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Escaping the baton

india Updated: Feb 16, 2007 04:32 IST

‘No cancer,’ Sai Baba of Puttuparthi had scribbled on a piece of paper when BJP leader Yashwant Sinha went to meet him. Sinha’s doctors had diagnosed him with cancer and recommended a major surgery. Sinha considered the Baba’s words as prophetic, yet he decided to take no chances. He went in for a ‘mild procedure’ and chemotherapy. And now he is in the clear. “All because of Baba,” Sinha believes. Sinha was never what he calls an “instant devotee”. He met the Sai Baba for the first time in 1992 with former PM Chandra Shekhar. “It was curiosity, not faith, that took me there.”

A family of different surnames, Sinha’s grandfather used Prasad, while his father, Bipin Behari, used Saran. Yashwant and his siblings, “a full-fledged cricket team” (11 in all), used Sinha. “In Bihar’s caste-ridden society, the Sinhas were all pervasive. There are Sinhas who are Bhoomihars, Rajputs and Kayasthas. Politically, it was a great surname,” chuckles Sinha. It helped even in college. He was taking part in a debating competition, for which there were three judges from different castes. Each thought the young Yashwant was “their own”. The result: he won.

This, despite the fact that English was never his strong point. After studying the basics in a Hindi medium school, he and his friends realised there was no future without English. They teamed up with the understanding that each time they met, they would speak in English. Realising this was a tough call, they started avoiding each other. Finally, a rapid reader came to their rescue. In college, Sinha even acted in English plays. In Richard III, his role was to wear a shocked expression. “Mouth open, I stared into nothing, smug at what I thought was an excellent expression. Suddenly, there were cat-calls and I heard voices from among the audience. ‘Bhool gaya, bhool gaya,’ they shouted, thinking I had forgotten my lines.”

If his days in the army conjure up memories of the war, Sinha loves to watch Hindi films like Border, LOC, Kargil, etc. Sinha was selected to join the National Defence Academy, but for his father’s sake, he abandoned his “love for the uniform”. But Rajpath on Republic Day still thrills him. In 1955, Sinha had marched down the road as part of the Bihar contingent. Later, as a minister sitting in the VIP enclosure, he wondered if any of the soldiers marching past had got the ‘baton’. “We had to wake up at the crack of dawn and shave before the drill. The officer in-charge would run his palm over our face to see if there were any traces of a stubble. If he found a rough surface, he would hit us with a baton,” says the clean-shaven Sinha.

Email Kumkum Chadha: kumkum @hindustantimes.com

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