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Sole mate

Ask Jhelum’s ‘boy’ IK Gujaral if he would like to return to Pakistan, and the answer is ‘no’, writes Kumkum Chadha.

india Updated: Apr 13, 2007 02:05 IST

When former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral’s father was asked to choose between India and Pakistan, he opted for Pakistan. He was sworn in as member of the Constituent Assembly. Had it not been for the communal riots, the Gujrals would have been Pakistani nationals and IK Gujral never an Indian PM. When he took oath, people in Jhelum, his home district in Pakistan, celebrated with firecrackers. “Our boy,” they rejoiced, “is Prime Minister of India.”

But ask Jhelum’s ‘boy’ if he would like to return to Pakistan, and the answer is ‘no’. There is, he says, nothing there. “Partition proved lucky for migrant families. All of us are better off here. India has opportunities. What does Pakistan have?” he asks. Yet he is among the first on the India-Pak friendship bandwagon, always willing to light candles of peace and goodwill at the border.

As PM, his opponents found him “soft, mild and ineffective”. But in Gujral’s scheme of things, “harshness is dictatorial. Any democratic man is soft”. It is perhaps this that prevented Gujral from telling Saddam Hussein that he was out of touch with reality. It was in 1996 that Gujral, as Foreign Minister, had warned Saddam that war was on the anvil. “Mr Minister,” Saddam told him, “if the Americans attack us, the sands of Arabia will be turned into the waves of Vietnam and every Arab will rise.” It was with Saddam again that Gujral faced a controversy, when he hugged him.

Born on December 4, 1919, Gujral was jailed during the Quit India Movement. Ironically, in those days, it was the British who always came to his rescue. Thomas, his teacher, would never allow the police to search his hostel room, knowing that it contained banned literature. Luicas, his headmaster, overlooked his lack of attendance and allowed him to sit for the exams. For these, fellow student Shiela, provided him with her notes. Gujral later married her. While she has spent a lifetime writing poetry, Gujral spends hours reading Urdu poets Ghalib and Iqbal.

Every time his son Naresh, now an MP, walks in wearing a pair of shoes Gujral has not seen before, he asks him, “Wasn’t there one in my size?” Obsessed with shoes, Gujral knows the latest styles and has an enviable collection. As he has of ties, which he wore till he switched to khadi. His hallmark beard is a post-Eighties phenomenon. Sheer inertia during a European holiday gave him locks and a beard, which a barber in Stockholm sheared into the Lenin style.

His grandchildren have a field day with him. Not only does he feed them junk food but gorges on hamburgers and pizzas himself. Italian food being his favourite, he digs deep into a variety of cheese when his wife is not looking.