BBC Asia Network, London: Nihal interviews Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul

11 am, 8th July, 2013

Nihal: Stories about your parents and your grandparents – stories of pain and sacrifice and photos to piece together their lives…..Fleeing from the face of Nazi Germany, imprisoned in India during Gandhi’s freedom campaigns, and married to women of both countries these are just some of the events that shape the life of Ayi Tendulkar. His daughter Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul has written a book called “In the shadows of freedom” about their lives, in that area. And She joins me now – Laxmi Welcome to BBC Asia network

Growing up – how much did you know about your father’s life?

Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul: Growing up, I met a lot of people from the past from the Gandhian freedom struggle. I didn’t really pay too much attention or give that much notice to what they were talking about because it was always in the back ground. I always wanted to have a normal childhood like everyone else and everyone’s parents were so much younger than mine. I always knew there was a wonderful story there, but I didn’t really know how to find out or how to access it. I kept on hearing small stories, which later on I was able to piece together.

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Nihal: What kind of man was he? Was a distant man? A very loving man?

Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul: To me a very loving man, to others a little formidable he had vast experiences and had spent many years in Europe. Living in Europe and travelling in the 20’s and 30’s was not as easy as it is today. He was also an amazing orator. I was very young and he was very fond of me, being his daughter so to me he was very loving man.

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Nihal: Papas little girl

Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul: Absolutely

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Nihal: That’s quite amazing for a man who could intimidate a lot of people you of course saw a very soft side to him. As any child should see from his father. But what do you think from what he went through shaped him as a parent.

Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul: Basically he was an Indian at heart and being with Gandhi and going through the whole freedom struggle made him very close to the villagers to the poor people to everyone he came across. So there was nothing formidable in his day-to-day life. It was just the kind of legacy that surrounded him that made people a little intimidated. And he would talk about his early life and I was fortunate that about a year before he died, I was about 20 when he passed away he actually. Well, we were sitting down and he wrote down on a piece of paper a chronology of his entire life. Right from the time he was born to the time he was sent to England. When he went to Gandhi is ashram as a young man when they sent him to England to do his ICS but he opted to go to Germany when he worked for the German newspapers how he did his education and when he got married so I had this list with me. When I wanted to write this story I had treasured this piece of paper and this is really what came in handy for me.

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Nihal: Where did you think his battling self came from? His inability to see injustice and just ignore it? Where did it come from do you think his drive

Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul: He always loved India, when you talk about his battling spirit I am taking about him wanting India to be free from the British. I think everyone in India at that time wanted to join the Quit India movement asking the British to quit India. So there was a tremendous movement that had started and this momentum took a whole lot of people with it. People joined the Gandhian movement to enable this to happen and a lot of people have stories to tell I was lucky that I was able to tell mine.

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Nihal: Tell us about Germany why he was there firstly and which year are we talking about.

Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul: He first went to Germany in 1922 and he studied there for many years. He was in Berlin where he had enrolled for a PhD program at that time he was working for a German newspaper called Berliner Tageblatt. He was in charge of the India news desk, so any journalist who wanted to know about Gandhi and the freedom movement would go to him. He was also sent by Berliner Tag blatt in the early 30’s to cover what was happening in India. I was fortunate enough to access these articles through the chronology that I had kept with me. So he was there till 1939. In 1933/34 he was married to a very famous film maker called Thea von Harbou because she and her ex husband Fritz Lang like Metropolis and M, das Insdishe Grabmahl etc. In 1933 Fritz Lang left Berlin to go to Hollywood and that was the time Thea von Harbou and my father wanted to get married. Unfortunately no German was allowed to marry a non-German during Hitler’s regime so they were not officially married but they lived together as man and wife.

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Nihal: And your fathers reminisce of how Germany grew darker and darker to people who were just not Jews but to anyone who was not an “Aryan”. What were his reminisces of that?

Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul: He didn’t speak very much about that he always spoke about Germany in very glowing terms I wasn’t aware of what he was saying, about that but I know things got very difficult for him and he opted to come back to India in 1939. Thea von Harbou was a celebrity and I read somewhere that they didn’t really move around as a couple because he wasn’t really accepted in those circles and he as busy studying and building up his life.

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Nihal: So she stayed behind in Germany

Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul: She stayed behind in Germany because when the war started, the British were at war with Germany and India was “Britain” so what would Thea von Harbou do coming to India? Anybody who had anything to do with Germany once the war started was put into prison, He came back to India and he started a newspaper in a place called Belgaum where we come from. Once the war started he was a political detenue for five years.

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Nihal: My Gosh so he was almost seen by the enemy from within by the British.

Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul: The whole of India was the enemy from within. It wasn’t only the people who came from Germany it was Indians who were fighting for India too!

Nihal: But there were many Indians who fought for the allied forces in Burma and Europe and many Indians who fought in World War 1.

Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul: In my book I was able to mention Subhash Chandra Bose who was able to start an Indian army using POW from North Africa. Of course my father had left Africa by the time.

Nihal: So many types of people India is a huge country. Your father spoke about Germany in glowing terms where he was able to make a separation between the German people and the Nazi regime.

Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul: He had a lot of respect for the German Technology, German dexterity and excellence in what they did, but, I don’t remember him speaking about the Nazi regime. The whole world was quite aghast what Hitler was doing. Although when Hitler came in he did a lot for the economy which was damaged after World War 1, that I think Thea von Harbou and a lot of Germans respected Hitler for the progress for building up the economy – the autobahns, for creating jobs and bringing up the economy of Germany.

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Nihal: Did he have to get out of Germany very quickly like did he have to grab a coat and get out of the country?

Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul: No, Not at all. Both Thea von Harbou packed material in a ship container because they thought that maybe Thea von Harbou would follow him. The container also included a red convertible Mercedes which I mention in my book because a lot of people who know my father in the 40s remember my father driving the convertible in the small town of Belgaum and unfortunately it got stuck in the alleys or ‘gulley’s’ as we call them. So he came relatively well prepared

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Nihal: And wealthy! If he owned a car like that now he would have to be wealthy little alone 70 years ago. Cars, which only the elite would have driven. And when he came back to India he was put into prison he was there for 5 years.

Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul: Before he went to prison he started a newspaper in Belgaum met my Mother fell in love with her, joined various agitations of Gandhiji and then was put into prison. So there was a lapse of about a year before he went to prison that’s how he met my mother and how eventually my mother was thrown out of the house because she came from a various conservative family. Because my father was married to Thea von Harbou her father (my grandfather) asked her to leave the house.

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Nihal: He was not of the same caste your grandfather?

Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul: Laxmi:He was of the same caste but he was a married man much traveled abroad and because my mother was a freedom fighter and worked in Gandhijis ashram in Sewagram. Three of her brothers who were in the British Army were asked to leave the army because they had a sister who was a freedom fighter. The Army was the British Army.

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Nihal: Did he ever speak to you about his years in prison did he ever relay what that was about?

Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul: You must remember that I was just 20 years old when he died. Had I been a little older I may have asked him interesting questions. But I do remember being told me some interesting anecdotes. He was a political detenue so he was allowed to get books, letters, home cooked food which my mother cooked and sent him. Back then she was a terrible cook, so I remember a lot of stories about that. There was a very sweet romantic story my mother told me whilst my father was in prison- a gardener showed up. He was the prison Gardner and he asked for my mother, so she asked him what it was that he wanted and he said –“A present from Tendulkar”. It was the sapling of a tree that grows huge but has very sweet flowers. I don’t know the equivalent of its name but in Marathi it is the Buccoli flower. So it is still there as she planted it in her parents’ house. I have mentioned this in my book because I wanted everyone to get a flavor of what life must have been at that time

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Nihal: India is notoriously bureaucratic so it keeps everything. The research process of getting materials must have been exhausting.

Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul: I had the guidelines and the correspondence between Mahatma Gandhi and my parents. I was able to contact Dr Gunther who lives in Berlin and runs a web portal on Thea von Harbou So he gave me a copy of her ‘Denazification certificate’, a copy of my father’s newspaper articles, a copy of his PHD dissertation, a biography written in my father’s handwriting when he asked permission from the German authorities to do his PhD. Having a website is great because people were able to contact me saying they had a newspaper cutting or a letter saying “Would you like to see it?”
I believe that when you start something like this and it has to happen the universe supports you. So I didn’t go to any office it was through word of mouth and meeting people who knew Thea von Harbou or my father and a few relatives who are still alive. So it was piecing all this together. But the documentation is really what made the story authentic.

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Nihal: Stories are important. They are important for keeping the stories of people we love alive and keeping their personalities alive. My guest who I have been speaking to for the last half an hour is Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul who has written a book called “ In the shadows of freedom” which is about her Father, who was imprisoned by the British for five years in India and was a close ally of Gandhiji.
Laxmi tell me about Gandhijis influence on your Mother and Father

Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul: My mother joined Sewagram ashram straight after her graduation and worked there for several years. My father went to Sabarmati ashram as a young boy. At that time Gandhi was in the Sabarmati ashram he moved to the Sewagram ashram near Nagpur several years later. My father went to Sabarmati ashram near Ahmedabad and gave his school-leaving exam because he was too young to do it in his hometown. He actually worked under Vallabhai Patel as his secretary. Other freedom fighters like Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehrus father realized that he was a very bright young man and they decided to send him to England to do his ICS, which was the Indian civil Service exam by the British, so that he could be a bureaucrat when he came to India. So he sailed to Britain in 1922 but he did not get the subjects that he wanted in Britain so he went to Paris and then he went to Germany. His association with Gandhiji and Sardar Vallabhai Patel was something that stayed with him for the rest of his life. When my parents met because my mother wanted to submit an article in the newspaper that he had started. Her article was on ‘Child labor in the Beedi factories’(the Indian cigarettes) and that was when they first met she told him about her work and that he was very interested in the movement and joined her in a lot of the activities.

My parents began to meet each other and then shortly thereafter my father was imprisoned near Belgaum. Before that my father had asked her to leave the house as I mentioned earlier. So when my father was put into prison and she was alone in the village, life was very difficult with no amenities. My grandfather kept on asking her to come home, she refused. My grandfather realized that unless he asked someone like Mahatma Gandhi whom she had a lot of respect for to intercede on his behalf and tell her to come home she may not listen. That’s how Gandhiji got involved in my parent’s marriage and in my parent’s life together.

Gandhiji called my mother and asked what the issue was and she explained that she wanted to marry my father and that she had been living with him. So Gandhiji was quite shocked and said, “You have sinned against society! “ Then he said you would have to take a punishment from us if you want to be associated with us. He put a restriction on them that they were not to meet for 5 years! Anyway nobody knew how long the war was going to go on for and it went on for four and a half years!

When my father was free they both went to Gandhjis ashram and said “Now marry us Bapuji – give us your blessings.“
Gandhiji told them that he wanted them to get married in order to serve the nation and not to have children. My father did not accept that as he said “I don’t believe anyone can have the right to stop any one from having children.

“So after a lot of correspondence, which is, all in the book Gandhiji agreed on the condition that they didn’t have children till independence. We are talking about 1944- 45. So my parents got married in 1945. The wedding was very unusual, the priest was a Buddhist who had been converted into Christianity and the ceremony was very different from the Indian ceremonies where you have the ‘sapta padi’ which is known as the 7 steps and you take the 7 rounds so they had the ‘sapta yagna’ which is 7 sacrifices which is in Gandhijis letter which is in the book. They exchanged garlands of yarn or khaddar spun by Gandhiji. So they took the vows and promised Gandhiji that they would not have children till independence. We got independence in 1947 and they got married in 1945.

That’s an amazing control/ influence that Gandhiji had over your parents telling them to do that. That’s quite fascinating and of course you have to buy the book.

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Nihal: Your parents were very disciplined and had a focus to life, Were they very strict with you? After they have seen the things in their life they must have had great expectations from you.

Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul: My father had great expectations. In my case he realized that biochemistry and genetic modification where the up and coming thing and wanted me to do research. Unfortunately he died when I was very young and I did do my M.Sc.in Biochemistry. But I just wanted to write and I wanted to have a family and have children

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Nihal: You were more drawn towards the arts but you were not given the chance really.

Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul: Also he died too early you can’t fight someone who is no more and I believe that he had my interest at heart so I want up to a certain level with what he wanted me to do,

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Nihal: He passes away when you were only 20 but you must have been aware that certain people put him on a pedestal

Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul: It was people who had worked for him because he had started a cement factory in Karnataka. People who worked for him or were associated with him revered him a lot. He was also a great orator when he entered a room he had everyone spellbound the way he spoke and the content he had.

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Nihal: In writing this book how did your attitude towards your parents change? Did you find new respect for them?

Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul: Yes I did get a lot of respect; I also realized how much they suffered. I didn’t go into too much detail on this but it must have been hard to be in prison for 5 years. My mother having the kind of character that she had having to tell the whole world that “this is the man I am going to marry”. She had to fight against everyone, I had tremendous respect for the way she lived her life and tremendous empathy for the kind of life that they must have gone through.

we got independence things changed a lot. I remember my mother telling me that during the freedom struggle the air was charged with electricity they all had something to fight for, they all had to get somewhere. After independence the whole momentum died down, people got busy trying to start business, restarting an empire. We got stuck with all our political problems,differentstates, boundary issues, and border issues, water issues.

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Nihal: Problems with Pakistan and how Egyptians must be feeing now, a very charged atmosphere as they experience freedom, What was the most fascinating thing for you in writing this book? What were the revelations?

Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul: Oh so many

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Nihal: But tell us a few?

Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul: lot of people asked me why did your parents listen to Gandhijis diktat
And I mentioned in the book a phase when my father gets very exasperated with Gandhiji and he goes up to him and says “Bapuji if you don’t get Indu and me married I am going to get the first priest that I find on the street to get us married. So Bapuji calls my mother the next day and says, “Is this true? Is this also what you have in mind? “And she says “No Bapu I will get married only with your blessings”. In retrospect I marvel at the kind of lives they had lived and incidents like my mother leaving the house and moving into the village. Gandhi’s blessings gave a kind of sanctity to the marriage. I think they wanted Gandhijis support in starting life together and that is why they accepted the conditions.

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Nihal: It must have been a devastating loss to your mother when she lost your father, it is a surprise that your mother was consolable, how did it affect her?

Laxmi Tendulkar Dhaul: She took it in her stride, it was a new beginning for her she moved to our farm in Belgaum where my father had planted many mango trees. Later she was a busy grandmother because I had children at that time. She had calmed down and a lot her fiery spirit had died down,

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Nihal: Laxmi thank you so much for joining us today it’s been fascinating talking to you. The book is called “In the spirit of freedom and as I said please do try and get a copy of it.

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