BOOK EXCERPT

How Indira Gandhi gained love, gave up Oxford, and found her calling

Sagarika Ghose’s biography of Indira Gandhi brings together all the events and stories from her life.

By the time Indira joined Oxford, she had become romantically involved with Feroze. “I myself was once young and deeply in love,” she would say to Sonia Gandhi years later when meeting her for the first time as Rajiv’s fiancée. Although Feroze had proposed to her several times in the past, she finally said yes in Paris.

In 1937 on her way to join Somerville, she had met Feroze in Paris and he had proposed to her on the steps of the Sacré-Coeur Basilica in Montmartre. Paris was, in her words, “bathed in soft sunshine and the heart was young and gay...we ourselves were young and in love”.

Feroze had first proposed to Indira when she was only sixteen, but Kamala had insisted that her daughter was too young to marry.

For Feroze, Indira was the daughter of his adored Nehrus and he was as drawn to what she represented as much as he was to her. Ironically it would be her family and her life within it that would later become the source of Feroze’s emotional troubles.

Feroze’s aunt Dr Commissariat had agreed to finance his studies at the LSE only because she thought it would take him away from his obsession with the Nehrus. But Indira and Feroze were never closer than at this time and she was split between two worlds, trying to live out her father’s expectations to become an Oxford graduate but becoming drawn more powerfully to the activist life with Feroze in London.

With Feroze she became actively involved in the India League, a radical organisation agitating for Indian independence in Britain, led by the brilliant, brooding VK Krishna Menon, barrister, publisher and public intellectual. Nehru’s mind had already been “captured by Krishna Menon”, he was Jawaharlal’s “darker skinned, gaunt, ugly” but fiercely intelligent soulmate.

Once when Menon unexpectedly asked her to address a gathering, she acquitted herself so badly that someone in the audience shouted, “She doesn’t speak, she squeaks!” It’s a story she often told with a laugh while she was prime minister, by when she could hold a crowd rapt and engaged.

Memories of her from this period are not flattering. Photographs show her as skinny and sallow-complexioned. Her peers remember her as unwell, physically and intellectually nondescript, clinging to Feroze as if he was her lifeline. Her father’s friends weren’t too impressed either. She was described as “a mousy, shy little girl who did not seem to have any political ideas”, and was “purely her father’s daughter”.

However hard she tried, by attending the influential socialist thinker Harold Laski’s lectures at the LSE or following the debates at the Oxford Majlis, she simply wasn’t as intellectually dazzling as her father would have liked her to be. Nehru’s European friends ranged from the French author André Gide, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize, the writer and art theorist André Malraux, the biologist and internationalist Julian Huxley to the social reformer and sociologist Beatrice Webb. When Nehru met and interacted with them, some in Indira’s presence, her own lack of brilliance was sadly apparent.

At the end of her first year at Oxford, she failed after two attempts to pass the first year “Moderations” examinations that she needed to clear to begin the honours degree.

She passed all her subjects but each time failed to clear her dreaded Latin, understandably so as she had had no opportunity to master it, unlike other English students who had been studying it for years. She had only one more attempt left; if she failed again she would be faced with the humiliation of being “sent down”, or asked to leave Oxford. She fell ill with a cold, cough and exhaustion.

One of her Oxford contemporaries, Nikhil Chakravartty, believed her illnesses in these years were a “convenient fiction” to avoid being sent down from Oxford. By 1938, she decided not to make another attempt and to abandon Oxford although she evidently didn’t yet tell her father, fearing his deep disappointment.

Meanwhile Nehru arrived in Europe, caught in a whirlwind of meetings and lectures, and she set off travelling with him. Before she went, Harold Laski told her, “If you tag along with your father, you’ll just become an appendage…so you’d better not go with him. You must strike out on your own.” But she strained to be a part of Europe’s political churning and of all the excitement around Nehru, who had a hectic schedule meeting politicians and intellectuals as well as attending public meetings and delivering lectures, organised by Krishna Menon.

Together father and daughter visited Paris to participate in a world peace conference, where there were protests by Spanish groups, Indira becoming “excited” and “involved” when La Pasionaria (or Dolores Ibárruri), the communist heroine of the Spanish Civil War, was not allowed to speak. “I felt very strongly about the Spanish Civil war,” she would recall in a nostalgic moment about her youthful, radical years.

By the time they arrived in Budapest via Munich and Prague, Indira fell seriously ill with pleurisy and Nehru urged her to return to India with him, which she did. Back in India in November 1938, having just turned twenty-one, she joined the Indian National Congress as she had been longing to for a while. It was as if Oxford was behind her already, and her path ahead was clear.

She wasn’t cut out for long hours of study in ivory towers; radical campaigning excited her more.

She didn’t want to battle to learn Latin, she wanted to battle for different causes. In her mind the choice was clear: goodbye Oxford, hello political activism. She pined for the heady, politically charged days in London and for Feroze. She was a young radical, madly in love, and restless to be a greater part of the youthful ferment among Indian students in England. Her health remained fragile all the while she was in academic surroundings, but later when she joined politics she would become robust and sturdy; a wilting flower would suddenly spring to new life when she found the terrain in which she really belonged.

Excerpted with permission from Indira: India’s Most Powerful Prime Minister, Sagarika Ghose, Juggernaut.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Not just for experts: How videography is poised for a disruption

Digital solutions are making sure it’s easier than ever to express your creativity in moving images.

Where was the last time you saw art? Chances are on a screen, either on your phone or your computer. Stunning photography and intricate doodles are a frequent occurrence in the social feeds of many. That’s the defining feature of art in the 21st century - it fits in your pocket, pretty much everyone’s pocket. It is no more dictated by just a few elite players - renowned artists, museum curators, art critics, art fair promoters and powerful gallery owners. The digital age is spawning creators who choose to be defined by their creativity more than their skills. The negligible incubation time of digital art has enabled experimentation at staggering levels. Just a few minutes of browsing on the online art community, DeviantArt, is enough to gauge the scope of what digital art can achieve.

Sure enough, in the 21st century, entire creative industries are getting democratised like never before. Take photography, for example. Digital photography enabled everyone to capture a memory, and then convert it into personalised artwork with a plethora of editing options. Apps like Instagram reduced the learning curve even further with its set of filters that could lend character to even unremarkable snaps. Prisma further helped to make photos look like paintings, shaving off several more steps in the editing process. Now, yet another industry is showing similar signs of disruption – videography.

Once burdened by unreliable film, bulky cameras and prohibitive production costs, videography is now accessible to anyone with a smartphone and a decent Internet bandwidth. A lay person casually using social media today has so many video types and platforms to choose from - looping Vine videos, staccato Musical.lys, GIFs, Instagram stories, YouTube channels and many more. Videos are indeed fast emerging as the next front of expression online, and so are the digital solutions to support video creation.

One such example is Vizmato, an app which enables anyone with a smartphone to create professional-looking videos minus the learning curve required to master heavy, desktop software. It makes it easy to shoot 720p or 1080p HD videos with a choice of more than 40 visual effects. This fuss- free app is essentially like three apps built into one - a camcorder with live effects, a feature-rich video editor and a video sharing platform.

With Vizmato, the creative process starts at the shooting stage itself as it enables live application of themes and effects. Choose from hip hop, noir, haunted, vintage and many more.

The variety of filters available on Vizmato
The variety of filters available on Vizmato

Or you can simply choose to unleash your creativity at the editing stage; the possibilities are endless. Vizmato simplifies the core editing process by making it easier to apply cuts and join and reverse clips so your video can flow exactly the way you envisioned. Once the video is edited, you can use a variety of interesting effects to give your video that extra edge.

The RGB split, Inset and Fluidic effects.
The RGB split, Inset and Fluidic effects.

You can even choose music and sound effects to go with your clip; there’s nothing like applause at the right moment, or a laugh track at the crack of the worst joke.

Or just annotated GIFs customised for each moment.

Vizmato is the latest offering from Global Delight, which builds cross-platform audio, video and photography applications. It is the Indian developer that created award-winning iPhone apps such as Camera Plus, Camera Plus Pro and the Boom series. Vizmato is an upgrade of its hugely popular app Game Your Video, one of the winners of the Macworld Best of Show 2012. The overhauled Vizmato, in essence, brings the Instagram functionality to videos. With instant themes, filters and effects at your disposal, you can feel like the director of a sci-fi film, horror movie or a romance drama, all within a single video clip. It even provides an in-built video-sharing platform, Popular, to which you can upload your creations and gain visibility and feedback.

Play

So, whether you’re into making the most interesting Vines or shooting your take on Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’, experience for yourself how Vizmato has made video creation addictively simple. Android users can download the app here and iOS users will have their version in January.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Vizmato and not by the Scroll editorial team.