Patels and Roses
We have just received a flavour of how absurd the 2014 general election is going to be. The ‘appropriation’ of Sardar Patel by Narendra Modi is historically false for reasons I need not go into. Yet, Mr Modi is perfectly entitled to advertise his fondness for the Sardar’s ideology and rivalry with Nehru. Patel may have been an iconic Congress leader but he belongs to the whole nation rather than just to the Indian National Congress. In all the bickering, this basic fact seems to have escaped attention. Instead, politicians, historians and rabble-rousers are poring over history books, memoirs and archival material to bolster their respective cases.
It is a self-defeating exercise. Patel wrote thousands of letters and issued numerous home ministry memos. You will find ‘stuff’ that pleases both the Congress and the BJP. So, while the Iron Man placed the blame for the Mahatma’s assassination on the communal atmosphere created by the RSS, in other documents he praises the RSS and calls it “patriotic”. Meanwhile, the bewildered aam aadmi must be wondering what all this has to do with him and the price of onions.
In the early ’80s, I interviewed Gopal Godse, brother of Nathuram Godse. He was totally unrepentant about his and his brother’s part in the killing. He believed Gandhi was pro-Muslim and working against the national interest. Financially, he was close to penury, having been abandoned by all sections of the parivar. I remember giving him a few hundred rupees which he accepted gratefully.
In 1998, Outlook’s Rajesh Joshi interviewed RSS chief Prof Rajendra Singh. He said Nathuram’s “intentions were good but his methods were wrong”. Furore broke out after the interview was published. Prof Singh, to his credit, never complained he had been misquoted or quoted out of context.
How do journalists who write regularly on politics keep their brain fresh and lively? In Britain, most have a second calling which they pursue with equal passion. Simon Jenkins contributes a brilliant political column to the Guardian and writes equally brilliantly on heritage. Veteran political pundit Bruce Anderson is the Spectator’s wine critic, Robin Oakley covers current affairs for CNN and horse-racing for The Sporting Life. In the mid-’60s when I used to devour The New Statesman, its chief political correspondent was James Fenton, more famous as the country’s leading poet. The irascible Bernard Levin gave up his political column in the Times every two years and turned theatre critic for the same paper.
Our respected political analysts stick to a single passion. S. Mulgaonkar, editor of The Indian Express in the ’80s, knew more about cooking than celeb chefs but never put it into words. N.J. Nanporia, an authority on colonial furniture, never enlightened readers on the topic. Two exceptions. Sham Lal began his career as a film and literary critic and continued to write in that vein occasionally. Khushwant Singh’s prolific political output blended perfectly with his thoughts on sex, R.K. Narayan and whisky. Of the present lot, I can’t think of anyone nursing other enthusiasms except Modi and Manmohan. If they did, their perspective on politics would make for more gripping reading.
That’s What About Bob
Lunch with the great Robert De Niro, courtesy my buddy Tarun Tejpal, meant one just looked and admired the man’s grace, dignity, good humour and a cheerful willingness to do all the silly things people of his eminence do in a small gathering: sign autographs and get his picture taken. He had met both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul, and when I asked him how the meetings went, he replied he was “very impressed” with both. The meeting with Rahul, I understand, overran its allotted time.
De Niro is 74 years old and he came to India with his stepdaughter. He did not say much but listened attentively and nodded sagely, giving the impression of being genuinely interested in what he was hearing. I mentioned to him twice that of all his films my favourite was The King of Comedy, which thanks to Martin Scorsese has an inspired piece of casting: Jerry Lewis as one of the main protagonists. I asked him why the film did not get the acclaim it deserved. He just shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, who can explain these things.
De Niro, shrewdly, is giving Bollywood a miss. He is off to Goa to participate in Think, a seminar put together by Tarun which is acquiring as much fame as Robert De Niro.
Thank you. Editor is back to his normal self. The other day when I offered him some Amul cheese, he turned his nose up and walked away. So I rushed to Khan Market and buy him his favourite Parmesan, which he gobbled up.
The fame grows...
Last week, Editor and I were shot by ace photographer Rohit Chawla for a calendar.
Vinod Mehta is editorial chairman, Outlook, and its founding editor-in-chief; E-mail your diarist: vmehta AT outlookindia.com