apart and arrange them back. The father wanted both Rajiv and Sanjay to become engineers.

While Indira avoided assuming a political role, she acted as a watchdog, keeping political opportunists out. She was careful that her political and social work does not affect her bond with the children.

Mohammad Yunus, a close friend of Nehru-Gandhis who saw Rajiv and Sanjay since their birth, recalled in his memoirs how Indira took care to spend quality time and directed their activities. Once, a society dame who was notorious for her interminable cards sessions, asked Indira if she ever found time to be with her children. Sanjay, who was barely eight then, heard this and before Indira could respond, the young boy shot back. “Mummy spends more time with us than you do with your son. He hardly sees you because you are playing cards the whole day.”

Indira was a tender mother. Perhaps she was mindful of her own loneliness as a child, she supervised Rajiv-Sanjay’s meals, played with them and took them to a film if it was suitable for children. She also utilised services of a Danish governess Anna who had been secretary to scientist Jagdish Chandra Bose. Anna was a strict disciplinarian who believed in giving Rajiv and Sanjay cold showers, sunbath, exercises and a diet essentially of vegetables and yogurt.

(The author is a visiting Fellow with the Observer Research Foundation. Views are personal)

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