| Nehru with Lord Mountbatten and Lady Edwina
July 15: Jawaharlal Nehru first set eyes on Lady Edwina Mountbatten under a table in Malaya, the Englishwoman’s daughter has claimed, adding that love had indeed “blossomed” between them.
But Pamela Mountbatten’s book goes on to add what may disappoint some readers: the relationship was entirely Platonic.
It’s no wonder then that the author addressed India’s first Prime Minister as “mamu” (maternal uncle). But sceptics cannot console themselves by accusing the author of squeamishness.
In India Remembered: A Personal Account of the Mountbattens During the Transfer of Power, Pamela writes: “My mother had already had lovers. My father was inured to it. It broke his heart the first time, but it was somehow different with Nehru.”
It was different not just because of its Platonic nature but because it was “useful” politically to Edwina’s husband and India’s last Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten.
Pamela says her parents worked well as a team. “And of course, her special relationship with Pandit Nehru was very useful for him, ever the pragmatist — because there were moments towards the end of our time in India when the Kashmir problem was extremely difficult,” she writes.
“Pandit Nehru was a Kashmiri himself, so he was emotional about the problem. If things were particularly tricky my father would say to my mother, ‘Do try to get Jawaharlal to see that this is terribly important’.”
She quotes from a letter by her father to her elder sister in June 1948: “She (Edwina) and Jawaharlal are so sweet together, they really dote on each other in the nicest way and Pammy and I are doing everything we can to be tactful and help.”
It was a “happy threesome”, Pamela concludes.
Edwina was 44 when she came to India in 1947 with her husband, who was to guide India to Independence.
“Nehru was a widower and his daughter, Mrs Gandhi, was still married with a husband.… If you are at the pinnacle of power you are alone.… You are lonely. She became a confidante.”
The author quotes from a letter by Nehru to her mother in March 1957: “Suddenly I realised (and perhaps you also did) that there was a deeper attachment between us, that some uncontrollable force, of which I was dimly aware, drew us to one another, I was overwhelmed and at the same time exhilarated by this new discovery. We talked more intimately as if some veil had been removed and we could look into each other’s eyes without fear or embarrassment.”
The book says the Mountbattens had met Nehru in 1946 in Malaya. “As she (Edwina) came forward to be introduced, a crowd of Panditji’s admirers swarmed in behind him and she was knocked off her feet. She crawled under a table from where Panditji rescued her.”
After the Mountbattens returned to London, Edwina and Nehru met about twice a year. Edwina would include a visit to India in her overseas tours and Nehru would come to London for the commonwealth Prime Ministers’ conferences.
When Edwina died in 1960, a packet of letters from Nehru was found by her bedside. “She left the whole collection to my father. A suitcase was crammed full of them. My father was certain that there would be nothing in the letters to wound him. However, a tiny doubt caused him to ask me to read the letters first. They were remarkable letters but contained nothing to hurt him,” she writes.