For someone who now savours greasy cutlets dipped in pumpkin ketchup in his office in Delhi’s Rail Bhawan, Union Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav grew up eating rat meat. “Beri tasty,” he says while his advisors panic at his vivid description on how to catch rats, kill and roast them. “Woh bhaaga, ham pakra,” he describes, explaining how once the skin is pulled out, the poison is out. That done, it is “marinated” in salt and green chilli paste, with a burning coal stuck in its navel all ready to roast like corn. Calling it a “delicacy”, Lalu says that the delicious portions are the thigh and the skin. Hunting female rats was taboo lest they be pregnant. An aide tries to salvage the situation by saying that they ate rats in desperation at which Lalu snaps: “What desperation? If people can eat dog meat, what is wrong with rat meat?”
Lalu does not care about what people think of him. Neither is he bothered about the ‘urban perception’. He speaks from his heart and lets his words take their toll if they must. As for himself, he seems to be thoroughly enjoying the attention that his histrionics get him, rating him easily as one of the most popular politicians in the country.
Given that companies are manufacturing Lalu dolls, Lalu khaini, Lalu chocolates and even Lalu make-up kits (branded as ‘Lalu chale sasural’), the rustic Bihari has come a long way. In Bihar, barbers have made a killing by popularising the ‘Lalu cut’. Writers have penned the ‘Lalu chalisa’ praising him even while the law caught up with him on the cattle fodder scam. Particular that everyone gets his name right, he issued an advisory to reiterate that his name was spelt Lalu — not Lalloo or Laloo.
Born to Kundan Rai and Marachhiya Devi in Phulwaria in Gopalganj district, Bihar, Lalu could neither afford food nor clothes. Education was out of question till the local teacher ‘Mishrajee’ suggested that he graze his cattle every evening. As ‘gurudakshina’, Lalu offered the ‘rassa’ (rope) used to leash cattle. He used to blacken logs to use as slate. Honesty, he says, did not pay because as a young boy when he delivered milk at an officer’s house, his wife blew him up because her new-born had indigestion. The next day when he added water to the milk, she commended him for getting ‘first class’ milk. “Asal ki pehchan nahin hai,” (No one recognises the genuine stuff) quips Lalu.
On his part, he carries the scars of childhood on his feet. He lost his toe nails when a buffalo stamped on them. His toes have wide gaps as he could not afford footwear. “Walk bare feet and your toes will have huge gaps,” he says, describing his perfect example of “gareeb ka pav” (poor man’s foot). Even when he can afford toothpaste, he shuns it on the grounds that it is disastrous for strong teeth. Consequently, when loyalist and Union Minister Prem Gupta bought an electric toothbrush for him during one of his jaunts abroad, he put it away. Apart from it being a “jhanjat” (bother) — plugging in before you can actually brush your teeth — one also “runs a risk of a short circuit while gurgling”.