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Goodbye to vices

Paswan could not read the letters of the alphabet and was asked to keep away from light. But he continued school and learnt through listening whatever others did by writing, writes Kumkum Chadha.

india Updated: Aug 25, 2006 05:55 IST

Ask Ramvilas Paswan why he gave up smoking and he will tell you, “Mrs did not like it.” Ask him why he gave up playing chess and he says, “Very time-consuming… played only in jail.” Ask him why he is mortally scared of drinking alcohol and you’ll get his reply: “Vomiting abroad” — which relates to the time when, during a trip abroad, he mistook alcohol for aerated water.

As for food he likes “simple non-veg food” with daal, roti, pulao, puri, chicken and fish thrown in daily. Considering that he doesn’t have a sweet tooth, dessert does not figure in his scheme of things.

Till his second marriage to Reena, Ramvilas was ‘a habitual’ — in other words a consumer of ‘unlimited tea, paan and cigarettes’. It was only when Reena gave him the annual consumption figures that he decided to give up his vices: “I was consuming 50 spoons of sugar in 25 cups of tea everyday. That’s more than a quintal annually!” The health concern, coupled with Reena’s ‘khoobsurati’ was too much for Paswan to handle. Thus, the switch to green tea, which by his reckoning is a “very poor substitute”.

Except for mentioning ‘Reenaji’ off and on, Ramvilas likes to keep his second marriage under wraps. A ‘victim of child marriage’, he is the father of four children, two from each marriage — “For the sake of children,” he adds.

His home in Delhi is virtually a museum. It’s rather similar to a cluttered state emporium — dozens of Buddhas, wooden rhinos and elephants, white metal peacocks, dozens of watches and wall clocks, lots of seashells and many, many pictures of Paswan in different attires — not to miss the filmi-style Paswan in white suit, white shoes and steel-rimmed ‘goggles’.

But kitsch has been a lifesaver for Paswan. Were it not for the two artificial dogs in the driveway — ‘they looked real’ — his house would have been set ablaze during the mob fury that followed Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. Smitten by his ‘mute mongrels’, Paswan calls the pair his “lucky mascots”. During the 1984 riots, however, when his house was burned down, part of his precious collection was destroyed.

When he was a child, Paswan’s mother would pour a local cooling fluid over his shaven head for days. His vision was impaired and the doctors declared him unfit for studies. He could not read the letters of the alphabet and was asked to keep away from light. But Paswan continued school and learnt through listening whatever others did by writing. He grew up to be the ‘Naxalite type’ who had no faith in democracy. “If a Naxalite killed someone, I felt happy. Democracy to me was bakwaas.” It is ironic that he set a record of sorts by securing the highest margin in a parliamentary election — a fact he repeats every now and then.

kumkum@hindustantimes.com