Reading Prison and Chocolate Cake is like going behind the scenes of the freedom movement. There is a narrator—in this case Nayantara Sahgal, Jawarharlal Nehru’s niece, who is closely associated with the main action but is not a direct participant, or is at best a peripheral participant. There are larger-than-life heroes who shape larger-than-life events—in this case the Pandit Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, Sarojini Naidu, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, Ranjit Sitaram Pandit. There are fabulous sound bites, witticisms—in this case from the wonderfully irreverent sisters, Chandralekha, Rita, and Nayantara herself. There is the feeling that you’ve got backstage passes to a momentous occasion—in this case India’s War of Independence. There is a point of view that no one else considered to exist but suddenly is in focus by the very act of writing—in this case of a girl growing up in the midst of the freedom struggle. There are delicious behind-the-scenes anecdotes—in this case sketching a portrait of Nehru the man, not the statesman as recorded by history. There is the sense of history being relived but in a different form—in this case an insider’s history of the Nehru family from the time that Sahgal starts observing her life to Gandhi’s assassination in 1948. There is also the sense of recording a personal history, a personal journey—in this case both away from and yet touched by the freedom movement, a chronicle of Sahgal’s own growth from a precocious child to a wise young woman. Finally, there is the sense that the making of the freedom movement is like a companion piece to the actual history recorded in history books. It adds depth and perspective to a time that would be most revered at first and then forgotten. However, stories never die. And that is Sahgal’s contribution in a nutshell—she re/created the back story of the freedom movement, thereby making it immortal.
PS: I had started writing my notes here while I was still in the midst of reading this book.