As the nation celebrates Children’s Day today, I remember a story of the VIP with a rose. Yes, a very special person in our hearts even today, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
Five decades ago, in the early sixties, Pandit Nehru, then the Prime Minister of India, spent a few days at Shillong during his tour of the North-East. Back then, Assam was one big state which consisted of all the states that form the Seven Sisters today, and Shillong, a most beautiful hill station, was its capital. Raj Bhavan, the governor’s residence, which overlooks Wards Lake, was right in the midst of lush green, sylvan surroundings. Just the place where a busy Prime Minister who always had “miles to go” could enjoy a quiet sojourn. And the Prime Minister indeed did – get a few days of rest and relaxation, I mean.
A short vacation later, it was time for Prime Minister Nehru to leave. The secretary to the governor of Assam, Mr GS Mani, was given the responsibility of seeing off the VIP at the helipad in Upper Shillong. Just as Mr Mani was getting into his black Humber to drive to the helipad, his six-year-old daughter ran out of the house and got into the car. “I am coming with you, Father,” she said with the sort of steely determination that only children can muster up.
A six-year-old at a VIP send-off? But Mr Mani’s daughter was not going to budge! So an exasperated father in a hurry had no choice but to agree and allow his daughter to accompany him. The car sped to reach the helipad before the VIP got there. At the helipad, Mr Mani busied himself with last-minute instructions and waited for the Prime Minister to arrive. His daughter stood beside him overawed by the sight of a real helicopter.
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru arrived in a while, looking impeccable in his white achkan and jacket. A few words with Mr Mani and a warm handshake later, the Prime Minister started walking towards the chopper, whose rotors had started to turn. Suddenly, the little girl, who had been standing quietly in the background, ran towards the chopper. “I want to sit in the helicopter, I want to sit in the helicopter,” she cried.
Mr Mani was stunned and ran behind his daughter. Prime Minister Nehru turned around to see what the commotion was all about, even as an embarrassed Mr Mani tried hard to hold his daughter back and calm her down. The Prime Minister walked towards the crying child, patted her curly mop of hair and asked her what her name was. The girl stopped crying and looked at him. Then she rubbed her eyes, wiped her stuffy nose with the back of her hand and said, “Vijaylakshmi”.
Prime Minister Nehru immediately kissed her on her cheek. “My sister’s name is Vijaylakshmi too… It’s a beautiful name,” he said and smiled at the girl. He then took out the trademark rosebud from his button hole and gave it to the little girl. She took the flower and smiled widely. The helicopter was now completely forgotten. The girl clutched the rosebud tightly and waved at the Prime Minister as he walked back and got into the helicopter. He waved back at her.
My father GS Mani kept this incident alive by narrating it often to family and friends – after all, the little girl in it was none other than me! Even today, I relive that memorable moment with Chacha Nehru because it was truly special. Can you imagine connecting with a VIP without any barricades, security clearances and all the attendant fuss?
Chacha Nehru was a Prime Minister who loved children and understood them well. We remember him when Children’s Day is celebrated on 14 November every year, but what makes him great is that every day was Children’s Day for Chacha Nehru! I, for one, can vouch for this, because I experienced his affection and ability to connect with children first hand.
Contributor: Vijaylakshmi Nagaraj