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  • Two men and two unfulfilled promises

    Posted On June 26, 2000

    By Karan Thapar

    Rajesh Pilot and Archbishop De Lastic were not similar people. Yet the memories I have of them are strangely the same. I don’t know if that is a paradox or one of the tricks death plays with the living.

    I first met Rajesh Pilot when he was Communications Minister. In those days the easiest way of obtaining a telephone was to ask a minister to sanction one from his quota. It was called an out-of-turn allotment. My colleagues, who were largely without phones, were anxious for one. So we hit upon a wheeze. We would profile the minister for our video magazine Eyewitness, get to know him in the process and then ask for his help. It was done with cold blooded calculation and careful planning.

    Thus prepared I called upon Mr. Pilot in his Sanchar Bhawan office. I explained our proposal carefully but omitted to mention what we hoped to gain from it. I made it appear as if the intended profile would boost his career. He smiled, his green eyes lit up and, I think, he also laughed.

    “Kyon nahin” he said. “Aau mere sat padson. Mein Bharatpur aur Dausa ja raha hoon. Aap ki team ko lejaonga.”

    I agreed with alacrity. After all it was the outcome we were hoping for. Then, after finalising a few further details, I started to walk out. I felt pleased with my evident success. Mr. Pilot came to the door and then out into the corridor all the way to the lift. As I stepped in he patted my back and reassuringly added :

    “Aur jab phone ki zaroorat hogi to bata dena. Apni team se bhi pooch lo.”

    He had seen through our silly ploy but with grace acceded to it. Two days later when he travelled with the crew he befriended them and gave them the best trip they had for years. Right through the journey he was accessible and friendly. Three weeks later nine of my colleagues had phones installed at home.

    In the Archbishop’s case my meeting was very different. It happened late last year just before the Pope’s visit. We were planning a discussion on the situation facing Indian Christians and I telephoned to ask him to participate.

    “Hmmm” he said. His wasn’t a deep voice but it was a finely balanced one. “Will you have tea with me?”

    “Tea?” I was perplexed because it wasn’t the answer I was expecting.

    “Or coffee if you prefer.” I could almost hear him chuckle as he teased me.

    I arrived at his office half an hour later with a colleague on hand to give me support. We were ushered in instantly.

    “I’ve been waiting for you” the Archbishop began genially. “You see, when I have guests they serve biscuits. Otherwise I’m not allowed too many sweet things.”

    The biscuits were delicious. Petit Beurre, which I recalled from my childhood but had not seen since, and my favourite Pure Magic. The Archbishop barely had one and even that he crumbled on his plate. I had several and noticing this he kept offering me more.

    As I ate I tried to convince him to accept my invitation. He heard me, praised my shows, said how much he wished to participate but in the end declined.

    “Son, one day I will come but just before the Holy Father’s visit I don’t think I should lock horns with anyone. It wouldn’t be right.”

    I suppose he saw my crestfallen expression as I got up to leave. I thought this was why he walked with me all the way to the car but then as I got in he suddenly added :

    “Come back soon and have tea with me. I’ll keep a packet of biscuits in the drawer for you!”

    Three weeks ago, just before he left for his visit to Rome, Archbishop De Lastic agreed to give me an interview. It was scheduled for the 17th of July.

    There is a similar promise Rajesh Pilot has also left unfulfilled. It’s antecedence goes back to a chance encounter last summer on the squash courts of the Gymkhana Club. I was knocking-up when Pappu the marker suddenly popped his head through the door.

    “Rajesh Pilot saab ke saath kheloge?”

    At first I thought I had misheard. Pilot? Playing squash? Surely not. But when I walked out there he was smiling broadly.

    “I didn’t realise you play squash?” I stuttered, unable to hide my surprise.

    “Why?” he asked disarmingly. “Sab politicians ek jaise nahin hote.”

    It was an enjoyable game and to my surprise he was by no means unfit. I believe he liked it too because a week before his death when I telephoned to ask him to join a discussion on the crisis in the Congress Party he referred to it whilst turning me down.

    “Yaar marvana hei to squash court pe karo. Congress Party ki baat ched ke aur mujhe phasvaoge!”

    I failed to persuade him and eventually the discussion happened with other guests. When he saw it Mr. Pilot rang to chat about it.

    “Baat nahin bani” he laughed knowing that without him a programme on the Congress Party was like Hamlet without the Prince. I said it was entirely his fault.

    “Achcha chalo bhool jao” he replied. “Squash kab kheloge? Is baar mein jeetonga!”

    Three days later he died in a terrible car crash. Ten days after that Archbishop De Lastic died in strangely similar circumstances. Two very different men but two similar deaths and memories of two unfulfilled promises.

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