In the late Seventies, when the Congress was out of power, Ujjwala Sharma, daughter of Professor Sher Singh, a minister in the newly installed Janata Party government, made an untimely choice by falling in love with a married Congressman and mothering his son. After nearly 40 years of denial, on Narayan Dutt Tiwari’s part, the two wed this month in Lucknow, six years after their son, Rohit Shekhar, survived a heart attack and moved court to establish his paternity. Since then, he has battled litigation fatigue and given a DNA test to make his point, and is still unsteadily shifting a piece or two of their enjoined histories to make it look more like an accidental mess that could have happened in anyone’s life than a wronged-son tearjerker so beloved of Eighties’ Bollywood.
Ujjwala Sharma, 69, a former Sanskrit Reader of Daulatram College, Delhi, has now “found closure” says her son. Rohit, 35, who has fought for his mother’s rights and his own, is grappling with the aftershocks of a three-decade-long personal crisis played out in public glare. The two-storeyed house in a south Delhi neighbourhood, where he lives with his brother (Ujjwala’s son from her first husband BP Sharma), that was the war room of his judicial fight with his father, is awash in the silence left by that debilitating storm. There are words in these rooms that will now no longer be spoken, questions that need no longer be side-stepped, memories that will be quietly buried. It is amid all this that Rohit Shekhar has to, first, find himself. As the evening settles in, the family kitchen buzzes with the low-key rituals of tea time; his brother Siddharth comes in from work, has a smoke; a last ray of light from an ageing sun falls on the portrait of a family elder hanging from a white wall; and nanny, Jozie, sunk into her bed at the other end of the house, ill, and perhaps dying.
“Jozie Maa is one of the reasons I didn’t go for the wedding,” says Rohit after he checks on her. We climb down the staircase from her room to go up to his. “My parents told me. I said ‘Go ahead’. Besides, why should I dance at someone (else’s) wedding? I have my books; I have music lessons. I’d rather watch Comedy Nights with Kapil or Federer play tennis.”
Rohit is tired of drama so he didn’t go to his parents’ wedding. Rohit is nonchalant. Rohit loves his mother. Rohit does not love his father. Rohit is trying to love his father. Rohit respects his father... It is possible that all these things are true, or half-true. But the swing of moods that visits the man off and on, nearly sabotages this interview. The experience is akin to being on a chopper ride with a pilot who frequently goes into a tailspin. The truth is that Shekhar has been so entirely sucked into his own tortured tale that he, from time to time, hits a tragic note.
“He has had many ups and downs. Years of hurt, and from a tender age, have dented him,” his mother said on a call from Lucknow. “The sense of security that should have come by now will perhaps take time.”
Despite his frequent bouts of melancholy, Rohit has achieved much. He dared to challenge ND Tiwari, a man who has been governor of Andhra Pradesh, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state of India, and someone who once, it was whispered, had been in the running to become prime minister, after the death of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. Rohit has shown that he is capable of moving ahead from his own story, and fighting the good fight. He is now planning to file a PIL at the Delhi High Court to remove words such as randi, (prostitute) badcchalan, (unchaste) and rakhael (mistress) from judicial proceedings. “He wants to fight this as an example to be set for others in a similar situation,” says his counsel, Vedant Varma.
“My mother did nothing wrong. I’ve learnt to accept what my parents did, so should everybody,” says Rohit. “All I did was not to accept the situation. If I was illegitimate, I swore I would legitimise it. If my mom was not acceptable, I was going to make her accepted. But this was not Laawaris or Trishul. When Sanjeev Kumar got to know Amitabh was his son, he gave his life. No one did that for me, I gave my life,” he says.
Whether history will remember ND Tiwari at all is unclear, but Rohit Shekhar Singh Tiwari will probably be known as the good son. There is a story that, he himself confirms, of how it was suggested that a compromise be worked out: ND Tiwari would accept Rohit as son but not his mother as his wife. “To suggest that as a son that would be acceptable to me was unbearable. This was patriarchy, pure and simple!” he thunders. A minute later, he is quiet before he goes off at a tangent: “I admire Meira Kumar. I admire Justice Lodha, I’m glad he is my Chief Justice, he ordered the DNA test you know?”
Other bouquets he hands around are in tune with these ambiguous times. “Sonia Gandhi and Meira Kumar are mother-figures for me,” he says before talk veers towards how the Lok Sabha elections had “decimated the importance of caste and creed”. “While campaigning with my father, I could have played the Brahmin, Pahari and Jat card, but I am glad I was not able to play it. Narendra Modi may be just an excuse for that to happen, but I’m glad it happened,” he says.
The combination of homages reveals a nascent political ambition and a desire to be on the right side of power. He does not hide his wistfulness at not being given the Congress ticket from the Nainital parliamentary seat that father and son had hoped would be theirs. Rohit, nevertheless, clearly enjoyed campaigning alongside his father. The run, also, naturally enough, fulfilled his desire for public acknowledgement by Tiwari. “In Nainital, my father said to me: ‘In 50 years’ time, you will look like me; your nose is like my nose.’” Father and son do have identical noses, but there’s little doubt about who is the better man.
Road to Justice
Ujjwala Sharma has been in a relationship with ND Tiwari since the Seventies. In 1995, the mother and son were stopped from meeting Tiwari by bodyguards.
In 2008, Rohit Shekhar filed a paternity suit claiming Tiwari as his biological father.
On April 24, 2014, the Delhi High Court, declared Rohit as Tiwari’s biological son. While passing the order, the court took into note the report of Tiwari’s DNA test which proved that Shekhar was indeed his son.