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The usual sceptic

When Amartya Sen commended Union Minister Sudini Jaipal Reddy for making an ?inspirational speech?, he was referring to Reddy?s description of Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharati.

india Updated: Apr 15, 2006 00:14 IST

When Amartya Sen commended Union Minister Sudini Jaipal Reddy for making an ‘inspirational speech’, he was referring to Reddy’s description of Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharati. Reddy attacked Joshi for deliberately confusing “history with mythology, philosophy with theology and astronomy with astrology”. Bharati, he said, was “a restless soul who keeps transmigrating from ministry to monastery”. The NDA, he felt, was “held together by a mighty chain of mutual blackmail... and reciprocal ransom”.

Jaipal Reddy’s own sojourn with the Congress is that of a ‘visiting professor’ who drops in at the Akbar Road HQs to brief the media. But he does not see this as being synonymous being the Congress: “I am also the party’s External Affairs Minister because I don’t dabble in its internal politics.”

As someone who grew up on a “diet of Bertrand Russell, John Keynes, H.G. Wells and Bernard Shaw”, Reddy is all-academic, and often boring. “But I’m a serious person,” he says as a way of explanation. So while quoting Julius Caesar’s soliloquies, he makes his dislike for comedies and fiction known. “Fiction,” he says, “keeps you emotionally busy but teaches you nothing.” Even his preference for Keats over Wordsworth and Shelley stems from a perception that Keats used poetry to transform society unlike the other two.

Having married at 19 and become a father when he was still a student, Reddy says that his premarital brush with romance was of a ‘Platonic variety’. Read no girlfriends. In college he was seen as a gang-leader the girls despised. The situation changed only after a pre-college election speech. “Every single woman voted for me,” he says.

Reddy spent his formative years reading Swami Vivekananda’s works and Tagore’s prose. He graduated to Einstein and Plato much later. High sounding words being his hallmark, Reddy says he follows the Socratic principle of defining each word rather than being wooly-headed. Deft in purple-prose, Reddy prides in mastering the art of “careful formulation and colourful articulation”. His marriage to Lakshmi happened because it was “an obligation” to his father. Lakshmi makes no demands on her husband — like parental duties. While his 60th birthday gift to his family was taking two days off for a holiday with them, Reddy has not indulged Lakshmi with presents. “She considers me her greatest gift,” he waxes.

Terming his marriage as being a “situation of peaceful coexistence”, Reddy checked Lakshmi’s temptation to consult astrologers. His own horoscope remains unread, despite the fact that Reddy was stricken with polio when he was barely 18 months. “Astrology is mumbo-jumbo. Stars have better business to do than influence the lives of individuals on earth,” he says. An agnostic, he neither believes in rebirth or the soul, his prayer being a sceptic’s: “O God, if there is a God/save my soul, if there is a soul.”