Two facets of Krishna Menon

Some times I feel sad, seeing how people react, especially towards people they do not know at all or are even dead and gone since ages. Just look at this guy who was searching on Google. His search line on Google search is ‘Krishna Menon was a*&shole’. He lands up on my site since I had written about VKKM and he leaves after 5 minutes of reading. Fine, hopefully he knows more about VKKM, hopefully he changed his mind, but what kind of a mindset made him feel like this about a person who passed ages ago?

Anyway that reminded me of another nasty man which of course resulted in this article. In the meantime, let our ‘searcher’ continue his search and get what he wants.

Recently I was in Calicut, the birthplace of VK Krishna Menon. Menon was one who left his home town early in his life and maintained little contact with the place and people, and after his sister with whom he was very close with, expired, he had nothing more to do with the town. He lived off and on either in Delhi or Madras after a stint at the UK. Last year, he was posthumously awarded a medal by the South African government, but they found it very difficult to find somebody to claim the award on his behalf. It had been a long time after he left this abode, and people who owed him something obviously forgot him, while those who hated him continued to.

Anyway I was in the indoor stadium in Calicut named after him to check out the books displayed at an Onam book fair (Now tell me where else in India would you have a book fair during a festive holiday occasion? Only in Kerala!! You will never see a Navarathri or Diwali book fair). Well, there I was, and Lo and behold, I found the very book I had wanted to peruse some time back, but had forgotten about. It was a book titled ‘Not a nice man to Know’ by the writer journalist Kushwant Singh. I wanted to read it only because it had one of those rare articles on the persona of Krishna Menon. Singh had been roundly abusive of Menon in his biography and had done another article in this very book. Strange is it not? Buying a book reviling Menon from the very stadium grounds named after Menon! Well, such is life. I will not write here all that stuff that Singh enjoyed doling out in his book, but I will give you some of the more contentious and salient points.

When he says that Menon is no longer alive to sue him, he loses all moral ground in his observations. The very fact that he chose to say what he did after the poor man passed away and not to his face, tells you quite a bit (Singh implies being fearful of Menon in his presence). Singh gleefully states that General Shiv Varma (I have never heard of Gen Varma, nor do most people I know, but I guess he is a famous man) summed him up aptly when he said: ‘Menon was a bachelor, the same as his father.’ The book covers Singh’s observations about Menon’s relations with Sudhip Ghosh, his enamor of Kamala Jaspal, relations with Patel, Nehru etc and all kinds of salacious gossip.

Well explained is Singh’s first day at office which ended up with Singh nearly in tears and a hugely deflated ego (according to his own words) that left a deep wound in his soul, one he chose not to forget or take it in his stride, for such was the Sardar’s pride.

Singh also presents an interesting picture of Menon’s taste for women, he says ‘Convent accent, and coquettishness captivated Menon’. Of the officer’s wives, Lall’s wife Sheela and Singh’s wife were Menon’s favorites for the same reason, these women according to Singh also shared the distinction of being ‘misunderstood’ by their husbands, and Menon had a great understanding of misunderstood wives according to him. Another interesting anecdote is how Menon took Singh to Kensington High Street and got him properly tailored suits which he wears to this day.

Likewise is the anecdote about Menon’s Malayali cook, another Menon who was drunk most of the time according to Singh. An interesting person I believe, who pinched the bottom of a visiting ambassador’s wife. Now that is movie stuff, I tell you, for when would a cook land up in front of the chief guest at a state dinner and take stance behind the dignitaries wife? That too, at a Desi, classy dinner? Anyway, let us believe Singh this time.

There are some sparingly good remarks too, like how Menon always stood by his friends (including Singh himself after he goofed up once) and how steadfast he was, how much of a workaholic he was and how he could give back to the condescending Brits of that period in the same coin. But on the whole it is full of innuendo, and much of it is Singh’s attack of a person, he disliked intensely.

He summarizes thus in an interview “Menon was a complex character, the most unpredictable and prickly I have ever met. He had a chip on his shoulders about being a black and picked up quarrels on imaginary racial insults. He had no scruples in business matters. He was also a congenital liar... he had a strong streak of sadism. Menon’s bad temper and discourtesy had to be experienced to be believed... Merit did not matter very much to Menon; unquestioned loyalty did...” But Singh blesses Menon for his own buoyant literary career - All I needed was the courage to kick diplomatic life and launch my bark on unchartered seas of literature. The decision was made for me by Krishna Menon. Anyway, so much for Singh and his cheap shots at his one time boss.

Now let us look at another facet, a diametrically opposite one on Menon’s legacy – This comes from Dev Anand’s biography ‘Romancing with life’. Dev Anand had deep admiration for Menon and they became good friends (Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar were also his good friends). Dev talks of his and the movie industry’s support for Menon’s election win at Bombay and mentions that whenever Menon came to Bombay, Dev Anand’s house (or Raj kapoor’s) was an impromptu meeting venue for Menon and his friends. Menon’s visits to Bombay were greeted with great fanfare. And then Dev narrates the story of Menon’s decline from such heights, with much passion – read on.. this excerpt

Quote

But the day he fell from grace, and had to resign in the aftermath of India’s defeat at the hands of the Chinese aggressors on our North Eastern borders, Krishna Menon was made to look very small in the eyes of his countrymen. A shining star on the political firmament suddenly became a complete non entity, like a shooting star fizzling out into nothingness.

One night as I was standing at the first floor window of my house, I saw a frail old figure at the wooden gate below, trying to knock at it with his stick. He was wearing a white dhoti n a south Indian style. As my chowkidar rushed to confront him, I recognized Krishna Menon. He was alone, I ran down to greet him. He looked very lonely, his disheveled and unruly hair flying in the breeze. There was no police or army jeep to accompany him, no body guard to protect him. He was the picture of a lost forlorn deserted man.

As I respectfully ‘sirred’ him, trying to get over my astonishment, he stopped me from saying anything further and said “I didn’t mean to disturb you Dev, It is already eleven thirty at night. I tried to call on your neighbor Mr Menon, for he is a friend, but he is not there.

Why don’t you come in Sir, I said.

No Thank you, I have to catch my flight back to Delhi and thought I might as well say hello to you while I am here. He seemed undecided.

I know you love tea sir, and my cook will make a cup as fast as I order him, I tried to persuade him.

But a little distance away, a car honked.

No it is time for me to leave now, look after yourself, Dev.

And he walked away and got into his car, waving his stick at me. It was a very old ramshackle car, with just a driver inside, busy smoking a cigarette, not bothering to come out and open the door for the person who was once India’s defense minister.

That was the last time I saw Krishna menon. After a few days, I read that he had died,

Fame, power and money are the three factors that make you great in the eyes of the world. The moment those desert you, you are like a particle of dust under one’s feet.


Unquote

Thank you Devsaab, I was deeply touched reading this small part of your book and have only greater respect for you, for I have always admired you too.

Interesting is it not? Two disparate opinions from two Punjabi’s…

Such is life….

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I cannot leave this topic without a nice joke that comes from Khushwant Singh's joke book – The joke is contributed by one KS Menon - Mumbai, but I suspect it originated from Singh himself

VK Krishna Menon, onetime defense minister was a bachelor and hated people with large broods of children. In his early career as a barrister, a neighbor couple with three girls in tow called on him and suggested that he accompany them to the theater as they had an extra ticket. The six some waited for a bus and the first one had only room for four (no overloading). The second one came after five minutes and had only three vacancies and the third had two. So they decided to walk the distance instead of being late for the show.

Menon was tramping on the cobblestones, on the pavement, tuck tucking with his walking stick. The father already irritated at not getting the bus, remarked ‘Dammnit Krishna, can’t you put a piece of rubber at the end of your stick?’

Pat came the reply “if you had put one at the end of yours we would have got into a bus’

Disclaimer – I am in no way related to Menon. In fact even a real relative of his from the Vengalil family, more or less abused me when I asked him if they were related. But well, I continue to have faith in the man who left us a lot, but was one who was thoroughly despised by many of his peers and compatriots. I guess I do so because I made an effort to check out the facts & understand his passion for his country. That is all

Special thanks to Blogger Anuradha Warrier for her help in sourcing Dev Anand’s book

Those interested may also read this fine piece of writing by RK Bhatnagar, the press secretary to former Indian President R Venkatraman.

References
Kushwant Singh – Not a nice man to know
Dev Anand – Romancing with Life

Pic – Cover of VKKM book by Bhuvnesh Chaturvedi. Singh from Indianetzone,

Notes: Let me also mention a strange fact - this much reviled man has more books written about him than most other revered Indian leaders!! Here are some of them….

V.K. Krishna Menon : India And Kashmir Problem - S R Bakshi
VK Krishna Menon – Madhavan Kutty
VK Krishna Menon, a persona Memoir – Janki ram
VK Krishna Menon – TJS george
Krishna Menon – Emil Lengyl
In defense of Menon – Sitaram Goel
VKK Menon – Man of the Century – Kiran & Mahdevan
VK K Menon and India’s foreign policy – KT Varkey
Krishna Menon profile and views – Narendra Goel
KM and the Indian League - S Chakravarthy
KM’s views of the world – M Breecher
VK Krishna Menon Remembered - Bhuvnesh Chaturvedi

Comments

PN Subramanian said…
Very interesting. Khushwant Singh derives sadistic pleasure by maligning people who were around him.
Madhu Nair said…
Dev saab aptly said "Fame, power and money are the three factors that make you great in the eyes of the world. The moment those desert you, you are like a particle of dust under one’s feet".

Such is the way of the world - Once the need is over one is nothing but a curry leaf to be discarded. VKKM might had many Character flaws, but then again, who in the history of humankind doesn't have ? But we always tend to forget that fact before we pick up stones to throw.

Thanks Maddy for this enlightening article.
harimohan said…
opinions on well known people are sometimes prejudiced by well concieved notions about them ,
but the real persona could be different
but the said person may have facets that would be known to his close associates to create that notion
havent heard anything simlar for say Abdul Kalam
for eg I know a consultant here who could be called sincere and good but if at all I write a book one day I would spare no good words for him !
the joke was delectable
Anonymous said…
People dislike those that are beyond their grasp, powerwise.

People gloat when the same fall.

That is the way of the world.

-kajan
Happy Kitten said…
that was another history lesson.. thank you!

nd whom shall we blame now?

The Chinese seems to be still at it and is our Army equipped even now? Menon's route of appeasement seems to be the only way out even now...
Sabeel said…
Nice post..
Maddy said…
Thanks PNS, I am sure K Singh feels he has sufficient reason, but his feeling that he gains something by talking ill of others is not quite right..

Thanks madhu - that last sentence of Dev Saab was very poignant, was it not?

You are very right hari - passing opinions is easy, i guess

kajan & Sabeel thanks a lot, keep visiting..

HK - The Chinese problem is a vexing & complex one, to say the least. I hope you have read my blog on the lynching of VKKM. The core of it is based on mistrust, surrounding the Dalai Lama, the Indian support for Tibet on the Chinese side and the feeling on the Indian side of being let down before 1962 and possible expansionist motives of the Chinese. Unless you sort those out, increasing forces & weaponry is not going to help. It will just drain away valuable resources on both sides.
Dreamer said…
VKKM was a man who aroused and continues to arouse extreme feelings to this day. That in itself is proof enough of what an impact he had. The contrasting opinions of Singh and Dev Anand was a great read.
Solilo said…
I don't think I have read such a detailed post on Krishna Menon anywhere on the net. Thank you for this.

Khushwant Singh can be very caustic. He still thinks he deserved the recognition that R K Narayan got abroad. He has so much anger towards so many people. He also claimed to have seen letters written by Menon to Nehru to fire Patels.

As for the search term, people search for all sorts of weird things. May be he was looking for this piece from Khushwant Singh.
Happy Kitten said…
Maddy.. i did read your post on lynching of VKKM.. the other day our son asked me why India lost to the Chinese, and I coudnt give him a proper answer and your post provided a lot of info.... [he is in an age where he thinks that the Indian army is the best in the world and that none can or should defeat it :) and while reading off from a book to me which was not providing much info reg the war , he purposely changed it to read it as though India won the war!]
Anil P said…
So many contradictory things have been said about him.

On my journeys by Bombay local trains I happen upon a college named after him, visible from the tracks, each time I pass that way, reminding me of his legacy.
Anil Nair said…
Well.. Maddy, for this one, you pick items from dear mr Khushwant who is known to throw dirt at good men and bad alike. That Singh abused one does not make any one great, right?

I do not belive that VK was the best of statesman, or persons - he had his views and opinions, some liked, more disliked..

Anil
Maddy said…
Thanks Dreamer..Rightly said.
Thanks Solilo, there are three other detailed posts, click under krishna menon in categories. That was another topic in itself, actually. Singh and RKN..
thanks HK how nice it is to be a kid, not affected by all the reality - and thanks Anil P - Yup,many years ago, I lived very close to that college in Bhandup - diagonally across actually.

Thanks Anil Nair - Hopefully I have mentioned both the good and the bad about menon in the previous posts (maybe not in this) - that Menon was at times an abrasive and caustic person, who irritated and annoyed many. That as defense minister, Menon was responsible for many of the failures. That also amongst the guilty (62 fiasco), next to Nehru, Menon and the military leaders, was the Opposition. R Venkatraman, ex president, rightly said – Menon was arrogant but only to those who tried to denigrate his country. His words were acid and bitter but only when he tore the mask of hypocrisy and laid bare the truth. that he was harsh because he could not suffer mediocrity.
Anil Nair said…
Maddy -

Again - i do not agree to Venkataraman also! All the comments and reviews I have read to this day pictures him to be arrogant and one without manners. So it is not likely that he was arrogant only to those who wanted to denigrate a country, or who were hypocrites.
An opinion may be biased, but when it is repeated by so many, one probably has to think if he was the 'best' of statesmen. He obviously failed in dealing properly with the powerful, and he obviously failed to make a good impression - two characteristics i feel essential to any one who holds a high and responsible position as he had once. He was brave, had a high level of intelligence - but he made enemies with his words and deeds. This is stated by many - i belive.

He probably was too dedicated - i read that he even mis treated his own kindred - niece or so, and lived a shabby life in the attic of a house and saved money, instead of squandering it.

What i wanted to point out was a lack of balance. Of course one can agree or disagree - but, humbly, i am not convinced with this piece!

Anil
Maddy said…
Anil..Let us agree to disagree on Menon..I still believe that he was a victim of a vicious spite attack since his failure. The opposition and his detractors worked relentlessly on him.. But look at what he left behind..

One thing I can clarify, he did not live a pauper, in fact he lived well, good clothes etc, though he ate little and did not socialize. He never took any salary and never left behind any savings. And yes, as far as I understood, he did treat his family shabbily, with a reason, when the elders karanavars tried to take away the inheritance due to his sister.
Enjoyed reading this. KS's dislike for VKKM is understandable.

Dev Anand's mention of the last visit by VKKM was very touching.

Life is very brittle and sometimes cruel!
Maddy said…
Thanks Murali..Two Punjabi's two intensely diverse views!!!
A Stoic said…
Like Khushwant Singh, MO Matthai also has written 'eulogically' about VK Krishna Menon.
Maddy said…
Thanks Stoic - I am yet to read MO Mathai's reminiscences. I do not expect them to be supportive, but well more on it later...
sumal said…
Sir,
Wonderful article on VKKM. I would like to add a little detail , Shri Menon had contested against Acharya JB Kriplani, the Socialist party leader in the South Bombay constituency. The sicialist party workers had composed a ditty on Shri Menon Saab's performance as the Defence minister, which went like this,
Chinni Hamla hote hai,
Menon saab soote hai,
Sone walon ko sone do,
Kriplaniji ko aane do.
Great reading all your articles.I would like to write to you . Can you pass me your e-mail at sumalsn (at) gmail(dot)com
jk47 said…
The things that i have heard about Menon was always negative, i do not know much about the subject as well. But last week, i think, there was this news article that said Menon tried to create a division inside the Indian Army by trying to turn other officers against Gen. Thimayya as well as Field Marshal Manekshaw !
(the link : http://daily.bhaskar.com/article/NAT-TOP-former-defence-minister-menons-attempted-to-drive-a-wedge-within-indian-army-4577976-NOR.html) Another article link : http://indiandefence.com/threads/krishna-menon-wanted-to-sack-manekshaw.45285/

I do not know who is right and who is wrong but the quote from Dev Ananad indeed broke my heart. Reminds me of Poonthaanam's lines : "മാളിക മുകളേറിയ മന്നന്റെ തോളിൽ മാറാപ്പു കേറ്റുന്നതും ഭവാൻ "
Maddy said…
Thanks JK 47..
How apt that Ponnthanam kriti is!!!
Yes, menon was vilified by a number of people and many continue to do so..
I try to point out some of the wrong things, and I will continue to do so.
It was not that Menon was always right, he did a number of wrong things, but not all of what he has been accused to be responsible for...
There was a time when the world looked forward to a Menon solution, now even the fellow who ran away seeing a chinese soldier, blames menon instead!
That is life...