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Robert Frost: Nehru's Gift to Us
Shyam Saksena | 14 Apr 2008

The world today badly needs inspirational and transformational leaders, whose vision can easily be shared and imbibed by all those, whose lives they touch directly or indirectly. Essentially, it means making personal sacrifices for the common good. In recent times, I can only think of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. They don't seem to make such folks anymore! The freedom fighters of India, many who took over the reins of the newly born nation in 1947, were a breed apart. They were all very learned people. It is amazing, that more the British put them behind bars more they used their pen to send out inspirational messages, to their affronted followers outside. Without exception they wrote great books in prison, which continue to be best sellers even today, 60 years after our independence.

Nehru with his eclectic make up could in few deft strokes distill the essence of entire history, cultures, political thought, literature of the world, etc. This is amply clear from his 'Discovery of India', 'Letters from a Father to his Daughter' and 'Glimpses of World History'. The last two being letters he wrote to his daughter Indira, to educate her about the passage of time from prehistory to modern days. At the midnight of 15th August 1947, he took over as free India's first Prime Minister and delivered his never-to-be forgotten 'India's tryst with destiny' speech, which makes us gulp even today. Along with his mentor Gandhi, they held their sway over children, villagers and city elite, alike. As a spell bound school kid, I have been blessed to see both of them in flesh and blood. How can I forget that Nehru interrupted a public speech and stood still, to help me click him with my Kodak Brownie? He transformed us both by deed and example.

In May 1964 he passed away in sleep, mourned by a nation that loved him as much as he loved his people and his motherland. A few days later it was discovered that on his desk he kept these few lines from Robert Frost, which he himself had scribbled:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

This was flashed in media, and caught the imagination of the people. Editorials interpreted this as a message from Nehru, that his work towards establishing a truly secular democracy in India was not yet complete. It was taken as a clarion call to the nation to complete the unfinished job. Even the other day, almost 44 years after his death, an editorial in a mainline paper quoted these lines from Robert Frost, to remind the readers about the unfinished work.

The fact that just four lines from a poet can catch the fancy of educated people of India, is a tribute to the transformational power of Robert Frost himself. In his own folksy way he expressed such a profound idea. May be, those in the Literature stream were familiar with his works, but I had never heard any American poet being discussed at home. Suddenly there was a search for the works of this largely unknown poet. Even today, I keep his complete works on my shelf. It is such a pleasure to open any page at random and get lost in the Robert Frost country. And see it with the disarming simplicity, with which only he could have seen the rural New England. So, unwittingly in his death Nehru not only left us the legacy of a tolerant secular democracy, but left us the legacy of Robert Frost.