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Growing up on dictionaries

india Updated: Oct 09, 2009 01:30 IST
Kumkum Chadha

It was at an official dinner that Union Minister S Jaipal Reddy asked economist Amartya Sen: “With your grounding in maths and physics,, why didn’t you do original work in metaphysics and epistemology?” Reddy said no one except Sen understood what he had said.

It happens very often because Reddy is verbose, prefers long-winded sentences and an overdose of adjectives. At one point, he attacked a BJP minister for confusing “history with mythology, philosophy with theology and astronomy with astrology”. At another, he said the NDA coalition was “held together by a mighty chain of mutual blackmail…and reciprocal ransom”.

Given that he has often been spokesman of political parties he has represented, Reddy’s description of the job is, “Giving colorful articulation to a careful formulation”. Err, by “sacrificing good sense at the altar of wit” as Reddy says. It is enough to land you in trouble. Call him boring and he is not offended. On the contrary he will tell you why. “I have grown up on a diet of Bertrand Russell, John Keynes and Bernard Shaw.”

Gasping for breath? Not Reddy. He can talk endlessly about himself and the universe he belongs to. He was born to an “affluent rural family” of moneylenders and landowners. Concerned about his physical handicap (Reddy is not stable on his feet) his father arranged for tutors at home. Reddy made good use of them, studied English, learnt to roll his tongue and grew up on dictionaries. “I simply love them,” he said. He said he had no ambitions or career aspirations. He toyed with the idea of being a journalist but ended up as a politician. He joined the Congress, quit in 1975 to join the Janata Party and was Information and Broadcasting Minister when I K Gujral was the country’s Prime Minister. He returned to the Congress in 1999:

Reddy married at 19 and fathered a son when he was still a student. His premarital brush with romance, Reddy said, was of a “platonic variety”.

Seen as a ‘big picture’ politician, Reddy is somewhat detached from matters in his home state, Andhra Pradesh. “He is a good man but not a grassroots politician. He has broad-based, lofty ideas which have more to do with the country than a state,” said C. Ramchandraiah, a former MP.

If Reddy’s wife Lakshmi spends most of her time invoking Gods, he is an agnostic. Mention astrology and he dismisses it as “mumbo-jumbo”. His own horoscope cast at the time of his birth remains unread. “Stars have better business to do than influence the lives of individuals on earth,” he said.