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Alva mater

Keen on running a perfect home, Margaret enrolled herself for every possible course: interior decoration, cooking, housekeeping, painting, even tailoring and flower arrangement.

india Updated: Apr 08, 2006 01:13 IST

Congress leader Margaret Alva spent her wedding night with former Defence Minister Krishna Menon, who had flown in to bless the couple. He kept chatting till the wee hours of the morning, till Margaret’s husband, Niranjan, fell asleep. Even the honeymoon was a disaster with the entire family piling on. Yet Margaret had no complaints. She’s married the man she loved. She willingly gave up her career in law to wash nappies and shop for vegetables. Keen on running a perfect home, Margaret enrolled herself for every possible course: interior decoration, cooking, housekeeping, painting, even tailoring and flower arrangement. That her dog chewed all the flowers she painstakingly arranged is another matter.

Every week she’d visit auctions to buy furniture, including a Burma teak table for only Rs 90. Calling it a heirloom, she has passed it on to her son. In her later years as Union minister she went to chor bazaar in Mumbai to bargain for lamps. She wore a salwar kameez to avoid being recognised. The shopkeeper was surprisingly obliging and parted with exquisite lamps at an extremely low price. Smug at the “deal which was a steal”, Margaret was jolted into reality by colleague Murli Deora’s phone call who demanded that she leave immediately. But she boasted of the unbelievable bargains. “Obviously” sneered Deora, “the obliging shopkeeper was none other than a Congress corporator.”

On the two occasions that Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi needed her, she was enjoying her afternoon siesta. The first when she was nominated to the Rajya Sabha and the second when she was to be sworn into the cabinet. When her father-in-law told her that Indira Gandhi had nominated her, Margaret said the seat should go to Niranjan. When Rajiv Gandhi tried to reach her, she’d switched off her cellphone in disgust since she’d been refused an entry into Rashtrapati Bhawan for the swearing-in ceremony. Even when he sent word that she be present, Margaret thought he was trying to make up for the lapse. Till Arun Nehru walked her to the first row she didn’t know what was in store. Taken aback, the only thing she told him was to ask her family to switch on the TV.

Following her mother-in-law’s example, Margaret wore white khadi  saris to Parliament. While her north Indian colleagues told her that only widows wore white, her father-in-law rubbished this logic. The way out was to tone it down with some kind of a print. Consequently, legislators summoned a block printer who sat through the night printing her saris. It was only when she put on weight that she replaced thick khadis with fine cottons from the south: her trademark till today.

God, she says, was kind when it came to her pregnancy. She dreaded going to Parliament. “I was 37 years and too old. While I was debating what to do, the government fell. By the time Parliament met again, I had already delivered.” Margaret recalls having a tough time convincing her colleagues that her new-born was her own and not adopted.