Thursday, January 3, 2013

Book Review: Indira - The life of Indira Nehru Gandhi

INDIRA -The life of Indira Nehru Gandhi

Often it is reckoned that a particular hobby runs in the family. Though I doubt the generality of this statement, I am happy to announce that my family falls under the bracket. My sister too has a liking for reading/writing and here is a guest post by her.

Author: Divya Rao
“India is Indira and Indira India” – This was how the Indian National Congress branded Indira Gandhi. Indira Nehru-Gandhi is the daughter of India’s freedom fighter and the first prime minister of Independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru, but to the world she was known for much more than just being the daughter of a famous personality. Indira Gandhi led India, the world’s largest democracy, for nearly two decades. She was voted the Woman of Millennium. In  1983 commonwealth meeting, Indira Gandhi looked the most regal and powerful of the three women present. The other two were the Queen of England and Margaret Thatcher, the prime minister of UK.

The book INDIRA – The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi is a biography written by Katherine Frank. It is an exhaustive, well-researched and revealing biography of Indira Gandhi. It is a 500 page thick book of extremely small print. Katherine has to her credit three other biographies and Indira’s biography is her fourth. This former experience provides author the confidence and thoroughness in her work.

The book starts with Indira’s father Jawaharlal Nehru ‘s family details, his education and his marriage to Kamala. The book explains in great detail the turbulent and disturbed childhood of Indira amidst her father’s freedom movement and his arrests, her mother’s illness and the world war. The only real education she received was from her father through his letters and by travelling around the world. Indira’s passionate relationship with Feroze Gandhi is also given some focus.  Around the time of India’s Independence she returns back to India with Feroze on tow. After India’s Independence Indira’s life is all consumed by politics, first as her father’s hostess and then as the prime minister of India. The role of Sanjay Gandhi and later Rajiv Gandhi in Indira’s term, as prime minister, forms the remainder of the book. The events leading up to her assassination is very interesting and well handled.

The initial days of Indira Gandhi where she was mostly traveling with her sick mother and she herself in bouts of depression was hardly interesting. This part of book feels almost like a history academic textbook with facts and figures and nothing else. Author couldn’t have made justice here because during Indira’s initial days she was completely overshadowed by her father and she herself showed no personality. Nehru intimidated her and she merely followed him everywhere he went. The book picks pace only after Indira returns to India, around the time of Indian Independence and gets involved in politics. The drama begins and story unfolds only after she becomes the prime minister of India – around 300th page of the book. This is when her life becomes ‘Not a Normal, Banal, Boring Life’.

The author does a brilliant job in portraying how Indira metamorphoses from a docile, dumb doll into the Great Dictator describing her insecurities, her fears and her struggles throughout. This makes the book very convincing. However, as all biographies, the book is partial to the subject and her views. All other’s view gets a mere mention or passed off as baseless rumours. Some of the well-known rumours of Indira’s life are not mentioned at all. The author has also restrained from expressing her own interpretations and judgment on Indira’s life.

I recommend this book as a good read for those who want to know the history of India, about what transpired after India’s freedom, how politics and corruption became synonyms of power at the Centre. Pre-requisites of this book include knowing about India’s freedom struggles and partition of India.

After reading this book I am mighty impressed by Indira Gandhi. She was great in foreign relations, thanks to all her travels and influence because of her family background, getting the attention and aid that India needed. Her beliefs were leftist and she sought order over democracy. The public’s experience of emergency was that daily life seemed less erratic and stressful, prices fell, peace and order restored. Off-course, she had her weaknesses, Sanjay Gandhi being the biggest threat. I am convinced of what Indira believed – only she could take care of India, without her India would fall apart.

About the author:
Divya is a busy working mother and a total prankster at heart (though she pretends to be otherwise). You can find the result of her recent writo-mania here.

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