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My son thought I’ll be assassinated like Indira Gandhi: Kapil Sibal

Sibal’s pain comes through in the first Punjabi song he recently wrote. The poet in him accepts separation: it is the lawyer who wants to know why: Chadna hai te dass ke chad mainu…

india Updated: Nov 18, 2018 07:56 IST
Kum Kum
Kum Kum
Hindustan Times
Kapil sibal,congress,Indira Gandhi
Kapil Sibal is a successful lawyer turned politician, rich enough to be able to spend a few lakhs to acquire a painting by MF Husain and a poet who writes in three languages.(HT Photo)

He’s a successful lawyer turned politician, rich enough to be able to spend a few lakhs to acquire a painting by MF Husain; and a poet who writes in three languages.

On the face of it, Kapil Sibal seems to have it all, but scratch the surface and you see his pain.

Sibal’s pain comes through in the first Punjabi song he recently wrote. The poet in him accepts separation: it is the lawyer who wants to know why: Chadna hai te dass ke chad mainu…

Roughly translated, the verse runs something like this: Leave me if you must but not without telling me why….


“Relationships,” says Sibal “are very precious. You can fall in love and also part. But one should be sensitive enough to soften the blow. Parting may be necessary, but not the bitterness that comes with it.”

Sibal has had his share of pain and parting. He lost his first wife Nina to cancer. He later married Promila. Sibal and Nina met in college and hit it off during play rehearsals of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. ‘It worked well because I played Caesar and Nina played Caesar’s wife,’ Sibal reminisces.

He acted in another play with Brinda Karat, who is now a politician. ‘She was playing a mermaid,’ Sibal says with a laugh.

Years later, Sibal and Karat were on different sides of the political spectrum. Brinda is a die-hard leftist. “I too was pro-left. In a country where a significant work force earns less than 10,000 rupees a month, how can you ever be right of Centre?” says the Congress leader.


When he was minister, Sibal went to Antartica, the first MP to have travelled there. “I wanted to see for myself the living conditions of the scientists. I was appalled because they did not even have proper toilets,” Sibal remembers. Had he started writing poetry then, he would perhaps have written one on the Emperor penguins on sea ice. But the muse struck some years later.

It was technology that helped Sibal discover the poet in him. His hectic work schedule meant long flights when he would put random thoughts on his cell phone. When he chiseled them, he had his first book of poetry, I Witness.


Two years ago he made his debut in Bollywood as a lyricist. Sibal has written the lyrics of a love song for the Hindi film Shorgul. He has also released an album with AR Rahman called Raunaq.

Sibal started off writing in English but switched to Hindi and then Punjabi, the last more poignant for him than the others. “Punjabi is my mother tongue and as is always the case, you express much better in your own language,” he avers.

His writing has a wide range: from an ode to his wife Promila, to a poem for prime minister Narendra Modi. ‘The poem I wrote keeping Modi in mind goes something like this ‘Khuda ke bande sambhal ja...’

If he had more time on his hands, Sibal would have done what he has always wanted to do, direct and act in a film. But his flourishing practice as a lawyer sees him more in courtrooms than film studios.

Sibal shares his love for cooking with his second wife Promila. ‘She is far better cook than me, but my dream is to open a restaurant.’ A self-proclaimed foodie, Sibal loves Lebanese and French cuisines.


Among the many advantages of being a successful lawyer is having money to spend without thinking twice. For Sibal, this has been the case since the eighties. At that time a couple of lakhs was considered a huge sum, but Sibal would buy priceless paintings and antique carpets just on an impulse.

Today, he has an enviable collection, except he has run out of wall space. “Many of the precious canvasses are stacked behind sofas,” he says with a grimace.

Counted among the country’s most expensive lawyers, when Sibal says that he focuses on ordinary people, it sounds like a bit of a stretch. But Sibal is quick to counter any such insinuations. “I charge money from those who can afford to pay, for others it is pro-bono,” he offers.


Two politicians are responsible for Sibal being in politics: Narasimha Rao and Lalu Yadav. In 1996, when Rao asked him to contest the elections, he had refused: “I am just a lawyer; I don’t want to fight. I will lose,” Sibal had told him.

Sibal did lose at that time, but within two years got into the Rajya Sabha with Lalu’s support.

Sibal’s son was dead against his joining politics. “He went on a hunger strike to dissuade me because he feared that like Indira Gandhi I would be assassinated,” Sibal recounts.

For a major part of his political career, Kapil Sibal has been a ruling party MP and a minister. So his calling himself anti-establishment, does not quite fit in. “I work for the under-dog. When I was minister my policies were for average people,” he explains.

Kapil Sibal hated school. “I was punished every other day. When I forged a teacher’s signature, the principal threatened to expel me.” Years later, he bragged to his son about his academic record. “I told him I stood fifth in class, but did not tell him that it was a class of only seven students,” he remembers with a mischievous smile.

Between his parents, it was Sibal’s mother who worried endlessly about his future. “She (my mother) thought I was the black sheep in the family. But my father believed that one day I would make it.” Kapil Sibal did make it. But the heights he has scaled are more than his father had ever imagined.

First Published: Nov 18, 2018 07:19 IST