Tomorrow is Indira Gandhi’s 92nd birth anniversary. I was fortunate to have known her personally and look beyond her political image and persona. I met her for the first time at Teen Murti Bhavan, when my father, Chief Justice N.U. Beg, and I were Pandit Nehru’s houseguests. The beautiful sight of Indiraji in a striking white sari with an orange border is unforgettable.
Over the years, I saw her off and on. She had formally agreed to be the chief guest at my daughter’s wedding. But a call from Willingdon Crescent informed us that she might not be able to make it. Fortunately, a flaw in Indiraji’s arrest orders in 1975 made for her sudden and electrifying arrival. Though out of power, she seemed secure and confident.
Indiraji, in a maroon silk sari with a gold border, was elegance personified. She had an immaculate dressing sense and favoured traditional handlooms and silks, with beautiful textures, vibrant contrasts and weaves.
I remember the times when I used to visit her place. Once, she had remarked, “What a beautiful green you are wearing.” Gandhi had an innate sense of colour and seemed to instinctively feel colours. At a get-together, she gave me one look and remarked, “This is the third colour you have in the same style!” I was amazed at her razor-sharp memory and keen observation.
On another occasion, I asked her to write the preface of my book. She saw me waiting in the crowd and asked, “Why are you standing here? Why didn’t you come to the house?”
“Every time I come, they check me. I think I look suspicious,” I had replied. She smiled: “Well, I think you look different! Come with me to the house and I’ll put your name under the glass on my table. Whenever you come, ask them to look there.”
Once I received a note from Indiraji saying, “Can I have that pink sunblock cream that I use? I have either misplaced it or you had forgotten to give it to me. I am leaving for electioneering in the South.” I promptly sent her Shabase, our sandalwood protective cream. It became her favourite. She told me that it was a great boon in the sun during her tough election campaigns. When I told her that what I had created for her had become an international hot-seller, she laughed and remarked, “Then you owe me royalty!”
Indira Gandhi had the rare quality of displaying care, concern and humour while thinking about important national and international issues. Once, she suddenly asked me, “How is your throat? What did the doctors in Bombay say?” I was surprised that she remembered all details about my health. I told her that the doctor had advised me to go abroad for a check-up and also to stop talking. She smiled wryly and said, “I doubt if you can manage that!”
Much has been written about Indiraji’s political stature and service for her country. But the warm, sensitive, considerate and stylish compassionate Indira Gandhi was known only to a few. I am fortunate to be one of them.
Shahnaz Husain is CEO, Shahnaz Herbals Inc.
The views expressed by the author are personal.