A public servant rarely writes his autobiography because he is hoping to be recalled till his last day. I have seen ministers from Nehru’s days remaining silent for decades in the hope even of jumping off the bier and running back in case the prime minister recalled them to national duty.
But former cabinet secretary B.G. Deshmukh has chosen to remain in Bombay, serve many social causes and write of past national events of which he knows much. This book of his years with three prime ministers as cabinet secretary and later, principal secretary to the prime minister, makes fascinating reading. It was an eventful period—the strange governments of V.P. Singh and Chandra Shekhar, national elections, overthrow of the Congress, the play of ambitions in Delhi’s power game, including the desperately aspiring field marshal K. Sundarji and T.N. Seshan who turned from tiger to pussycat. Writing with the calm dissection of a cabinet secretary in the British mould, Deshmukh demolishes other giants like Chaudhary Devi Lal, a Greek god of six feet four with a Mario Caruso voice. Deshmukh is rough on Lal, which I can understand. How, after all, can a calm and almost cold Maharashtrian understand the emotional, erratic, effervescent people’s choice Haryana Jat? But his cameo on Giani Zail Singh, saying little, hiding some, is more affectionate.