If former Minister Saleem Iqbal Sherwani hugs you when you are stepping into a lift, it is not familiarity but a memory lapse; you have been mistaken for someone else. Sample this: he has on many occasions grieved the 'recent death' of someone's mother, when that person’s mother is very much alive, or had died decades ago. And when he calls you by all other names except your own, you can safely conclude that Saleem is being himself.
No one could figure out how Mrs Khorana changed to Mrs Khanna or the kids' teacher Shivaji Srivastava to Ramsewak Kushwaha. Yet, his wife Rubina claims that he has an "amazing memory". What she, however, could not handle is the post-anaesthesia effect when even hours after an ear surgery Saleem mistook his driver as his sister-in-law and kept asking Rubina to call his wife, despite her crying hoarse that she was his wife.
When Rubina baked her famous chocolate cakes for him, he would often present them to Rajiv Gandhi, confides a friend, unsure whether it would be 'politically correct' to document this in the context of Saleem's current association with the Samajwadi Party.
While on cakes, it is ironic that Saleem always messed up the cake he ordered on Rubina's birthday. The last time when the 'surprise cake' arrived, it was shaped as a doll-house with chocolate bars on trees. While Saleem forgot to mention that the cake was for his wife, the baker mistook his excitement as
that of a father planning a party for his kid daughter.
When Saleem forgot Rubina’s birthday for three successive years, she served him an ultimatum. Fearing his marriage to be under threat, the following year he called up his friends, family and country cousins to remind him to wish Rubina. The result: there were more calls for him than for her. Rubina then decided to release Saleem from what to him was "birthday torture". As a child when he remembered birthdays, he never had the money to buy presents: "I was forever broke. My sisters felt sorry for me and pooled in on the condition that next time I would pay." In later years, when he had the ability to pay, amnesia set in.
Saleem's shopping sprees are nothing short of disasters. He has a knack for picking up outdated stuff at double the price. So when his ties are horribly mismatched and he is wearing slip-ons with formal suits, just conclude that there was no help around. Politics, however, ended the nightmare of colour coordination and offered a simple solution: white khadi. "However hard you try, you cannot go wrong with that," quips Saleem.