Guess who made Union Minister Ajay Maken change his tough stance on demolitions? Guess who led him to plead for mercy for the very traders whose establishments he, within hours of taking over as Minister of State for Urban Development, had ordered be sealed?
It was none other than Maken’s ‘Guru’, Gurinder Singh of Radha Soami sect of Beas. Maken’s wife Radhika confirms that it was ‘Maharaj-ji’, as the Makens refer to Singh, who asked him to adopt a “humane approach” towards traders. “Lives and livelihood,” he’d told Maken, “should not be affected.”
When he became a devotee, Maken turned vegetarian. He had vowed his services to Singh after winning his first election and becoming an MLA. “He has Maharaj-ji’s picture in his wallet. From someone who savoured all kinds of meat, he now eats dal-roti in India and survives on potatoes when abroad,” says Radhika.
As a child, Maken jeered at politicians. In school, he was nicknamed ‘netaji’ because of his talent for mimicking doddering politicians. When he joined college, he was ragged for a whole month. “Oye neta,” the seniors would holler out to Maken. They would then pull him by the collar and command, “Acting kar.”
The difficulty, Maken recalls, was not playing the politician, but to perform it differently each time. “How much can one innovate? A politician is not a fun package,” he says. The words were prophetic. Maken realised this years later, when he slipped into the role himself.
From the days when he and his brother would fight over kites, Maken has come a long way; like he also has from collecting 10 paise per head for stage shows. “My favourite was Ramlila and Janmashtami (festivities connected with Lord Rama’s homecoming and the birth of Lord Krishna respectively). Neighbours pitched in with a stool for Ram to sit on, curtains for costumes, etc.,” recalls Maken. In the absence of what he terms as a “co-ed culture”, it fell on the boys to perform women’s roles. Maken was often picked to play Radha, a role he, by his own admission, “enjoyed the most”. Of course, what he does not like to mention is the umpteen times that he stood in attendance, waving a peacock-feather fan over the royal couple.
At home, Maken was, and still is, the “family astrologer”. But rather than predicting the future, Maken matches horoscopes for potential couples. His take: anyone who claims he can predict the future is a fraud. Horoscopes can at best indicate good and bad periods.
For his own marriage, his mother, Santosh, would use his services to match his horoscope with eligible girls. One who was a “perfect beauty” missed her chance of marrying him because the horoscopes did not match “cent per cent”.
When it came to Radhika, Ajay inadvertently miscalculated her year of birth and it matched perfectly. Hours before the engagement, the error was detected. Calculated according to Radhika’s correct date of birth, Ajay’s horoscope matched less than 5 per cent. Too late to retreat, the marriage not only happened but is one that has worked well for over a decade now, even if Radhika finds no place in Maken’s wallet.