Taking out an old black and white photograph of a little girl sitting on a chair, scowling—Indira Gandhi, aged five—Siddhartha Shankar Ray recalls their first meeting (he was just two years old at the time). Motilal Nehru, Indira’s grandfather, had come to visit ‘Deshbandhu’ Chittaranjan Das, Ray’s grandfather, bringing Indira with him. “Apparently he couldn’t remember whether I was a boy or a girl, so he brought a doll for me,” says Ray, adding, “The first thing Indira did was to snatch it away from me. My mother told me later, ‘Both of you struggled for possession of the doll—she took away the head, you were left with one of the legs—the body disappeared.’ That was our first encounter.” From that dramatic beginning flowered a warm friendship that soured more than five decades later because of differences over Indira Gandhi’s son, Sanjay Gandhi, whom Ray holds responsible for the ‘excesses’ committed during the Emergency. Ray believes Indira did not “approve” of Sanjay’s actions, but could do nothing.
During those years, the two corresponded often—sometimes, they were just personal letters, greeting her on her birthday or wishing before she set off on a journey, and sometimes on weightier political matters. In an interview with Dola Mitra, Ray talks about his relationship with Indira Gandhi and his role in the Emergency: