A tall man emerging from a shadowy night, his face hidden by a towel -- that was former Prime Minister VP Singh's first glimpse of Amitabh Bachchan. No, he didn't gawk in awe or beam in excitement at the sight of Bollywood's angry young man -- till a few weeks ago, Singh didn't even know that an actor called Amitabh had India in thrall.
That encounter took place shortly after Indira Gandhi's assassination when Rajiv Gandhi, as Prime Minister, was preparing for the 1984 elections. When Arun Nehru had told Singh that Bachchan was picked by Rajiv for the Allahabad seat, Singh's reaction was, "Who is he?''
If Singh was bewildered, Arun was astounded. He even suspected his colleague of pulling a fast one on him but Singh maintained that he neither watched films nor television. "Yes, I knew Harivansh Rai Bachchan who had taught us. I had even heard that he had a son who Indira Gandhi visited when he fell ill…But I neither know Amitabh nor recognise his face,'' he told Arun.
As it was only proper that the UP Congress chief should know the official candidate, Singh sent for Amitabh -- one of the many anecdotes packed in Manzil se zyada safar (Travel Beyond Destination) written by journalist Ram Bahadur Rai on Singh’s life.
In the days to come, the face hidden in the towel was one Singh would not easily forget as Bachchan's name kept cropped up in controversies. Singh's discomfiture with the Big B grew. In fact, he suspected Amitabh of influencing Rajiv to remove him from the finance ministry in 1986 during a holiday at the Andamans.