Breaking bread with Natwar Singh apart, JD(U)’s Digvijay Singh killed a leopard at the age of 12. He had been trained to shoot birds but the ‘man’ in him said enough is enough.
Consequently, he fed jaggery balls to a dog, tied him to a tree and waited for the leopard to come hunting for his prey. Three rounds of firing and the leopard lay at his feet. By his standards, an extraordinary feat, frowned upon by his father. His mother, on the other hand, was ecstatic: her son had grown up. She blessed him, did a few rituals including smearing the customary vermillion on his forehead and declared him a warrior. Having set the tone, his father had no option but to accept that his son would now rub shoulders with him to shoot tigers. The leopard and his father’s recognition were to Digvijay nothing short of a Lifetime Achievement award. Enter his leather-dominated living room and you cannot miss the leopard skin or his father’s life-size picture. Mention shooting feats and he rattles: “Deer, bear, bison, python, fowl, owl… numberless and countless.” Ask him about holidays and he says “Pahaar aur jungle….”
His father gave up playing polo after he accidentally cracked Digvijay’s rib with the ball. But ask Digvijay his favourite sport and he sighs, “I love swimming.” With shades of blue blood in his veins, Digvijay was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. Consequently, there was a choice of cars like Rolls Royce and Plymouth but he fell for the Mercury on which he took his initial lessons in driving. He banged it not when he was behind the wheel but when his friends and he were pushing it into the garage. It is still there at the family home in Gidhaur some 200 odd km from Patna, waiting for a hands-on technician to set it right. While the family heaved a sigh of relief at the ‘steel monster’ being out-of-service, considering it did less than three kilometres per litre, Digvijay would still give his right hand to have it back on road: his ‘British American MBK 1738’ as he refers to his ‘first love’ — after the leopard, of course.
For someone who had grown up looking at young women only from barred windows, Delhi’s JNU was a welcome change where sharing was the rule: from cigarettes to beds irrespective of gender. While his father felt that the university had robbed him of his son, Digvijay publicly shunned his feudal lifestyle. Even though he initially drove a Mercedes Benz to JNU, he would hop off a little before the bus stop and walk it to college. While heated discussions on international relations would be going on, Digvijay would never miss a chance to steer it back to culinary topics like Malda’s doodhia aam (milky mangoes) which he claims are sowed in milk. This is a ‘secret’ which he later shared with successive Bihar governors, drawing the exact spot in the Raj Bhawan where these are being grown. Obliged, every governor has specially air-flown a carton of ‘doodhia Malda’ for Digvijay. This, he savours, repeating the sown-in-milk story for the umpteenth time.