It is a murder case that will remain etched in one person’s memory. Apart from being sensational, it changed the course of Union Law Minister Hans Raj Bhardwaj’s life. Sixty-nine-year-old Bhardwaj started off as a criminal lawyer. His brief was to defend criminals, for that is where the money lay. Consequently, when he appeared for the accused in a controversial murder case, the victim’s mother cursed him: “If it was your son, you would have known what it is like to lose one.”
A year later, he lit his son’s funeral pyre, unable to comprehend how a sudden illness could have taken such a toll on his child. It was, Bhardwaj concluded, a mother’s curse. The words, uttered in a courtroom in a fit of rage, haunted him. He vowed never to appear for the accused, or “killers” to quote him, again. Trained under an eminent lawyer, Shanti Swarup Sharma, Bhardwaj inherited a legal practice but not the confidence of his ‘guruji’. Consequently, when he was handed the brief of a bride-burning case, he developed cold feet. He slept uneasy that night till ‘guruji’ blessed him in his dream. But for that, Bhardwaj confesses, he would not have made it.
Dreams have played a crucial role in Bhardwaj’s life. Years after his death, Bhardwaj’s father still ‘visits’ him annually during shraddh (a ritual for ancestors). A ‘blessed’ Bhardwaj claims he ‘communicates’ with him. “Sleep-talk,” says his wife, Praful Lata, who gave up a flourishing legal practice for the sake of their family.
Hansa to his mother and ‘Bhai’ to his father, Bhardwaj grew up in the outhouse of Teen Murti Bhawan, the palatial home of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. In college, he studied with Priya Rajvansh, who later made her mark in Hindi films. To Bhardwaj and his gang, Rajvansh was “the college heroine”. He is among the handful who know that her real name is Vira Sunder Singh. “Bahut jaan thi usme (She was a woman full of grit),” recalls Bhardwaj.
Till he went to Shimla, Bhardwaj was a buffoon. This was quite contrary to the image he had cultivated back home, where he was sought after because he spoke English. Or at least his version of the language. As he stood shivering at the station without any woollens, the driver lent him his jacket. The moment he reached Raj Bhawan, where his father worked, he was packed off to a barber shop. His father ordered what he called a “clean-up job”. A dazed Bhardwaj was sorry to see the sign of his Brahmin lineage — a neatly combed braid at the back of his head — being mercilessly chopped off. “Brahmin hoon, baal khare rehte the and choti rakhta tha (I am a Brahmin and it is customary to keep my hair braided).”
But the toughest to get used to was the “blazer-tie” attire. He took hours to knot a tie, which invariably ended up looking like a noose. Bhardwaj picked up his first lounge suit at Oxford Street in London before a visit to the US. It was only when he landed there that he realised he had wasted his money. For, unlike Europe, the US was “a T-shirt and jeans country”.