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Worth her weight

Rajya Sabha?s former Deputy Chairperson, Najma Heptullah, always had a weight problem.

india Updated: May 06, 2006 02:14 IST

Rajya Sabha’s former Deputy Chairperson, Najma Heptullah, always had a weight problem. So at lawyer Ram Jethmalani’s dinner recently, when she was told she had lost weight, she beamed ear to ear: “Twelve kilos in four months… going to a health club regularly.”

In the same breath she tells you how Indira Gandhi had coaxed her into eating a sandesh in spite of her allegedly being on diet. She went off food simply because she had been served an ultimatum to either keep her weight or her husband. Despite a treadmill being ordered and a make-shift gym built at both her Delhi and Mumbai homes, nothing moved till four months ago when the kilo countdown became evident: “Exercising at home is boring. The drill of going to the health club in a tracksuit does the trick.” So it seems, at least in Najma’s case.

Apart from the bulge disappearing significantly, her otherwise round face is visibly elongated. The lean look is clearly a mismatch to her exuberance; the sunken cheeks do little justice to the hearty laugh so typical of Najma.

‘Najjo’ in her younger days, Najma spent many years in Bhopal’s forests shooting ducks and partridges. Her family still possesses a couple of guns, including her favourite .22 and a 20-bore gun. Apart from toying with guns, Najma handles the carpenter’s toolkit deftly. Almost an expert at making tea and television trolleys, Najma nailed shelves for her daughter in the US. She also claims to make her own soaps, in addition to having an indigenous perfumery at home: “I make soaps from glycerin and use petroleum jelly for face creams. Eau de colognes are from flower essence and a specially imported alcohol.” She also claims to have designed most of the rocks she wears as jewellery, be it a diamond bracelet, a lapis lazuli pendant or sapphire rings. Despite her claim that most of what she wears is semi-precious, it is well-known that Najma has some exquisite pieces of jewellery in her collection, a fact she likes to underplay.

Terrified of water, Najma never went near it. The thought of learning how to swim was nothing short of sacrilege because in the good old days, girls from her community were not allowed to wear swimsuits.

Following the exodus of all her friends to a neighbouring all-girls school, Najma found herself the lone girl in the till-then co-ed institution. Intimidated by the presence of so many boys, Najma adopted as her brother the most notorious among them. “I tied rakhi on him and he took it upon himself to ‘protect’ me from the others.” While on rakhi, Najma also tied one on the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s thumb because both his wrists were full.

Post-Congress, Najma seems to have a lot of time on hand. She’s busy painting scarves even as she recalls days when she actually stitched mosquito nets for the entire family. She is now threatening to publish a book of her poems and toying with titles like ‘I wish my life was like a tree’ or ‘A mountain’ or ‘River’.