An Indian Summer and Jawaharlal Nehru

I have in the past few days been swept away by Scottish journalist James Cameron’s autobiographical masterwork “An Indian Summer”. His sweltering prose is sufficiently insightful, and my whistle-stop tour of India sufficiently hectic and exhausting, that I am content to quote a transcendent passage of his and provide on it just a little commentary.

I will say only that in this election year in America, and in our time of strained global leadership, I hope we may soon recast our political institutions and ambitions to allow men and women of such promise as Jawaharlal Nehru to lead as they know is right rather than as they bitterly and quietly recognize as merely feasible.

From An Indian Summer by James Cameron
1974

“I think Jawaharlal Nehru was the most important man I ever met. Scores of intelligent and well-intentioned Indians have derided me for this, citing for me the vast fallibilities of the man and the national catastrophe of his decline. All this is true. As a national leader Nehru was cursed by his imagination. He was paralysed by his intellectual evaluation of alternatives. He was, to coin a platitude, such a genuine giant among pigmies; it fed his pride and made possible his eternal equivocations. His achievement as the first prime minister of this enormous shapeless nation was so great that we who so respected him maintained the momentum of our affection far too long, after his vacillations and arbitrary impatiences turned him – certainly against his own will – into an almost purposeless tyrant, torn by arrogance and love. In the end he was surrounded by courtiers, chosen by caprice for their past loyalty or personal influence, never for the quality of their basic policies, almost always because ridding himself of them would have reflected on his own judgment. Thus in his final days was Jawaharlal Nehru surrounded by incompetents and sycophants and corrupt men; he denounced religious sectarianism and yet closed his eyes to its flagrant exploitation in his party’s interests; he knew only too well the dangers of corruption in his circle and remained silent while it flourished around him. He was a hopeless administrator, and refused to be relieved of the irritating and time-consuming detail of administration. So obsessed was he with the vision of the future that he could not bring himself to envisage or accept the dismaying futilities and dishonesties all around him. He was cursed with two strangely incompatible attributes: compassion and vanity. Thus, in the end, he could reign but never could bring himself to rule. And he was to me the most admirable, and potentially the most valuable, public man I have every known, and I mourned at his death.”

One comment

  1. Mira

    Wonderful comparative work, Austin, I didn’t know about this book, I’ll have to download to kindle! Your travel sound tremendous, keep the updates coming!

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