By Benegal Pereira
I have sought to focus this compilation essentially on Apa Pant's period in East Africa. To this end, the material includes details about his life and work before his assignment, and there is little dealing with the long period thereafter. I would like to thank all the following persons who assisted me with producing this compilation: Zahid Rajan who as publisher of Awaaz first suggested this topic to me several months ago, then gave me the benefit of several postponements because of other work pressures and finally pushed me to complete the task;
Mrs. Leela Patel, a very close friend of Pant together with her late husband Suryakant starting with his period in East Africa, who was kind enough to provide me with many of the photographs supporting this commentary; Aditi and Aniket Pant who put up with my constant barrage of emails and requests for photos. Robert Gregory and Peter Wright for meeting with me and sharing their first hand experiences, having had long standing personal contacts with Pant before and after his East African tenure for their contributions as well as many interesting conversations over past years; and Angelo Faria who had lived in Kenya during Pant's tenure, with whom I had a protracted interaction during this compilation, and for the substantial analytical piece (and rebuttals) that he prepared at relatively short notice and within tight deadlines.
In August 1948, less than a year after the attainment of Indian independence, a still deeply British colonial Kenya colony with its South Asian minority who were almost wholly British rather than Indian citizens, made its first acquaintance with an engaging and charming couple, an aristocratic Indian and his surgeon wife – Apa and Nalini Pant. Although their arrival was marked by high positive expectations among the South Asians and a distrustful respect by the local colonial authorities, by its end almost 6 years later in February, it was to be a valuable learning experience for both parties. Sri Apa Pant, an Indian prince and son of the tenth Pant-Pratinidhi and ruler of the kingdom of Aundh, moved by the idealistic calls of Gandhi to national service and of Nehru to diplomatic duty, left his father's state of Aundh to become the first Indian Commissioner for East Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika and Zanzibar). Within a couple of years, his mandate would be extended to cover British colonies in Central Africa (Northern Rhodesia, SouthernRhodesia, and Nyasaland) and eventually the Belgian colony of the Congo.
Pant's training in the arts of diplomacy began much before his arrival in East Africa. Indeed, before Indian independence he had already served as Education Minister and Prime Minister of Aundh State (1944/45) under his father's tutelage, and immediately thereafter he had been deeply engaged in the discussions leading to the integration of his state within the Indian Union. He wrote: "life is a constant arrival and departure,whether the journey is from one room to another or from one continent to another".
His subsequent diplomatic career spanned some three decades, during which time he was drafted into increasingly delicate and senior diplomatic assignments. These covered: Officer on Special Duty, Ministry of External Affairs 1954/55 when he worked directly with Nehru on matters relating to the Nonaligned Country Group resulting from the
Bandung Conference in 1956; Officer in Sikkim and Bhutan with control over Indian missions to Tibet (1954/55) when relations with China were tense, especially after the defection to India of the Dalai Lama; followed by ambassadorships to Indonesia (1961/64), Norway (1964/66), Egypt (1966/69), United Kingdom (1969/72) and Italy (1972/75).
Pant is the author of several books, all of which offer glimpses to his time in East Africa, these include: An Unusual Raja - Mahatma Gandhi and the Aundh Experiment, Hyderabad: Sangam Books, 1989.
Surya Namaskar, an ancient yogic Indian exercise, Bombay, Orient Longmans, 1970. A Moment in Time, Bombay: Orient Longman, 1974. Mandala: An Awakening, Bombay: Orient Longman, 1976.
Survival of the Individual, London: Sangam Books, 1983. Undiplomatic Incidents;.
Bombay, Orient Longman Limited, 1987 An Extended Family of Fellow Pilgrims,Bombay, Sangam Books, 1990
Early Life AUNDH, INDIA:
Aundh was a small princely kingdom, situated in the present state of Maharashtra, about a hundred miles south east of Poona. The story of Aundh goes back more than four hundred years back to the middle 17th century, in about 1630.
Its founder was Trabak Pant Pratinidhi, a poor Brahmin, turned warrior during the period of Sambhaji Raje and Rajaram Maharaj. The story of Aundh ended almost four hundred years later in 1951, with the death of Raja Bhawanrao Pant-Pratinidhi, also known as Balasaheb, the last Raja of Aundh (Apa's father). At the earlier urging of the Mahatma, Aundh was absorbed into free India on March 8, 1948. Apa Pant was the second son of the Raja and referred to his father affectionately as his 'Baba'.
Mahatma Gandhi's vision of democracy – a people governing themselves – took root in Aundh. Discussion between the Mahatma and Pant's father, Raja Bhawanrao, and later Pant himself, evolved into the 'Aundh experiment'. After Apa
returned home from his studies in England, Maurice Frydman, whom Apa referred to as a genius, a saintly social worker, engineer and friend; urged the raja to give up all power to the people of Aundh. Apa recounts a conversationwith the Mahatma in the context of Aundh.
Then Mahatma said: "tell me, after being called to the bar and spending the money of the poor peasants of Aundh on yourself for five years, are you going to migrate to a city such as Bombay or Delhi and make money by exploitation? Or have you any sincere sense of obligation, of doing your duty, dharma, by serving the poor people of Aundh, who have until now, fed and clothed you?" Apa was quite taken aback by this direct question and replied: "Bapuji, what can I say? I would certainly like to help my old father, and stay on in Aundh.
At least such is my present inclination". The Mahatma smiled, and said, "Look Apa, you are dealing with me now. My old friend Pandit Satawalekarji has written to me that your father wants to hand over the kingdom of Aundh to his people. I hope this intention is genuine. It would be truly in keeping with our ancient customs which were followed by those good rulers who knew what their dharma was . . . "
Peter Wright, a long standing and close English friend of Pant from their university days at Oxford, followed him to India during the World War 11 period, stayed through India's Independence and moved on to Kenya in the early 1950s.
In 1952 Wright was deported from Kenya and returned to India. He wrote: "I am well aware of Apa's feelings withregard to the absorption of the small state of Aundh into the Bombay Presidency and subsequently into the state of Maharashtra. I visited Aundh when Apa himself was the Chief Minister and had, with enthusiastic local support, transformed it into a tiny model democratic state – an outstanding success – with the full support of his father. He
[Pant] has never been given the recognition he deserved for doing this; incidentally it also led to a number of Indians from outside, who were "wanted" by the British authorities for political reasons, taking refuge in Aundh State.
Also I am not aware that Apa has been given adequate recognition for his hard, and in the circumstances, painful work that he did in helping to persuade other Maratha princes to surrender their sovereignties to the newly-forming Indian Union Government in the interests of constructing a truly united and democratic state. Pandit Nehru was, of course, well aware of this when he selected Apa for the Nairobi position.
The clash between Shivaji's militaristic views and Gandhiji's pacifism, inevitably affected both Apa and his father, with the Gandhian views finally triumphing (as they did with Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in the NWFP). I personally felt immensely privileged to know, and to have the love and friendship of, this great duo, father and son, and to learn from them something of the great Maratha history and traditions."
Leaving Aundh for EAST AFRICA IN 1947: (Pant, Apa; 1989)
Apa expressed his emotional feeling at the start of his diplomatic career, when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru offered him his first diplomatic assignment – as the first ambassador of free and independent India to colonial East Africa. It was in December 1947 that Apa was summoned to meet with Nehru in Bombay. Pant wrote, "Doors that open unexpectedly are not always easy to pass through". His energies had been in a state of dull suspension, given the prospect and dissolution of Aundh, but were stirred again as Nehru asked him "Apa, go to East Africa and be our first representative". He later recounted: " To be a representative, a Pratinidhi as in our family tradition, was not only exhilarating in a personal way but something I had felt my father would welcome for his son, an honour that would be his as well as mine. But the merger of Aundh had left many problems for the family, and not all of them
had been settled". Later, in New Delhi, when taking leave of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Pant told Nehru that he knew nothing of diplomacy, or of Africa. "Never Mind", Nehru said jokingly, "Go and shoot a few lions!" Pant said he did, many of them with a camera, of course.
In this, and in every way, it was a terrific experience. And he wanted his father to share in it. In 1950 when the old raja paid a visit to Nairobi, Apa wrote:
"By the end of 1947, Nalini and I left Aundh. That last day in Aundh is still vivid in my memory. I could not believe that I was leaving Aundh for good.
All the pots and pans, beds and cupboards and chairs were loaded on to a state red number plate truck.
Baba, with his red cap, had come out of the palace to bless his daughter-in-law and me, and our little, sweet four year old daughter, Aditi. Baba was happy and also sad. Happy because his daughter-in-law was to start practicing medicine and surgery in Poona – She had built a house there on the plot given to her by her father and mother. And sad because little Aditi was also leaving.
I tried to settle down to a routine in Poona at the end of 1947. I did not know what to do. Someone suggested that I stand for the constituent assembly from the Deccan state constituency. I did, but failed to get in by one vote. Shri Munavalli won against me. So I retired even more into my minuscule ego.
It was Raosaheb Patwardhan who, like the affectionate elder brother that he was, dragged me out of my hole, and forcibly took me to see Jawaharlal Nehru in Bombay. I was of course, very hurt that the Congress, and the high command had completely forgotten what Raja Bhawanrao had done for the freedom struggle and I secretly hoped that Baba would at least be made a raj pramukh, if not given a ministership.
But who would care for Aundh when even the Mahatma was forgotten? So when Raosaheb ushered me into the presence of the shinning, smiling, extremely selfassured first prime minister of independent India, I was aggrieved.
Panditji however could charm anyone, any time, with hardly any effort. He was then at the height of his power.
When Raosaheb asked him if he had forgotten me, he said, "No, I was just thinking of him just the other day." Then turning to me he said, "Apa, go to East Africa as our first ambassador there."
Ambassador? I was to be an Ambassador? I should have shouted for joy, but didn't feel like it then. My ego would take a while to assert itself again. So I sailed alone by the S.S.Khandala, the oldest ship of the P & O line. Baba and the rest of the family were there to bid me farewell. Baba was proud that I, his second son was now an ambassador of free India? Was I happy and proud? Hardly, I was disgusted with myself. I did not like leaving Baba all alone.
As I boarded the ship, I wept. Tatya Inamdar was to accompany me as my private secretary. It was Nalini's idea and she had persuaded Jawaharlal to agree to it. It was quite unusual for a person outside the Indian Foreign Service or the secretarial cadre to be appointed to go abroad at the Government of India's expense, and everyone must have thought that it would serve me better if I had a wiser person to guide me. Tatya, as usual, did so with care and affection. I missed Aundh, Baba, Nalini, Aditi and little Aniket, our son who was then just a year and a half old.
Understandingly, Nalini sacrificed her own career as an honorary doctor at the Sassoon Hospital in Poona, not to mention her professorship and budding practice, to join me in 1949. Thus Aditi and Aniket grew up amongst lions, rhinoceros and zebras. Those five and half years in Africa where glorious for us.
Once again I was filled with new motivation. My ego re-inflated itself and I wanted Baba to see me confident once more. So Baba came to stay with us for a while. He travelled widely in East Africa and was happy. He was especially fond of little Aniket. Aditi was too volatile for his liking."
Pant about NALINI. (Apa, Pant; 1990)
The longevity and synergy of the Apa-Nalini partnership, and its resulting legacy, is a tribute to the symbiotic relationship between Apakaka and Akka, respectively (as they lovingly referred toeach other).
Apa's initial encounter with Akka was at her eldest brother's small two-room flat in Bombay. It had been preceded by a meeting he had had with Natesh Appajii Dravid, Akka's father, who had first come to meet him as an eligible bachelor in Poona the previous year to make a proposal of marriage. At this time, after having secured her fellowship in surgery in Scotland, she had been appointed to head a women's hospital in Rajasthan. Interestingly, Apa and Tai Dravid, Akka's mother, had had a brief exchange by letter five years earlier, when she wrote to him stating that she was watching Apa's career with interest – Apa appears to have been tagged much earlier as a potential son-in-law for the well-educated Nalini.
Apa confesses that at this very first meeting with Akka he was "…deeply impressed by her apparent calm and dignified bearing, her high intelligent forehead, her sharp, steady, critical, non smiling, even stern, but kindly eyes . . ." But the spell was broken when "going to the kitchen, she banged into a wooden screen in front of the door".
"Each one of us, whether it was Africa or elsewhere, looked at the same event or people from different angles. In any case no two people can ever share the same point of view of life. Our view points were different – often clashed – but our objectives were the same: making friends for India and building a world network of mutual understanding.
It was, of course, a fascinating task. It was very joyful and fulfilling too. At the end of it, we both felt we really had lived.From Pandit Nehru, Indira Gandhi, to Aditi, Aniket and Avalokita, all felt that what I said or did had to have the final stamp of Akka's approval! In fact in 1958, Pandit Nehru whilst staying with us in Gangtok, asked Akka whether she had read 'that stupid report of your journey in Tibet by Apa'? He also asked her, 'Do you approve what Apa does or write'? Indira had a especially soft corner for Akka as did all the various ministers, such as Swaran Singh, Jagjivan Ram, Subrahmanyam and others. All the foreign secretaries would, in partly jocular partly serious manner, ask Akka to control me! She did so, magnificently."
Apa and Nalini spent the first five years prior to 1946 in Aundh, where their two first children were born, Aditi and Aniket, and later their third child, Avalokita.
Apa continues: "Akka can be merciless in her criticism.
Her objective is not to put down or show one in a derogatory light, but to help one correct oneself: to help one to strive even harder. People like me are over generous with compliments and approvals. Our approval therefore has little value. People like Akka on the other hand are frugal, sparing in theirs, therefore all seek them and feel fulfilled when they receive them. "Akka has been the greatest, the most persistent, ceaseless but loving, image smasher of all! Pretence, inadequacy, hypocrisy, falsehood of any kind, she could never tolerate, and said so openly and instantly. What a fellow Pilgrim she has been.
"As one lives and experiences same or similar situations, one's mental and intelligent vibrations start to respond to the person most intimate to oneself. Words then become unnecessary. Between Akka and me it has been so far for the last so many years. Thoughts, feelings, just get transferred spontaneously. It is great fun! It is also a discovery of some aspects of that unified mind-energy in which we exist. Akka of course has helped me tremendously in this self-discovery."