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A World Full of Beauty, Charm and Adventure: Nehru in England

Nehru spent seven years in London – at school in Harrow, at University in Cambridge and then at Law in the Inner Temple. Was he anything more than another of the “Old Boys” and “Brown Sahibs”? Read below.
BY Skendha Singh |   19-08-2015
“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the
adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”
Jawaharlal Nehru


Homeschooled until the age of fifteen, Jawaharlal Nehru had read variously and voraciously. He had studied science, literature, but also Buddhist and Hindu scriptures in some of the most privileged surroundings. His intellectual journey, which culminated in The Discovery of India, had already begun.

In 1905, Motilal Nehru shipped his son off to Harrow, one of the oldest and best public schools in all of England. Like most affluent Indians of the time, he was intended for the Indian Civil Services. At Harrow, the fifteen years old Nehru had the same initial reaction as most children – homesickness and a feeling of alienation. He often wrote to his father complaining that the other boys seemed juvenile, and the headmaster was dull. However, he soon settled in. In his later years, some of his fondest memories were of the Harrow years.

During his time at Harrow, he had been received G.M. Trevelyan’s Garibaldi books, which inspired a revolutionary outlook. This would later be complemented by his interest in Socialism. All these ideas had a lasting influence on Nehru. He was to stick firmly to the left of both the independence movement, and economics. More than anything, as he said, they contributed to his understanding of economy as the backbone of politics.

In 1907, Nehru was accepted at Trinity College, University of Cambridge. He was still on course to becoming an ICS officer. He read the Natural Science tripos – in Physics, Chemistry, Geology, with a little of Literature, History, Economics and other subjects. These intellectually voracious years significantly expanded Nehru’s outlook. His ability to look at the bigger picture, to stay current with worldwide trends, was undoubtedly honed by his reading.

As a student at Cambridge, Nehru also enjoyed playing cricket, but did not excel at it. Interestingly, by the time he graduated, both Nehru and his father had given up on the ICS dream. It was decided that he would pursue a law degree instead.

The young Nehru liked London rather better than he had Harrow and Cambridge. He was a man about town – attending concerts and cricket matches, enjoying a glass of champagne with his dinner at the fancy Savoy Hotel. He dressed exquisitely too. This obviously meant that what other Indian students spent in three years, he splurged in one. Even with all the funds from home, Nehru frequently needed to pawn his watch and chain.

When Nehru eventually passed his law exams at the Inner Temple, his father sarcastically congratulated him for making a big deal out of a small thing.

Although not particularly keen on his practice at Allahabad High Court, Nehru’s legal skills would also come into brilliant use. Along with Bhulabhai Desai and Asaf Ali, he fought the famous INA Defence trials in 1945. It took a man with a sharp legal brain and a humanist insight to draft the Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy – the heart of the Indian constitution.

During the seven years he spent in England, Nehru had certainly become as English as any Englishman in his tastes and habits. But, what his years in England had done for his politics and economics, as well as their consequences, was a delicious twist of fate that none had foreseen.
 

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