Sunday, November 19, 2017

Indira Gandhi - A Humble Tribute

Indira Gandhi - A Humble Tribute

Today, November 19, is the birth centenary of PM Indira Gandhi (November 1917-October, 1984). I have read two excellent write ups today on Indira Gandhi by my very seniors in the IFS – K. Natwar Singh, As I Please in The Tribune and Salman Haidar, There Will Never Be Another Indira Gandhi in the Hindustan Times. Both of them worked with PM Indira Gandhi in the PM’s Secretariat at senior positions and as such handled important and
With PM Indira Gandhi in the Committee Room attachd to her office
substantive work. I, a lowly official in the MEA, also got the chance to be around in the corridors of PM’s Secretariat, from April, 1974 to October, 1977, as a Protocol Assistant in the Government Hospitality attached to a lady officer Vimla Sindhi popularly called Behanji who was a retainer from PM Jawaherlal Nehru’s staff at Teenmurti House. My duties pertained to protocol during the meetings, particularly with foreign dignitaries and of the cabinet, held in the committee room and conference room and to maintain these rooms. Behanji, my boss, enjoyed some sort of personal and direct access to Indira Gandhi because of her service at Teenmurti House with Jawaharlal Nehru, though some of her colleagues and senior officers had doubts. Indira Gandhi used to call her Vimi. Indira Gandhi had a keen eye on small details like flower arrangement, upholstery of furniture, paintings, stationary, snacks to be served and even ash trays etc. In this regard, I had numerous opportunities to speak and interact with her along with Behanji and alone. I left for my posting to Peking (Beijing) in October, 1977 and returned in December, 1981. Indira Gandhi had come to power again. On joining the MEA, I was posted to PMO as Protocol Officer to man the same desk as Vimla Behanji was retiring from service. I was reluctant to go there because of the nature of work but Joint Secretary (Administration) refused to listen to me as clearance and approval of PMO (PS to PM R.K. Dhawan) of my name had already been obtained. I was destined to work with PM Indira Gandhi again, it seemed – my good fortune. During the course of my humble work, I had many personal encounters on small matters with Indira Gandhi, a great personality and human-being par-excellence. I will narrate here in brief only two of these.

Sometime in the summer of 1975, my younger sister Kamla, after her school graduation, came to be with us in Delhi from Jalandhar, my native place. One day, she came to see my office. Vimla Behanji asked her whether she will like to meet the PM. Obviously, she jumped with joy. Indira Gandhi used go to her residence for lunch. Vimla Behanji took us out and made us stand near the stairs from where PM was to pass. As usual Indira Gandhi came out and moved towards the stairs. Vimla Behanji nodded and Indira Gandhi stopped near us. She introduced Kamla to PM Indira Gandhi and added that she had come from Jalandhar to meet, pointing towards me, her brother who was working with her. Indira Gandhi chatted with my sister for about 4-5 minutes standing in the corridor of her office. I, a young lowly official, was touched and impressed by Indira Gandhi’s humility and human touch in her demeanor to deal with common people.  Kamla was, of course, immensely delighted. Indira Gandhi was great. The second story will indicate how much Indira Gandhi cared for small niceties. It was in 1976, I think. One of my colleagues in MEA, Sudha Jain, was a good painter. She painted a portrait of Indira Gandhi. One day she came to see me in my office. She talked about her painting of Indira Gandhi and expressed her wish to gift it to her. Vimla Behanji facilitated the gifting exercise. On a convenient day, we kept the painting on one of the sofas in the corridor of PM’s office near the stairs. As usual PM was going for lunch. Vimla Behanji invited her attention to her portrait and introduced Sudha Jain. Indira Gandhi slowed for while and commented why she made portraits only. Sudha replied that she was painting otherwise also. Indira Gandhi started moving and Vimla Behanji said that Sudha wanted to gift this to you. She stopped for a moment again and said thanks and advised to send it the residence. Both Sudha and I were humbled to see her magnanimity and grace in dealing with common people. In a few days time, there was a letter of thanks from the office of PM and information on the institution to whom the portrait was further given for appropriate use somewhere in UP. I duly passed on the letter to Sudha. She must have kept the letter as a treasured possession. Indira Gandhi was great by her own right.

हज़ारों साल नरगिस अपनी बेनूरी पे रोती है,
बड़ी मुश्किल से होता है चमन में दीदावर पैदा!

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