The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, August 10, 2003

Short Takes
A patriot who enjoyed the fortunes of a king
Jaswant Singh

C. Rajagopalachari: The True Patriot
by R.K. Murthi. Rupa, New Delhi. Pages 63. Rs 195.

C. Rajagopalachari: The True PatriotAMONG the galaxy of leaders who spearheaded the country’s freedom struggle, the name of C. Rajagopalachari, popularly known as Rajaji or just C.R., stands out prominently for his sharp intellect, hard logic and sound reasoning. A close associate of Gandhiji, he never shied away from expressing his own opinion when he differed with the leader. As a minister in independent India’s first Cabinet, he expressed his differences with Nehru on several issues of national importance.

When this extraordinary personality was born on December 10, 1878, the family astrologer had predicted that he would enjoy the fortunes of a king, the pains of an exile and the influence of a guru. Whether you believe in astrology or not, these contradictory predictions proved true in Rajaji’s case. His legal practice gave him the life of a king, he had the painful experience of being forced out of the Congress Party for his views on the demands of the Muslim League; and even when he was not in the party, his opinion was treated with respect.

As part of the leadership of the Congress, he pleaded with Gandhiji to be more responsive to the demands of the Muslim League led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah. The reaction in the party was so intense that Gandhiji advised him to quit the party. Gandhiji later readmitted him.


His induction as the Governor of Bengal, and then as the Governor-General of India, his joining the Nehru Cabinet, his differences with Nehru and resignation from the Cabinet, his assumption of office as Chief Minister of Madras, his floating the Swatantra Party which did well in the 1962 elections but faded out later, are all described in this story of this remarkable man. This great patriot, great dissenter, and one of the most outspoken leaders of his time, died on December 25, 1972, at the ripe old age of 94.

Ismat Chugtai: A Fearless Voice
by Manjula Negi. Rupa, New Delhi. Pages 72. Rs 195.

Ismat Chugtai: A Fearless VoiceThis is the story of a bold and courageous woman who made no compromises as a writer in giving voice to the most exploited and ignored sections of society—women and the poor. She narrated the plight of women in orthodox Muslim families with such frank and unrestrained audacity that it shook the conservative conscience of the Muslim milieu and she even had to face a court trial on charges on obscenity. Even if the court found no substance in the charge, the case left her with the reputation of being a writer of vulgar prose, a label that stuck to her till the end, though not quite justifiably. Yet she refused to be cowed and continued to write on subjects that few writers would dare to touch. Her outspoken and controversial style of writing and her indomitable spirit have inspired the younger generation of writers and intellectuals to whom she is ‘Ismat Apa’ of just ‘Apa.’

The author, who has practised journalism for nearly a decade, refers to Ismat all through the book as ‘Apa,’ an expression of respect used for an elder sister. She traces Ismat’s life from her childhood when her stubborn threat to become a Christian to be able to continue her studies forced her father to let her stay in a hostel to pursue her studies.

From there her life has been a journey, constantly away from the beaten track, and in her writings she said good-bye to romanticism, which, before the advent of the progressive writers’ group, was the hallmark of Urdu literature. She boldly gave expression to reality. It was a difficult task to deal on her own terms with her time and society which she made the subject of her writings. Her stories depict the bitter realities around her and she questions the exploitative nature of society in an outspoken, satarical and witty style that inspires women to stand up and defend their rights. Ismat also wrote articles but she is best understood through her short stories. Her characters are based on persons in her circle of family and friends. They shake you up, they make you laugh and they make you cry with them.

Manjula Negi traces the events in Ismat’s life, beginning from her childhood when as the ninth child of her parents, she, in her own words, was not a welcome child, partly because she was the ninth, and partly because she was a girl. Then the author goes on to describe Ismat’s school and college days, her days as a writer, her trial for obscenity, her marriage to writer and filmmaker Shahid Latif, her own involvement with the film world and her end when Alzheimer’s claimed her on October 24, 1991. The author describes her book as an attempt to capture the essence of a woman who refused to be contained in her life or in her work.