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What's in a surname?

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The Telegraph Online   |   Published 07.02.15, 06:30 PM

Bharathi S. Pradhan Celebrity Circus
Bharathi S. Pradhan

What's Dr Harshvardhan's surname? The minister for science and technology whose wide, warm smile must've inspired the original smiley, told me a snug little story about his surname. 'Very few people have actually asked me this question and I think 90 per cent of Delhiites wouldn't know the right answer to it,' he chuckled.

When he became a dedicated RSS worker in Class IX, he was a young boy called Harshvardhan Goel. But by the time he reached Class XI, he had decided to get rid of the 'bloody caste system' by dropping his surname forever. The Class XI student became simply Harshvardhan, later with the prefix of Dr.

His older son Mayank, also a doctor, took it a step further. 'Nobody asked him to do it and he was not with the RSS,' explained the proud father. Mayank not only dropped his surname but gave a public notice that he would henceforth be known as Dr Mayank Bharat. That's his name today.

The day we met, the Hindi news channels had gone to town with Shatrughan Sinha's controversial statement that he'd have been happy if Dr Harshvardhan had been named the BJP's chief ministerial candidate for Delhi. The doctor wasn't amused.

'I was with him when he was asked this question,' he explained. It transpires that Dr Harshvardhan, as is his wont, had without fuss dropped into Sinha's Talkatora residence to take the star on his campaign rounds. A TV journalist who happened to be around asked Sinha a question about Dr Harshvardhan as a suitable candidate. To this, Shatrughan had responded with warmth that he'd have been very happy if his party had named Dr Harshvardhan as its candidate for chief ministership. 'But he went on to talk very highly about Dr Kiran Bedi after that,' reported Dr Harshvardhan. 'To play up only one part of his answer and create a controversy was mischievous,' he remarked.

The television interview over, the two drove off together where packed rallies greeted Shatrughan Sinha, in contrast to the dire statistics projected by surveys. I've no personal experience of the rest of Delhi but constituencies in Dwarka, Janakpuri and other places where Dr Harshvardhan took the star campaigner drew lusty crowds.

By the way, Dr Harshvardhan's heart may beat for the RSS/BJP ideology but he could teach Kejriwal a lesson or two in what an aam aadmi is all about. I was meeting Dr Harshvardhan for one of my books for which he informally dropped into Sinha's residence once again after the day's round of rallies, without a trace of conceit or pomp. Our conversation over, the Cabinet minister who came in without fanfare - no lal batti, no noisy security vanguard clearing his path - got into a modest Toyota Etios and drove away.

The glamour-power mix of film stars and politicians continues in a different vein with Amar Singh and Jaya Prada. Amar Singh, it seems, has been in deep discussion with writer-director Gulzar. They make a curious combo but the two bonded well, especially since both non-Bengalis speak the language so fluently. The whisper is that Amar Singh went to Gulzar for a remake of Aandhi, with Jaya Prada (of course) in Suchitra Sen's role. Gulzar politely pointed out to him that times had changed but he had a fresh story tinged with politics up his sleeve. So don't be surprised if there's an announcement one of these days that Gulzar is back to film making and will be working with Jaya Prada in his new venture.

Amar Singh is also in the process of getting his autobiography written. And he has zeroed in on a senior journalist in Calcutta, the city he grew up in, to pen it for him. Extremely clear that he will tell a no-holds-barred tale, the politician promises that he will pull no punches about bête noire Amitabh Bachchan with whom he spent 20 years before falling out of favour.

'We were very close for 20 years or so I thought. I was wrong,' says Singh who adds that Bachchan is really nobody's friend. But even Singh had to concede that at Abhishek and Aishwarya's wedding, while Amitabh played host to big-time celebrities, he ate his dinner with his loyal staff of many decades.

Years ago, Amitabh's brother Ajitabh (Bunty to most) was reported to be writing a book in which he was going to disclose many of his celebrity sibling's deep, dark secrets. At that time, it was rumoured that Amar Singh had met Bunty and brokered partial peace between the brothers before even a page could be officially written.

With Amar Singh himself ready for a tell-all, who'll play the broker today?

Bharathi S. Pradhan is a senior journalist and author

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