A Tribute to “Glimpses”
By Lt. Col. (Retd) Anand S. Nair
that the people of the villages often ran away and hid themselves on the
approach of an aero plane, and were not sporting enough to wait for the
bombs to kill them, a new type of bomb… was used. This did not burst
on falling, but… sometime afterwards. This devilish ruse was meant to
mislead the villagers into returning to their huts after the aero planes
had gone and then being hit by the bursting of the bomb. Those who died
were the comparatively fortunate ones. Those who were maimed, whose
limbs were torn away sometimes, or who had other serious injuries, were
far more unfortunate, for there was no medical aid available in those
has many advantages…. A great deal of money is saved and the military
occupation of a country is less in evidence. At the same time aero
planes and bombs give them complete control over the situation…”.
the above a topical quote from an article commenting on the current US
strategy in Afghanistan? Or on the bombing of Iraq, a decade earlier?
But how come the author uses quaint terms such as “aero planes” and “bombs” instead of the “B 52s”, “cruise missiles” and “bomblets”? Well, that is the give away. The extract is from Jawaharlal Nehru’s “Glimpses of World History”, written in 1933. From the chapter titled, “Iraq and the virtues of aerial bombing”.
I first read the “Glimpses...” when I was 18. Years later, I would browse bookstores in Delhi, Bombay, Madras and the Internet for a copy of Glimpses… which impressed me so much while in my late teens. Tough luck, the book is out of print. Amazon.com assured me that they would try and procure this for me from sellers of second hand books, only to inform me later that they failed in their efforts.
It is perhaps a sign of the times that one can easily pick up a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf anywhere in India. But not so, a book, which truly remains “the best introduction to the story of man for young people in India and all over the world” 70 years after it, was written.
New York Times had this to say (in 1934), “It is one of the most
remarkable books ever written…. One is awed by the breadth of
Nehru’s culture”. The Glimpses, together with the Discovery of
India, moulded a whole generation of Indians. But that was in another
week, after about 10 years of search, I bought an old –but well
maintained- copy of the book from a roadside vendor at Flora Fountain,
years after I first read the book, almost nostalgically I leafed through
the pages. Each chapter is in the form of a dated letter to his teenage
daughter, Indira. The first one was written on the New Year’s Day,
1931. The last chapter (and letter) is dated August 9, 1933. Five years
later, on November 14, 1938, shortly before these letters were to be
published as a book, Nehru added a postscript – outlining the events
in the world in those intervening years.
I was convinced that I must do my bit to revive interest in a book that
still retains its validity of content and vision.
it is fashionable to hold that a nation’s foreign policy is to be
decided based on “self-interest” rather than on lofty principles and
the like. As if there is a great contradiction between self-interest and
principles. Indeed when principles are given the go by, and the game is
played exclusively with an eye on each player’s self-interest; it is
obvious that the only interest that would be served is that of the most
powerful among the players. It is definitely not in the self-interest of
the poorer and weaker nations of the world to abandon principles. But
this paradox is quite lost on the petty minds that fashion our foreign
and trade policies, 50 years after independence.
was in prison when he wrote these series of letters. His vision of
history and of contemporary events had a sweep and genuineness that had
nothing to do with pleasing powerful allies, or with wooing of voters.
Nehru’s views on secularism and Palestine –so passionately expressed
in the early thirties- give lie to the Hindutva propaganda that these
are “pseudo” positions cunningly devised with Muslim “vote bank”
Palestine this is what he wrote on May 29, 1933, “The people
inhabiting it are predominantly Muslim Arabs, and they demand freedom
and unity with their fellow Arabs of Syria. But British policy has
created a special minority problem here- that of the Jews- and the Jews
side with the British and oppose the freedom of Palestine, as they fear
that this would mean Arab rule”.
the Jews, spread and persecuted in Europe and other parts of the world,
Nehru wrote, “And yet these amazing people not only survived all
this, but managed to keep their racial and cultural characteristics, and
prospered and produced a host of great men.
Today they hold leading positions as scientists, statesmen,
literary men, financiers, businessmen, and even the greatest socialists
and communists have been Jews. Most of them, of course are far from
prosperous; they crowd in the cities of Eastern Europe and, from time to
time, suffer “pogroms” or massacres. These people without home or
country, and especially the poor among them, have never ceased to dream
of old Jerusalem, which appears to their imaginations greater and more
magnificent than it ever was in fact. Zion, they call Jerusalem, a kind
of Promised Land, and Zionism is this call of the past, which pulls them
to Jerusalem and Palestine.
the end of the nineteenth century this Zionist movement took gradual
shape as a colonizing movement, and many Jews went to settle in
Palestine… During the World War the British armies invaded Palestine
and, as they were marching on Jerusalem, the British Government made a
declaration in November 1917 called the Balfour Declaration. They
declared that it was their intention to establish a ‘Jewish National
Home’ in Palestine. This declaration was made to win the good will of
international Jewry, and it was important from the money point of
view… But there was one little drawback; one not unimportant fact
seems to have been overlooked. Palestine was not a wilderness. Or an
empty uninhabited place. It was already somebody else’s home. So that
this generous gesture of the British Government was really at the
expense of the people who already lived in Palestine, and these people,
including Arabs, non-Arabs, Muslims, Christians, and, in fact, everybody
who was not a Jew, protested vigorously at the declaration.”
us take another example of intellectual regress since the days of Nehru.
Today’s peddlers of “Globalization”
would have us believe that inviting foreign investments is the
“mantra” that can deliver the third world from poverty and
backwardness. If indeed it is a fact that within the structures of
capitalism and “free” trade, the nations of the third world can
attain prosperity, then what was the raison detrẻ of the
British Empire? Why did the Empire emerge as an instrument of economic
exploitation, in the first place – if there was such a simple means
for Britain to get and stay rich, without exploiting her colonies?
Wasn’t the East India Company the ultimate in “foreign
quote what Nehru wrote on February 28, 1933, “…In this way, the
American capitalists gained effective control of these smaller countries
of the south and ran their banks, railways, and mines, and exploited
them to their own advantage. Even in the larger countries of Latin
America they had great influence because of their investments and money
control. That is to say, the United States annexed the wealth, or a
great part of it, of these countries. Now, this is worth noting, as it
is a new kind of empire, the modern type of empire. It is invisible and
economic, and exploits and dominates without any obvious outward signs.
The South American republics are politically and internationally free
and independent. On the map they are huge counties, and there is nothing
to show that they are not free in any way. And yet most of them are
dominated completely by the United States.
of us think of empires… like the British in India, and we imagine that
if the British were not in actual political control of India, India
would be free. But this type of empire is already passing away, and
giving way to a more advanced and perfected type. This latest kind of
empire does not annex even the land; it only annexes the wealth or the
wealth producing elements in the country. By doing so it can exploit the
country fully to its own advantage and can largely control it, and at
the same time has to shoulder no responsibility for governing and
repressing that country. In effect both the land and the people living
there are dominated and largely controlled with the least amount of
the communal issue, Nehru had this to say on May 14, 1933, “…The
bania exploited Hindu and Muslim tenants and land holders alike, but his
exploitation of the Muslims took a communal turn, especially in
provinces where the agriculturists were mainly Muslim. The spread of
machine-made goods probably hit the Muslims harder than the Hindus, as
there were relatively more artisans among Muslims. All these factors
went to increase the bitterness between the two major communities of
India and to strengthen Muslim nationalism, which looked to the
community than to the country.
demands of the Muslim communal leaders were such as to knock the bottom
out of all hope of true national unity in India. To combat them on their
own communal lines, Hindu communal organizations grew into prominence.
Posing as true nationalists, they were as sectarian and narrow as the
we have a government led by a sectarian party with a suppressed agenda.
This party promises to pull out of cold storage their “truly
nationalistic” and “truly secular” action plan only when they get
a majority of their own. Taking cynicism to new heights, the party heads
a government, which they all but assure us, would fail in its mission,
hamstrung as they are by their “pseudo secular” allies. For, if this
government were to succeed then the “hidden agenda” of the parivar
would become redundant. What use is the demand to abrogate article 370,
if the Kashmir issue gets resolved without such abrogation? The pressing
need to change history books, and the vital requirement for religious
minorities to accept Hindu culture, both would be superfluous, if India
were to achieve prosperity and greatness, while these issues still
remain on the “backburner”.
India needs at this critical juncture is yet another generation inspired
by the vision and culture that is embodied in “Glimpses of World
In case the present copyright holder of this book is not interested in a
reprint, can the rights be transferred to the public domain? If it is
felt that a reprint is not cost effective, may we hope that this book is
published in the Internet?)
[Lt Col (Retd) Anand S Nair is an engineer by profession, an M. Tech from IIT, Madras, currently known as Chennai. In 1996, Anand took premature retirement from the Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, Indian Army. He is now Vice President of a Chennai-based Software company.]