The day Jawaharlal Nehru died

Senior journalist N D Sharma, recalls the day, May 27, 1964 when the first Prime Minister of India had breathed his last. Among many things that he talks about, he also mentions how for the very first time when he had experienced what a sudden lockdown feels and makes people helpless

During my Varanasi days a class mate, Bajrang Dev Dwivedi, had some work in Allahabad and he asked me to accompany him. We took the night (metre gauge) train reaching Allahabad in the morning. Put up in a guest house which did not serve lunch or dinner or any snacks. That was no problem as there were some restaurants nearby.

Friend’s work was over by about noon. We picked up some chilled beer and came to the guest house. Our plan was to enjoy the beer leisurely and have lunch in some restaurant. By the time we finished beer and came out, the 1-30 news bulletin on radio had announced the death of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the entire city was closed. Even the roadside hawkers selling moongfali, chanaachoor, kakdi-kheera had vanished. Tormented by pangs of hunger with substantial quantities of beer in our system, we ran like two mad men from this street to that street in search of something, anything, to eat but no luck.

The newspapers that morning had published the final results of IAS, etc, and I had spotted in the list of successful candidates the name of an acquaintance who belonged to Allahabad and was an alumni of Allahabad University. He was a casual acquaintance. I did not know his address. Rickshaws and other modes of transport were off the road. In that miserable condition we trekked 4-5 kms to the University where he had virtually become a hero. In a hostel we met some students who knew him personally. They gave us his address. Another 6-7 kms to his place. It was evening by the time we reached there.

There was a celebration in his house, subdued by the death of Prime Minister. Luckily he recognised me and appeared to be genuinely happy to see me. He hugged me and asked me about the visit to Allahabad. I told him and also added that after seeing his name in the newspaper, I had decided to personally congratulate him (a blatant lie). He took us inside and brought a packet of laddoos. We picked up one each and pushed the packet away (drama). After taking a bite, I said: ‘Yaar Ye To Bahut Hi Swaad Hain, Kis Dukan Se Mangvaen Hain?’ He had put the packed away on a table. He promptly grabbed the packet and asked us to have some more while telling us about the dukan (which I neither heard nor was interested). We took one laddoo after another with pretended reluctance, giving the impression as if we were being forced to eat by his constant insistence (we Indians are born hypocrites).

After we had consumed 7-8 laddoos each, some life returned to our senses. We talked with our IAS-select friend for some time, took his leave, went to guest house to pick up our bags and boarded the train for Varanasi. After more than half a century, that’s how I remember the day Nehru Ji had died. May 27, 1964. I have not seen such spontaneous shutdown of a city before or after that day in my life.

N D Sharma

is a senior journalist, and Patron of eNewsroom India.

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