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The Kobad Ghandy I knew

india Updated: Sep 22, 2009 23:31 IST

Kobad Ghandy was among the three who signed as witnesses at my marriage. His family’s ice cream was served there, much to the distaste of older guests who frowned at the strawberry chunks in a dessert supposed to be smooth and synthetic.

Kentucky’s — a name straight from ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ — was one of the two companies to introduce fresh fruit ice cream in Mumbai; its strawberries were sourced from Mahabaleshwar, where the Ghandys owned a hotel.

Fresh strawberry was the flavour that rewarded us at the end of our study circle afternoons in the vast, empty expanse of Kobad’s sea-facing flat. And scrambled eggs with sausages was the breakfast Kobad served before sitting down to explain Marx’s confounded ‘Wage, Labour, Capital’.

Decades later, whenever Kobad and wife Anuradha met, he made it a point to cook the special chicken she relished. Such meetings were rare, because both were underground Naxalites, working in different areas. And on the extremely rare occasions that Kobad dropped in from nowhere to meet his old friends, he would hover round the kitchen, picking up cooking tips and cooking himself.

Kobad has been a foodie ever since I’ve known him. After a whole morning wrestling with Lenin’s ‘Imperialism’ at some open-air camp outside Mumbai, Kobad would start making lunch, insisting that we learn to wring the necks of chickens, else how would we stand the sight of blood when revolution actually came? This was as much part of our “toughening up” as the laborious hikes up the Western Ghats he took us on.

I was fresh out of Elphinstone College, where in just one talk on the ’72-’73 Maharashtra famine, the intense Dr Dev Nathan and the flamboyant Navroze Mody had turned us into romantic Leftists. Compared to them, Kobad was prosaic. Not much of an orator, despite his loud voice, and down-to-earth and friendly, you immediately felt at ease with him.

His atrocious Parsi-Hindi, his habit of bursting into the Nadiya se dariya hit from Namak Haraam (one of the few Hindi movies Kobad saw, only because it was about the working class), and his unobtrusive advice on our love lives while keeping his own totally secret — all this made Kobad more a trusted mentor than the formidable ideologue he was even then. His simplicity endeared him to our families; seeing him wash and sweep while his wife taught at college, Doon’s School seemed aeons away.

After the Emergency, Kobad, Anuradha, Asghar Ali Engineer and Krishnaraj, editor of Economic and Political Weekly, formed the first democratic rights group in Mumbai, in the run-down Bombay Union of Journalists Hall. It later became the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights. Such was the leadership provided by the couple that when they left for Nagpur in the early 80s, CPDR could hold its own among the country’s human rights groups. Kobad was tall and angular, Anuradha short, all curves. Anu sparkled, Kobad’s was a steady background light. When she died last year, everyone’s thoughts were with him. Was he with her in her last moments? Who comforted him? No one knew, for Kobad never spoke about his life underground, though he loved talking politics.

The writer is a freelance journalist