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Indira : the life of Indira Nehru Gandhi /
Katherine Frank.
imprint
Boston ; New York : Houghton Mifflin Co. 2002.
description
xvii 567 p. : ill., maps ; 24 cm.
ISBN
039573097X
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
Boston ; New York : Houghton Mifflin Co. 2002.
isbn
039573097X
catalogue key
4830029
 
Includes bibliographical references (p. 537-544) and index.
A Look Inside
About the Author
Author Affiliation
Katherine Frank was born and educated in the United States. Her recent biography of Lucie Duff Gordon earned a rave front-page review in the New York Times Book Review, which called it a masterpiece. Frank is also the author of A Voyager Out, a life of Mary Kingsley, and A Chainless Soul, a life of Emily Bronte. She has taught at universities in West Africa and the Middle East as well as in Britain. Frank's work on Indira involved six years of extensive travel and research. She now lives in England
Awards
This item was nominated for the following awards:
Kiriyama Prize, USA, 2001 : Nominated
Excerpts
Excerpt from Book
3 ONE Descent from Kashmir Daily ninety-minute flights connect Srinagar, the capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, with Delhi. But my letter to the Kashmiri Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah, took six weeks to reach him, and according to the date of the reply written by his acting assistant principal secretary, the Chief Ministers response took another five weeks to get back to me in Delhi. Had our letters languished on some functionarys desk, in a forgotten mail bag, got lost in the crush of a bustling post office? It was not going to be easy to get to Kashmir. Nevertheless, the Chief Ministers reply brought good news: Farooq Abdullah would be pleased to talk to me about the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. We could meet either in Delhi or Srinagar, according to my convenience. Srinagar today - like most of the rest of Kashmir - is no longer an easy place to visit. Once the idyllic pleasure ground of the British Raj and later a tourist resort for Indian, European, American and Australian tourists and backpackers, Kashmir is now a war zone - the disputed territory fought over by two hostile nations that were once one: India and Pakistan. Those writers who go to Kashmir these days are not biographers but journalists covering an internecine conflict that rumbles, flares up, dies down and rumbles on year in and year out. After decades of obscurity, Kashmir now makes global headlines. Several years ago, Kashmiri separatists kidnapped and murdered a group of Western climbers trekking in the Himalayas. In the spring of 1998 India and Pakistan set off nuclear devices, making Kashmir the likeliest.ash point of the next nuclear holocaust. A year later, their armies were at war on the border near Kargil. In the spring of 2000, when President Clinton visited the subcontinent, a village of Sikhs was massacred - allegedly by militants - to underscore the fact that the war still raged on. Most of the Srinagar hotels are now boarded up and derelict. Those still operating house security forces. Rows of khaki laundry flap on clothes lines in the hotel gardens. Black-booted soldiers in helmets and flak jackets patrol the streets. The traffic is mainly army jeeps and trucks. Gone are the hawkers, pavement ear-cleaners and street barbers. Ordinary life of a sort goes on here. But the atmosphere in the shops and bazaars is often tense and faces are sullen or downcast. At the heart of Srinagar lies Dal Lake - sluggish, furry green, congealed with pollutants. From time to time, the lake belches methane gas, releasing a putrid stench into the air. No kingfishers fly overhead because no fish could live in this lake. When Indira Gandhi appointed her cousin B.K. Nehru as Governor of Kashmir in 1982 - at a time when the present conflict might still have been averted - she personally briefed him. She said not one word about the volatile political situation in the state. Instead she spoke with urgency and passion of the need to clea
First Chapter
3 ONE Descent from Kashmir Daily ninety-minute flights connect Srinagar, the capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, with Delhi. But my letter to the Kashmiri Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah, took six weeks to reach him, and according to the date of the reply written by his ‘acting assistant principal secretary’, the Chief Minister’s response took another five weeks to get back to me in Delhi. Had our letters languished on some functionary’s desk, in a forgotten mail bag, got lost in the crush of a bustling post office? It was not going to be easy to get to Kashmir. Nevertheless, the Chief Minister’s reply brought good news: Farooq Abdullah would be pleased to talk to me about the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. We could meet either in Delhi or Srinagar, according to my convenience.
Srinagar today – like most of the rest of Kashmir – is no longer an easy place to visit. Once the idyllic pleasure ground of the British Raj and later a tourist resort for Indian, European, American and Australian tourists and backpackers, Kashmir is now a war zone – the disputed territory fought over by two hostile nations that were once one: India and Pakistan. Those writers who go to Kashmir these days are not biographers but journalists covering an internecine conflict that rumbles, flares up, dies down and rumbles on year in and year out.
After decades of obscurity, Kashmir now makes global headlines. Several years ago, Kashmiri separatists kidnapped and murdered a group of Western climbers trekking in the Himalayas. In the spring of 1998 India and Pakistan set off nuclear devices, making Kashmir the likeliest .ash point of the next nuclear holocaust. A year later, their armies were at war on the border near Kargil. In the spring of 2000, when President Clinton visited the subcontinent, a village of Sikhs was massacred – allegedly by militants – to underscore the fact that the war still raged on.
Most of the Srinagar hotels are now boarded up and derelict. Those still operating house security forces. Rows of khaki laundry flap on clothes lines in the hotel gardens. Black-booted soldiers in helmets and flak jackets patrol the streets. The traffic is mainly army jeeps and trucks. Gone are the hawkers, pavement ear-cleaners and street barbers. Ordinary life of a sort goes on here. But the atmosphere in the shops and bazaars is often tense and faces are sullen or downcast.
At the heart of Srinagar lies Dal Lake – sluggish, furry green, congealed with pollutants. From time to time, the lake belches methane gas, releasing a putrid stench into the air. No kingfishers fly overhead because no fish could live in this lake. When Indira Gandhi appointed her cousin B.K. Nehru as Governor of Kashmir in 1982 – at a time when the present conflict might still have been averted – she personally briefed him. She said not one word about the volatile political situation in the state. Instead she spoke with urgency and passion of the need to clean up Dal Lake before it was too late. Nearly twenty years later, here and there, a rotting houseboat shudders on its stagnant surface.
Kashmir today is not the Kashmir Indira Gandhi knew. Kashmir today is India fouled and polluted – India lacerated – the unhealed and unhealing wound of Partition. In 1947, at independence, when British India was carved into the two sovereign nations of India and Pakistan, Kashmir, the only Muslim majority state in India, acceded to a secular India rather than an Islamic Pakistan. The Hindu Maharaja of Kashmir made this choice for his Muslim majority population. But he made it under duress – and to no one’s satisfaction.
Since 1947 India and Pakistan have fought three full-scale wars over Kashmir, a place of minor material or economic importance to either country. But Kashmir possesses enormous significance to Indians’ and Pakistanis’ conflicting, irreconcilable conceptions of the subcontinent. Kashmir has been bitterly and bloodily disputed because it has come to symbolize on the one hand, the ideal of secular democracy to Indians, and on the other, the validity of a Muslim homeland to Pakistanis. Nuclear devices, bloody skirmishes in the mountains of Kargil, village massacres, more bombs and assassinations in Srinagar – these are just the most recent chapters in a story that goes back more than half a century.
But my story – the life of Indira Gandhi – goes back even further. It begins in a remote Himalayan fastness of snow-capped mountains, meadows carpeted with alpine wildflowers, rushing rivers that flow into tear-shaped lakes, and valleys dark with fir and pine forests where the gigantic chinar tree bursts into fiery-red blossoms every autumn until the snnows come and extinguish all colour from the land.
This Kashmir – a place of beauty and transcendence – was the bedrock of Indira Gandhi’s life, the thing to which she held fast, which she sought to recover again and again in the course of her long life. Kashmir was a land that nourished and solaced her. ‘We were Kashmiris’, Indira’s father, Jawaharlal Nehru, writes on the first page of his Autobiography. Indira Gandhi embraced this statement and put it into the present tense – ‘I am Kashmiri’. Throughout a rootless, chaotic existence, in which she never had a stable family life or owned a house of her own, Kashmir remained Indira Gandhi’s anchor, her heart’s home.
Her story begins – as it ends – in Kashmir.

It opens in Kashmir – but then almost immediately leaves it. Indira Gandhi’s biography, like all biographies, does not begin abruptly, at the moment of birth, but rather at what seems – to the biographer – a decisive moment long before. And this moment – some two hundred years before Indira was born in November 1917 – was one of banishment – a fall or expulsion from paradise. In the opening chapter of his Autobiography, ‘Descent from Kashmir’, Nehru writes, ‘over two hundred years ago, our ancestors came down from that mountain valley to seek fame and fortune in the . . . plains below’. From their lofty, Edenic home in the Himalayas, Indira Gandhi’s forebears were exiled to the hot, arid plains of north-central India.
The particular ancestor Nehru refers to was a Hindu Pandit – one of the Brahmin elite of Kashmir – named Raj Kaul, a Sanskrit and Persian scholar, who left Kashmir around 1716 for Delhi. Here he became a member of the court of the Mughal Emperor Farukhsiyar who granted Raj Kaul a house situated on a canal in the city. Raj Kaul’s descendants came to be known as Kaul-Nehrus after nahar, which means canal, and in time this was shortened to Nehru.
From the beginning, the Nehru family was allied to power. First this was the power of the Mughal Emperor and when his empire declined, the might of the British. Raj Kaul’s great-grandson, Lakshmi Narayan, became one of the first Indian vakils, or lawyers, of the East India Company in Delhi, and his son, Ganga Dar, was a police officer in the city when the Mutiny broke out in 1857. In the upheaval of the 1857 uprising, Ganga Dar fled with his family to Agra. He died four years later and three months after his death his wife gave birth to a posthumous son who was named Motilal.
Motilal Nehru – Indira Gandhi’s grandfather – was raised by his elder brother, Nand Lal, and Motilal, like his brother, trained as a lawyer. Like his brother, too, Motilal married while still in his teens and had a son. But both wife and son died in childbirth before Motilal was twenty. By 1887, the year that Nand Lal died and Motilal assumed responsibility for the family as the eldest surviving son, Motilal had remarried a beautiful young woman, also of Kashmiri extraction, named Swarup Rani. The young couple moved to Allahabad, in the United Provinces (as they were then called) some 500 miles from Delhi, where Motilal pursued what quickly became a brilliant legal career. Centuries ago Allahabad was known as the ancient city of Prayag. It features in the epic Ramayana and it remains a goal of pilgrimage for Hindus because it is here that the three sacred Indian rivers – the Ganges, the Jumna and the lost, subterranean, Saraswati, converge. Allahabad today is a sleepy, dusty provincial town, but at the end of the nineteenth century it was the capital of the United Provinces, seat of the High Court and home to the most distinguished university in India. Motilal Nehru prospered both professionally and personally in Allahabad. An astute and successful lawyer, he soon became one of the wealthiest and most socially prominent citizens in the town. Fortune also smiled on him when his first child, a son named Jawaharlal – Indira Gandhi’s father – was born on 14 November 1889. In the first sentence of his autobiography, Nehru states (or rather understates) in his David Copperfield fashion: ‘An only son of prosperous parents is apt to be spoilt, especially in India.’ It is one of life’s ironies – or perhaps one of fate’s congruities – that this most pampered scion of an immensely rich man would grow up to be largely indifferent to and careless of material wealth. Nehru’s asceticism, however, was slow to develop which is hardly surprising given the environment in which he was raised. In 1900 Motilal Nehru moved his family to a huge, forty-two-room house on 1 Church Road in the Civil Lines (the civilian English sector) of Allahabad. He named his mansion Anand Bhawan – the ‘Abode of Happiness’. It was a manorial estate on English lines and of English proportions, with spacious gardens, an orchard, a tennis court, riding ring and an indoor swimming pool. Shortly after moving in, Motilal installed electricity and running water – the first in Allahabad. After a trip to Europe in 1904, he imported a car – another Allahabad first. It may very well have been the first automobile in all of the United Provinces. Certainly it was the only one driven by an English chauffeur.
By the time Jawaharlal was sent away to public school in Harrow, England, in 1905, he had a little sister named Sarup Kumari, born in 1900. Another sister, Krishna, arrived in 1907. (A second son, born in 1905, survived only a month.) All the Nehru children had a privileged, British-style upbringing. Until he was sent to public school in England, Jawaharlal was educated by a young Irish tutor named Ferdinand T. Brooks. The girls had an English governess named Miss Lillian Hooper who gave English nicknames to all three Nehru children. In the girls’ case, these lasted all their lives. Jawaharlal was ‘Joe’, Sarup Kumari was ‘Nan’, and Krishna ‘Betty’.
But despite its liveried servants, dining table set with Sevres porcelain, crystal glasses and silver cutlery, its grand piano in the sitting room and its huge library of leather-bound books, Anand Bhawan was not merely an elaborate replica of an English country estate. The Nehru household was actually bifurcated between East and West, India and Britain. Motilal Nehru wore expensive suits ordered from Savile Row tailors (though contrary to rumour his linen was not shipped back to Europe to be laundered). He eschewed religion, drank Scotch whisky, ate Western food (including meat) prepared by a Christian cook, and insisted that only English be spoken at his table. He employed British tutors and governesses to educate his children and, after Harrow, sent his son to Cambridge.
But Motilal’s wife, Swarup Rani, was a traditional Kashmiri woman and a devout Hindu. She allowed her daughters to be dressed in French frocks, but she herself never wore anything other than a sari in the Kashmiri fashion. She bathed in the Ganges, performed the Hindu prayer ceremony of puja, was a strict vegetarian, kept her own Kashmiri cook and ate with her fingers, seated on the floor. She understood but did not speak English. The women of Anand Bhawan conversed in Hindi.
Two parallel worlds, then, co-existed but did not really overlap, at Anand Bhawan. This was strikingly revealed in the otherwise mundane arrangements for disposing of human waste. The adults in the family used commodes or ‘thunderboxes’ – European-style toilets on which one sat. The children and servants relieved themselves in the traditional Indian way at ground level. Both methods were perfectly sanitary and Anand Bhawan, like other Indian households, had ‘untouchable’ – or Harijan – sweepers responsible for cleaning out both types of toilets, though when running water was introduced, the thunderboxes became flushable.
Most of the time, the two worlds of Anand Bhawan – Western and Indian – were respectively male and female realms. But not always. Despite the Hindu injunction against foreign travel (which brought with it a loss of caste), Swarup Rani accompanied her husband and children to Britain and Europe when Jawaharlal first went away to school in 1905. And Motilal Nehru, for all his British thinking, values, habits and attitudes, remained deeply traditional when it came to the choice of his son’s career and wife.
Jawaharlal Nehru had little say in either matter. Apparently without protest, he obeyed his father’s wishes and endured a seven- year exile from his family and India while he was educated in England. Then when Motilal decided that his son should follow in his steps and take up law, Jawaharlal read for the bar in London. These years abroad were not ones of great accomplishment. Jawaharlal’s career at public school and university was undistinguished, and as he says in his autobiography, ‘I got through the bar examinations . . . with neither glory nor ignominy.’ In London, he ‘was vaguely attracted to the Fabians and socialistic ideas and interested in political movements of the day’. But for the most part he ‘drifted’ and led ‘a soft and pointless existence’. This careless, hedonistic period was the one time in Nehru’s life when he displayed ‘expensive habits’. Often, in fact, he exceeded ‘the handsome allowance’ that Motilal gave him, and had to wire home for more funds.
Jawaharlal entered the legal profession without demur. But he put up something of a struggle before he agreed to marry the woman his father chose for him. By the time he returned to India in 1912, England had transformed Jawaharlal. At Cambridge he mixed with a set who read Havelock Ellis and Krafft-Ebing and considered themselves ‘very sophisticated and talked of sex and morality’, though Nehru adds that ‘in spite of our brave talk, most of us were rather timid where sex was concerned’. His own sexual knowledge, he says, was ‘for many years, till after I left Cambridge . . . confined to theory’.
But even this theoretical knowledge – and the Western attitudes towards romantic love and marriage associated with it – affected Nehru, and initially he rebelled not so much against his father’s choice of a bride as the notion that Motilal should do the choosing for him. The selection was made before Jawaharlal even returned to India in 1912. Shortly before he was called to the bar in London, Jawaharlal received a letter from his father with the news that Motilal had decided that his son’s future wife should be a twelve-year-old girl named Kamala Kaul. ‘A little beauty [and] . . . very healthy’, as Motilal described her, Kamala was the daughter of a conservative Kashmiri family who lived in Delhi. The contract between the two families had been drawn up and the dowry agreed on, Motilal informed his son. All Jawaharlal had to do was give his assent.
This was not immediately forthcoming. Jawaharlal responded to his father’s letter with ambivalence. ‘I do not, and cannot possibly, look forward with relish to the idea of marrying a girl whom I do not know,’ he wrote to Motilal. ‘At the same time . . . [if ] you are intent on my getting engaged to the girl you mention I will have no objection . . . I shall bide by your decision.’ With his mother, Swarup Rani, Jawaharlal was more outspoken. He confessed that he was frightened at the prospect of marrying ‘a total stranger’. He accepted ‘that any girl selected by you and father would be good in many respects’, but he feared that he might ‘not be able to get along with her’. And to his mother, Jawaharlal voiced his disapproval of arranged Hindu marriages: ‘In my opinion, unless there is a degree of mutual understanding, marriage should not take place. I think it unjust and cruel that a life should be wasted merely in producing children.’ Once back in India, Jawaharlal had several years to adjust to the prospect of marrying Kamala Kaul, for at twelve, she was far too young to wed right away. And it was not only the prospect of marriage that unsettled Jawaharlal when he was transplanted – after seven formative years abroad – back to Allahabad. As he says in his autobiography, ‘the habits and ideas that had grown in me during my seven years in England did not fit in with things as I found them’ back home. He was overcome with a feeling of ennui: ‘a sense of the utter insipidity of life grew upon me’. Nevertheless, Jawaharlal took up law, and gradually an interest in the nationalist movement for Indian home rule replaced his ennui. Whether he continued to argue with his parents over his marriage partner is unknown. Time passed and Jawaharlal’s eventual marriage to Kamala became an inevitability.
In 1915, when Kamala was sixteen, she came to live in Allahabad in order to be groomed as Jawaharlal’s wife. Coming from a traditional Kashmiri family Kamala was ignorant of European manners and habits. The Nehru daughters’ governess, Miss Hooper, undertook Kamala’s training in the use of cutlery and speaking English. It was not an easy education. Kamala was a serious, intense, highly-strung girl of great beauty, with fair skin, dark hair, and large, luminous brown eyes. But there was no warmth or gaiety in her beauty – she was shy and withdrawn, with a face that often wore the look of a stricken deer.
Nor was she as malleable and unformed as she appeared. Kamala submitted to her transformation into an acceptable bride for Jawaharlal Nehru because she had no choice. But her underlying character remained untouched, though it would take many years for others – including her own husband – to discern how strong and stubborn she could be and how committed Kamala was to her principles. Motilal Nehru doubtless believed he was acquiring a complete cipher for a daughter-in-law, and for years Motilal’s wife and daughters and many other members of the household treated Kamala as such.
In fact, as time would tell, Motilal had inadvertently chosen a woman who far from being a nonentity, eventually developed with her husband what is still rare in any culture – a marriage of equals, of shared sexual intensity, of mutual respect and shared values and dreams. It would take many years for Jawaharlal and Kamala Nehru to achieve this; to some extent Nehru recognized it only after Kamala had died, and after, as well, Kamala had rejected marriage at the end of her life for a religious goal she felt was higher and more precious still.
The marriage date was selected by family astrologers: 8 February 1916, which was Basant Panchami, the festival which heralds the coming of spring. For weeks beforehand, tailors, seamstresses and jewellers toiled at Allahabad preparing the bride’s trousseau, often under Motilal’s personal supervision. Gifts from all over India flooded Anand Bhawan. The wedding was to be held in Delhi and Motilal arranged for a special train to carry 300 guests – family, relations and friends of the groom – to Delhi, where a huge tented city was set up outside the walled city with a sign made of flowers announcing the ‘Nehru Wedding Camp’.
One surviving wedding photograph of Kamala and Jawaharlal Nehru poignantly reveals their plight on the day they wed. They are standing carefully posed and elaborately dressed – Jawaharlal in a brocade sherwani (a long formal coat) and turban, and Kamala in a pearl-studded sari that had taken a team of craftsmen months of labour to produce. But the bride and groom’s posture and their expressions belie their finery and the occasion. Their arms are loosely linked – they are, after all, now man and wife – but they do not stand close together and they look almost melancholy. Jawaharlal stares tentatively into the camera, dark circles under his eyes. Kamala looks off to the left, away from her husband. There is a shadow of a smile on her lips, but her dark eyes are wide with what seems to be fear.

The newlyweds honeymooned in Kashmir – just as twenty-six years later their daughter would go to Kashmir with her bridegroom. It was the first time either Jawaharlal or Kamala had been to Kashmir; the first sight they had of their homeland. What Kamala made of Kashmir we do not know. For Nehru, however, it was a haunting and nearly fatal visit.
Arriving in Srinagar, Jawaharlal left his bride to go climbing for several weeks with a cousin in the mountains of Ladakh, the remote, eastern region of Kashmir. No one seems to have thought this an odd way for a young man to spend his honeymoon. This journey into the Himalayas was, as Nehru records in his autobiography, his ‘first experience of the narrow and lonely valleys, high up in the world, which lead to the Tibetan plateau’. The bleak beauty and the solitude of the mountains thrilled him: ‘the loneliness grew; there were not even trees or vegetation to keep us company – only the bare rock and the snow and ice and, sometimes, very welcome flowers. Yet I found a strange satisfaction in these wild and desolate haunts of nature: I was full of energy and a feeling of exaltation.’ At a place called Matayan, they were told that a famous cave, the cave of Amaranath, was only eight miles distant and they resolved to trek there, despite the fact that ‘an enormous mountain’ lay in their way. With a local shepherd for a guide and porters to carry their gear, they set off at four in the morning and soon crossed several glaciers. As they climbed higher, their breathing became laboured and they stopped to attach connecting ropes to their waists. Several of the heavilyladen porters started to spit blood. It began to snow and the glaciers were ‘terribly slippery’. The entire party was ‘fagged out, and every step’ was an effort, but still they trekked on.
After twelve hours of increasingly laborious climbing, late in the afternoon they came out onto a huge ice field, surrounded by snowcovered peaks. Bathed in the dying rays of the sun, it looked ‘like a diadem or an amphitheatre of the gods’. Then fresh snow and mists descended on them and obscured this celestial vision. In order to reach their goal, the Amaranath cave, they had to cross the ice field, now almost wholly obscured by the bad weather. ‘It was a tricky business,’ as Nehru describes it, ‘as there were many crevasses and the fresh snow often covered a dangerous spot.’ Suddenly Jawaharlal plummeted down one of these – a great gaping chasm, lightly overlaid by a blanket of snow that hid the ‘tremendous fissure’. But the rope tied round his waist, which connected him to his companion, held fast. He was not consigned to ‘the safe keeping and preservation’ of future ‘geological ages’. Nehru clutched the side of the crevasse and was hauled out.
This narrow escape changed the course of Indian history and many individual lives, including my own some eighty-odd years later.
It also awakened in Nehru an enduring fascination with and longing for the mountains of Kashmir. The Himalayas became for him a symbol of inexpressible desire and release. Writing his autobiography in prison, nearly twenty years after his fall down the crevasse, Nehru speaks with undiminished passion of this landscape which he had not yet been able to revisit. ‘I dream of the day when I shall wander about the Himalayas and cross them to reach that lake and mountain of my desire.’ Historical and political imperatives determined and shaped the lives of Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter, Indira Gandhi. Both Nehru and Indira were ‘handcuffed to history’. Only death offered release. Neither feared death, but it was never far from their minds – the death of those they loved, of their dreams, of themselves. The mountains of Kashmir were sublimely indifferent to human life and death. Untouched by human sorrows, immune to human joy, their beauty and stillness existed far above the plains of human toil and struggle.
No wonder that Indira Gandhi, for all the years of her life, longed for Kashmir and thirsted for its mountains and ‘their untroubled snows’.

Copyright © 2002 by Katherine Frank. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 2001-04-15:
Hailed for A Passage to Egypt: The Life of Lucie Gordon Duff, Frank continues her exploration of interesting women. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2001-06-25:
The most striking aspects of Frank's readable, well-wrought biography are Gandhi's sad childhood and her reluctance to enter politics. She attended upwards of seven schools in Switzerland, England and India and was often separated from her family her tubercular mother died when Indira was 19; her father and many family members were in and out of jail during the Independence Movement. Indira herself was sickly (she spent 10 months in a sanatorium in Switzerland during WWII), and, at 37, she wrote to a friend, "I am doing a tremendous amount of work these days but I have not discovered my m?tier yet." Schoolmate Iris Murdoch remembered Gandhi as "very unhappy, very lonely, intensely worried about her father and her country and thoroughly uncertain about the future." Only after the deaths of her husband, Feroze Gandhi; her father; Jawaharlal Nehru, independent India's first leader; and Lal Bahadur Shastri, his successor, did she come into her own politically. Not a political biography, Frank's book (via letters and conversations with close confidants) comes closest to showing the human Indira who joined politics because she felt duty-bound to uphold her father's secular, inclusive vision of her homeland. Frank (A Passage to Egypt: The Life of Lucie Duff Gordon; etc.) shows that Gandhi's increasing isolation, loss of confidence and closeness to her son, Sanjay, caused her later to impose the Emergency (suspending civil liberties and jailing opponents) and play castes, religions and political groups against one another contrary to her father's ideals. But she is far less knowable in the book's second and third sections, when she becomes the paranoid, ruthless leader remembered for her despotism. 12 pages b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, Virginia Barber. (Aug. 14) Forecast: As the first biography of the late Indian leader, this will surely receive review attention and should sell well among those interested in India and in the life of an extraordinary woman. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Choice on 2002-10-01:
Indira Gandhi was "handcuffed to history" from her birth in 1917 to her assassination in 1984. She grew up in the Nehru mansion and knew as frequent visitors all the leaders of the Indian nationalist movement. As India's third prime minister, she was convinced that it was her "personal legacy" to lead the country. Her reputation peaked with the Bangladesh victory in 1971--hailed as a "new Durga," a "new Empress of India"--but thereafter she suffered great difficulties. The 1975-77 "Emergency" brought democracy to a halt. Her ambitious, reckless elder son Sanjay became her worst liability. The world was dumbfounded when she regained power in 1980. Then, the shady dealings of her younger, inexperienced son Rajiv with the fanatic "Khalistan" separatist Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale contributed to horrendous "Operation Blue Star," the storming of the Golden Temple of the Sikhs by the Indian Army. It was "another Amritsar massacre" compounded by the "accidental" burning of the temple library containing all the handwritten manuscripts of the Sikh gurus. Within months, two of Indira's own Sikh bodyguards avenged the desecration with bullets. Well-documented, insightful history at its best. Recommended enthusiastically for all levels and collections. W. W. Reinhardt Randolph-Macon College
Reviews
This item was reviewed in:
Library Journal, April 2001
Kirkus Reviews, May 2001
Publishers Weekly, June 2001
Booklist, July 2001
Wall Street Journal, February 2002
Choice, October 2002
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Summaries
Main Description
A graceful narrative with all the intrigue of "The Jewel in the Crown" brings life to the first full, unbiased biography of Indira Nehru Gandhi, one of the most influential leaders in the world. Two 8-page photo inserts.
Main Description
On the morning of October 31, 1984, as she walked through her garden, smiling, with hands raised and palms pressed together in the traditional Indian namaste greeting, Indira Nehru Gandhi was assassinated by her own bodyguards. She died as she had lived, surrounded by men, yet isolated. It was a violent end to a life of epic drama. Here is the first popular biography of one of the world's most influential leaders, India's third prime minister. Brought up during an era that saw the rise of Indian nationalism, Indira was raised to be what her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, called "a child of revolution" - destined to play a political role in the creation and governing of an independent India. Despite her early reluctance to embrace this role, Indira eventually presided over a huge, complex, religiously riven, and male-dominated country. She was born to a wealthy, westernized family, but she had a gift for connecting with the poor of the countryside and the urban slums, the illiterate, the dispossessed - so much so that "Indira is India" became a familiar slogan. Throughout childhood, love, marriage, imprisonment, motherhood, and a sequence of personal and family tragedies, her personal hopes and desires were continually subsumed by the historical and political imperatives of her country. In this beautifully written book, the acclaimed biographer Katherine Frank draws on unpublished sources and more than a hundred interviews to create a rich, balanced portrait. INDIRA captures in full color the personal and political fate of the leader of the world's largest democracy - the woman who played a dominant role in the history of the twentieth century and who, when it ended, was voted Woman of the Millennium by the BBC.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrationsp. ix
Glossaryp. xiii
Acknowledgementsp. xv
Indira Nehru
Descent from Kashmirp. 3
'Hua'p. 13
Breathing with Her Heelsp. 34
Indu-Boyp. 50
Enter Ferozep. 72
In the Black Forestp. 100
A Veteran at Partingp. 115
The Magic Mountainp. 146
Indira Gandhi
Not a Normal, Banal, Boring Lifep. 167
Things Fall Apartp. 193
Metamorphosisp. 226
Towards a Hat Trickp. 260
Prime Minister Gandhi
I am the Issuep. 289
Seeing Redp. 325
No Further Growingp. 348
Drastic, Emergent Actionp. 371
The Rising Sonp. 390
Witch-Huntp. 415
Fault Linesp. 440
Another Amritsarp. 465
31 October 1984p. 484
After Indirap. 495
Epiloguep. 503
Notesp. 505
Select Bibliographyp. 537
Indexp. 545
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

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