The Discovery of India was written by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, when he was imprisoned for five months in the Ahmednagar fort during the Indian independence movement. The book was published in 1946, a year before India gained independence. Many scholars who have published elaborate studies in the field of Indian history have called the book as a classic. Jawaharlal Nehru in his work has narrated in this book India’s rich and complex past from the prehistoric times to the final years of colonial rule in India.
Nehru begins his account from the beginning of the Indus Valley Civilization and outlines the country’s geography before introducing the native tribes. The highlights of the book are Nehru’s own readings of the Indian epics, rituals, and scriptures like the Vedas and Arthashastra (economics). Nehru has also explained in detail the growth of new religions and religious sects, such as Buddhism, and Jainism and the changing social structure. The effect of foreign invaders, such as the Aryans, Persians, Greeks, Arabs, Turkish, and Mongols, their rule and the impact on the Indian society can also be understood by reading the book.
Since Nehru himself was part of the Indian independence movement, readers can have a subjective view of the movement from the time it had begun to the time when it gained momentum till the final years of the movement. The book captures in essence and brings to life one of the world’s ancient culture encompassing all aspects of it – philosophy, art, religion, science, society and social movements. The Discovery of India is a wonderful read for any student of history, who wants to learn about India and its rich past. It is also a wonderful read for anybody who is interested in knowing about the country which holds within its boundaries so many regions, religions, sects, races, languages, cuisines, and sub cultures.
Badenweiler, Lausanne Kamala On September 4th , 1935, Jawaharlal Nehru was released from jail of Almora as his wife Kamala was in a critical condition. She was admitted in a sanatorium at Badenweiler at Germany. He reached Badenweiler on September 9th. Kamala was weak and she was in her grip of pain. Her condition improved after the arrival of Nehru. Though the doctors gave him hope, Nehru was sure that Kamala would leave him soon.
Kamala was not well enough for a long conversation. So they talked briefly. Nehru read some books to her. Pearl Buck’s ‘The Good Earth’ was one among the books. Nehru used to visit Kamala in the morning and afternoon and spend some hours with her. Though he had many things to say her, he restrained himself. They discussed about old times, old memories and of about some common friends in India. Her eyes were bright and vital when they discussed about their future. The friends could realize the change in her after the arrival of Nehru. Nehru’s mind was fully occupied with the thought of Kamala. They were married for twenty years.
She had surprised him by her mental and spiritual make-up. He wondered if he really knew or understood Kamala well. He felt something elusive about her, something fay-like, real but unsubstantial and was difficult to grasp. He could feel some strangeness in Kamala. Kamala had no formal education. She was an unsophisticated girl at the time of their marriage. When she became a woman, her eyes acquired a depth and a fire. She was not the type of modern girl with the modern girl’s habits. She was quick in her judgement but did not care whether she was fair or right. But she stuck to her instinctive likes and dislikes.
Our Marriage and After Nehru confesses that he had almost forgot and denied her in so many ways. As Nehru lived in a dream world of his own, and was always with the people who surrounded her as unsubstantial shadows. He worked to the utmost of his capacity and his mind was filled to the brim with the subject that engrossed him. Even if he was away for a number of days the thought of her cooled his mind. Nehru reminiscence that Kamala, with her inordinate pride and sensitiveness she did not come to him for help. She wanted to play her own part in the national struggle. She did not want to hang on to Nehru.
She wanted to justify herself to her own self as well as to the world. Nehru worried Nehru was blind to the feelings of Kamala and her desires. Another reason was Nehru was often away, either in jail or she will be ill. Kamala compared herself with Chitra in Tagore’s play. When most of the men were in jail at the time of freedom struggle, the women in each house took charge of the struggle. This even surprised the British Government. Women of all class like women of the upper or middle classes, peasant women, working class women poured out in tens and thousands in defiance of government order and police lathi.
Their organizational power surprised Nehru. The men in jail could hardly speak about them as their hearts were full and their eyes were dim with tears. Nehru’s father also joined him in Naini prison. He was functioning as the leader of the civil disobedience movement. He was not in favour of women’s participation in the freedom struggle. But he realized the temper of the struggle and did not discourage anyone including his family members. He was surprised to see the energy, courage and ability displayed by women all over the country. With the effort of Nehru’s father, a ‘Resolution of Remembrance’ was passed on January 26, 1931.
The police banned the meeting. Nehru’s father organized the meeting from his sickbed. The meeting was victorious. The resolution was read out all over the country on a particular day. Nehru’s father died ten days after the resolution was adopted. Kamala had played a brave and a notable part in the passing of resolution. The entire freedom movement in Allahabad fell on the shoulders of Kamala and within a few months, she became the pride of Allahabad. At the family vacation to Ceylon, Nehru was able to understand Kamala. But after the vacation, they did not have any holidays together.
They were together only for a brief time between the two long prison terms. During his last arrest, Kamala fainted unusually on Nehru. Nehru guesses that Kamala would have had some premonition that it would be their last meeting. Kamala felt distressed during her last days. She needed the help of Nehru very badly. But as he was in jail, he could not support her whole heartedly. The Problems of Human Relationships Nehru considered Kamala to be a symbol of Indian women or of woman herself. Kamala was so curious to know the ideas of Nehru about India. The land was so dear to them. Nehru did not understand Kamala.
He thinks himself to be an abnormal person with mistry within him. Even Kamala was little frightened of him for this. Nehru declares about himself that he is the most unsatisfactory person to marry. Kamala and Nehru were unlike in some ways and are different in many ways. So they couldn’t live a normal domestic life accepting each other. In spite of their indifference, their portraits were installed in front of many bazaars, indicating them as a model or an ideal couple. They could see wrecks of marriages. But they were so fortunate though they quarreled with each other many times.
For them life was always unfolding new adventure and had given fresh insight into each other. They had fierce arguments about politics and economics which were the problems of human relationships. These problems were not fully ignored in the old and wise civilizations of India and China. Because in these two nations, the people developed patterns of social behaviour with all their faults and they gave importance to the individuals. But this is not evident in India. Nehru assures that it is possible to have a union of poise and inner and outer progress of the wisdom of the old with the science and the vigour of the new.
But according to the world history, the only alternative of such a union is likely to be the destruction and undoing of both. Christmas 1935 Kamala’s condition was better as she was able to get over her strain and had established her condition. As her condition was advancing, Nehru made a brief visit to England with his daughter. When he came back to Badenweiler, he could realize that winter had worsened Kamala’s condition. But she became better after some days. She wished to go out of Badenweiler as she was weary of the place. Another reason for which she wished to go out was the death of another patient who was an Irish boy.
He was much better than Kamala. He used to pay short visits to Kamala and would also send flowers to her often. However they tried to hide his death, Kamala came to know it. During the month of January, Nehru went to Paris and London. When he was in London, he received the news that he was elected for a second time as the President of the Indian National Congress which was to meet in April. Nehru was in dilemma, whether to go to India or to resign from the presidentship. Kamala would not like the idea of resigning the presidentship post. At the end of January, Kamala was taken to Switzerland.
Death Both Kamala and Nehru liked the shift from Badenweiler to Switzerland. She was cheerful and Nehru too felt the place at home. There was no marked change in her. The friends in India were pressing him to return. His mind was restless as his mind was occupied with the problems of his country. For some time, he was cut off from the active participation in public affairs. Kamala and her doctor insisted Nehru to go to India. So Nehru booked his ticket via K. L. M. air line on February 28th. After everything was fixed, Kamala did not like the idea of Nehru leaving her.
But she did not ask him to change his plans. Nehru told her that he would not stay long in India and he would return after two or three months. Four or five days before Nehru’s departure, Indira paid a visit to them. The doctor advised him to postpone his visit to India, as Kamala’s position was weakening. She would tell to Nehru that someone was calling her or that she saw some figure or shape entire the room. She breathed her last, on February 28th. At the time of her death, Indira and the doctor, Mr. Atal was there with them. Kamala was cremated in Lausanne. Mussolini Return
Since there was no need for him to stay in Lausanne any more, Indira and Nehru came to Montreux to spend a few quiet days together. When he was in Montreux, an Italian Consul visited him. He visited him to convey Signor Mussolini’s deep sympathy at the death of Kamala. As Nehru did not have any contact with Mussolini, he was surprised to hear the message from him. Before the death of Kamala, Nehru’s friend in Rome informed him that Mussolini would like to meet Nehru. But Nehru neglected the idea at that time. Though Nehru was eager to visit Mussolini, he wanted to avoid the interview.
Nehru was also curious to know what kind of man Mussolini was. Since the Abyssinian campaign was on during that time, his meeting with Mussolini would lead to all sorts inferences. He would also be used in the fascist propaganda like the Indian students who were utilized against their wishes. A false interview with Mr. Gandhi was also published in Giornale d’Italia in 1931. After Kamala’s death, Nehru was not in a mood to give any interview with anybody. On his return to India, he was to stay in Rome for a while. A high official handed him a letter from Mussolini.
Mussolini had fixed the time for their interview at six o’ clock that evening. Nehru reminded him of his previous message. But the officer insisted Nehru that their meeting was fixed and if the interview did not take place, he would be dismissed from his office. Nehru was assured that nothing would appear in the press and the meeting would also be only for few minutes. He also said Mussolini wanted just to shake hands with Nehru and he needed just to convey personally his condolences for the death of Kamala. At last, Nehru made up his mind not to meet Mussolini and so he sent the message to him.
At the time of returning to India, with the basket contained an urn of ashes loneliness gripped Nehru. He felt empty and purposeless. Nehru remembers him reading his autobiography to Kamala. When he reached Baghdad, he informed his publisher of his autobiography in London to dedicate the book to Kamala who was no more. At Allahabad, they carried the urn to the swift flowing Ganges and poured the ashes into the bosom of the river. Nehru wonders that the river would have carried the ashes of many of his forebears. Chapter 3 The Quest The Panorama of India’s Past
Nehru was trying to understand India and to analyse his reactions towards her. He tried to remember his childhood days and tried to remember how the idea moulded his mind. He felt pride to remember something. At the same time, he felt ashamed of certain things. He was ashamed of the superstitious practices, of outworn ideas and of the poverty-stricken states. When Nehru grew up, his mind became engaged in activities of India’s freedom. The initial urge came to him which is common to all men to resist the domination of the Westerners and to have freedom to live the life of the individual’s choice.
Nehru could not digest the thought that India which is rich and which has immemorial past, should be bound hand for another country which is a far away island. The vast country had resulted in poverty and degradation beyond measure. Nehru questions himself for the reason of India’s condition. But the future that took place in Nehru’s mind, was one of intimate co-operation, politically, economically, culturally between India and the other countries in the world. The thought of India thrilled him. But he was able to approach her as an alien critic who was full of dislike for the present and some of the past.
He was eager to change the outlook of the country and wanted to give her the outlook of modernity. There are things that should be avoided from India. When Nehru looked from Mohenjo-daro in the Indus Valley in the North-west of India, it was full of houses and streets that had existed over five thousand years ago. Professor Childe describes the Indus Valley Civilization as a very prefect adjustment of human life. Since India was progressing, she was coming close to the Persians, Egyptians, Greeks, Chinese, Arabs, Central Asians and the peoples of the Mediterranean.
Though she influenced them and was influenced by them, her cultural basis was strong enough to continue. Nehru had read India’s history and her ancient literature and he was powerfully impressed by the vigour of the thought, the clarity of the language and the richness of the mind. Nehru had also read the book of the travelers from China, Western and Central Asia who had left the record of their travels. He wandered through the Himalayas which are associated with old myths and legends. In the mountains he could see the life and vigour and the beauty of the present and also the loveliness of the past.
The mighty rivers remind him of the innumerable phases of the Indian history. Our country came to be called as India or Hindustan from Indus or sindhu. The story of Ganges is the story of the Indian civilization. The river Ganged had seen the rise and the fall of the great empires and also the adventures of men. Nehru informed that he had visited the old monuments and ruins and ancient sculptures of Ajanta, Ellora and Elephanta caves. He had seen the old and lovely buildings of Agra and Delhi. He would go the great bathing festivals the Kumbh Mela at Allahabad. These gave him a lot of insight into the past.
The glorious pictures of India’s past had filled his mind. He had seen the Buddha preaching his first sermon at Sarnath. At Faatehpur Sikri, he could visualise the great Akbar holding his darbar with the learned of all faiths. The scene of the past gradually merged into the unhappy present. The 180 years of British rule in India is an unhappy interlude in the whole of Indian history. Any country would see their national freedom to be the first and foremost urge. But nationalism was fading away before the impact of internationalism. The wars in their country would bring them into one screen of nationalism.
This raised many new problems and altered the old problems. Old traditions cannot be scrapped. They have to be accepted and has to be transformed to the new needs. New traditions have to be built. The nationalist ideals which are deep and strong are not the thing of the past. Sometimes nationalism shows the sign of the backwardness and the demand of freedom indicate the narrow mindedness. The Search for India The books and old monuments helped him to understand India but did not satisfied or gave him the answer he looked after. He wanted to know whether there is any connection between the past and the present.
The present for him was an old mixture of medivalism, terrible povery and misery ans some superficial modernism of the middle class people. Nehru was not in favour of the upper class people but he looked leadership in them as the middle class people felt caged and they had to develop themselves. The spirit in the Indian people could control and could displace the British. The middle class felt a challenge to attain it. The people from villages rose up and a new and different India emergedwith young intellectuals. The rections of the people varied according to the environment and experiences.
Some felt sufficient with the village masses and did not allow to get new sensation and they took them for granted. Nehru was painfully conscious of the failings and weaknesses of the poor people attracted Nehru as these were missing in the middle class people. Nehru tried to think the people of India as individuals rather than as vague groups. As he did not expect much from them, he was not disappointed because he could find more than he expected in them. They could retain the stability and potential strength because of the old Indian cultural tradition.
Nehru was largely confined in his work only to his province. He travelled through the towns and villages of the 48 districts of Agra and Outh. The places were considered as the heart of Hindustan and it was considered as the seat and centre of both ancient and mediaeval civilization. These places were the melting pot of so many races and cultures. It was the place where the great revolt of 1857 blased up and was ruthlessly crushed. Nehru came to know about the Jat, the Rajput peasant, the Hindu and Muslims in Oudh and the eastern districts. He hoped that a change would come to them to better their life.
During 1930s when Nehru was out of prison, he travelled throughout India. But he visited rarely the rural Bengal. He went to the villages and spoke about the political and economis issues in India. He understood the difficulties to grasp the ideas the country has embodied. He felt India was like an ancient palimpset where layer and layer of thought and reverie had been inscribed. Though we are not aware of this truth, these get existed in the conscious and subconscious level. The sphinx like face with its smile is seen throughout the length and breadth of the land.
Though there was diversity among the people, there was tremendous impress of oneness which had held all the people together for ages past. The unity of India was an emotional experience for him. The unity was so powerful that no political division, no disaster or catastrophe had overcome it. India is not a kind of anthropomorphic entity. Though India is a country of large divisions of clasess, castes, religions, races and cultures, it has aspirit of oneness. This cannot be seen in China. This spirit had helped him to understand the country and the people.
Politics and elections became day to day matter. To build a strong and secure India, then one should dig deep for the foundations. Bharat Mata In all the meetings, Nehru spoke about Hindustan and Bharata. He did not speak much about this in cities as the people were more sophisticated and they wanted stronger fare. Since the peasants had limited outlook, Nehru spoke about the country and the swaraj which is common to all and not for some alone. He spoke about his visit from the Khyber Pass to Cape Comorin. In all these plases the peasants had the same question to ask him.
It was about poverty, debt,vested interests, landlords, moneylenders, heavy rents and taxes, police harassment etc. These were all imposed upon the people by the foreign government. He tried to make them think of India as a whole. He also told them about the struggle in China, Spain, Abyssinia, Central Europe, Egypt and in the countries of Western Asia. He informed them about the change and progress in America and Soviet Union. Many were aware of all these facts as there were people who had served in foreign parts in World War I or other expeditions.
Whereever Nehru went people roared as ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ which means victory to mother India. He would question them about the victory they wanted and about Bharat Mata. As they did not know the answer they look at each other and then at him. A vigorous Jat answered him as ‘dharti’ that is, the good earth of India. When Nehru asked frequent questions, the people became curious to know much about the country. He would explain to them all the questions they ask him. He explained to them Mother India is nothing but the millions of Indian people and the victory to her would mean only the victory to the people.
When he answered as such the eyes of the people would light up as if they had a great discovery. The Variety and Unity of India The diversity of India is obvious. There is little common between the Pathans of the North-West and the Tamils in the far South. Though their racial tocks are not the same, there may be something common in them. They differ in face, figure, food, clothing and language. The people in North Western Frontier has the breath of Central Asia and customs followed by the people in Kashmir is similar to the customs followedin one of the countries on the other side of the Himalayas.
The dance of Pathans are like the Russian Cossack dance. These are common in border lands as Afghanistan was united with India for thousands of years. The University of Taxila which is present in the frontier was famous for two thousand years ago attracting students students from all over India and different parts of Asia. Changes in religion could not change entirely the mental backgrounds of the people. The Pathan and the Tamil are the two extreme examples.
Nehru felt fascinating to find how the Bengalis, Marathas, Gujaratis, Tamils, Andras, Oriyas, Assamese and the other Hindustai speaking people had retained their peculiar characteristics for hundreds of years have still more or less the same virtues. Though they have different old tradition, they have been throughout these ages distinctively Indian with the same national heritage and the same set of moral and mental qualities. Like ancient China, ancient India was a world which had rich culture and civilization. People absorbed the foreign culture. Right from the beginning, the Indian people had unity.
The unity of big or small group in India became apparent when it was compared to another national group. Often the differences between two adjoining groups would fade away or it get mingle with the country which is near the frointier and there would be modern developments and produce uniformity. In ancient and mediaeval times, the idea of modern nation was non-existent. The feudal, religious, racial or cultural bonds had more importance. In the past, an Indian would have felt at home in any part of India and would have felt as a stranger in other countries where the Indian culture was not adopted.
The emigrated people in India like Christians, Jews, Parsees, Moslems etc. got adopted to this land. The converts to this religions also felt as Indians inspite of their change of faith. These converts were looked as Indians or foreigners even though they had a community of faith in them. Indians in other countries formed a national group in spite of their internal differences. Nehru think about the towns and villages he visited in India, the rainy season, the beauty and greenery of indian landscape, great rivers, the khyber Pass, the Indian people, the Himalayas and the mountain valley in Kashmir.
Travelling through India Nehru had a speedy tour towards the end of 1936 and the beginning of 1937. He travelled through the country like a hurricane. He travelled mostly by car and sometimes by aeroplane or railway. At this time, he travelled by all means of transport. He carried a double set of microphones and loud speakers with him. He carried the microphones to the frontiers of Tibet to Baluchistan where no such thing was not heard or seen previously. Nehru travelled till late at night. Though he had many impromptu affairs, he could mannage the tour.
Amidst the crowd, Nehru felt hard to pass them and reach the stage and come away from there. Though he went late to see the crowds, they patiently waited even at the time of winter. He travelled eighteen hours a day and ended up in late night. He had a heavy time at Karnatak. He began the day at 8 a. m. and ended up at 4 a. m. the next day. They had to travell seventy miles to reach their resting place. Thus they arrived at 7 a. m. That day he worked for 23 hrs. and in another one hour he had to begin his next day’s programme. Someone estimated that some ten million persons had attended the meetings.
His meetings were commonly attended by twenty thousand people and the large gatherings were about one hundred thousand people. The towns were deserted and most of the shops were closed at the places where he intend to have the meeting. His body got adopted to work without any rest. He used to sleep heavily at the time of his travel in the automobile. Most of the time time, the great cheer of crowd would wake him. He did not care about his meals and he felt a vast strength to see the affectionate people surrounded him. General Elections Nehru did not take the usual methods for electioneering.
Election was an essential and inseparable part of the democratic process. Election could bring out the evil in man and it did not always lead to success. Sensitive persons prefered to avoid the contests. The electorates were vanished on false isuues or in the name of religion. Nehru believed the electorate on the basis of property qualification or educational test. He considered the property qualification was bad and educational qualification as necessary. Nehru felt the illiterate man to be better than the educated man. He believed in adult franchise for men and women.
The general elections in 1937 for the provincial assemblieswere based on a restricted franchise which affected about 12% of the population. Nearly 30 millions all over India were allowed to vote. Since most of the provinces had two Houses, there were two sets of elections for both the houses. Therefore the number of candidates came to many thousands. The approach of Nehru and other congress men were different. He wanted to have a country wide atmosphere in favour of the national movement for freedom. He did not care much about the victory of the individual candidates in the election.
He asked for votes for the independence of India. The only promise he made was to attain freedom for India. He asked the people to vote for him only if they accept the objectives of the Congress. He did not need the votes of the people for simply liking them. Though he did not count the individual contestants, he need true individuals to represent them. H edid not want any masters to rule the country. But he wanted a real people’s rule and to put an end for poverty and misery. Nehru’s mind was seldom occupied with the elections. The physical and emotional communion with vast number of people excited him.
He wanted to meet the people not as a stranger but to meet them as a recognised person. When he saluted at the people the people also saluted at him. He doubted howfar the people could understand him. But he could see a light of adeeper understanding in their eyes. The Culture of the Masses Nehru could see a cultural background which had exerted a powerful influence on the lives of the people. This background was a mixture of popular philosophy, tradition, history, myth and legend and it was not possible to draw a line between any of these. Even the entirely uneducated and illiterate shared the background.
The epics, Ramayana and Mahabarata and other books were widely known to the people. Even the illiterate villagers would know hundreds of verses by heart. Their conversation would be full of references to them. Or they say some story with a moral preserved with some old classic. Nehru was surprised to listen to such talks. Like Nehruwhose mind was full of pictures from history, these people also had a picture gallery in their minds which was drawn from myth and tradition and with epic heroes and heroines and very little from history. Nehru could see many sensitive faces. The faces of women were full of melancholy.
The upper caste people had a finer physical type and they were little better in economic sense. A beautiful man or woman could remind him of the fresco of ancient times. There was poverty everywhere. Life had been destorted and many felt insecurity. These were the basic reality in India. The people had the spirit of resignation and accepted the things as they were. There was the cultural heritage of thousands of years which cannot be rubbed of with any amount of misfortunes. Two lives Nehru tried to discover India of the past and of the present. He tried to identify himself with the unending procession.
So that he could separate himself from a hill top and to look down at the valley bellow. A feeling of tiredness and disillutionment overpowered him and he try to come out of the situation by cultivating a certain detachment. His mind had prepared itself for such kind of detachment. He feared that he had a volcano within him for real detachment. But all his defences had hurled away. The partial success he achieved was helpful to him. He would sometimes forget his usual preoccupations and try to live for a new life. In this way, his two lives marched together, tied up together but apart.