When there was a dispute between Nehru and Harivansh Rai Bachchan over the translation of the speech, this anecdote is very funny

Ananya Shroff
5 Min Read
When there was a dispute between Nehru and Harivansh Rai Bachchan over the translation of the speech, this anecdote is very funny


New Delhi: There was a dispute between the country's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the great Hindi poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan over the translation of the President's speech from English to Hindi. Nehru believed that Bachchan's Hindi translation of President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan's English speech was too complicated, while the poet said that his translation was not complicated but correct. Neither of them was ready to relent on this issue.

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When Bachchan got angry with Nehru
This incident has been mentioned in senior journalist Kallol Bhattacharya's book 'Nehru First Recruits'. Referring to this incident in the book, it has been told that Nehru got angry with Bachchan over the Hindi translation of the speech. Nehru had appointed Bachchan as a special officer for Hindi in the Ministry of External Affairs. According to this book, Bachchan, the author of the much-discussed work 'Madhushala', joined the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) in 1955 at a monthly salary of Rs 1,000. Earlier, he used to work in Akashvani, where his salary was Rs 750 per month.

Used to translate speeches of the President and Vice President
One of Bachchan's major responsibilities in the Ministry of External Affairs was to translate the speeches of the President and the Vice President. In fact, the term 'Ministry of External Affairs' was coined by Bachchan. The debate between Nehru and Bachchan took place when the poet translated the President's English speech into Hindi, which was to be read by Vice President Zakir Hussain as per regular practice.

Nehru expressed displeasure over the translation
According to the book, Nehru expressed displeasure over the Hindi translation and said, “Do you know who will read this speech? Dr. Zakir Hussain – and he will not be able to pronounce some of the words you have used.” Bachchan replied, “Panditji, language cannot be changed according to a person's pronunciation convenience, why don't you get the speech translated into Urdu?”

Nehru's patience gave out
This clash of egos between the two giants of politics and literature turned into a verbal spat and Nehru lost his patience. The conversation between the two giants has been mentioned in detail in the book. Expressing his displeasure, Nehru told Bachchan, 'There are many problems in this country. Even if we get it translated into Urdu, we will still have to call it Hindi – and what is the difference between the two anyway?'

According to the book, while translating the speech into Hindi, Bachchan forgot the then realities of India and his effort could have put the Vice President of India in trouble. Vice President Zakir Hussain's stuttering while reading the speech in Parliament would not have gone down well with the media and critics of the government. According to the book, 'Nehru was also right to some extent in his own way, because the speech could not possibly have been translated into Urdu, as the Indian Constitution allows the use of only Hindi speeches in such sessions. And therefore, a Hindi speech containing many Urdu words would have been called a 'speech in Hindi' and not a speech in Urdu.'

Nehru patiently got the translation changed
Finally, Nehru showed restraint and persuaded Bachchan to do a translation that Zakir Hussain would not mind reading, and Bachchan did so. Hussain, who was Vice President from 1962-67 during President Radhakrishnan's tenure, later became the third President of India. The book states that Nehru knew Bachchan long before he joined the IFS, and both were from Allahabad. In fact, Nehru helped Bachchan get scholarships after he joined Cambridge and Oxford University in the early 1950s. While the then Education Secretary Humayun Kabir and Education Minister Maulana Azad refused to help Bachchan several times.

According to the book, 'Bachchan sought time from Prime Minister Nehru and met him in Parliament. Nehru patiently listened to poet Bachchan. When he came to know that he had not got the scholarship, Nehru called his personal secretary BN Kaul in Parliament and asked him to arrange a scholarship of Rs 8,000 for Harivansh Rai Bachchan.' The book titled 'Nehru Ke Pehle Rangroot' has been published by Hachette India.

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