LUCKNOW || Traditionally slur is not reserved for the dead. Contemporary times are however both brutal and unforgiving, I just learnt yesterday as a senior colleague in the media heaped abuses and slander on Amar Singh, the Rajya Sabha MP who dies earlier on Saturday at a Singapore medical facility. The fact that he chose to do it on a media WhatsApp group pained me no ends.
While many senior media persons admonished him for doing so, it provoked me into writing what I am doing now. The 64-year-old was indeed one of the most colourful and controversial figures of modern-day politics in India. Of his sprawling circle of the high n’ mighty, I was perhaps one of the smallest spec who, by a stroke of some strange coincidence, had the good fortune of observing him from close quarters.
I first met him in 1999 when as a Times Of India correspondent, I was asked by my editor to cover one of his campaign trails in Varanasi and Poorvanchal. I was handed an Indian Airlines ticket by Babu Jagjeevan, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s PS outside out office in what was to become my first air travel. Met him late night at the India hotel in Varanasi, had a brief chit-chat over a bowl of piping hot cream of mushroom soup.
Never knew, this brief meet would become a long-standing bond, which remained till his last, but for a few years in between, when he became bitter with everyone, even his well-wishers! Am narrating small incidences that are etched in my mind, as a tribute to the man, who I firmly believe, was not that bad a man!
- On one of our chopper travels, we – Him, Raj Babbar and I encountered rough weather over Gola, somewhere near Lakhimpur Kheri. The pilots were anxious as they chatted about the heavy rains and the lightning which was flashing every now and then. Raj Bhai asked me to make Thakur Saheb (as we fondly called him) see reason and not to go ahead, rather fly back. He refused, was ready to risk his (and also our lives) as he said there would be people waiting. How can we leave them in the lurch, he mused.
- One a Sunday, I had gone to meet Mulayam Singh Yadav at his ‘Kothi’ on Vikramaditya Marg. Amar Singh drove in after some time and I excused myself and left. He asked me to wait. After a while, we started chatting as he got free and he, in his Mercedes gave me a lift. I signalled to the driver to drop me at the gate of the fortified bungalow to which Amar Singh said that we can drive to Sahara Shahar, where he used to be put up.
I answered in the negative, telling him that my scooter was parked outside Neta Ji’s house. He allowed me to get out of his plush vehicle but moments later, without my nothing, it, came and hopped on the backseat of my scooter, which was still on the stand. I begged of him not to do this ‘tamasha’ as SP workers mobbed him. He had nothing of it and he smiled and shot back: Jaise chota bhai jayega, hum bhi waise hi jayenge!
On way to Sahara Shahar, we were clicked by some passing lensman and the picture found itself in print as some newspapers carried it. Such was his simplicity and that too at the time when his political career was at its pinnacle.
- I still can’t forget the day he saved me from the wrath of ‘Kaka’ – Rajesh Khanna. I was in the middle of covering many a political campaign trains and on one, I was dispatched by the editor to cover the legendary Dilip Kumar as he went to campaign for Puttu Awasthi in Barabanki’s Haidergarh.
As I came back my editor Uttam Sengupta told me that Rajesh Khanna had called him up asking about the reporter who covered Hema Malini during her Amethi campaign. It was me. So he said when I return I should just go to Taj hotel and drop by to pay me regards to the superstar of the ’70s.
Was not a huge fan of Khanna so was reluctant. But while returning with Dilip Saheb, who too was staying at Taj, I met Kaka. We struck off well over a forced ‘patiala peg’ of Blue Label with the legendary actor. He said we would be flying to Gorakhpur together on Tuesday and would have fun. It was impossible as I was assigned to cover Amar Singh (as mentioned above) in Varanasi. My name was added in the manifest by the pilot on a phone call made by Kaka.
This flight was not to happen anyways. The next day I was at the Varanasi airport VIP lounge as Raj Bhai had to take a flight to Delhi and Amar Singh wanted to see him off. Suddenly there was a commotion and Madhav Rao Scindia entered with his Sardaar aide. They interacted with Amar Singh animatedly and left in a while even as we waited for Raj Bhai’s Delhi flight.
After some time there was another flutter and someone told us that Rajesh Khanna was on way to the lounge. I got jittery as I had ditched him in the morning and I requested Amar Singh to “save me”. Kaka walked in his spotless white kurta-pyjama and
a cigarette on his lips, he hugged Amar Singh and Raj Bhai.
As they settled on the sofas, I was very close to him now, visible enough to be slaughtered. I still hoped against hope that he would not even recognise me. But he did. When Amar Singh introduced me as a well-meaning young reporter to Khanna, he lost it. “I know he only flies with lady film stars” he quipped. I stammered as I tried to explain my position but from here Amar Singh took over.
“Kaka, leave him, it’s not his fault. I had asked for a good reporter to be sent and he was sent by force.” He is a kid, he said further while praising Rajesh Khanna on how huge star he was that even Singh waited in long queues outside theatres to see his films – Kati Patang, Aradhana, Do Raaste. Rajesh Khanna was checkmated and won over. There were hearty laughs after that and Kaka patted me on the back while leaving and invited me for another round of drinks!
- He was very kind too. Two examples: I was heading the Kanpur edition of TOI in 2003. A group of IIT-Kanpur students met me seeking some help in getting sponsors for their annual cultural fest – Antaragni. I did not know any big name but told them that I will give it a try.
Rang up Amar Singh later in the evening and requested him to see if some help could come to these students. The needful was done and a big industrial house sponsored the event. Gracious students invited him as the chief guest and he flew down to attend the do.
An editorial colleague, knowing my proximity to Singh, one day requested me for some financial help for his niece who was suffering from cancer. Though Amar Singh and I rarely discussed money and professional matters, I sought his help in this. He was very obliging and the girl was helped. The colleague is now editor of a national daily in Lucknow. Though am not sure if he still remembers the kind gesture of Thakur saheb or not.
- His loyalty and friendship for MSY were complete and unquestioned. Never in the twenty-odd years, I knew Amar Singh that he spoke badly about Neta Ji privately. He foul-mouther him publicity but in private I would always find him in tears and at loss of words whenever I spoke about the fall out between the two. He was bitter in the last years of his life. He felt he was used and abused.
* A lot has been said, written and assumed by his soured relationship with Akhilesh Yadav. Indeed he was bitter but I recall no occasion that he spoke bad about Akhilesh but for one slight moment of candour. During his heydays, he used to always refer to Akhilesh as his “dear bhatija”. Mulayam meant everything to him and his family naturally was an extension of his own.
* Many years back, one day he was at Sara Shahar and it was a late night. Some officials were with him and he was busy with his phone. He took insulin shots in his abdomen, much to my shock. Somehow, I told him to take things easy and not burn himself out. I once sternly told him that he should worry about Disha and Drishti, his twin daughters. He would listen but in hindsight I now know, never stuck to the suggestions.
In 2011 when he had both his kidneys transplanted, I went to meet him at his Lodhi Road residence. He met me through a glass wall, put up for fear of him contracting infection. He asked about my well being and then said: you were right. Tears were glistening his eyes. For a moment, I did not connect what he was referring to. Possibly he saw the blankness on my face and said: I should have taken care of my health, as told by you many years back. I wish he did. 64 is not an age to go.
So much more can be written about him but will avoid since it involves many who are still around, serves no purpose. His long telephone calls to me that lasted for two-two hours, laughing, jesting….his smile and also his guffaws still haunt me. We were not in touch on that regular basis for almost six-seven years now but for the last two, he reconnected. His calls were still long but he sounded bitter all the time. Whenever I would ask him how was he health-wise, he would snap back – mara nahin hoon abhi, zinda hoon.
He had his own vices, shortcomings but at the end of it don’t we all have a share of these? He was not that bad a human being as he is sadly painted to be! RIP Thakur Saheb, thank you for being a caring elder brother. Wish the world understood you beyond the terms – dalaal, power broker, backroom boy, Ghar-todu!!!
— Mohit Dubey/Lucknow
(The author is the founder and Editor-In-Chief of www.thenewsagency.in)