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Pamela Mountbatten on the Jawaharlal-Edwina relationship

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Lady Pamela Mountbatten, with her parents, bidding good-bye to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, in New Delhi.
Lady Pamela Mountbatten, with her parents, bidding good-bye to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, in New Delhi.

In the first interview given by any member of the Mountbatten family on the relationship between Lady Mountbatten and Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, Lady Pamela Hicks, Earl Mountbatten’s youngest daughter, has said she does not believe Nehru and Lady Mountbatten had a sexual relationship but added “maybe everybody will think I’m being very naïve.” In an interview to the CNN-IBN programme Devil’s Advocate to mark the publication of her book (co-authored with her daughter India Hicks), India Remembered: A Personal Account of the Mountbattens during the Transfer of Power (Pavilion Books, London 2007), Lady Pamela spoke at length about the Edwina-Nehru relationship. Excerpts from the int

Karan Thapar: In your introduction [to the book] you write: “towards the end of the fifteen months we spent in India, the immediate attraction between my mother and Panditji blossomed into love.” What do you mean by love?

Lady Pamela: I mean a very deep love. The kind of love that the old knights of old [had], a chivalric love really … Nowadays everybody assumes that it has to be a carnal love, but you can have just as deep an emotional love with two like souls in a way, people who really grow to understand each other, and to be able to listen to each other and to complement each other and find solace in each other.

In your book you write: “my mother had already had lovers, my father was inured to it” but then you add, “the relationship with Nehru remained platonic.” Can you be really sure of that?

I was with them most of the time. We called it a gooseberry. It was very awkward for them, you know, if I was around the whole time. I would say yes, anyway Nehru was a very honourable man who liked my father. There was a great affection between the two. It was nearly always in my father’s houses either in England or in India that they were together, and I think he would have never dishonoured his friends, you know.

But you know at the time, and even afterwards, people have speculated about it to say that the friendship went a lot further. Did this speculation hurt your father? Did he ever object to the fact that he must have known behind his back people were joking possibly about the Viceroy being cuckolded?

I think it shows what confidence he had and how he was correct in that. My mother died in Borneo, working for Save the Children Fund and St. John Ambulance Brigade, and she died suddenly in the middle of her work. On her bedside table was a packet of Panditji’s letters. In her will we found she had left the whole collection of letters to my father and they were an enormous number — there were suitcases full of these letters. He asked me to read them. He said he was ninety nine percent sure there was nothing that would wound him or worry him or diminish him in any way. But there was just that one per cent of doubt fluttering in his heart and he said, ‘darling will you read them first?’ So I read them and they were wonderful letters — nothing at all that would have distressed my father.

Were you at all apprehensive? Did you as a daughter think, maybe, there’d be a sentence, a stray phrase that might give the game away?

No, I didn’t. Because I didn’t really attach the sexual importance to the whole affair that other people did. To me they were two amazing people whose place in history was considerable. What they did, I thought that was the important thing about them. And I loved them both very much, and I wasn’t particularly interested if they were tumbling around in bed together. And I was certain they weren’t

In a letter you quote in your book, he [Lord Mountbatten] wrote to your sister Patricia: “she,” meaning Edwina, “and Jawaharlal are so sweet together. They really dote on each other. Pammy and I are doing everything we can to be tactful and helpful.” Was it easy to be as tactful as he makes it seem? It couldn’t have been quite that easy?

Yes, very easy indeed. We just had to go out of the room!

So there were moments when he felt ‘I ought to just leave them alone’?

Yes, but they were both fully dressed sitting on a sofa in the study or something.

There was no tinge of jealousy or perhaps of hurt emotion?

No, because I think he trusted them both. And also, my mother was so happy with Jawaharlal, she knew she was helping him at a time when it’s very lonely at the pinnacle of power. It really is. And if she could help, and my father knew that it helped her, because a woman can, after a long marriage, and they’d been over twenty five years together, a woman can feel perhaps frustrated, and perhaps neglected if somebody’s working terribly hard. And so if a new affection comes into her life, a new admiration, she blossoms and she’s happy.

So both of them, in a sense, fulfilled a need — both Jawaharlal and Edwina needed each other.

I think they did, and my father understood that need and of course it made my mother, who could be quite difficult at times, as many very extraordinary women can be … and yet when she was so happy with everybody, it was lovely to be with her. There were no prickles.

You have a lovely phrase in your book: “there existed a happy threesome based on some firm understanding on all sides.” What was the firm understanding, not to probe too deeply?

No, I think that there were no doubts. That my father was convinced that it was just a friendship. That they would like to talk together and be together, and he was convinced that was all it was. I was certainly convinced that was all it was.

Much of this friendship and affection, much of this relationship, actually lived its way in the letters they wrote each other. You reveal in your book that Pandit Nehru wrote to your mother practically every night at 2 o’ clock.

They would have an endearment to begin with and, sadly always, [they would say] that they were missing each other so much. They wouldn’t see each other for six months at a time. And then probably they only saw each other twice in a year.

There is a particular letter that Panditji wrote to your mother, where it seems quite obvious to anyone that he’s just completely bowled over. He writes: “suddenly I realise that there was a deeper attachment between us, that some uncontrollable force drew us to one another.” Was he in a sense more in love, because he was a lonely man, than your mother maybe?

No, I don’t think so. But again I think he is talking about the emotional more than the physical. I think suddenly they’ve realised that they were two souls together. Not necessarily two bodies together.

So all the speculation that there was a physical side is, in fact, unfair?

Yes. I don’t understand this obsession that people who have a deep emotion with each other must immediately have a physical relationship … These were two very unusual people.

But Panditji was a widower, he needed female affection. Your mother was alluring and beautiful. They were so close to each other. It would be natural for the emotional to become sexual.

It could be, and maybe everybody will think I’m being very naive, but the fact that she had had lovers in the past, somehow this was so different, it really was. And the letters, I mean if you were deeply, physically in love, your whole letter would be about the other person and your need of them physically, and it would be that kind of love letter. These letters had an opening paragraph of tenderness, and the end would be also tender and romantic and nice like that, but three quarters of the letter was unburdening himself of all his worries and his disappointments or his hopes and all his idealism coming out for the extraordinary time of India at her rebirth in history and it is the history of India as an independent nation.

Panditji would not hurt his friend?

I think so. Panditji was a very honourable man.

There is another aspect of this relationship that you refer to in your book. You say that the Edwina-Nehru relationship was also of use to your father as Viceroy. That he often appealed to Panditji through the influence your mother had. And that this was particularly useful handling tricky situations like Kashmir.

That is true, and he did use her like that. But he certainly wasn’t going to throw her, he didn’t say to her ‘go and become the Prime Minister’s lover, because I need you to intercede!’ It was a by-product of this deep affection.

He realised there was an emotional relationship he could use for the betterment of everyone?

Absolutely

Many people in India believe that the decision Jawaharlal Nehru took to refer Kashmir to the United Nations was taken under your father’s advice. Could that have been an area where your mother’s influence would have been particularly useful?

I think it could have been well. Because Panditji being a Kashmiri, of course, inevitably the emotional side comes in from one’s own country, doesn’t it? And my father, just in dry conversation, mightn’t have been able to get his viewpoint over. But with my mother translating it for Panditji and appealing to his heart more than his mind … that he should really behave like this. I think probably that did happen.

So in a very interesting sense, Panditji had a love in your mother, and your father had a bit of influence through your mother on Panditji.

Yes, I think so. But the important outcome of it all was really for the good of India … Panditji was a real statesman, it never occurred to him to make anything out of his position. He never made money out of it. He was the real idealist, for the good of India, always.

(The interview will be broadcast by CNN-IBN on Sunday July 22 at 8:30 p.m.)


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