March 11, 2006

A Tidbit from Newly Independent India.

This is nice story in today's Hindu magazine from the early days of independence.

...the Prime Minister wrote a letter about [Suryakant Tripathi] Nirala to the [Sahitya]Akademi's newly appointed Secretary, Krishna Kripalani. Nirala, said Nehru, had "done good work in the past and even now sometimes writes well in his lucid moments." His books were still popular, and widely read and used as textbooks. But, "in his folly or extremity", Nirala had "sold all those books for a song to various publishers getting just 25 or 30 or 50 rupees. The whole copyright was supposed to be sold". Thus "publishers have made large sums of money and continue to make it," while Nirala "gets nothing from it and practically starves".

This, commented Nehru, was "a scandalous case of a publisher exploiting a writer shamelessly." He urged the Akademi to work on an amendment of the copyright law so that Indian writers would be better protected in future. Then he continued: "Meanwhile, Nirala deserves some financial help. It is no good giving the help to him directly because he gives it away to others immediately. In fact, he gives away his clothes, his last shirt and everything." At the moment, it was his fellow poet Mahadevi Varma "and some others in Allahabad of a Literary Association" who "try to look after [Nirala] and give him some money too." The Prime Minister suggested that the Akademi sanction a monthly allowance of a hundred rupees to help Nirala, and that this money be given to Mahadevi Varma to use on his behalf.

On March 16, the Secretary of the Sahitya Akademi wrote back to the Prime Minister. He had spoken to his Minister, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who "has agreed that a sum of Rs.100 a month should be sanctioned for [Nirala] and paid to Srimati Mahadevi Varma."

Two things struck me immediately when I read this. One, there was a great deference those days to the way a system works and as a result the political body was healthy. The Prime Minister had turned to the concerned body for achieving his goal. Neither the urgency of his concern nor an exalted view of his political power permitted him to sidestep the correct methodology. It is sad to reflect on today's sick system, where university vice-chancellors and district collectors (people who have crucial jobs and are expected to be independent) take orders from their political bosses.

Second, Nehru tried to go to the root of the problem. Indeed, he first urged some action on copyright laws which he deemed scandalous. Only then, he suggested financial action to ease the present situation.

This story reaffirms my belief that leaders in the early years of independence were pure at heart. It means there was a correlation between your thoughts on how to make things better in the country and your actions. Fat lot of use that was to our country, I can hear some people say at this point.

As you can see, you can be pure at heart and at the same time have inefficient or incorrect thoughts on how to better things. Which means that the purity of heart does not amount to anything. Well, to some extent that is what happened. On the other hand, I will settle for leaders with a pure heart and wrong ideas any day over leaders with impure hearts,even with correct ideas.

The unfortunate thing for India was that our first Prime Minister though a man of very pure heart had wrong ideas. But the really tragic thing was that the third long-term Prime Minister, daughter of the first, was a woman with a very impure heart and much more wrong ideas. While Nehru pursued certain socialist policies because he genuinely believed they were good for the country, Indira Gandhi initiated much more radical socialistic measures because she correctly assessed that it will enable her to win the power nationally and consequently the battle inside the Congress party.


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