Wednesday, June 12, 2019

In Memoriam 

Dr Stanley Wolpert

[1927, Dec 23 – 2019, Feb 19]

With a heavy, grief-stricken heart I write these words here about the passing away of Dr Stanley Wolpert on 19 February, 2019 at Los Angeles where at University of California (UCLA/LA), he was Professor Emeritus in Modern Asian History. He was an eminent American historian, indologist and author on the political and intellectual history of modern India and Pakistan. He taught at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA/LA) from 1959-2002, and remained on the faculty as Professor Emeritus till the last.

I first came to know of him through his famous book on India’s partition The Shameful Flight and his equally famous biography Jinnah of Pakistan, as I was writing my biography of Dr Rajendra Prasad. My personal acquaintance with him began in 2013, with his reply to my email when I sent him an excerpt from the early chapters of my draft biography for a preview. Dr Wolpert wrote back:

Dear Mangal Murty,                                                    April 10, 2013

Your book sounds wonderful, and should prove to be most important. I am delighted to learn of your project and plans and strongly encourage you to complete your Biography. Thank you very much for taking the time to outline it to me, and please let me know when you have completed your work, and when it will be published. With my warmest regards and all best wishes,
Stanley Wolpert
Prof. of History, University of California,
Los Angels, USA

I sent my published biography book Rajendra Prasad : First President of India (2018), in January, 2019, through my grandson, Anuneet Krishna, who was then finishing his MS at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles (USC/LA). But by then, at age 91 and seriously ill, Dr Wolpert was unable to receive my book in spite of the best efforts of my grandson. Yet as I was to travel to LA in May, 2019 to attend the Graduation Ceremony of Anuneet on 10 May, I hoped to meet Dr Wolpert and present the book personally to him. But, alas, that was not to be! Dr Wolpert passed away on 19 Feb, 2019, and I came to know of it before our tickets were even booked for the long-awaited journey. After my arrival in LA, I visited the UCLA/LA campus on 4 June and went to the Department to give a copy of my biography book there to be delivered to Mrs Wolpert with the following letter which I had sent for him in January with Anuneet.

                                        Dr B S M Murty
Professor of English (Retd: Bhagalpur U. 1959-88/Magadh U. 1988-99/ Taiz U., Yemen, 1999-02) Address: Flat-302, Block-H, Celebrity Gardens, Sushant Golf City, Ansal API, Lucknow:226030 Mob. 7752922938 (WA)/ 7985017549 / Email :

Dear Dr Wolpert                                                         2 Jan, 2019
I feel happy to send you with my warmest wishes, my biography of Dr Rajendra Prasad as a new year’s gift to you. My grandson who is just about to complete his MS at USC had come on a vacation to India and has promised to deliver the book when he returns to LA on January 3.
I also wish to express my deepest gratitude to you for the inspiration and encouragement that you so generously gave me at the very outset of my difficult pursuit, and I hope the book proves itself worthy of your kind faith in my abilities.
I would also request you to kindly email me a few lines of your valued observation on the book.
I may visit LA in the coming summer, and try to meet you personally, if possible. With very warm regards,

Yours truly,
BSM Murty
Professor Stanley Wolpert, Professor Emeritus,
Dept of Asian American Studies, 6265 Bunche Hall,
University of California, Los Angeles, CA
Ph. (310) 825-4601

Here I give a brief account of my visit to the International Centre, UCLA, where Dr Wolpert worked in the Dept of Asian Studies, followed by two links about Dr Stanley Wolpert on You Tube. Google gives more information and materials on him and his books which may be usefully seen there.

My visit to UCLA : A Sad Story

More than a month gone in LA. Now we are here for barely two weeks more. All these weeks till the last, Anuneet has been driving us around places in California. He took us to the Pacific seashore at Malibu, about 50 kms west of downtown Los Angeles, and one of the best beaches in California, then to Santa Monica, another picturesque city, about 30 kms south of Malibu, having a beautiful beach and a pier with an unmissable carnival ambience; also to San Diego, San Fransisco, and many other places in south and north California. I shall post some of the enchanting photos of these visits in the next few days.

But there is a sad interlude in between.

My visit to UCLA, University of California, Los Angeles, which is part the 10 units of the University of California, established in 1868. UCLA’s distinguished faculty has 24 Nobel Laureates and many internationally recognized scholars. One of them was Dr Stanley Wolpert, world-famous scholar of Asian history, with specialization in India and Pakistan.

I had thought of presenting a copy of my biography Rajendra Prasad: First President of India, published recently (Nov, 2018), personally to him, but that was not to be. Dr Wolpert was the first person to have encouraged me very warmly to complete my book and let him know when it was published. I had sent a copy for him by Anuneet to be presented to him in January itself. Unfortunately, by then he was seriously ill and could not receive the copy.       Dr Wolpert passed away on 19 Feb, 2019. Hardly three months before I arrived in LA.

When I arrived in LA, I decided to visit UC on 4 June and present a copy to Mrs Wolpert. With a heavy heart, I could make it to the Center for India and Asian Studies, UCLA, on 4 June, and I gave the book to Ms Elizabeth Leicester, Executive Director of the Centre to be reached to Mrs Wolpert.

In a sequel to this obituary post dedicated to the memory of Dr Stanley Wolpert I would write about some of his books when I return to India at the end of June, 2019. His three books – Nehru : Tryst with Destiny, Nine Hours to Rama, Gandhi’s Passion: The Life and Legacy of Mahatma Gandhi – I got through Amazon while in LA, and his two other books – The Shameful Flight, and Jinnah of Pakistan, also from Amazon, I had procured while I was writing my own book Rajendra Prasad: First President of India. As part of my continuing obituary tribute, I shall write on this blog about all these very important books of Dr Wolpert wherein he discusses and analyses in great detail the narrative of the Indian freedom movement and its great protagonists.

Dr Stanley Wolpert

Dr Stanley Wolpert had  just begun his career as an engineer when he visited India in February, 1948, shortly after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, and had decided to turn to writing. Based on his research on Gandhi he had written his book Nine Hours to Rama, a  fictional recreation of the day of Gandhi’s murder, which had been banned by the Indian government for its insinuations of security lapses facilitating the assassination. Subsequently Dr Wolpert entered into academia and joined the UCLA where he served as professor of Modern Indian History and Asian Studies for life.

The Rediff Interview / Stanley Wolpert
'I have tried to tell Nehru's story as honestly as possible'
The recently published biography of Pandit Nehru by UCLA Professor Stanley Wolpert has ruffled a few feathers in India, drawing criticism about a less-than-totally-reverential portrait of the man considered India’s 'matinee-idol' statesman.
Professor Wolpert is an expert on South Asia, and his A New History of India (1977) is a comprehensive study of Indian History. His Ph D dissertation Tilak and Gokhale: Revolution and Reform in the Making of Modern India (1962) is a comparative biography. He is also no stranger to controversy: his fictionalised biography of Mahatma Gandhi, Nine Hours to Rama (1962) was banned in India; and his Jinnah of Pakistan (1984) was banned in Pakistan ( though the bans were later removed.) Some of the other books by Prof Wolpert are : Nehru: Tryst with Destiny(1996), Gandhi’s Passion : The Life and the Legacy of Mahatma Gandhi (2001), Shameful Flight : The Last Years of the British Empire in India (2006), besides several other books on Indian history and another biography of Zulfie Bhutto of Pakistan: His Life and Times (1993).

Rajeev Srinivasan had spoken with Professor Wolpert by phone in Los Angeles.

You were trained as an engineer, yet on a trip to India you decided to become a historian. Why?

I first arrived in India a few days after Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated. I saw his ashes being immersed in Bombay’s Backbay. Hundreds of people swam after that beautiful white boat, hoping to touch one of his ashes. There was a multitude of grieving mourners, and people told me the saintly father of the nation had died. I was twenty at the time, and was very affected by that incident, fifty years ago. It changed my life, and I decided to learn as much as I could about that man and about his country.

You must have been very disappointed about the books being banned. What do you attribute it to?

I have never been given any reasons for the ban on Nine Hours to Rama. I might have come uncomfortably close to the truth when I talked about the criminal neglect of the Mahatma’s security. A number of groups opposed him—some even called him Mohammed Gandhi because his prayer meetings included the Quran.
A bomb exploded in Birla House grounds behind where he was staying some two weeks before the assassination. The police did interrogate a number of goondas, but did nothing to prevent further incidents. I think I came close to the truth. The head of the CID in Bombay—I had dinner in London with him years later—he said, "If I hadn’t sealed the documents myself, not to be opened in 50 years, I could have sworn you had read them".
As for Jinnah, Zia-ul Haq’s advisor on Islamic affairs said the book could not be released in Pakistan, as I talked about how Jinnah enjoyed alcohol and pork. A number of people asked me to delete those references so that the book could be published in Pakistan, but I didn’t. The ban was lifted in Benazir Bhutto’s first term, and the book is now in print in Pakistan (and in India).
I think the truth about great men needs to be known and discussed. I don’t see anything wrong with their having failings. Makes them more human, and maybe it will make us common folk more tolerant of each others's faults.

The biggest concern in India about Nehru seemed to revolve around suggestions of possible early homosexual experiences at Harrow.

I have only striven to present as complete and true picture of Nehru as possible. I believe he has not really been viewed as a human being, but more as some historic icon or quasi-divinity. I used a lot of references, including his own writings, and he certainly was human, not some god-like person. I have tried to tell the story as honestly as possible, not like a hagiographer. Most magnificent leaders of the world have withstood the scrutiny of historians and Nehru, such a central figure in Indian history, surely can too.

You seem to believe that if in 1922, Mahatma Gandhi had not called off the Satyagraha movement over the massacre at Chauri Chaura, things might have worked out differently. You imply that had the 'moderates' such as Motilal Nehru and C R Das been able to work out a deal with the British, Dominion status would have been achieved peaceably by 1924. Is this credible?

History is so full of ifs and buts and there are so many variables, it is impossible to say with certainty. But Britain had a predisposition to grant Dominion status at that time. The Swarajists were the most logical partners in bringing this to fruition. If Motilal Nehru and Das had not both died early deaths they might have brought the Dominion into the Commonwealth as a united nation—and that is very key. The Muslims might have remained in the Indian Union --they had not reached any point of no return at that time.

Is it true that the British deliberately provoked Hindu-Muslim animosity? Was this a way of justifying to themselves the need for them to stay on in India?

I don’t think there was any such grand conspiracy. There were Englishmen, it is true, who were pro-Muslim; but then some were pro-Hindu, too. By and large the British wanted an environment of law and order. If there were internecine conflict they feared they might be destroyed by a Dunkirk-like rear-guard action. It is a misreading of a complicated subject to allege British bad faith, despite the fact that there were people like Dyer and O’Dwyer who provoked violence and who were very racist and anti-Indian. Nobody can condone the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre, or people being forced to crawl on the streets of Lahore.

Have you read The Raj Syndrome by Subash Chakravarthy of Delhi University: A scathing indictment of colonial attitudes and self-deceptions about their role in India? A new generation of Indian historians has become quite nationalistic.

I devote a hundred and fifty pages in the fifth edition of my A New History of India to nationalistic trends—and the conflicts that have emerged. But I haven’t read that particular book.

There is considerable abuse of history in both India and Pakistan, for propaganda purposes.

I see this, and I regret it. Unfortunately, whenever the truth is made malleable to a political dogma or a popular fashion or doctrine, it weakens and undermines the strength of a nation's intellect. We can strongly adhere to what we believe only if we know the truth. And history warns us of the mistakes of the past.

You suggest that Krishna Menon and others influenced Nehru deeply with their socialist, statist, even Marxist-Leninist ideologies. But was there an option other than to build a powerful state given various fissiparous tendencies?

But it was necessary to build a strong central state, and I don't view Nehru’s socialism in a negative way. Except that he carried it too far: no foreign investment and the Regulation Raj. Menon was a significant intellectual confidante; but he was close-minded and an ideologue, and his irrational attitude towards the US influenced Nehru, unfortunately for both countries. We could have had a much more co-operative exchange of intellectuals and resources, given the enormous fund of mutual admiration and the ideals shared.

What about the recent 'rehabilitation' of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose? Does this mean that the State is now more robust in its self-image?

I am glad to see Bose getting due credit. He has been downplayed, for reasons that had to do with a World War II rationale, and a hatred of certain things that he did or advocated. But he was an extraordinarily great and selfless leader, and his patriotism and his brilliance were second to none. I deal with Bose sympathetically in my book, much against the prevailing dogma of minimizing his contribution.

You imply that Nehru had a false perspective of how religion worked in India. You comment that he 'naively' believed that 'Europe has got ride of religion by mass education which followed industrialism.... This process is bound to be repeated in India.'

Perhaps he had a simplistic view that certain aspects of development are universal. He did not take into account the cultural variables and the religious pluralism. It is naïve to believe, as Marxists and some new historians do, that all conflicts in India could have been resolved with sufficient economic modernisation. But despite his avowed agnosticism, Nehru did have a religious core to him. That's part of his complexity.

You comment on a number of women who loved Nehru: Padmaja Naidu, Bharati Sarabhai.

Women liked him, and some hoped he would marry them; after all, he was widowed, he was charismatic, he was good looking and he was a great leader.

What do you think of Nehru’s ability as a historian? Are his Discovery of India and his Glimpses of World History any good?

He had remarkable intellectual range. Having read Discovery and Towards Freedom I would say he sometimes bent historical fact to an important political decision. But that is neither surprising nor a fault: it made his history less accurate than if he had not been the leader of a nation.

What was Nehru’s fatal weakness? Was it his patrician contempt for the common man? His somewhat exaggerated notion of his own stature as a world statesman? His statist economics? His blind faith in communists and in China in particular?

His economic belief that planning was the solution proved to be simplistic. He also had a romanticised view of China with all that 'Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai'—a terribly sad mistake. Another was his romantic concept of Kashmir as the homeland of his ancestors, and his resolve to defend and protect it, no matter how difficult or costly. But he did not have contempt for the man in the street. His charisma made him appealing to them, in fact.

Nehru’s temper may have been seen as contempt, but he loved the common man; he had an affection for those not bred in the public school tradition. He found their company even more engaging and appealing than that of intellectuals. He was eclectic, and brilliant, yet had no false ideas of his own importance. He even advised Indira about this, when she went off to Santiniketan.

Nehru was reared in the most aristocratic tradition and so he did have a certain snobbish concept of himself; but that gave him the courage to stand up to anybody, the British or others. He had no false modesty; and he was like Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill: of patrician birth and training. The brotherhood/old school tie of Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge gave Nehru tremendous self-assurance. He never felt inferior to any world leader, and he wasn’t. This helped India’s image, and gave it a boost on the world stage.

As a historian, what do you believe the future holds for India? At fifty years from freedom at midnight, where are we? Are you optimistic or pessimistic?

India’s economic development is accelerating, which is very much to the good. India is emerging from a time of insularity and is becoming engaged with the world at large. Foreign policy has become closer to South East Asia and Central Asia and the world at large. That is very beneficial. If in fact Inder Gujral can follow up with an agreement with Pakistan to defuse the problems of Kashmir that could lead to a period of beneficial development to the subcontinent.

I believe the Gujral Doctrine shows maturity; it augurs well for this very important part of the world. Twentyfive per cent of the world’s population can be at peace or in conflict. I think it will be the former.
                                                                        [End of interview]

Other Important blogs you may like to see here:

2010 : Sahitya Samagra : 5 Oct / 2011 : On Premchand: (26 May) / Has Hindi been defeated by English? : Shivpujan Sahay : (7 Dec) / 2012 : Memoirs on Prasad and Nirala : (25-26 Oct)/ 2013 : Sheaf of Old Letters (10 Oct) / 2014 :  Shivpujan Sahay Smriti Samaroh:( 27 Jan) / On Amrit Lal Nagar: (18 Aug)/ On Bachchan : (27 Nov) / 2015 : On Renu: (3 Mar) / On Trilochan: (1 Apr) /Odes of Keats + Shantiniketan: (25 May) / Premchand Patron Men: (3 Aug)/  Suhagraat: Dwivediji's poem: (13 Nov)/ 2016 : Three stories of JP:(6 Jul) / On Neelabh Ashk: (24 Jul)/ / Dehati Duniya: (8 Aug)/  Anupam Mishra: Paani ki Kahaani :(Dec 25) /   2017 :  Doctornama: memoirs of Shivpujan Sahay (July 10):  On Prithwiraj Kapoor (Nov 6) / Rajendra Jayanti Address @ Bihar Vidyapeeth, Patna (Dec 14)/ 2018:हिंदी नव जागरणशिवपूजन सहाय  और काशी           (1 Mar)/Tribute to Kedar Nath Singh (25 May) /  राहुलजी और हिंदी-उर्दू-हिन्दुस्तानी का सवाल (12 Jun)/ Neelabh Mishra (16 Jun)/ Death of Shivpoojan Sahay(17 Jun) / बाबा नागार्जुन (1 Jul)/ On Kedarnath Singh (with full translation of ‘Tiger’, 15 July)/Five poems of Angst (14 Aug)/चंपारण सत्याग्रह : भारतीय राजनीति में सत्य का पहला प्रयोग (26 Nov)  2019: On Kamaleshwar’s stories collection: ‘Not Flowers of Henna’ (26 Jan)/ Why Gandhi was killed (30 Jan)/ ‘Wings on Fire’: The Art of Himanshu Joshi ( 18 April) मंगलमूर्ति की कुछ कविताएँ (28 April)

Extracts from my biography of Dr Rajendra Prasad

Some extracts from my biography of Dr Rajendra Prasad: First President of India are also available on this Blog (Scroll by year and date). Also, some other articles on him.

2011:  The Indigo Story (28 May) / A Planter’s Murder (17 Jul) / The Butcher of Amritsar (July 18) / 2014:  The Seven Martyrs, The Last Act, The Pity of Partition, Lok ewak Sangh (14 Sep) /  Early childhood in Jeeradei ( 3 Dec) /   2015:  Congress in disarray, Swearing of First President (30 Jun) / 27: Clash of Convictions: Somnath (27 Aug) / Presidential Itineraries ( 8 Oct) / Congress at crossroads            ( 20 Dec)  2016: Election for Second Term (15 Mar) /  Visit to Soviet Union (13 May) / Limits of Presidency, Code Bill (24 Aug) /  The Last Phase (28 Aug)   2017:   Dr Rajendra Prasad: On Kashmir Problem ( 12 Jul) / The Swearing in of Dr Rajendra Prasad (24 July) / Remembering Dr Rajendra Prasad (Patna Univ Centenary) (15 Oct) / Dr Rajendra Prasad & Bihar Vidyapeeth (14 Dec) 2018 : A Book is born (on my newly published biography of Dr Rajendra Prasad)

 You may also visit my Hindi blog – mainly for Hindi articles on Shivpoojan Sahay, some of my other Hindi writings, and my translation of Shrimad Bhagawad Geeta, Ramcharit Manas and Durga Saptshati            ( retold).