Of travels, crime thrillers and a lifelong association: Vajpayee beyond-the-usual

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New Delhi, Aug 16 (IANS) “Between the guns and guards, there were two dogs called Sassy and Sophie who would run around the prime ministers house, and also Ritu, the cat,” journalist Saba Naqvi writes in her recent book “Shades of Saffron” in describing Atal Bihari Vajpayees personal life from close quarters.

Based on the author’s longstanding equation with members of the BJP, the book describes the Vajpayee beyond the usual, unravelling the man who liked solitude, would go for long walks with his dogs, “and often disappear with crime thrillers”.

“Between serious political biographies and Hindi fiction, he also read popular English fiction. During the 1998 campaign, Vajpayee was seen reading John Grisham,” notes Naqvi.

The book, published by Westland, touches upon one Shiv Kumar, who had been Vajpayee’s Man Friday for nearly three decades, even before he became prime minister. Shiv Kumar, Naqvi says, shared with her some of his “great memories” with Vajpayee.

“Shiv recalled how thrilled the sixty-something Vajpayee was that day (during a 1993 trip to the US) while queuing up for tickets and trying out ride after ride,” she notes in the 284-page book.

The book also lays forth Vajpayee’s love for travel, particularly those for pleasure. In his travel instincts, Vajpayee, according to the book, was “a lot like” India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, whose love for foreign travels is evident in his own autobiography.

“The Atal Bihari Vajpayee whom one always saw dressed in a dhoti-kurta, was almost unrecognisable while abroad — the dhoti-kurta was swiftly replaced with bandhgalas, casual trousers and shirts,” recalls Naqvi.

The author also adds that she once shared a meal with the former prime minister while “he ate appam and chicken stew with great relish”.

“That was his manner: pleasant, indifferent, easy, charming, all in one go.”

Naqvi suggests that there was a difference in the public persona of Vajpayee and the man in his private life. In so doing, she quotes the Supreme Court advocate and member of the then BJP National Executive, N. M. ‘Appa’ Ghatate, “an old friend in Vajpayee’s life”.

“He hardly speaks in private. We have travelled together for hours without exchanging a word. But the minute he goes on to the public stage, he is a changed man,” Ghatate is quoted as saying in the book.

Vajpayee’s close equations with “Mrs Kaul” is briefly touched upon in the book but the author admits that she does not have any personal insights into the matter.

“The soul of Vajpayee’s home was however a lady called, Mrs Kaul who kept a rather profile, and was only seen, and heard little even during official dinners and public events those days.

“Their relationship seemed to have endured better than several legal and conventional marriages,” writes Naqvi.

In relation to Mrs Kaul, who passed away in 2014 at the age of 88, a brief sketch appears in most biographies of Vajpayee.

Recounting those, Naqvi notes that Vajpayee, while he was in Gwalior, met Rajkumari Haksar, who was a distant relative of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Although Haksar married B.N. Kaul, who taught at Ramjas College, they shared “a lifelong association”.

The author says that the reason “it never came for discussion in the press was also Vajpayee wasn’t secretive about it in any way. He was devoted to Mrs Kaul as she was to him… He never hid anything from the world”.

Vajpayee, who was awarded India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, in December 2014 has had a distinct appeal among the political biographers of current times and few Indian prime ministers have attracted as many biographers and political scientists as him, along with Nehru and P.V. Narasimha Rao.

Apart from Naqvi’s, major books that provide a glimpse into the political and personal journey of the late political stalwart, himself a widely admired poet, include “A Man for All Seasons” by Kingshuk Nag; and “The Untold Vajpayee: Politician and Paradox” by Ullekh N.P.



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