Sputnik Opinion
In-depth analysis of regional & global events provided by Indian & foreign experts - from politics & economics to sci-tech & health.

Pandit Nehru, My Grandfather and Me: Wisdom of Victories

© Sputnik / Aleksandr VilfRussia Victory Day Parade
Russia Victory Day Parade - Sputnik India, 1920, 09.05.2024
I often look at that old black-and-white photo in my family collection, my grandfather shaking hand of Jawaharlal Nehru in Moscow airport on June 7, 1955, being a member of the reception delegation.
There is something nobody else knows about that photo, and that’s a barely noticeable wet stain on my grandfather’s left knee. He had no time to change the whole suit, so he decided to let it dry on the way to the airport.
I was not even 1.5 months old at the time and was making life slightly hectic and noisy, and sometimes wet, at the grandfather’s country house. And he was carrying me around or putting me in his lap all the time. It was much later, when I began to look at all kind of old photos and ask him questions, like who was Nehru and what his first visit to Russia meant.
“It meant an entirely new world for us all after the war”, was one of his answers. Its significance is probably only reaching me now.
Russia has been attacked many times in its history, it’s under attack even now, but among these wars only one is being remembered as simply The War. History of the nation is being divided, in common understanding, into the eras “before the war” and “after the war”. Religious holidays aside, the 9th of May, Victory Day, seems to be the most emotional one, outshining even the much-beloved New Year. It may seem to be strange, but even today, on the 79th anniversary of that war, it’s the same, maybe because it’s a family happening. Every family has someone to remember on that day.
Going back to my grandfather and my questions put to him, he went on explaining: there was simply no Republic of India before The War. But then we, the top Soviet leadership at the time, have discovered a new reality – there was a new India in the world around us, and many, many similar realities, previously unthinkable of.
In June 1955 my grandfather, Dmitry Shepilov (I was named after him, of course), was Editor-in-Chief of The Pravda newspaper and the head of Foreign Relations committee of the Soviet parliament. He also was a rising star in the post-Stalin leadership, and next year was made the USSR’s Foreign Minister. So he had to tackle the “world after the war” head-on.
There were maximum 63 countries, members of the League of Nations in that small world before the war. And soon after it, suddenly, there were more and more of them, and not the small ones (today, the total is almost reaching 200). The old Soviet diplomacy was used to dealing with several powers only, but suddenly things became very complicated, while the Foreign Minister was new and inexperienced.
Much, much later I’ve published a book about him, mentioning the fact that there had been no such thing as foreign policy doctrines named after foreign ministers in the USSR. But if there were, the Shepilov Doctrine would be simple: all the new nations, shedding the old colonial rule, were to be friends and partners of Moscow, and they don’t have to become Communist for that. In a way, ideologies aside, that doctrine stays in force even now.
Pandit Nehru, with his first-ever visit to the USSR in 1955, had contributed a lot to our new understanding of the new world of the new era. My grandfather recalled two episodes of his visit. First one: Nehru, “a known anglophile”, was taken to ‘a garden visit at the British Embassy’ in Moscow in honor of Queen Elizabeth’s birthday. And he was developing ties with the US at the same time, too, but still talked like a friend and partner. And one more episode: there was a banquet in Kremlin to honor the Indian guest.
Here you have to know that, for several years after the war with its deprivations, eating suddenly became a national cult in the USSR. The big idea was, everyone tried to compensate one’s stomach for these terrible wartime years, when even bread was often rationed. So a Kremlin banquet was always a demonstration to everyone around that the nation was OK now, with plenty of food on the table, including the main one.
But Nehru looked uneasy at that feast, limiting himself to a sprig of grapes. The Indologists, belatedly, explained to the Kremlin masters, that hunger in India was a very real thing, so there was a custom not to waste food and not to leave a crumb on the table.
Well, you live and you learn about that new world around you, my grandfather went on. So, on the parting banquet at the end of that 17-days visit, there were only flower garlands decorating the table, while the waiters were carrying food around so that everyone could make a pick and consume everything chosen, not leaving a crumb. By the way, that old thrifty custom looks wise even now, and not only in Kremlin or in India.
Speaking about the new world after the war, my grandfather told me: you always go to war to defend what you have, every bit of it. When you sit in the trenches, your dream is always the same. There comes the Victory Day (the same 9thof May, as it happened later). And you come home. And you take your woman out, and you go to the same public park where you went before the war, and the music played there is exactly the same. And your lady is wearing the same dress as she used to. The only difference is, maybe, several medals on your tunic.
Well, he, among all the folks, certainly knew why people and nations go to wars. After all, he has never been a military man. He was a very civilian and young professor of economy in 1941, when the Germans approached his city, Moscow. And he went to the front as a part of the famous (and poorly armed) Moscow Militia, that delayed the German offensive for several weeks, at a terrible price.
Do you remember exactly why you did it and what you thoughts were at that moment, I asked him. His only explanation was simple: I got angry. So, he, a professor and, as such, released from a military conscription, volunteered as a rank-and-file soldier. At the time, in 1941, he of course could not imagine that he was deemed to survive and end the war as a one-star general, a deputy commander of the 4th Army liberating Vienna, with the highest military awards of the land.
So that’s how you go to the war, to keep your world exactly as it was. But, instead, it becomes a completely new world, my grandfather went on. So, the new Soviet leadership was busy not just getting used to that new world, but to actively make it much friendlier and better, than before. And, very often, these leaders were asking each other: and why could not a better world have been slowly built up without all these terrible atrocities and sacrifices?
That was certainly a good thought, that.
Dmitry Kosyrev is a Russian writer, author of spy novels and short stories. He also did columns for the Pioneer and Firstpost.com
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meets Ukrainian students along with Polish Prime minister during a meeting in Kiev on January 22, 2024. - Sputnik India, 1920, 24.01.2024
Ukraine Conflict
Russia Strikes Ukrainian Military-Industrial Complex; NATO Pledges Further Aid For Zelensky
To participate in the discussion
log in or register
Заголовок открываемого материала