In the mid-’70s, when I was no more than 12, I earned the nickname Spectrum Raja in Perambalur, my hometown. For I had an amazing collection of prisms, 182-and-a-half to be precise. (One broke when I tested it against a cement block.) Anyway, with prism and flashlight in hand, every evening at sundown I would screen the visual spectrum on any available wall. “Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet,” I would say as the colour bands appeared. In fact, this led to some friends naming me Red Raja. Others called me Newton Raja after the great English scientist. Anyway, to cut a long story short, my childhood was spent with prisms. In fact, such was my obsession that my science teacher often wondered whether I was born with a silver spectrum in my mouth.
I must confess that while in school my dreams were of becoming a great scientist and not a politician. (There were two theories I toyed with: one on whether light will have an identity crisis if there is no darkness and the other about how much time is gained by wearing expensive watches.) Of course, nothing came of my efforts and the nation was perhaps denied a Nobel prize and the world the Raja Effect. In fact, the older I grew, the more I drifted from science, preferring politics to watchsprings. But my love for prisms is an enduring passion.
So imagine my surprise in 2007 when Dr Manmohan Singh gave me the telecom ministry. But a bigger surprise awaited me on my first day in office when a babu sounded me about selling spectrum. “We can sell several spectrums...I have 182-and-a-half prisms at home,” I told him. “Rajaji,” he said, “this is different. This has to do with 2G.” I was quite stumped and wondered whether Tooji was close to Soniaji or Manmohanji. Lost and confused, I rung up Thalaivar Karunanidhi’s daughter. “Kanimozhiji, who is this Tooji?” She responded angrily (C sharp): “Don’t ji me, it’s so North Indian.” But despite being offended, she showed considerable patience in explaining the complicated 2G business to me.
A few weeks later, Niira Radia (consultant to the Tatas and Mukesh Ambani) called on me. Knowing my weakness for the spectrum, she came with a gift. A CD (Dark Side of The Moon) by Mr Pink Floyd. Its cover had a photo of a prism and a lovely spectrum. I was touched and thanked her profusely. (Later, I kept the cover and threw away the noisy music.) That apart, Ms Radia also explained how we can get friends to buy spectrum at rock-bottom prices and then sell it for huge profits. I must admit I was most impressed by the business model and promised to act on her advice. When the UPA returned to power last year, Mr Ratan Tata rung up. “Raja, I want you back in telecom,” he said. I assured him that I would sound the PM on that. “Mr Tata, Raja will never say goodbye,” I said as a parting shot. He laughed and said it was a good joke although I couldn’t quite get it....
(As imagined by Ajith Pillai)