M O Mathai Picture Courtesy: Book ‘Reminiscences of the Nehru Age’
On the occasion of 74th Independence Day of India, please accept my heartfelt greetings to all. Today, I wish to share with you a story, that sounds hilarious, to say the least. It has been though couched as a piece of no- holds- barred history and life of its times. India, exactly 73 years ago, at the time of its Independence and partition was run by Mathai, the private secretary of Jawahar Lal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India. This is exactly what M O Mathai claims in his book, ‘Reminiscences of the Nehru Age’(1978). This book was banned in India, soon after its publication, certainly for reasons, other than this one. (Un) fortunately, 42 years after its publication, internet does not respect paper bans. Mathai while narrating his days in his office as Private Secretary to the first Prime Minister of India, during initial days of Independence and partition of India, on religious basis, in 1947, that were certainly grim, violent and sad, writes:
“ I came down at once. I went straight round to Government House, and there were the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister waiting for me. They told me how serious was the situation and they said: ‘Will you take over the country?’ I said: ‘How can I? You have just taken over.’ ‘Yes, but we are versed in the art of agitation, not administration. We can’t do it by ourselves. You must come back’. I saw they were serious. I said: ‘Well, I will help you on one condition, that we find a way of disguising the fact that it is I who am running India. We must make it appear that it is you. And we must keep this secret, certainly in our lifetimes, for your own good and reputation.”
Mathai continues, “I said: ‘We will form an emergency committee. I will choose the people to put on it, and the first meeting will take place at five o’ clock. Call the meeting at once. I will have my own Conference Secretary in British Style who will take the minutes, we will move very quickly. I want the Prime Minister on my right and Deputy Prime Minister on my left. I will consult you and say: ‘Don’t you think we ought to do this?’ and you will say ‘yes’. And I will say: ‘But don’t you think we ought to do this?’ and you say, ‘yes’.” (page 41)
While by now you would have known from the above that Nehru then was the Prime Minister. The Deputy Prime Minister then was Sardar Patel. Sardar Patel has been famous as the Iron Man of India. For making India a Union of multiple, diverse, independent, princely States, the credit goes to the Sardar Patel.
Isn’t like two Generals (Nehru and Sardar Patel), sitting on two sides of an orderly (who runs errands and minor chores for army officers), and playing yes to the orderly (Mathai), in the war room?
If you can’t stop laughing imagining this scene, I can’t help it. If you feel disgusted, Mathai is the culprit.
Tall Tale Tellers
Indeed, the world has a rich haul of tall tale tellers. https://americanfolklore.net/folklore/tall-tales/ is a portal that has assembled many Tall Tales from USA and around the globe.
The most popular tall tale teller of India has been ‘Soorma Bhopali’, a comedy character from India’s blockbuster movie ‘Sholey’ of 1975. Those who have watched that movie would never forget that comedy character ‘Soorma Bhopali’, a small time trader telling his friends tall tales (fake stories) of how he had squarely thrashed two dangerous criminals, Veeru and Jay, but drops all his air abruptly when he comes to know that Veeru and Jay were present in the crowd to whom he has been narrating his superman stories.
It has been most amusing and laughable scene ever. Anyone making tall claims of fake bravery in India is often sarcastically termed ‘Soorma Bhopali’.
Boasting- A Pandemic
It will not be out of place to say that boasting is a pandemic that has been going on for years all over the globe. Sad, no vaccine could, or can ever, be found for this pandemic. Social distancing has been the only way that has worked. Ear plugs may work sometime, in some cases.
Indeed, boasting is a such a cool thing for the boaster that they go on unabashedly and unashamedly, but it is highly irritating and sometimes unbearable for the other party. Experts have listed up two dozen kinds of boasting that goes on out there in the society.
Why do people boast?
For recognition. To overcome their own sense of inferiority and underachievement. To cheer themselves up with a free and lavish dose of dopamine. More, on this topic, you may hear from psychologists and neuroscientists. That is not my goal here.
I wanted you to meet another Soorma Bhopali from India, Mathai, who may as well be called ‘Soorma Malyali’, as his home state was Kerala. A review of Mathai’s career shows that this poor ‘order taker’ private secretary had never risen above the rank of private secretary in his life. Mark, “I will have my own Conference Secretary in British Style who will take the minutes”; Life- long wish and dream of a dictation taker. The Book speaks volumes that cunning he was also, but that is for another time.