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The householders

india Updated: Feb 21, 2009 00:19 IST
Kumkum Chadha
Kumkum Chadha
Hindustan Times
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At home, Kamla, BJP leader LK Advani’s wife, is “bari madam”. She graduated to the title some years ago less because of her advancing age and more because their daughter, Pratibha, had begun sharing her public space. Till Pratibha entered the public scene, the Advanis were a cozy twosome spotted at plays, films and Delhi’s India International Centre. But the family dynamic has now changed for good.

For a long time, Pratibha did not use her power surname. Neither was she seen around with her parents. But once she did, she occupied centrestage. Despite the late debut, people have been quick to pronounce her as a political heir. Pratibha, on her part, is “not averse to politics”.

In sharp contrast, mother Kamla shuns the limelight and dislikes politics. “There’s too much jhagra (infighting).” she says. But she is not a recluse. She loves a full house and is its ‘Annapurna’ (goddess of food). If Advani doesn’t savour a fruit custard served outside his home, it’s because Kamla has thoroughly spoilt him with her mastery of recipes. In her presence, LK, once called ‘louha purush’ (iron man), is completely disarmed.

Her focus remains the home. When Advani was Deputy Prime Minister, Kamla gave him an ultimatum: “If you don’t come home for lunch, I will drive down with a dabba (tiffin) to your office.” Aware that hers is not an empty threat, Advani always ate with the family when in Delhi.

Other not-so-known shades of the ‘Iron Man’ also come to the fore. Advani never carries much money on him — it would be at best a hundred rupees. During a Sikkim trip, he borrowed Rs 300-odd from a fellow MP to buy an outfit for Pratibha. Later, the MP, a Congressman, refused to take it back, saying that should Advani be sworn in as prime minister, he would be able to claim that the PM of India “owed him”.

A Jagtiani by birth, Kamla belongs to a prosperous family of Karachi. Post-Partition, Kamla took up modest jobs at the General Post Office in Delhi and Victoria Terminus in Mumbai. But take her down memory lane and she clams up — like she does when you tread ‘personal’ ground. But she’d let on a few glimpses. When they married, Kamla was not aware of Advani’s political leanings. Nor that he wore a dhoti. In her perception, she was marrying a journalist who always wore “shirt pant”. Both facets were a surprise.

Contrast this with Pratibha, who grew up in a politically volatile household and has often seen her father in a dhoti. She thinks he looks “awesome” in it. And having learnt to tie one very early, Pratibha says she often contemplates draping herself with one.

If Kamla has taken care to match her husband’s clothes, Pratibha has introduced that extra edge in her father’s public styling: the three buttons at the neckline, for instance.

Pratibha, a pukka Delhiite, studied at Modern school and gulped “tonnes of masala Campa Cola” (spiced aerated water) on the streets of the city. She studied biology, wanted to qualify as genetic engineer, but was finally drawn to her “destiny”: television. Family friend and Jain TV chief, JK Jain, asked her to anchor a show.

It took Pratibha, a complete greenhorn at the job at the time, all of nine hours’ work to come out with her first show.

The daughter has inherited her love of cinema from Advani, and has worked with well-known directors such as Kalpana Lajmi to gain experience. The idea of doing a film on her father excites Pratibha, but “that will be when it will be”. Till then, she is happy ogling at Aamir Khan on screen.