Those were the days of the decline of the Moghal Empire after the death of Aurungzeb, and Farrukhsiar was the Emperor. Raj Kaul was the name of that ancestor of ours and he had gained eminence as a Sanskrit and Persian scholar in Kashmir. He attracted the notice of Farrukhsiar during the latter's visit to Kashmir, and, probably at the Emperor's instance, the family migrated to Delhi, the imperial capital, about the year 1716.
A jagir with a house situated on the banks of a canal had been granted to Raj Kaul, and, from the fact of this residence, 'Nehru' (from nahar, a canal) came to be attached to his name. Kaul had been the family name; this changed to Kaul-Nehru; and, in later years, Kaul dropped out and we became simply Nehrus. The family experienced many vicissitudes of fortune during the unsettled times that followed and the jagir dwindled and vanished away. My greatgrandfather, Lakshmi Narayan Nehru, became the first Vakil of the 'Sarkar Company' at the shadow court of the Emperor of Delhi. My grandfather, Ganga Dhar Nehru, was Kotwal of Delhi for some time before the great Revolt of 1857. He died at the early age of 34 in 1861.The revolt of 1857 put an end to our family's connection with Delhi, and all our old family papers and documents were destroyed in the course of it.
The family, having lost nearly all it possessed, joined the numerous fugitives who were leaving the old imperial city and went to Agra. My father was not born then but my two uncles were already young men and possessed some knowledge of English. This knowledge saved the younger of the two uncles, as well as some other members of the family, from a sudden and ignominious end. He was journeying from Delhi with some family members, among whom was his young sister, a little girl who was very fair, as some Kashmiri children are. Some English soldiers met them on the way and they suspected this little aunt of mine to be an English girl and accused my uncle of kidnapping her. From an accusation, to summary justice and punishment, was usually a matter of minutes in those days, and my uncle and others of the family might will have found themselves hanging on the nearest tree.
Fortunately for them, my uncle's knowledge of English delayed matters a little and then some one who knew him passed that way and rescued him and the others. For some years the family lived in Agra, and it was in Agra on the sixth of May 1861 that my father was born. [A curious and interesting coincidence: The poet Rabindranath Tagore was also born on this very day, month and year.] But he was a posthumous child as my grandfather had died three months earlier. In a little painting that we have of my grandfather, he wears the Moghal court dress with a curved sword in his hand, and might well be taken for a Moghal nobleman, although his features are distinctly Kashmiri. The burden of the family then fell on my two uncles who were very much older than my father. The elder uncle, Bansi Dhar Nehru, soon after entered the judicial department of the British Government and, being appointed successively to various places, was partly cut off from the rest of the family. The younger uncle, Nand Lal Nehru, entered the service of an Indian State and was Diwan of Khetri State in Rajputana for ten years. Later he studied law and settled down as a practicing lawyer in Agra. My father lived with him and grew up under his sheltering care.