Sunday, July 22, 2007

Gandhiji, Jinnah, and Mountbatten in 1947 - From the Eyes of Mountbatten's Daughter

Gandhiji, Jinnah, and Mountbatten in 1947
The Hindu, July 21, 2007

In an interview to Karan Thapar for CNN-IBN’s ‘Devil’s Advocate,’ Lady Pamela Hicks, Earl Mountbatten’s youngest daughter, offers her reminiscences of Mahatma Gandhi and Mohammad Ali Jinnah and her father’s contrasting interactions with them. “The 15th of August,” she tells her interviewer, “is the most important day in my life, having witnessed it.” The interview follows the publication of her book (with co-author India Hicks, her daughter), India Remembered: A Personal Account of the Mountbattens during the Transfer of Power (Pavilion Books, London 2007). Excerpts:

Karan Thapar: Lady Pamela, as the daughter of the last Viceroy and the first Governor-General of India, you met all the key players in 1947. Let’s start with Gandhi. What was he like at the age of 17?

Lady Pamela: Well, of course, one was thrilled at meeting such a mythical character. And Gandhiji was such a marvellous person that the moment you met him, he had such a twinkle but he was so simple with people that you know one was just delighted to meet him.

There’s a lovely photograph in your book, taken the day Gandhi met your parents for the first time, the 31st of March 1947. He’s walking back from the garden it seems into vice-regal lodge, and he has his hand resting on your mother’s shoulder. How did that happen at the very first meeting?

He was a very frail old man by the time we were there and normally he had his great-niece Manu with him and she would be a support for him. And she wasn’t there but my mother was there — so my mother became the support automatically and my mother also would have wanted to be there. He was frail, she was worried he would stumble or something. It was the most natural thing in the world. And I suppose because there were photographers at the meeting, the photographer thought, ‘Ah, that’s a very good shot.’

In fact, in the months that followed Gandhi was a frequent visitor to vice regal lodge. He would always bring his goat curds with him. You mention an occasion when he absolutely insisted that you father try it. What did your father do?
Well of course Gandhiji was a wicked tease. I mean, my father called him the saint. But saints can be very difficult and they’re wickedly mischievous usually. And it was the first meeting actually, and my father didn’t like to refuse. He thought it would be very rude to refuse and he tried several times politely. But Gandhiji said ‘no, no, no, no, I insist you must try,’ and my father was appalled. He thought it was a green sludge and you know when you get something you hate stuck in your cheek, [it’s] very difficult to get rid of it. And so after that, I must say, he was very firm; he said, ‘Gandhiji, you have yours and I will have mine.’

The other person you got to meet was of course Mohammad Ali Jinnah. You write in your book that Jinnah was impervious to your father’s charm. You say: “my father could talk of nothing else because he could not crack Jinnah and this had never happened to him before.”

It hadn’t happened to him before but this was the most crucial meeting. Because it was so easy to be intimate with Panditji and with Gandhiji even, my father hoped that in order to be able to talk to these people, to relate to them, to work with them, it was essential that they get on good terms.

Did they get on good terms?

No, no. And this was what distressed my father so much because he so much wanted to give as much to Pakistan as he did to India. But he was repulsed each time he tried to offer, ‘no thank you very much!’

Was it Jinnah’s personality that was the problem? People in India see him as reserved, even dour?

Yes, yes it was. There was no approaching him. Once we did see him smile. That was when we came back from the drive in Karachi, on the 14th of August [1947], when Pakistan was created. They came back from that drive, at which a bomb was said to be going to be thrown. They came back alive, and he had a radiant smile, and so did Fatima.

But that was the only occasion?

The only occasion.

So, in a real sense Jinnah’s personality repulsed your father’s friendship? He wouldn’t let your father get close to him.

My father had respect for him and he had respect for my father. They respected each other.

But no fondness?

But no warmth, no warmth at all.

So that was the difference? Indian leaders like Nehru and Gandhi became friends but Jinnah never became a friend?

That’s right.

You write in your epilogue: “I felt far more Indian than English when I left at the age of seventeen or eighteen.” Sixty years later, how do you look back on India today?

Well of course after sixty years, I am English, I’ve been living in England all the time, I have a wide circle of English friends. So of course now I feel English. But when my Indian friends come, there’s such a warmth and one is so thrilled to see them again. I just have a wider circle of friends.

So India still remains a very special country?

And the 15th of August is the most important day in my life, having witnessed it.

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