Nehru decided to play mother to the child. He walked, close to where the child lay, bent, picked the baby in his arms and rocked it gently.
Chacha is a Hindi word that defines a very close relationship. Strictly it refers to father’s younger brother or younger cousins. It is used loosely while addressing father’s friends who are younger in age.
Pandit Nehru, however, is an exception to this rule. He is referred to by children, all around India, as Chacha Nehru.
None of them has seen him in flesh and blood. Yet they know him. They know him as a friend of children. They know his love for children; and they reciprocate with an abiding love for their dear Chacha.
They don’t think of him as one who is eternally young. Time has not dimmed his appeal. Age has not made him distant.
He remains a friendly spirit, hovering around, befriending children, laughing with them, tossing roses and jasmines at them, dancing with them, whirling around, singing songs.
Mercifully this image is sustained by anecdotes, drawn from his life, anecdotes that bring out the fact that the child in Nehru remained alive even though he himself grew old.
He was taking a stroll along the path that ran around the trees and the shrubs of the open grounds round Teen Murti, the official residence of the prime Minister. Then he heard the cry of a baby. Where did it come from? Nehru stopped, looked all around. His eyes focused on a baby of two months, howling its top. Nehru went closer.
Where was the mother? She was nowhere around. Nehru guessed that the baby’s mother must be working on the grounds. She must be a member of the team of gardeners who worked at Teen Murti. She must have put the baby to sleep and gone to the work spot. These guess works were interrupted by the insistent wails of the baby.
Nehru decided to play mother to the child. He walked, close to where the child lay, bent, picked the baby in his arms and rocked it gently. The child’s wails ebbed and petered off. A toothless smile lit up its lips. That was a smile that cheered Pandit Nehru.
He played with the baby, tickled it, had fun time till the baby’s mother, covered with dust and sweat ran in. She could not believe her eyes. Her beloved child was in Pandit Nehru’s arms. And he was having fun time in its company.
For the mother, it was a proud moment. Her baby had been rocked and soothed by none else but its Chacha. He had acted the part well.
The scene shifts.
Pandit Nehru was on a tour of Tamil Nadu. (Then known as Madras). Large crowds lined the roads to have his darshan. Many children had climbed up the trees that lined the roads to get a glimpse of their beloved Chacha.
Set behind the crowd was a balloon seller. The strings of the balloons were gathered in his hand, but the balloons, of all shapes and sizes provided a colorful panorama, a sport of drifting halo behind the crowd.
On an impulse, Pandit Nehru instructed the motorcade to stop. He jumped out of the open jeep, signaled to the balloon seller to his side. The man came, hesitantly. Had he earned the wrath of the Prime Minister? What would happen to him now?
He bowed, held his head bent. “Buy up all his balloons. Give them to the children,” Nehru told his aide who new Tamil.
The news was conveyed to the balloon seller. He could not believe his ears. He bowed again, ran back, distributing the balloons among the children.
Nehru walked to a plump girl, happily watching the balloon in her hand soar far above her head, pinched her cheek gently and returned to the jeep. The children screamed, happily, “Chacha Nehru, Chacha Nehru.”
The word Chacha had crossed linguistic barriers. It had found a place in the vocabulary of all Indian children. And they used it every time they addressed Pandit Nehru.
When the famous cartoonist Shankar started the international competitions for children, Nehru addressed a letter through Shankar’s publication to children of the world.
It brings out Nehru’s abiding love for children. “I like being with you and talking to you and, even more, playing with you. . . I would like to talk to you about this beautiful world of ours, about flowers and trees and birds and animals and stars and mountains and glaciers and all the wonderful things that surround us in this world . . . The world itself is the greatest fairy tale and story of adventure that was ever written. Only we must have eyes to see and ears to hear and a mind that opens to the life and beauty of the world.”
Chacha Nehru had the faculties that helped him see the beauty of this world. He loved roses. He loved children. In his eyes, both children and roses reflected the finest blend of the grace and charm and beauty of the world.
This musing was first published in Meghdutam.com (between 1999 to 2002).
Books by Jawaharlal Nehru:
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