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Lots on his menu

When Jatin Das painted nudes on the walls of Bistro, an upmarket restaurant in Delhi?s Hauz Khas village, Congress leader Suresh Kalmadi did not know where to look.

india Updated: Jun 02, 2006 01:08 IST

When Jatin Das painted nudes on the walls of Bistro, an upmarket restaurant in Delhi’s Hauz Khas village, Congress leader Suresh Kalmadi did not know where to look. With several politicians expected to attend the opening, owner Kalmadi’s reputation was at stake. Any modification, on the other hand, would compromise Jatin’s creativity. Kalmadi’s take: either repaint the walls or clothe the nudes. And even while Jatin opted for the latter, he never forgave Kalmadi.

An old hand in the food business, Kalmadi started a coffee house in Pune that has many legends attached to it, including that of being the place where Infosys founder Narayanamurthy courted his wife Sudha. A favourite haunt of politicians, the coffee house was also Kalmadi’s launching pad in politics. Despite the plunge, running restaurants remains Kalmadi’s favourite pastime, despite freeloaders. Every time Suresh shares a table with a ‘friend’, the manager writes off the amount. With his long list of friends, almost everyone visiting Bistro or the restaurant back home was getting away with a multi-course meal on the house. Finally a code language was evolved: Pay no attention to ‘hello type’ friends; if Suresh sits on a table for over half an hour, give a discount; no charge clause applicable only if he breaks bread with them.

He also nurses a ‘wish’ to establish a chain of hotels the world over. “Hotels fascinate me. I love their grandeur and expanse… it gives a king-like feeling. I want to build a dream hotel with a great spa, very, very big rooms and lots and lots of open space.” Without his wife Meera’s consent, of course. Had she known the secrets of the heart that beats for her, she would perhaps have thought twice over before marrying him. Not to say that Kalmadi was not reluctant — till he heard her sing “O sajna… barkha bahar aaye…”

Air Force being the beckoning factor, both had different reasons for marrying each other. Starting his career as a service officer, Suresh wanted someone who was fluent in Hindi. So when she chirped in a language Suresh had struggled to learn, it was more than he had bargained for. “Knowing the language, then singing it and that too filmi geet!”

Meera’s reasons were, however, different — the uniform and the discipline that came with it. Born to a business family, Meera had grown up seeing women endlessly waiting at home for the men to return from work. Not wanting a re-run, the young pilot was her answer to a predictable life where the focus would be on family. “Together at meals and together for holidays,” she had imagined.

Till the pilot officer changed track and not only ran restaurants, dreamt of magnificent hotels but took an irreversible plunge into politics. Now while he goes travelling, she waits for the handful of days earmarked for the family, mainly children’s birthdays. Suresh’s own, on May 1, of course, poses problems because it coincides with May Day and Maharashtra Day and there are umpteen number of public functions lined up. “Only one life and so much to do,” he moans.