… He is a soft-spoken young man with sparkling eyes and a disarming smile. The thick black sideburns mark him out in a crowd. His mind? He talks in short sentences and chooses his words carefully…He is an affable personality deeply aware of the political and economic situation in the country. How he was going to eradicate social evil? Looking into the beaming faces of young girls, he suggested, don’t marry boys who demand dowry. The girls applauded profusely’.
If there is one man who has always intrigued me from the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, it is none other than Mr. Sanjay Gandhi. He departed, by the time I was able to understand the dynamics of his journey as one of the prominent as well as contentious names of Indian politics. And thus, Sanjay Gandhi remained a name, a personality to be deciphered in the long run. The archives that held the skeletons of Mr. Gandhi never gave me enough of what I wanted to know. And, so when I laid my eyes on ‘The Sanjay Story’ by Vinod Mehta, it probably took nanoseconds to plunge into it, without any second thought. Whether it is his erratic behavior, his Doon school days, Maruti, Emergency, his much talked about relation with his mother or perhaps his death, Sanjay Gandhi, as I perceived was a much layered a man than the world saw him. With Vinod Mehta at the helm, this book catapults me to an impending journey that promises to unfold the lives of the Gandhis, hopefully displaying effortlessly what I call ‘knowing the unknown’. How much this read satisfied my thirst finally, well, let’s find out.
Synopsis: ‘The Sanjay Story’ opens with Motilal Nehru and his family in the British era. In the backdrop of India’s independence, the author sketches a perfect portrait of the political machinery that was in vogue all across the country. And then, interestingly touched upon the finer nuances of the marital arithmetic of Nehru with his wife Kamala and thereafter Indira with Feroze, dispensing some startling revelations of their lives. He writes, “ His devotion to Kamala (Nehru) remains something of a mystery. Of course she must have shown her characteristic concern and kindness for the young lad, and he on his part may have empathized with her crucifying loneliness. Or perhaps, succumbed to Kamala’s quite charisma. Or as Krishna put it, ‘Feroze’s fondness for Kamala was romantic’.” The Sanjay story in a way begins much before Sanjay Gandhi with various dots in the periphery. And then, what follows is the tale of a man who was entwined between torn relationships, political upheaval, distaste for academics, a dreamer in his own rights, a master of bewildering decisions (Emergency) and so on and so forth. Vinod Mehta concocted everything around Mr. Gandhi and created a saga, which to my utter dismay, was mostly known and boring.
Narration: Needless to say that author Vinod Mehta is a skilled raconteur. And, as expected he gave this narrative the exact opening, which it needed. In the beginning, the author was careful with his bending, yet blunt and crisp. The first few pages of the narrative sweeps you off your feet, but sadly this kind of valiance is short-lived and becomes rather tentative. As the narrative proceeds, it slowly becomes clear that there is nothing to be told about Mr. Gandhi. But, that I feel, cannot be a reason for a narrative to start drifting and ailing with time. Mr. Mehta tries his best to salvage. That was palpable. But, his efforts were all displaying scenes around Sanjay and nothing within. And by the time, you are halfway through, Sanjay is lost in the hullabaloo of Congress and India’s political operations. There was nothing much in this book that any political archive of this country couldn’t have given me. However, if there was anything that stood tall in this narrative, it was the first few and the last few pages (Getting to Know Her Achilles Heel’), where we see Sanjay Gandhi coming alive a bit, with a gingerly effort to drill into his personal space. The author writes,“ …Sanjay has always been a Mummy’s boy, but mummy was seldom around. Was this the reason he had turned around to be ‘difficult’? Nurtured in a happier family environment, would he have emerged normal?
I was taken aback by the feeble and tepid effort by and large.
Language/Editing: In many ways, ‘The Sanjay Story’ partially works because of its immaculate use of language. Measured and least contrived, it just conveys what needs to be at that juncture. With choicest of words duly backed by tight editing, the author sails through steadily and offers a read that otherwise could have become extremely drab and boring. Leave the content, look at the language, may be.
What could have been better?
Perhaps, quite a few things could have been better.
1.Where is Maneka?
I am yet to figure out a reason for Maneka Gandhi’s conspicuous absence from this piece of work on her husband. Apart from few here and there mention, the author completely kept this domain hollow. If it was a deliberate move, I would say it was a defensive stand by the author. There couldn’t have been a reason why Maneka would be kept way. Interestingly, in this front, the author dabbled at length with Sanjay’s parents and grandparents. But, left a huge void, refusing to touch up on this with respect to Sanjay and Maneka Gandhi. Unexpected !
2. Nothing about the family
If I leave aside Nehru, Indira and little bit of Feroze Gandhi, we don’t get to know anything about Sanjay Gandhi’s relationship with his family members. Nothing about Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia, the kids, other member of the family and of course Varun Gandhi. This has again left me vexed.
3. An unapologetic sympathy for Feroze Gandhi
If you read carefully and in between the lines, there comes an uncanny and unapologetic sympathy for Feroz Gandhi. Wonder why? Time and again the author had a tone denoting utter unfairness to Feroz. He didn’t even shy away from coining his life as a political martyr. I genuinely feel, if this read was about Feroze and not Sanjay, it would have been a brilliant piece to savor.
‘The Sanjay Story’ is an average read. After having gulped ‘Meena Kumari’ by the same author, I was perplexed by the cautious and measured stand by the author that was least impactful. The reason could be many. But, I was definitely expecting something much more definitive, in depth and inclusive about someone whom the author believed, and I quote, “ ..the man who almost captured the crown, had it not been for those damned Kolhapuri chappals”.