The love Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had for Lady Edwina Mountbatten was chivalric and it was not physical, says a new book by Lady Pamela Mountbatten, the daughter of Lord Mountbatten. In an exclusive interview to Karan Thapar, Lady Pamela speaks about Nehru-Edwina relationship and how it influenced history. Lady Pamela speaks about Kashmir, Partition and how her father could never “crack” Jinnah.
Hello and welcome to Devil's Advocate. Lord Mountbatten's daughter, Lady Pamela, has written a book India Remembered about the time she spent in the country when her father was the last Viceroy and the first Governor General. Tonight in the first of a two-part series I shall talk to Lady Pamela about her memories of Jawaharlal Nehru, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
Karan Thapar: Lady Pamela, let’s start with the subject that everyone is most curious about; the relationship between your mother Edwina Mountbatten and Jawaharlal Nehru. In your introduction you write: "towards the end of the 15 months we spent in India, the immediate attraction between my mother and Panditji blossomed into love". What do you mean by love?
Lady Pamela: I mean a very deep love. The kind of love that the old knights of old, a chivalric love really. Now days everybody assumes that it has to be a carnal love, but you can have just as deep an emotional love with two like souls in a way, people who really grow to understand each other, and to be able to listen to each other and to complement each other and find solace in each other.
Karan Thapar: In your book you write with incredible candour: "my mother had already had lovers, my father was inured to it" but then you add " the relationship with Nehru remained platonic." Can you be really sure of that?
Lady Pamela: I was with them most of the time. We called it a gooseberry. It was very awkward for them, you know, if I was around the whole time. I would say yes, anyway Nehru was a very honorable man who liked my father. There was a great affection between the two, and it was nearly always in my father's houses either in England or in India that they were together, and I think he would have never dishonoured his friends, you know.
Karan Thapar: But you know at the time, and even afterwards, people have speculated about it to say that the friendship went a lot further. Did this speculation hurt your father? Did he ever object to the fact that he must have known behind his back people were joking possibly about the Viceroy being cuckolded?
Lady Pamela: I think it shows what confidence he had and how he was correct in that. My mother died in Borneo, working for Save the Children Fund and St. John Ambulance Brigade, and she died suddenly in the middle of her work. And on her bedside table was a packet of Panditji's letters. And in her will we found she had left the whole collection of letters to my father and they were an enormous number, there were suitcases full of these letters. And after, when we found that she'd left these letters to him, he asked me to read them.
He said he was ninety nine percent sure there was nothing that would wound him or worry him or diminish him in any way. But there was just that one percent of doubt fluttering in his heart and he said darling will you read them first. And so I read them and they were wonderful letters, but nothing at all that would have distressed my father.
Karan Thapar: Were you yourself at all apprehensive, did you as a daughter, perhaps a younger generation, think maybe there'd be a sentence, a stray phrase that might give the game away?
Lady Pamela: No, I didn't. Because also I think I didn't really attach the sexual importance to the whole affair that other people did. To me they were two amazing people whose place in history was considerable. What they did, I thought that was the important thing about them. And I loved them both very much, and I wasn't particularly interested if they were tumbling around in bed together. And I was certain they weren't.
Karan Thapar: As I said there was a lot of speculation at the time and undoubtedly this must have been the source of jokes which people hid from you, but your father was very generous and understanding. In a letter you quote in your book he wrote to your sister Patricia “she (meaning Edwina) and Jawaharlal are so sweet together. They really dote on each other. Pammy and I are doing everything we can to be tactful and helpful.” Was it easy to be as tactful as he makes it seem?. It couldn't have been quite that easy?
Lady Pamela: Yes, very easy. Very easy indeed. We just had to go out of the room!
Karan Thapar: So there were moments when he felt I ought to just leave them alone?
Lady Pamela: Yes, but they were both fully dressed sitting on a sofa in the study or something.
Karan Thapar: There was no tinge of jealousy or perhaps of hurt emotion?
Lady Pamela: No, because I think he trusted them both. And also, my mother was so happy with Jawaharlal, she knew she was helping him at a time when it's very lonely at the pinnacle of power. It really is. And if she could help, and my father knew that it helped her, because a woman can, after a long marriage, and they had had their silver wedding, so they'd been over twenty five years together, a woman can feel perhaps frustrated, and perhaps neglected if somebody's working terribly hard. And so if a new affection comes into her life, a new admiration, she blossoms and she's happy.
So both of them in a sense fulfilled a need, both Jawaharlal and Edwina needed each other. I think they did, and my father understood that need and of course it made my mother, who could be quite difficult at times, as many very extraordinary women can be, and yet when she was so happy with everybody, it was lovely to be with her. There were no prickles.
Karan Thapar: You have a lovely phrase in your book, you say: "there existed a happy threesome based on some firm understanding on all sides." What was the firm understanding, not to probe too deeply, just in case you stumbled on something you didn't want to?
Lady Pamela: No, I think that there were no doubts. That my father was convinced that it was just a friendship. That they would like to talk together and be together, and he was convinced that was all it was, and I was certainly convinced that was all it was.
Karan Thapar: much of this friendship and affection , much of this relationship, actually lived its way in the letters they wrote each other. You reveal in your book that Pandit Nehru wrote to your mother practically every night at 2 o clock.
Lady Pamela: But the letters were, as I think I mentioned, they would have an endearment to begin with and, sadly always, that they were missing each other so much . They wouldn't see each other for six months at a time. And then probably they only saw each other twice in a year.
Karan Thapar: but there is a particular letter that Panditji wrote to your mother, where it seems quite obvious to anyone that he's just completely bowled over. He writes: "suddenly I realise that there was a deeper attachment between us, that some uncontrollable force drew us to one another." Was he in a sense more in love, because he was a lonely man, than your mother maybe?
Lady Pamela: No, I don't think so. But again I think he is talking about the emotional more than the physical. I think suddenly they've realized that they were two souls together. Not necessarily two bodies together.
Karan Thapar: So all the speculation, that there was a physical side, is in fact unfair? Because its been referred to by historians, its been referred to by biographers, that's unfair?
Lady Pamela: Yes, I think, as I say I don't understand this obsession that people who have a deep emotion with each other must immediately have a physical relationship.
Karan Thapar: except for the fact that its taken as simply usual today, everyone does.
Lady Pamela: But these were two very unusual people.
Karan Thapar: But Panditji was a widower, he needed female affection, he must have wanted it. Your mother was alluring and beautiful, they were so close to each other; it would be natural for the emotional to become sexual.
Lady Pamela: It could be, and maybe everybody will think I'm being very naive, but the fact that she had had lovers in the past, somehow this was so different, it really was. And the letters, I mean if you were deeply, physically in love, your whole letter would be about the other person and your need of them physically, and it would be that kind of love letter.
These letters had an opening paragraph of tenderness, and the end would be also tender and romantic and nice like that, but three quarters of the letter was unburdening himself of all his worries and his disappointments or his hopes and all his idealism coming out for the extraordinary time of India at her rebirth in history and it is the history of India as an independent nation.
Karan Thapar: and of course if there was a physical side, that would be part of the history of India, it would be part of the romantic side of the history of India. Would you say that every bit of you is convinced that there was no sexual side, but its possible there may have been, because they were adults and they would have done it privately? One can’t rule it out a hundred percent but ninety percent you do.
Lady Pamela: If you long to believe that then don't let me prevent you. But I don't believe it. I believe just that they loved being together, that they could talk about anything. That they might like to hold hands or to hug or something like that. I don't believe, I really do not believe, because of the fact that my father was so often around and that there was not a hint of that.
Karan Thapar: And that Panditji would not hurt his friend.
Lady Pamela: I think so. Panditji was a very honorable man.
Karan Thapar: there is another aspect of this relationship that you refer to in your book. You say that the Edwina-Nehru relationship was also of use to your father as viceroy. That he often appealed to Panditji through the influence your mother had. And that this was particularly useful handling tricky situations like Kashmir.
Lady Pamela: That is true, and he did use her like that. But he certainly wasn't going to throw her, he didn't say to her ‘go and become the Prime Minister’s lover, because I need you to intercede.’ It was a by- product of this deep affection.
Karan Thapar: He realised that there was an emotional relationship, that he could use for the betterment of everyone.
Lady Pamela: Absolutely.
Karan Thapar: Many people in India believe that the decision Jawaharlal Nehru took to refer Kashmir to the United Nations was taken under your father's advice. Could that have been an area where your mother's influence would have been particularly useful?
Lady Pamela: I think it could have been well. Because Panditji being a Kashmiri, of course, inevitably the emotional side comes in from ones own country doesn't it? And my father just in dry conversation mightn't have been able to get his viewpoint over, but with my mother translating it for Panditji and making, you know, appealing to his heart, more than his mind that he should really behave like this. I think probably that did happen.
Karan Thapar: So in a very interesting sense, Panditji had a love in your mother, and your father had a bit of influence through your mother on Panditji.
Lady Pamela: Yes, I think so. But what was the important outcome of it all, was really for the good of India. And I think Ms Gandhi, when she became prime minister; she was a very very clever politician, an amazing woman. But Panditji was a real statesman, it never occurred to him to make anything out of his position; he never made money out of it. He was the real idealist, for the good of India, always.
Karan Thapar: In fact you write in your book "if you asked me who I loved most after my father and mother or my sister, undoubtedly it was Panditji." In fact you called him Mamu.
Lady Pamela: Absolutely. I soon reverted to Panditji, because it didn't really seem very easy with all his nieces and aunts who were great friends.
Karan Thapar: But at 17 he was Mamu?
Lady Pamela: He was Mamu, he signed a photograph to me as Mamu.
Karan Thapar: And it’s in the book.
Lady Pamela: Yes. And I thought of him like that. Though I must say I had enough respect actually to back away a little bit. He went on calling me Pammy, but I called him Panditji.
Karan Thapar: The friendship between the two families continued right through the life of Indira Gandhi, but has it stretched to include Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Priyanka?
Lady Pamela: Yes, but not through me really, because I've not seen much of them. But my sister and brother in law saw much more, I met Sonia obviously once or twice, but my sister knew them much better because I think one of the children was at Cambridge and so there was that connection. And when my sister and brother-in-law would go to India they would definitely see them.
Karan Thapar: Lady Pamela, as the daughter of the last Viceroy and the first Governor-General of India, you met all the key players in 1947. Let’s start with Gandhi. What was he like when you were 17?
Lady Pamela: Well, of course, one was thrilled at meeting already such a mythical character. And Gandhiji was such a marvelous person that the moment you met him, he had such a twinkle, but he was so simple with people, that you know one was just delighted to meet him.
Karan Thapar: There's a lovely photograph in your book, taken the day Gandhi met your parents for the first time, the thirty first of March, 1947, he's walking back from the garden it seems into vice-regal lodge, and he has his hand resting on your mother's shoulder. How did that happen at the very first meeting?
Lady Pamela: Well, normally, you forget that he was a very frail old man by the time we were there and normally he had his great-niece Manu with him and she would be a support for him. And she wasn't there but my mother was there, so my mother became the support automatically and my mother also would have wanted to be there. He was frail, she was worried he would stumble or something. It was the most natural thing in the world. And I suppose because there were photographers at the meeting, the photographer thought, Ah that's a very good shot.
Karan Thapar: In fact in the months that followed Gandhi was a frequent visitor to Viceregal lodge. He would always bring his goat curds with him. You mention an occasion when he absolutely insisted that you father try it. What did your father do?
Lady Pamela: Well of course Gandhiji was a wicked tease. I mean, my father called him the saint. But saints can be very difficult and they are wickedly mischievous usually. And it was the first meeting actually, and my father didn't like to refuse, he thought it would be very rude to refuse and he tried several times politely. But Gandhiji said no, no, no, no I insist you must try, and my father was appalled. He thought it was a green sludge and you know when you get something you hate stuck in your cheek, very difficult to get rid of it. And so after that, I must say, he was very firm, he said: "Gandhiji, you have yours and I will have mine."
Karan Thapar: Now the other person you got to meet was of course Mohammad Ali Jinnah. You write in your book that Jinnah was impervious to your father's charm. You say " My father could talk of nothing else because he could not crack Jinnah and this had never happened to him before."
Lady Pamela: And it hadn't happened to him before but this was the most crucial meeting that it should work. Because it was so easy to be intimate with Panditji and with Gandhiji even, so my father hoped that in order to be able to talk to these people, to relate to them, to work with them, it was essential that they get on good terms.
Karan Thapar: Did they get on good terms?
Lady Pamela: No, no, and this was what distressed my father so much because he so much wanted to give as much to Pakistan as he did to India. But he was repulsed each time he tried to offer, no thank you very much.
Karan Thapar: Was it Jinnah's personality that was the problem? People in India see him as reserved, even dour?
Lady Pamela: Yes, yes it was, there was no approaching him. Once we did see him smile, that was when we came back from the drive in Karachi, on the fourteenth of August, when Pakistan was created. They came back from that drive, at which a bomb was said to be going to be thrown, they came back alive, and he had a radiant smile, and so did Fatima.
Karan Thapar: But that was the only occasion?
Lady Pamela: The only occasion.
Karan Thapar: So in a real sense Jinnah's personality repulsed your father's friendship? He wouldn't let your father get close to him.
Lady Pamela: My father had respect for him and he had respect for my father, they respected each other.
Karan Thapar: But no fondness?
Lady Pamela: But no warmth, no warmth at all.
Karan Thapar: So that was the difference? Indian leaders like Nehru and Gandhi became friends but Jinnah never became a friend?
Lady Pamela: That's right.
Karan Thapar: You write in your epilogue " I felt far more Indian than English when I left at the age of seventeen or eighteen." Sixty years later, how do you look back on India today?
Lady Pamela: Well of course after sixty years, I am English, I've been living in England all the time, I have a wide circle of English friends. So of course now I feel English. But when my Indian friends come, there's such a warmth and one is so thrilled to see them again. I just have a wider circle of friends.
Karan Thapar: So India still remains a very special country?
Lady Pamela: And the fifteenth of August is the most important day in my life, having witnessed it.