In his prolific nineties…

HAPPY DAYS Pran Nevile and his wife Savitri

Pran Nevile’s memoir “Carefree Days: Many Roles, Many Lives” brings to fore several aspects of his personality

Come October, Pran Nevile turns 94. Perhaps, he is the oldest surviving writer who is still at it! Nah, no crying halt to writing. This summer saw the launch of his memoir titled “Carefree Days: Many Roles, Many Lives” (Harper Collins) which, as the very title suggests, focuses on the several aspects about him — he is not just a former diplomat but an author anda lover and promoter of the classical strains as well.

I have known Pran Nevile as a writer and with that had to ask him the very obvious why he took to writing at a somewhat late stage in life? “Whilst in (Indian Foreign) service it was difficult to write books on music and the arts but after retirement I took to writing one volume after another.” This, when he writes longhand. “No computer for me. Just sheets of paper and the good old pencil.”

And with those minimum basics he has written several volumes — “Lahore: A Sentimental Journey, Love Stories From the Raj”, “Nautch Girls of India”, “Rare Glimpses of the Raj”, “Raj Revisited”, “KL Saigal: Immortal Singer and Superstar”, “Marvels of Indian Painting”, “Behind The Veil: Indian Women In The Raj”, “Sahib’s India: Vignettes From the Raj”, “Stories From The Raj: Sahibs, Memsahibs and Others”.

It is surprising that not one book is directly linked or inter linked to politics of the day or even to those of yesteryears. “ I write on any given topic related to music and arts and culture but not on politics. Even when I am invited to literature festivals in Pakistan I never comment on politics. I tell the audience that I’ll not entertain queries related to diplomatic relations between the two countries.”

And even in his memoir he does not dwell on hard politics. None of the hackneyed angry outbursts or bitterness — dripping comments. Even his chapter on the Partition is ripe with facts and factual turns but nah, it isn’t overripe. In fact, tucked in that chapter is a touching incident of how he helped save the lives of his Muslim neighbour in Delhi. To quote him from this book: “By the beginning of September 1947, Delhi was flooded with refugees from Punjab. There was an acute shortage of housing in Delhi. The exodus of about 2000 officers and clerks more than balanced the influx of over 3000 from Pakistan comprising the staff of the railways, Posts and Telegraph department and other central government officers who had decided to opt for India…I was then living as a sub-tenant of a Punjabi family in the Western Extension Area, a new residential complex off Pusa Road which had come up during World War II…By the first week of September, with the influx of over a lakh of refugees in Delhi, the communal situation became tense…I vividly remember how a bulk of Muslim families were driven out of their homes on Ajmal Khan Road and some other areas of Karol Bagh. Here I would like to cite the case of a Muslim family, our immediate neighbours whom we managed to protect. A family of three, Mr. Khan, an executive engineer, his wife and grown up daughter were occupying the government-requisitioned house. Some anti-social elements and groups of refugees were actively involved in attacking Muslim houses identified by local goons. It was on the night of 7 September that we came to know their house could be attacked in the morning. We gave them shelter for the night and early in the morning, our neighbour, a Sikh gentleman, drove Mr Khan’s car and took his family safely to the Imperial Hotel on Queensway. An hour later, the house was ransacked by the goons, who rebuked us for aiding in their escape.”

The particular chapter I loved reading is “Elopement and Civil Marriage”, where Pran Nevile writes of his love for Savitri and his marriage to her. Also webbed are details of the then prevailing social strains in our society. But he and Savitri managed to cross all hurdles and get married. Not just once but twice! The first time at the office of the Registrar of Marriages and the second time the traditional way. To quote, “Our marriage was solemnised on 25 January 1947 by F.H.D Teal, the registrar of marriages, with my friends M.L. Chopra , B. N. Sharma and R.K. Kakar acting as witnesses. The same evening we left for Dehradun for our honeymoon. Savitri’s long letter to her father justifying her elopement and marriage was delivered by a messenger after the train had steamed off from Delhi railway station…A couple of weeks after our return from our honeymoon, my father landed in Delhi along with my sister-in-law and youngest brother…He organised a traditional ceremonial wedding with the priest, performing the rituals at his friend ML Chawla’s house in Lodhi Estate on 24 February 1947. In this way I ended up marrying the same girl twice.”