Evocative memoirs
Reviewed by Kanwalpreet

Autobiography
By Rajendra Prasad.
Penguin.
Pages 602. Rs 499.

THE thoughts of Dr Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India, penned in this book reflect the mood of the common people of India during the British rule. The memoirs are revealing because they minutely trace the growth of the nation as well of Prasad himself. He delves into his childhood catching the essence of his surroundings, religious processions, climbing trees, playing simple games, like kabaddi and chikka. He describes the village bazaar and people, and concludes that the "village life then was far simple than it is today". Life is described as seen by a small boy who grows up amidst a loving, supportive family. Education is a priority, and no efforts are spared to educate the children of the family.

Prasad wrote these memoirs while he was in prison between 1942 and 1945. So, he is able to reconstruct the story of his life clearly. He is reminiscent about his college and university days, where he got actively involved in various extra-curricular activities that moulded his personality. It is here that he is able to tell the reader about the winds of change blowing among the youth who were hankering for an independent India.

The details of Prasadís initial meetings with Mahatma Gandhi are interesting. His close association with Gandhi, surprisingly, had a lukewarm beginning. Prasad confesses that the first time Gandhiji visited his house in Patna, the servant made him stay in the outhouse thinking the latter to be a client. Prasad was drawn to Gandhi gradually. It was during the Champaran movement that he got convinced about Gandhiís way of working and his technique of Satyagraha. "The Champaran struggle was a fine rehearsal in the technique of Satyagraha," he writes. He believed that Gandhi was right when he desired democracy to grow from within people than be imposed from above. Gandhi wanted people to desire justice for themselves; in other words, democracy, for then only would they cherish it.

It goes to the credit of Prasad and others like him who gave up lucrative careers to fight for Independence. He praises his elder brother for shouldering the running of the entire household, which left Prasad with enough time to involve himself in nation resurrection. His elder brother comes across as one of the many silent heroes who worked in the background to give India one of her gems who rose to become the first President of the nation.

The writing is in great detail, for he hasnít missed a single event, be it repression in Assam, the birth of the Swarajya Party or the Guru-Ka-Bagh incident, where the Sikhs implemented the lessons of Satyagraha in letter and in spirit while liberating their Gurudwaras from the Mahants. His memoirs are a tribute to India as a nation. He writes on his visit to Cape Comorin, thus: "India is often depicted as a woman, Bharat Mata, with Cape Comorin as her feet. I went round to see the rocks jutting out into the sea. I was told that Swami Vivekananda visited the rocks once and lay prostrate there in obeisance at the feet of Bharat Mata."

He writes about the death of near and dear ones, people in his family as well as those close to his heart whom he met in the journey of life. He painfully writes about the divisiveness of the people of India and links it with the geographical features of the country. He talks about the Himalayas and the Khyber Valley as excellent barriers to protect us from invaders but one weakness in failing ourselves from foreigners. "The Khyber Pass and Indiaís history bear testimony to the fact that no country can hope to derive benefit from natural barriers unless it is properly organised and is able to defend itself." He adds, "Just as when I saw Cape Comorin, it conjured up a vision of Indiaís greatness, the Khyber Pass, as I stood facing it, brought in my minds eye Indiaís incapacity and ineptitude."

Prasadís book is recommended because of its fine quality, choice of words and also because he was a witness as well a participant to political developments that shaped India. The reasons to read this work are many, though its length may be a deterrent to a few.





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