Sunday, October 2nd, 2022 15:16:21

Memoirs Of A Redoubtable Scribe Of Our Times

Updated: January 19, 2013 1:28 pm

For those of us who were of the generation becoming aroused by political events in the wake of the phony Emergency of 1975 to 1977, Tavleen Singh was not an unfamiliar name. Through the pages of Sunday the now-defunct peppy journal edited by MJ Akbar one did inevitably follow her writings, as the rather chaotic Janata years gave way to Mrs Gandhi’s second innings which were marred by the bloodshed in Punjab and Assam, turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir and the rise of Rajiv Gandhi as the heir apparent after his brother Sanjay perished in the Pitts aircraft he was flying on that scorching summer day in 1980. Later on one caught up with her as a freelance on the pages of India Today and the Indian Express.

The reminiscences begin with Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination on May 21, 1991, and as the body lay at Teen Murti she approached Sonia Gandhi to express a word of condolence but was given a stare as if she was a total stranger. Tavleen then notes, “How much had changed. What a long way we had come from the days of long lunches in my little flat in Golf Links when she would laugh and gossip and urge me to tell her what was going on in the city.” Tavleen was undoubtedly in the charmed circle of Romi Chopra, Martand Singh, Arun and Nina Singh, Vicky Bharat Ram and his glamorous Mexican wife and of course the Gandhis. Rajiv was then piloting Indian Airlines aircraft happily going through life as a pilot as blissfully unaware of realpolitik as any upper middle class resident of Lutyens’ Delhi. However, even then Ottavio and Maria Quattrocchi had the pride of place in Sonia’s confidantes. Tavleen fitted well into this privileged set, given her background (her father was an army officer and her mother from one of the families who built New Delhi.) For good measure she also brushed shoulders with the likes of Jackie Kennedy, Mick Jagger, and Bruce Chatwin courtesy her buddy Naveen Patnaik who had not been bitten by the political bug in those days.

The slum clearance drive of Sanjay Gandhi took place during this period supervised by Jagmohan, Vice Chairman of the DDA whom Tavleen very clearly has little respect for, as is evident. She was as a correspondent of the Statesman and saw the rather appalling demolitions first hand on April 18, 1976. Another interesting encounter recorded in the book is her meeting the socialite turned “nasbandi expert” Rukshana Sultana during this period. On the advent of the Janata government the newswoman in Tavleen had a field day reporting on the three “diwan-e-aam” or durbars of Morarji Desai, Charan Singh and Indira Gandhi. She was subsequently summoned by Morarji for a dressing down, having been described as a “nasty old man reeking of cologne.” This was her first face to face with a Premier.

She is undoubtedly right in assuming that had the Janata government been a coalition, it would have lasted longer instead of pretending to be a single party government. The narrative describes various elections in rural and semi-rural India, an inter-action with the big B on whom she had a massive ‘crush’ (not uncommon for women of that generation). The Punjab terrorism of the eighties, Operation Bluestar, the interviews with Bhindaranwale and his cohorts, the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, the Camelot like first years of Rajiv Gandhi at the helm, (when he told her chatting in his lawn how he planned to reform Doordarshan radically with an “intelligent young bureaucrat” who was Bhaskar Ghosh. Poor Ghosh was shunted out shortly as he did not toe the line! She notes that the changes that needed to happen have not happened till this day) his bungling over Bofors, the advent of Vishwanath Pratap Singh and the Ayodhya Ram Temple movement are described in considerable detail for the observant reader to appreciate.

Tavleen dwells on her courtship with the late Pakistani politician Salman Taseer and her son from him, the writer Aatish Taseer. One would have liked to know more about how the romance did not end logically in wedlock, however. The autobiography finishes in 1991, which is to early to wind up for a journalist who has been pushing the pen for well nigh 37 years. One hopes Tavleen Singh updates her memoirs soon enough to give another treat of an attention-grabbing work to connoisseurs of riveting prose which she as a formidable columnist is capable of. She has shown ample proof of it in this work.

By Arvindar Singh

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