For the first time, the PM’s wife Gursharan Kaur and daughters — Upinder and Damandeep — talk about the private life of Manmohan Singh to CNN-IBN’s to Suhasini Haidar
How did you feel the day you found out he will be PM?
Gursharan Kaur: It was an unbelievable moment. Since he was not contesting, he was out of the race…it came out of the blue, and of course we were delighted.
Has he changed in these five years?
GK: I am sure he has. How to run the government is no joke, and in a country like ours, with all the allies…to keep everyone happy, and so many acute problems, he has tried his best.
You’ve met many heads of state — most recently we saw you with Michelle Obama —what was that like?
GK: She was a very friendly and warm person. Of course she is much taller than me and I felt very short next to her. And I told her I feel very short...We look very strange, and she said don’t worry, I’ll take out my heels (laughs).
You are a trained singer, why did you give it up?
GK: To tell you the truth, I have not stopped. I still sing for myself and my friends.
Any songs the PM is fond of?
GK: He is very fond of classical music, folk music, particularly Mirza Ghalib.
What does he do in his spare time?
GK: He is always reading. He has his books that keep him occupied. And whenever I find a new CD I try to put it on…and he will say ‘kaun gaa raha hai’.
The rest of it is all work…
GK: Yup, it’s all work, work, work — work is his religion. I just got used to the way he is.
When he decided to join public life did you mind? You had married a professor...
GK: Oh not at all, it was such a huge opportunity for an economist to run the finance ministry, and it was all because Narasimha Raosahb selected him, it was a great honour and a challenge, and that was a turning point in his life.
Does he turn to faith? Is he a religious man?
GK: He’s always been a religious man. He prays in his own way — doesn’t believe in any rituals, he doesn’t believe going to the gurdwara everyday makes a man religious.
Describe the first time you met him.
GK: You mean as a bachelor? You are asking all the secrets? We were introduced...We liked each other straight away. So it was fixed.
In these five years, what has he missed out on the most?
GK: Spending time with the family, time to relax. He hasn’t had a holiday for the last five years.
He hasn’t been on a holiday as PM?
GK: Not at all, no...I think he relaxes when he is working.
Relations with Sonia Gandhi — do you have common ground?
GK: I find her a very warm and down-to-earth person. If we had the chance to be friends, there would be no problem. Whenever we meet, we chat about our children —they’re the main common ground.
But you’ve brought up your children differently. The Gandhis have grown up in the spotlight, you have kept your family away from that. Was that by choice?
GK: I think we don’t believe in pushing ourselves too much, we believe in staying low-key.
Who makes the decisions in the family?
GK: Life revolves around him. So we have to look at his convenience in everything.
Did he push his girls into academics?
GK: No, they had the freedom to choose their careers, and we are very happy with where they are.
What would he say if you wanted to join politics?
Damandeep Singh: I think he would be a little nervous. I did once ask him — not in terms of politics, but since my work in development is somewhat related — if I could work with him, and he was careful not to hurt me and said, I think its better if we have separate careers, better not to mix.
Was moving to 7 RCR hard? How do you keep your routine?
GK: Yes, in some ways. I certainly missed my driving. I missed my trips to Mother Dairy. I still try to go out to shop, if its shoes or saris…
The PM is seen by the middle-class as one of us, and then we watch his family having to deal with his elevation. Was there a point at which you resisted the change? The security, the lack of privacy?
DS: I think the first two years for me were very difficult — the first year especially I was very angry, very bitter. Somewhere towards the end of the second year I was able to rationalise — why I was blaming my father for this, when it wasn’t really his fault.
Did you miss him as a father?
Upinder Singh: He has always been passionately involved in his work and that stands out when you look at him as a father…He is very involved in it, gives it everything he has got.
DS: I think work is not only duty, it’s also fun. Very often we hear mummy and daddy arguing — she says why are you leaving early for work. He is sort of straining to get to work like a little kid who is keen to go to school...I hope it’s something that has rubbed off on us and our children. I doubt it though (laughs).
Do his tensions come home? Did the N-deal come home?
DS: Yes, oh yes. We were all upset about whatever upsets him. It’s very contagious… down to my son, he would know all about the deal.
Does he help at home at all?
GK: He helped doing the dishes when we were abroad — washing up and all.
What sort of influence has he had on you?
DS: In terms of values, I feel he is very strong. I wish I could do half as good a job as they have done with my son…it’s a little tough bringing up a child and they had three and did a good job.
How do you react to him being called weak, invisible — does that upset you?
GK: I believe kuch toh log kahenge, logon ka kam hai kehna…bolne dein. I have told him not to bother.
US: We realise it is a part of politics — we know why people say this…He has so much more to say…media is always picking up only this. The bookies say he will win. Are you in your mind saying oh, no?
GK: It’s all destiny…but we are hoping and praying for him.
As you look back at your journey for the past few decades, is he still the same man you married?
GK: Sure. We are both loyal to each other, and it’s been 50 years. We’ve both matured. There was a time when we used to go watch films, he would sing lullabies to the girls.
US: You should ask my father to sing. When our children were small he used to compose songs for them, he used to carry them around. He sings very well.