I thought I was seeing Shatrughan Sinha sitting in the front row of the treasury benches when I first stepped into the press gallery as a rookie journalist to cover my first-ever session of the Maharashtra Assembly.
I was both confused and excited until a veteran of many decades pointed out that the man was not the actor but the minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh. Later when I mentioned that to him, he laughed, "I have been told that before. You are not the only one."
That was the start of an easy rapport with a minister who never forgot to personally invite an insignificant, nameless journalist - I worked for an agency at the time and no one could remember our names as we did not have 'bylines' - to any event or press conference even in the days of poor communication technology.
Over the years, I discovered that Vilasrao was one politician who would not insult your intelligence by fobbing you off with lies or clearly misleading comments about any contentious issue. A call to him for a reaction would never go unrewarded, he would at least offer a cautious comment that would satisfy both the reporter and his own need not to invite a controversy.
That is what happened when I called him barely three weeks ago to ask why Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar was throwing a tantrum about his position in the cabinet. All other politicians had abruptly terminated the conversation when they realised I wanted them on the record and wouldn't pick up my subsequent calls. Deshmukh though told me why without quite saying why -- and that made my story.
In that sense, Deshmukh was more courageous than most other leaders, and it was a fact appreciated by even Pawar who once told me the only Congress leader who can come close to him as an artful campaigner was Vilasrao.
Deshmukh was delighted when I told him that later. I am sure Deshmukh's loss to the Congress will equal that of YSR Reddy's in Andhra Pradesh because no one else in the party quite knows Maharashtra as well as he did.
He will be sorely missed!