Poha and chai with Advani
Bharathi S. Pradhan
Two days before the big meet of the BJP in the capital, what was the mood of the grand patriarch of the party over whom Modi had leapfrogged for the prime minister's post?
Inside 30 Prithviraj Road, there was contentment and cheer written all over the wise visage of L.K. Advani as we settled down for an exclusive chat in connection with my next book, a non-political one. On the dot of the appointed hour he was crisp and ready, without any clutter around him. Eighty six years are not evident anywhere on him as he exudes good health in body, mind and spirit with a strong voice to match. How did he manage that at age 86?
His eyes twinkled as he disclosed, "A doctor friend of mine once suggested that perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I eat very little." He doesn't observe any fasts, no diets, no abstinence from any food, but basically L.K. Advani is no foodie. "I'm not at all a foodie. Quite the opposite," he said. Breakfast is fruit and milk, sometimes cornflakes or poha. "I thought let's have poha together today," he added. It was poha and chai with adrak for him; and for me poha, green tea and an autographed copy of his latest book — a collection of his blogs titled My Take — with care taken to spell my name accurately.
He also credited his morning walk in the garden and the care lavished on him by his daughter Pratibha and wife Kamla for his fitness. The third important reason for keeping good health is, "If a person is satisfied with his own life and work, it reflects even on his health."
He doesn't take disappointments to heart which includes coming to terms with Modi as their prime ministerial candidate. He philosophically answered, "Kya farak padta hai? If I'm not the Prime Minister, people in my party or even outside it are not going to respect me any less.
"When anyone asks me, 'How come you're so active even now?' I say, 'I've been active all my life right from the age of 14 when I became a member of the RSS in Karachi.'"
When he moved from Karachi to Rajasthan during Partition, Advani knew no Hindi. Comfortable only in English and Sindhi, he read even the Ramayana and Mahabharata in his mother tongue. He chuckled that his mother would caution him to read the Mahabharata only "beech beech mein" and not continuously from beginning to end because it was the belief that if you read it fully at one go, there'd be a mahabharat (war) at home. "I know some people who don't even keep the Mahabharata at home because they believe that there will be a fight in the family."
The only Hindi he knew was courtesy Hindi cinema!
But after several decades of public life, Hindi is the language that L.K. Advani speaks with maximum fluency. His regular blogs, however, continue to be in English. Pratibha revealed that to this day Dada (as he is called by those close to him) writes his blogs the conventional way by hand, personally and legibly. And here we talk with awe of Amitabh Bachchan being active at age 71!
Back in Mumbai, there's trouble brewing for the film industry with a new CEO on the censor board, Rakesh Kumar, who is so conservative and censorious that he thinks Aamir Khan should not have produced a "cuss-loaded Delhi Belly". He walked out of Hrithik Roshan's Agneepath because it was "too gory", he was embarrassed by the excess love(making) in Shudh Desi Romance, he labels Grand Masti pornography which should be banned in India, he frowns on Gangs Of Wasseypur for its "terrible language" and on Dedh Ishqiya for the sex scene with Arshad and Huma. Let's dump this puritan across the border and hand him over to the Taliban right away.
Over to Calcutta, I have interviewed three generations beginning with the sedate Suchitra Sen. During Gulzar's Aandhi in 1975, she was in Mumbai and was forthcoming about her life and career to a few handpicked journalists. With her low voice, hesitant English and a dignified bearing, she was the respectable "Suchitraji" for all of us. By the time the decade was out, daughter Moon Moon made a splash, quite literally, in the Sun--Sand pool. She came armed with the names of two or three journalists and made it a point to say, "Mamma said you were her friend."
A complete contrast to her mother, Moon Moon was affable, approachable, scandalising and Westernised in her micro shorts and bikinis. Her older daughter Raima Sen looks like her grandmother but insists that she's pretty wild. One of her endearing stories which I'd written about in this column was about her first kissing scene with Parambrata Chatterjee in Baishe Srabon. Suchitra Sen squirmed so much over it that if Raima was with her when that particular promo would come on telly, the grandmom would neatly switch channels so that she never had to see it or discuss it with her. RIP Suchitra Sen.