The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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To Kashmir with love

We do not know who to thank for a president who has consideration dripping from his hair. At the national film awards, APJ Abdul Kalam, while giving away the best actress award to Tabu, is said to have asked her politely if she would want to be garlanded with the medal or to hold it in her hand. Tabu chose the former option and the president obliged. Now the considerate, obliging Prez seems to have landed the government in a curious spot. Kalam has expressed his desire to visit Kashmir of all places and the saffron heads neither wish to refuse nor relent. The itinerary in the last week of March will include Srinagar, Jammu and Ladakh and place Kalam in the same league as R Venkatraman, who dared a short trip to Jammu in November 1988 to inaugurate a science centre. The government has nothing per se against Kalam’s visit to Kashmir except that it lacks any occasion to mark. The Prez however wants to project it as a part of “national integration”. The idea actually came from the kids, some 40 of whom, from seven districts of Kashmir, had called on the president at the Rashtrapati Bhawan. A child from Baramullah had suggested, “Why don’t you visit us'” Which is what seemingly got the president going. All a child’s play then' Saffronites would disagree.

Sweet nothings

Vijay Goel, the BJP MP from Chandni Chowk, still cannot figure out why he was removed as minister of state in the PMO to the ministry of parliamentary affairs and labour as a junior minister. The transfer is widely seen as a demotion and Goel himself realizes that. Vijay is believed to have asked the PM himself for an answer to which he was fobbed off with a profound lecture on the nature of politics. A friend meanwhile came up with a possible explanation for a flummoxed Goel. Could the reason be AB Vajpayee’s giving up sweets' Goel, it is alleged, had become a minister because he constantly plied the PM with delicious jalebis and amrittis from his constituency. But a strict diet has forced Vajpayee to cut down on sweets. Quite a bitter end!

Whose turn is it'

Talking of ends. The recent reshuffle in the cabinet has made the deputy PM extremely powerful what with the exit of pro-Vajpayee Pramod Mahajan and Jana Krishnamurthy, and the re-entry of Arun Jaitley and CP Thakur, both seen as Advani’s men. The pug marks of the deputy PM in the entire process has set off a whisper campaign about another reshuffle being just round the corner — abki bari Atal Bihari (and this time it will be Atal Bihari). Look out!

Extended service

Hardly any other species of bureaucrats around the world can match the Indian ones in ingenuity. Krishna Singh, member-secretary, national commission on population, is due to retire in April this year and is supposed to have discovered only months ago that she was not born in the year that is recorded with the personnel, but a year later. What is even more surprising is that the personnel department has accepted her rather belated claim and allowed her another year of service despite the explicit rule that such claims have to be furnished within the initial years of service. It goes without saying that there will be other babus and bibis disputing their birthdays like Singh.

Cooking up a problem

A genuine problem for 10, Janpath. There is much racking of brains in the kitchen over the menu for the Sunday dinner which will feature Sharad Pawar and a host of opposition leaders like Somnath Chatterjee, Laloo Yadav and Mulayam Yadav among others — a gang of 12 strictly vegetarian and non-vegetarian politicos. Sonia apparently prefers fish, but is unsure if her chefs will be able to dish out a better Hilsa than what was offered by Somnath a few months ago. Priyanka allegedly feels that a vegetarian meal is the safest bet and also in keeping with the Congress tradition. The Congress president is herself a good cook and prawns in hot garlic sauce is her favourite dish. But it seems that she will save that for later — maybe when she moves to the 272 mark in the Lok Sabha. Now that could be a long wait.

Untouched tomorrow

The young Kareina Kapoor, brand ambassador of a well-known mobile service provider, seems to be too young to understand the tricks of trade, of her company that is. At a recent press conference she apparently lobbied hard for the use of SMS, saying her ears hurt when she had to speak on the phone. The organizers were visibly embarrassed. The mobile operators encourage people to speak more rather than send messages, although an SMS yields more revenue than a call — Rs 1.50 to 2 for 160 characters against 50 paisa for a one-minute call. But that was a trade secret. And here was the pretty young thing giving away that crucial bit. Yeh bhi mumkin hai.

Guest of honour

A politically-famous couple in Calcutta, one half a shadow of a Congress boss, the other an avid follower of the Trinamooli didi, decided to hold a lavish feast for the sacred-thread ceremony of their only son, and to include in the guest list people from all political affiliations. They went on happily “enlisting” people till the son made a curious choice of a present he wanted from his parents — he wished the grand old man of the CPI(M), Jyoti Basu, whom he really admired, was invited. Zapped, the parents got down to business. An audience was sought with Basu. At his Salt Lake residence, Basu declined any political involvement till he heard the outrageous demand of the son, and started laughing. Would he go to the ceremony' Should the car be sent to Sir' asked the nervous parents. No. Basu declined the offer, not because of any other reason, but only since his doctor insisted on his restricted movement. But his family members would be there. And, lo and behold, they were to give their blessings to the child on behalf of Basu. Quite a fairy tale, isn’t it'

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