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Sunday, 19 February 2017

Chapter and worse

The most lurid account of Indira Gandhi's alleged amorous relationships has been attributed to M.O. Mathai, Jawaharlal Nehru's private secretary. Katherine Frank refers to the controversial She chapter which Mathai apparently wrote for his autobiography, Reminiscences of the Nehru Age, but withdrew it before the book went to press. Though most biographers of Mrs G discount its existence, the purported She chapter is available on the website www.swordoftruth.com.

But first the genesis of the She chapter. As Frank writes, "In the seventies, Mathai wrote an account in his autobiography of what he claimed was a twelve-year affair with Indira Gandhi in a chapter entitled She—a chapter that Mathai himself suppressed when the book was about to be published, even though Indira Gandhi was out of power at that time. This chapter was widely believed to have been destroyed—and some people doubted that it had ever existed—but in the early eighties... five years after Mathai's death, it surfaced when Indira's estranged daughter-in-law, Maneka Gandhi circulated it among a small group of Indira's enemies."

Frank, who obviously seems to have read She, goes on to observe, "The She chapter contains such explicit material that even if Mathai had not suppressed it, it is doubtful whether the publishers would have taken the risk and proceeded to publish it."

Mathai's publisher Narendra Kumar, now chairman of Har Anand publications, who edited and published Mathai's Reminiscences for Vikas, however denies that She ever existed. Yet Mathai's book lists the chapter on page 153. On page 153, which is Chapter 29, the publisher's note says, "This chapter on an intensely personal experience of the author's, written without inhibition in the D.H. Lawrence style, has been withdrawn by the author at the last moment." The entry is dated November 1, 1977.

Says Kumar: "Mathai wanted it put there as a teaser. During his conversations, at no stage did he murmur or remotely mention any relationship with anybody." He also claims that Frank hasn't met him. Asked if it was possible that Mathai did write the chapter and showed it to friends, Kumar declares: "I was his publisher. He would have certainly spoken to me at some stage about it if there was such a chapter."

Yet, the She chapter has kept surfacing intermittently. Inder Malhotra in his book, Indira Gandhi: A Personal and Political Biography notes that: "Mathai climaxed his boasts with the declaration that one chapter of his book, entitled simply She, had been witheld at the last minute and would be published as a separate booklet later. It never was. It's doubtful the chapter ever existed." Uma Vasudev—who wrote two books on Indira Gandhi—told Outlook that though there's been plenty of talk about She, "I did not come across anybody who'd read it."

But the purported chapter is available online, in all its tawdry detail, on the website www.swordoftruth.com, a webmagazine that is extreme far right in its editorial content. The web version has a sentence which says: "She hated small cars." This sentence also occurs in Mathai's Reminiscences under the chapter Indira. But there's nothing else to suggest that the website She is indeed Mathai's.

(Source: Outlook)

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