My Brother Mohan

Gopalkrishna Gandhi

I have always been in awe of him.

Rajmohan is a full decade older than I. He is also that much taller. Someone just over six feet, dwarfs someone just under six feet. You have to look up to him when hearing him speak, or when speaking to him. And he must bend his head, just so, to help the process.

He is, has always been, at some height.

There has never been a time when I have not known him to be meant for a purpose higher than his surroundings offer, bigger than the opportunities that have come his way.

Our maternal grandfather, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari regarded him as a natural born leader. He narrated, at a public meeting in Bombay, once, as to how the Mahatma complained to him that in naming their grandson Rajmohan, he, Rajaji, had placed his own part-name, Raj, ahead of Gandhiji’s, Mohan. ‘No, Bapu, it is not quite like that’, Rajaji quickly rationalized. ‘His name is, and will be yours –   Mohan ; Raj will be merely an adjective’.

And so Mohan he has been in the family.

‘Raj’, in terms of office or power, has always eluded him.

He is himself to blame, of course.

Our father was editor of The Hindustan Times when a first and fatal heart attack carried him away in 1957. Mohan, then twenty-two, had just then finished an internship with The Scotsman in Edinburgh and moved towards Frank Buchman’s Moral Re-Armament movement. Ghanshyamdas Birla asked him to join The Hindustan Times’ senior editorial staff, with the clear prospect of taking, at not too distant a date, his father’s position in the paper. But no, fixing the world’s mildewed moral plumbing was priority. For the next decade Mohan travelled the world giving MRA a stature it would never have dreamed of getting without his intellectual rigour, his shining veracity and his inspiring commitment.

In the general elections of 1967, many persons urged Mohan to stand for the Lok Sabha. The Swatantra Party was then a force to be reckoned with, though not as strong as it had been, in 1962. Rajaji was excited at the prospect of Mohan contesting and offered his party’s backing even if he chose to stand as an independent from Saurashtra. It is my belief that had Mohan not opted out of that election, he would have won that election handsomely and been in the Lok Sabha during the critical Indira Gandhi years, offering a leadership alternative of enormous appeal.

The written and spoken word were then, and remain, his forte. Starting in the mid-Sixties, from Bombay, with the late Russi M.Lala, a brave weekly called ‘Himmat’ Mohan engaged with Indian affairs very intimately. The weekly was read widely, admired hugely, for its outspokenness, its high-quality writing, its appeal to individual and collective consciences. The Emergency frowned on him, on Himmat. ‘Picked up’, with our third brother, the philosopher, Ramchandra Gandhi, on October 2, 1975, from a prayer gathering at Rajghat, by the police, the two could have been ‘in’ for many months. But I think Prime Minister Indira Gandhi must have been advised that two Gandhi-Rajaji grandsons in her jail would bring her the world press’ growl. They were both released within hours.

In a sense that Emergency episode brought Rajmohan to the heart of mainstream Indian politics as a liberal democrat, with a passion for Hindu-Muslim amity, probity in public life and  civil liberties. Unsurprisingly, Vishwanath Pratap Singh sought Mohan out, in the post-Bofors phase to contest against Rajiv Gandhi from Amethi, in 1989. The future Prime Minister motored to Teen Murti House where Mohan was working in the  archives, to urge him to do so. After some reflection, Mohan agreed to do so and by so doing gave the country its most defining election, that year. The incumbent Prime Minister was not to be defeated easily but the panic created by Mohan’s entry in the field led, I believe, without any sanction from Rajiv himself, to a brazen and shameful rigging on poll-day. Mohan lost, not all that badly, but the national outrage created by the Amethi rigging led to several elections in the subsequent rounds elsewhere in the country going against the Congress.

Mohan was brought to the Rajya Sabha by a grateful V P Singh and was slated to be inducted in his cabinet during a re-shuffle when the V P Singh government fell.

The loss to politics by Mohan’s political absence has been the gain of history-writing. From his uncompromisingly fair pen have emerged the life-stories of Gandhi, Rajaji, Patel, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Each one of those books has been hailed as about the best, if not the last word on the subject.

If the reader of this tribute by a younger brother has not read Mohan’s description of the Mahatma’s assassination in ‘The Good Boatman’, he or she is urged to do so. A more moving and epiphanic account is not to be found anywhere. Paradoxical as this might seem, the Mahatma comes alive in that description.

His little book on eight Muslim leaders of the sub-continent has done more to increasing India’s understanding of its Islamic legacy than any other book has. His work ‘Revenge and Reconciliation’ on the sub-continent’s conflicts must go down as a moving argument for civilisational redemptions coming from mutual respect.

His latest book on the history of the Punjab from the time of Aurangzeb to Mountbatten will be a reference work for all time. The response to the work in Pakistan has been incredible.

Mohan is, as always, taller than the circumstances that surround him. That enables him to cast a look that is much longer than and goes well beyond short-term horizons. His standing from the East Delhi seat for the Lok Sabha in the elections that are to take place in the coming days is consistent with his life-long passion to imbue India’s public life with ethical standards, valuational norms  and civilisational redeeming of a kind the world will respect.

He is today an elder statesman.

If he loses, political philistinism will win.

If he wins, political grossness will be put in its place.

March 30, 2014 

courtesy :

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Sketches

Zohra Sehgal

Reginald Massey

Zohra Sehgal in Bhaji on the Beach, 1993; she was one of the first Indian actresses to achieve an international profile. Photograph: Ronald Grant Archive

Zohra Sehgal, who has died aged 102, was one of the first female Indian actors to achieve a truly international profile, with roles in the films Bend It Like Beckham (2002) and Bhaji on the Beach (1993). Typically in her later years she played the part of a traditional south Asian woman struggling to come to terms with the pressures of living in a modern, alien culture as her children and grandchildren increasingly abandon the old ways. She also appeared in a number of TV series, including The Jewel in the Crown (1984) and Dr Who (1964-65), and her Bollywood output was prolific well into her 90s.

Zohra arrived in the UK in 1962, to take up a British Drama League scholarship. After working as a dresser at the Old Vic and playing bit parts in the theatre, she became the face of the BBC's early attempts at multiculturalism, presenting programmes aimed at new migrants and appearing in the 1977 serial Padosi (Neighbours). This led to roles in Courtesans of Bombay (1983), a docudrama directed by Ismail Merchant, but it was The Jewel in the Crown that brought her wider recognition, and made her a reliable feature of many subsequent British Asian productions, including Channel 4's first Asian comedy series, Tandoori Nights (1985-87). She was in her 80s by the time she moved back to India, but went on to appear in a string of films, culminating in Cheeni Kum (2007), in which she played the mother of the Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan.

She defied expectations throughout her life: a career in show business was not the conventional choice for a girl from an aristocratic Muslim family in Saharanpur, northern India. Born Sahibzadi Zohra Begum Mumtaz-ullah Khan, she was one of seven siblings; her mother died when she was young and her father rather spoiled her. She first encountered art and culture at Queen Mary College, Lahore, where strict British schoolmistresses educated the daughters of the Indian upper classes.

Having resolved to become a dancer and actor, she managed to get to Germany in 1933, where she studied under the dance pioneer Mary Wigman. She later toured several countries with the dancer Uday Shankar, elder brother of Ravi Shankar, who was then a small-part dancer in his company.

She met her husband, the painter Kameshwar Sehgal, in an arts centre founded by Uday Shankar in the Himalayan foothills. Again, it was an unconventional choice: Kameshwar was eight years younger than Zohra and he was a Hindu. They married, in the face of considerable opposition, in 1942.

The couple started a dance school in Lahore, but the tensions over their marriage forced them to move to Bombay, which was then a comparatively liberal city. They joined the Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA), which consisted of progressive and secular intellectuals, poets, writers, film-makers, actors and artists. Most of the country's leftwing luminaries were active IPTA members.

In 1946, Zohra appeared in Dharti Ke Lal (Children of the Earth), a film about the Bengal famine of 1943 that formed part of a new wave of socially engaged Indian cinema. The same year, she featured in Neecha Nagar (The Lowly City), a groundbreaking social realist film, Indian cinema's first international critical success and winner of the Palme d'Or at the Cannes film festival. The atmospheric soundtrack of both films was provided by Ravi Shankar.

After partition in 1947, Zohra, as a leading lady of Prithvi theatre (run by Prithviraj Kapoor), toured the country performing plays advocating communal harmony. In 1959, tragedy struck when Kameshwar took his own life, leaving her to bring up their two young children. Three years later, she took up the British Drama League scholarship and they went to London.

It may have been her regular yoga exercises and absolute discipline in matters of eating and sleeping that gave Sehgal the energy of a woman less than half her age. When I asked her in early 2013 what she had enjoyed most in life, her eyes lit up. "Sex! Sex! And more sex!" she declared.

Padma Vibhushan title in 2010. She is survived by her dancer-choreographer daughter, Kiran; her son, Pavan; four grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

Zohra Sehgal, actor, dancer and choreographer, born 27 April 1912; died 10 July 2014

courtesy : "The Guardian", Tuesday 22 July 2014 

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Sketches