In his famous essay, French philosopher Julien Benda indicted intellectuals for treason to their destiny, and blamed them for betraying the very moral principles that made their existence possible. Nehru was not one of them. His avowedly cultural and intellectual orientation is sufficiently well-known. His father had refused to perform a purification ceremony on his return from England and had been ostracised by the Brahman orthodoxy. Nehru too didn’t submit to irrational authority, be it religion or dogma, though he went along with certain social customs. He did not approve of his father’s shraddha ceremony, but took part in it for his mother’s sake.
Religion and atheism, remarked his niece Nayantara Sahgal, lived lovingly together in Anand Bhawan and both were aspects of India’s enquiring and assimilative mind. The daily life of the Nehrus was a seamless blend of tradition and modernity. This is best exemplified by Nehru’s mother and wife Kamala. Both were religious, and yet they lived with Motilal’s intellectual modernism and Nehru’s scepticism on matters of religion and faith. But in the end their influences prevailed.
Nehru once said to a distinguished author-journalist that the spirit of India was in the depth of his conscience while the mind of the West was in his head (by virtue of what he studied in Harrow, Cambridge, and all over London). He was, thus, driven or dominated by the urge to see reason in people’s thinking and action. Sometimes he’d convince them to narrow their differences by concentrating on the “economic factor”, but the upsurge of religiosity or the assertion of communitarian identities weakened or nullified his efforts.
Nehru’s distance from the masses is too readily assumed. The fact is that he spent years not in comfortable and argumentative exile, but in India itself where he led the life of an activist with its attendant challenges and hazards. There is a tale, perhaps apocryphal, yet poignant, to the effect that, upon being released from prison after long confinement for speeches he had made, Nehru went directly to a large meeting, stood up and stated quite unaffectedly, “As I was saying…”
Nehru placed jail-going as a “trivial matter” in a world that was being shaken to its foundation. His first confinement was in the Lucknow district jail from 6 December 1921 to 3 March 1922; the second from 11 May 1922 to 31 January 1923. In 1930, it was 180 days; in 1931, 99 days; in 1932, 612 days; and in 1934, 569 days. By March 1938, he had actually spent five-and-a-half years in prison. On 13 March 1945, he had completed over 31 months in Ahmadnagar Fort. From there, he was “repatriated” to Bareilly Central prison after nearly 32 months. He complained of the typical jail atmosphere — the slow, stagnant and rather oppressive air, the high walls closing on him, iron bars and gates, and the noise of the warden at night as he kept watch or counted the prisoners in the different barracks.
All these years, Nehru was moved from one jail to another — to Naini, Lucknow, Bareilly, and Dehradun. Was it worthwhile? In the last paragraph of the Autobiography, he explained: “There is no hesitation about the answer. If I were given the chance to go through my life again, with my present knowledge and experience added, I would no doubt try to make many changes in my personal life.”
To begin with, the young Nehru had no idea what happened behind the grim gates that swallowed any convict. But soon enough he managed to overcome the nervous excitement and bear an existence full of abnormality, a dull suffering, and a dreadful monotony. His inspiration came from Gandhiji. He had for company his father, who was tried as a member of an “illegal” organisation of Congress volunteers.
One of his fellow inmates commented later that it was ironic that, from an early age, people had started looking upon him as a desh bhakt, and he sacrificed his youth and its charms to satisfy public expectations. With arrest and prosecution becoming a frequent occurrence, jails turned into places of pilgrimage. Sometimes he felt as if he richly deserved a spell of jail to make quiet his excitable nature. Sometimes he felt almost cut off from the outside and longed for a quick return. More often than not, he’d wait for a tomorrow to bring deliverance to his people. To Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, he wrote: “Without that steel frame of the mind and body, or spirit if you will, we bend before every wind that blows and disintegrates.”
This said, Nehru bore the petty tyrannies of life. With about 50 persons in the barrack, their beds were just about three or four feet apart. The lack of privacy was difficult to endure. “It was the dull side of family life magnified a hundred-fold with few of its graces and compensations and all this among people of all kinds and tastes,” Nehru aptly remarked. Nights in prison were dreadful, more so with a prisoner snoring, “a gigantic disharmony of ugly noises — grunt, groan, growl, howl, whine, whistle, hiss, etc. etc.”
All day he sat or lay under the neem trees spinning, reading, or writing. At night he’d sit under the starry canopy. Thus when one of his comrades was promoted to Class A, Nehru felt relieved: “Man is a social animal and too much solitude is not good.” But he felt lonely after another friend from Cambridge days moved to Gonda jail. His passion was to spin, so he asked for a new charkha from Sabarmati Ashram. To write in Urdu, he asked his father to send him an Urdu dictionary. He read newspapers and wrote letters, though he preferred not to read about the battles of his comrades when forced to be idle himself.
Given his sense of movements and changes in history, Nehru agreed that one must follow them without losing sight of the main trend, and that some day, as if by the stroke of a magician’s wand, India and the world may be transformed.
Headline image credit: President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy greet Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Mrs. Gandhi on the North Portico of the White House, as the visitors from India arrive at the Executive Mansion to attend a dinner given in their honor. US Embassy New Delhi. CC BY-ND 2.0 via usembassynewdelhi Flickr.
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Beckett, Bernard. (2006) Genesis. London: Quercus Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84724-930-2. Author age: young adult. Litland recommends age 14+.
The island Republic has emerged from a ruined world. Its citizens are safe but not free. Until a man named Adam Forde rescues a girl from the sea. Fourteen-year-old Anax thinks she knows her history. She’d better. She’s sat facing three Examiners and her five-hour examination has just begun. The subject is close to her heart: Adam Forde, her long-dead hero. In a series of startling twists, Anax discovers new things about Adam and her people that question everything she holds sacred. But why is the Academy allowing her to open up the enigma at its heart? Bernard Beckett has written a strikingly original novel that weaves dazzling ideas into a truly moving story about a young girl on the brink of her future.
Irregardless of whether you are an evolutionist or creationist, if you like intellectual sci-fi you’ll love this book. How refreshing to read a story free from hidden agendas and attempts to indoctrinate its reader into a politically-correct mindset. And while set in a post-apocalyptic era, the world portrayed is one in which inhabitants have been freed from the very things that sets humans apart from all other creation, including man-made. Once engulfed in the story, the reader is drawn into an intellectual battle over this “difference” between man and man-made intelligence. The will to kill; the existence of evil. A new look at original sin. And a plot twist at the end that shifts the paradigm of the entire story.
Borrowing from the American movie rating scale, this story would be a PG. Just a few instances of profanity, it is a thought-provoking read intended for mature readers already established in their values and beliefs, and who would not make the error of interpreting the story to hold any religious metaphors. The “myth” of Adam and Art, original sin and the genesis of this new world is merely a structure familiar to readers, not a message. The reader is then free to fully imagine this new world without the constraints of their own real life while still within the constraints of their own value system.
Genesis is moderately short but very quick paced, and hard to put down once you’ve started! Thus it is not surprising to see the accolades and awards accumulated by Beckett’s book. The author, a New Zealand high school teacher instructing in Drama, English and Mathematics, completed a fellowship study on DNA mutations as well. This combination of strengths gives Genesis its intrigue as well as complexity. Yet it is never too theoretical as to exclude its reader. See our review against character education criteria at Litland.com’s teen book review section. And pick up your own copy in our bookstore!
The Discovery and Mystery of a Dinosaur Named Jane by Judith Williams
Paperback: 48 pages
Publisher: Enslow Publishers, Inc. (March 1, 2007)
Ever since I was a child, I was fascinated with dinosaurs and paleontology. I often wondered what it would feel like to be the scientist who discovered a dinosaur after grueling work. Well, The Discovery and Mystery of a Dinosaur Named Jane finally gives me some insight.
The book begins with paleontologists and volunteers from the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, Illinois discovering a toe bone while digging in Montana. It was unfortunately, the end of their season, so they covered up the site where they were digging, hoping that no one else found the rest of the dinosaur until they could come back the NEXT YEAR!
Luckily, the site was untouched, and they were able to dig up the bones of a magnificent dinosaur who they named Jane. But what kind of Dinosaur is Jane? They believe she’s a tyrannosaur, but is she a nanotyrannus or an infamous T-Rex? Or is she a new species altogether? One thing is clear—this is an amazing discovery and the biggest one yet for the small museum.
Judith Williams gives a detailed description of the laborious work the paleontologists performed to successfully dig up the dinosaur bones. Readers even get a glimpse of the common tools paleontologists use. Once the bones are removed and transported back to the museum, readers learn all of the work that was involved with cleaning, repairing, and putting the bones together and all of the research required to determine what type of dinosaur Jane is.
What’s refreshing about this book is that it’s different than the typical kid’s book that features glorious images of dinosaurs and awe-inspiring facts. Instead, it’s a book that really focuses on the discovery of a dinosaur and gives readers insight into the hard work that’s involved in getting a magnificent dinosaur on display in a museum. Children will learn to respect this work along with the creature that one roamed the earth.
With interesting pictures and photographs of the dig site and of the work in progress, this is a great find for a kid who is interested in dinosaurs and paleontology. Heavier on text than pictures, it’s more suitable for a proficient reader.
Check out the rest of Nonfiction Monday submissions at Picture Book of the Day
On Monday, I reviewed The Discovery and Mystery of a Dinosaur Named Jane by Judith Williams. It's about a group of palentologists who discover an amazing dinosaur while digging in Montana.
Dinosaurs seem to fascinate many children, so here are some lesson plans and other dinosaur-themed activities I found on the web if you want to teach your child more about dinosaurs.
Dinosaur Lesson Plans: A big list of activities and lesson plans for kids, including "How To Write a Funny Dinosaur Poem," and "Make a Sock-A-Saurus."
Dinosaur Mini-Unit for Kindergartners: Contents of this mini-unit include an introduction to fossils, palentologists, and dinosaurs; some really fun art activities; and more.
Dinosaur Prints: An art project where children can make and paint their own print of a dinosaur using a picture from a book or magazine.
Dinosaur Art Activities: A teacher shares three dinosaur-themed art activities she's completed with her students.
Dinosaur Bodies: A lesson from National Geographic for grades K-2 that encourages kids to think about and learn how animals used their bodies and how dinosaurs might have used theirs.
Dinosaur Detectives: A comprehensive lesson for children in grades 6-8 that helps them learn more about palentologists.
Note that I found TONS of information, so what I'm listing now is just a small sample of what's out there.
Elvim Lim is Assistant Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and author of The Anti-intellectual Presidency, which draws on interviews with more than 40 presidential speechwriters to investigate this relentless qualitative decline, over the course of 200 years, in our presidents’ ability to communicate with the public. He also blogs at www.elvinlim.com.
In recent weeks, some political commentators have observed that Senator Barack Obama is all talk, but no substance. Where his supporters see an orator of the highest order, his detractors see only a smooth talker.
Flash back to the 1980s, and we had the same bifurcated response to Ronald Reagan. Whereas some saw profundity and deep meaning in his speeches, Reagan’s detractors heard only vacuous platitudes. Indeed, Reagan’s supporters even used the same words as some liberals do today to describe Obama’s “soaring oratory.” How did Reagan score with the Reagan Democrats? By being all things to all people. The Obamacans in this year’s elections are being swayed by a parallel strategy. Talk a lot, but mean nothing.
Consider Obama’s response this week in Georgia when he addressed charges that he had been “flip flopping” between his positions : “I’m not just somebody who is talking about government as the solution to everything. I also believe in personal responsibility. I also believe in faith.” the Senator sagely declared.
But who doesn’t believe in faith? Such rhetoric misses the point, ending rather than initiating debate - a strategy consummately deployed by President Bush in selling “Operation Iraqi Freedom” by exploiting our universal and creedal belief in liberty. The question is how we should balance our respect for the identity and autonomy of religious charities with our belief in the separation of church and state. And the question is whether freedom in Iraq can and should be bought with the sacrifice of our freedoms at home and the suspension of some of our constitutional principles. By design, Obama’s and Bush’s words elided these difficult, but pressing questions.
“I also believe in personal responsibility” are also coded words Obama’s speechwriters designed to woo conservative audiences without explicitly repudiating the liberal point of view that governmental programs are the other side of the rhetorical equation that ought to have been addressed. Reverend Jesse Jackson was understandingly aggravated. Yet while Jackson has apologized for his crude verbal gaffe, we have yet to take Obama to task for his rhetorical sleight of hand because this is what we have come to expect from political candidates seeking the highest office of the land.
We are not going to face the complex problems of our time if our would-be leaders continue to take the rhetorical path of least resistance, to buy our assent without any content. To say nothing even when one talks a lot is to fulfill the rhetorical formula for, literally, empty promises. There were times in this election season when Obama rose above the anti-intellectual fray, just like there were times when Ronald Reagan and George Bush used the bully pulpit to educate rather than to merely seduce the American people. This year, when conservatives see in a liberal political candidate the same rhetorical flaws as what liberals saw in Reagan and George Bush, perhaps we will come closer to recognizing a systemic flaw in our political system, and it is the Anti-intellectual Presidency.