Jawaharlal Nehru was born on 14 November 1889 in Allahabad in British India. His father, Motilal Nehru (1861–1931), a wealthy barrister who belonged to the Kashmiri Pandit community, served twice as President of the Indian National Congress during the Independence Struggle. His mother, Swaruprani Thussu (1868–1938), who came from a well-known Kashmiri Brahmin family settled in Lahore, was Motilal’s second wife, the first having died in child birth. Jawaharlal was the eldest of three children, two of whom were girls.
The elder sister, Vijaya Lakshmi, later became the first female president of the United Nations General Assembly. The youngest sister, Krishna Hutheesing, became a noted writer and authored several books on her brother. Nehru described his childhood as a “sheltered and uneventful one”. He grew up in an atmosphere of privilege at wealthy homes including a large palatial estate called the Anand Bhawan. His father had him educated at home by private governesses and tutors. [ Under the influence of a tutor, Ferdinand T. Brooks, Nehru became interested in science and theosophy.
Nehru was subsequently initiated into the Theosophical Society at age thirteen by family friend Annie Beasant. However, his interest in theosophy did not prove to be enduring and he left the society shortly afterwards Brooks departed as his tutor. Nehru wrote: “for nearly three years [Brooks] was with me and in many ways he influenced me greatly. ” Although Nehru was disdainful of religion, his theosophical interests had induced him to the study of the Buddhist and Hindu scriptures. According to B. R. Nanda, these scriptures were Nehru’s “first introduction to the religious and cultural heritage of [India]….
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[they] provided Nehru the initial impulse for [his] long intellectual quest which culminated… in the Discovery of India. ” Nehru became an ardent nationalist during his youth. The Boer War and the Russo-Japanese War intensified his feelings. About the latter he wrote, “[The] Japanese victories [had] stirred up my enthusiasm … Nationalistic ideas filled my mind … I mused of Indian freedom and Asiatic freedom from the thraldom of Europe. ” Later when Nehru had begun his institutional schooling in 1905 at Harrow, a leading school in England, he was greatly influenced by G. M.
Trevelyan’s Garibaldi books, which he had received as prizes for academic merit. Nehru viewed Garibaldi as a revolutionary hero. He wrote: “Visions of similar deeds in India came before, of my gallant fight for [Indian] freedom and in my mind India and Italy got strangely mixed together. Nehru had developed an interest in Indian politics during his time in Britain. Within months of his return to India in 1912 he had attended an annual session of the Indian National Congress in Patna. Nehru was disconcerted with what he saw as a “very much an English-knowing upper class affair.
” The Congress in 1912 had been the party of moderates and elites. Nehru harboured doubts regarding the ineffectualness of the Congress but agreed to work for the party in support of the Indian civil rights movement in South Africa. He collected funds for the civil rights campaigners led by Mohandas Gandhi in 1913. Later, he campaigned against the indentured labour and other such discriminations faced by Indians in the British colonies. When the First World War broke out in August 1914, sympathy in India was divided.
Although educated Indians “by and large took a vicarious pleasure” in seeing the British rulers humbled, the ruling upper classes sided with the Allies. Nehru confessed that he viewed the war with mixed feelings. Frank Moraes wrote: “If [Nehru’s] sympathy was with any country it was with France, whose culture he greatly admired. ” During the war, Nehru volunteered for the St John Ambulance and worked as one of the provincial secretaries of the organisation in Allahabad. [ Nehru also spoke out against the censorship acts passed by the British government in India.
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Nehru’s health began declining steadily after 1962, and he spent months recuperating in Kashmir through 1963. Some historians attribute this dramatic decline to his surprise and chagrin over the Sino-Indian War, which he perceived as a betrayal of trust. Upon his return from Kashmir in May 1964, Nehru suffered a stroke and later a heart attack. He was “taken ill in early hours” of 27 May 1964 and died in “early afternoon” on the same day, and his death was announced to Lok Sabha at 1400 local time; cause of death is believed to be heart attack.
Nehru was cremated in accordance with Hindu rites at the Shantivana on the banks of the Yamuna River, witnessed by hundreds of thousands of mourners who had flocked into the streets of Delhi and the cremation grounds. Nehru, the man and politician made such a powerful imprint on India that his death on 27 May 1964, left India with no clear political heir to his leadership (although his daughter was widely expected to succeed him before she turned it down in favour of Shastri).
Indian newspapers repeated Nehru’s own words of the time of Gandhi’s assassination: “The light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere. “