Indira Gandhi's physician reveals intimate details about her life
[Book extract] 'When I retire from active political life, I will start a theatre company and I would employ you as one of my lead actors.'
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During the earlier days of her premiership, Indira Gandhi would go for holidays for a change or some rest or to catch up with her reading. As time went by, she had so much to do that there was not much time left for such luxuries.
In those days, when she could afford them, her favourite place for holidays was Kashmir. Making Srinagar her base, she would take short trips to neighbouring places of interest.
From day one, a routine was drawn up to ensure maximum economy and to minimise any burden on state hospitality. A menu would be drawn up which was kept as simple as possible. It was generally vegetarian food, but sometimes some well-flavoured Kashmiri non-vegetarian dishes were also included.
We all were expected to tidy our rooms, make the beds, and clean our bathrooms, share our cars, etc. All of us had to sit down for meals together in the dining room so that we could make do with just a few servants.
PM’s favourite haunt in Kashmir was Dachi Gam, an old hunting lodge of the Maharajas, a beautifully constructed old style country house decorated with pictures of animals and other photographs of early Maharajas in their shooting kit and guns and their prize catches.The Unseen Indira Gandhi: Through her Physician’s Eyes; Konark Publishers; Rs 80.
All rooms were fully carpeted and wood-panelled to keep them warm and comfortable. A fireplace in the old style used to be in all rooms. Later, central heating came into vogue, and the old world charm of fireplaces was largely given up.
Sometimes, after lunch, she liked to play cards. Her favourite card game was Kali Mam which none of us knew how to play. On one occasion, she engaged us in play-acting. On small chits of paper the acts which were to be performed by each person were noted.
These chits were then put in a large jar from which each one was asked to pick up one chit and act the role indicated. Yashpal Kapoor, her PA, picked up a chit on which was written sapera (snake charmer).
Kapoor made some clumsy movements with one hand flexing his wrist making a sideways movement like a snake in the basket. He moved the other hand in front of his chest up and down like a sapera (snake charmer) playing his been (snake charmer’s flute). Everyone had a good laugh and enjoyed Kapoor’s histrionics.
On my turn as noted in my chit, I had to play “the Arab Sheikh of oil and gas”. Those were the days of the international oil crisis and newspapers were full of it, which was, perhaps, on her mind too. It was a pretty difficult part to play in comparison with others who had to play simpler or commonplace roles.
Without looking nervous, I wrapped a towel lying there round my head to look like an Arab’s headgear, I pulled out a bed-sheet and wrapped it around my body to resemble the Arab gown called “Thob” and caught hold of an empty bottle of Coca-Cola lying there to make for a bottle of crude oil.
With small steps, I walked forward making a hissing noise with my lips, like gas leaking from an oil well. Everyone had a hearty laugh and PM also appeared to enjoy my acting.
Pointing toward me, she made an announcement, “Look, when I retire from active political life, I will start a theatre company and I would employ you as one of my lead actors.”
But alas, she did not live to get her retirement, neither was the theatre company started nor did I become the lead actor.
(The Unseen Indira Gandhi: Through her Physician’s Eyes by KP Mathur has been published by Konark Publishers and can be read on www.juggernaut.in.)