El editorial del Central Chronicle nos regalaba ayer una deliciosa semblanza de la que fue durante muchos años intérprete de Indira Gandhi: Anuradha Kunte.
Catedrática de literatura francesa (y doctorada con una tesis que versó sobre Albert Camus y su ‘Concepto de la Muerte’), directora del Centro de Estudios Franceses de la Universidad Jawaharlal Nehru de Nueva Deli, la India, Kunte fue también decana de dicha Universidad, y recibió el reconocimiento del Gobierno francés con el premio Palmes Academiques que se le otorgó en 1995.
Además de combinar su faceta de docente con la de intérprete (es la única intérprete de la India que hasta la fecha pertenece a la AIIC), Anuradha Kunté es asimismo miembro de la AIWC (All-India Women’s Conference), una organización fundada en 1927 y dedicada a trabajar en favor de las mujeres y los niños.
Reflections of an Academic and Interpreter
When I was studying at the Sorbonne in 1960-62, little did I imagine that one day I would be working with VIPs – Heads of State and Government. While politics and world events had fascinated me since childhood, I considered myself a literary sort, and my most ambitious dream was to teach the philosopher Albert Camus and the language he wrote in. But it was not entirely so: our first woman Prime Minister and ‘Woman of the Millenium’ was fond of French and chose me to be her Interpreter and teacher.
Before I joined the Centre for French and Francophone Studies in the JNU in 1973, I had taught in Bombay, Poona and Andhra Universities. It was my naval husband’s transfer to Delhi that changed the course of my life. The most notable event was the Geneva based AIIC -Association Internationale des Interpretes de Conference – admitting me as a Member. That got me to work as a Conference Interpreter for the UN and its allied Organisations and consequently I was often asked by South Block to help out with Interpretation for visiting dignitaries.
In the mid-70s, Mr Jacques Chirac, then French P.M., had come to India and it so happened that his regular Interpreter, Dr Andronikov, was my Professor in Paris. During the bi-lateral talks between the two P.M.s, it was decided that France should make available an expert to teach in India and that is how a curriculum in Interpretation in French was first started in the JNU and then introduced in the other Foreign languages.
Now to my French connection with Mrs Indira Gandhi. To the many biographies that have been written on her, I would like to add my different and personal memories of my association with her. Our relationship grew beyond the knowledge and love of the French language which we shared. While I was awed by the monumental political figure at the outset, over the years I came to see her as a person, a friend, a loving mother and a doting grand-mother too.
My political sensibilities were aroused during the Janata regime, more particularly at the ‘epitome of it’ – the installation of the Charan Singh ministry. I was in Rashtrapati Bhavan for the swearing-in ceremony in Ashoka Hall, where so much history is enshrined. Mr Raj Narain was in a celebratory mode and was gregariously distributing laddoos. My God, I thought to myself, they’ll never be able to make it… what will happen to the country? I drove to 12 Willingdon Crescent and saw Mrs Gandhi coming out of her ambassador car in a simple, elegant khadi saree which made quite an impression on me. I then pondered over national affairs as never before and became a Congress sympathizer.
It was thus at one of the political meetings in her home that I came in direct contact with Mrs Gandhi in September 1979. During that meeting, her Physician arrived to give some treatment to her shoulder. So she called me inside and we spoke at length. When she learnt about my JNU connection she said that whenever we met we should speak in French which we did almost to the day before she died.
It would be worthwhile to pause here and reflect how world leaders perceived Indira Gandhi. Baroness Margaret Thatcher saw her as being much more hard-headed than other Third World leaders. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto considered her a ‘hated adversary’. According to Henry Kissinger in his ‘Years of Upheaval’, who candidly noted in “White House Years” how Mrs Gandhi was relentlessly pursuing India’s national interest with single-mindedness and finesse. She and Nixon were not intended by fate to be personally congenial, he wrote, adding “… her moody silences brought out all of Richard Nixon’s latent insecurities…. Nixon considered her a cold blooded practitioner of real politik…”
After she was re-elected P.M, I was present at her meetings with French and Francophone Heads of Govt and I accompanied her for the tours to their countries. I was also getting politically concerned and so visited her regularly. Very often I walked with her between 1 Akbar Road where she met the public in the morning and 1 Safdarjang Road. It was then that we shared some of the thoughts that I found revealing of Indiraji’s many facets. She had the ability to keep her head in a raging storm; she had sincere interest in every individual. I was struck by her extreme thoughtfulness towards others among many other qualities.
She also had a great love of nature. On one walk, she bent down to pick up a flower, she ran her fingers delicately over the petals and placed it tenderly on a bush so that nobody trampled it! All this while we continued talking and it was only later that I realized what she had done. After our tete-a-tetes she would invariably open the door for me to leave, doing it quite instinctively. A touching gesture indeed!
Mrs Gandhi had learnt French at school and she still remembered it well. In fact when she was speaking she was also thinking in French. Then why an Interpreter, people asked. Her response was that one must be careful and precise when speaking in an unfamiliar language especially, for example, when interviewed by foreign journalists. When we were flying to Mauritius we were going over the speech she was scheduled to deliver in French in Port Louis and there was a word she wanted to avoid lest it was not pronounced perfectly. Mrs Gandhi was most particular about such matters of state and conscious of the part Language played in International relations.
Now finally, this little story. At her morning engagement to meet the public, an elderly gentleman announced his name. She stopped immediately and asked, ‘Are you Devaki Nanadan Pande of Hindi samachar?’ The renowned Newsreader was standing in line to hand over a grievance petition of the AIR Staff. His chest puffed up to learn that India’s P.M. had heard of him. That was vintage Indira, someone with a rock solid faith in the motherland, its people and their causes.