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Foreign premi

When Union Minister Prem Gupta tried to teach Lalu Prasad Yadav to use an electric toothbrush, Lalu threw a fit. It was no match to his "good old datun", writes Kumkum Chadha.

india Updated: Oct 13, 2006 00:03 IST

When Union Minister Prem Gupta tried to teach Lalu Prasad Yadav to use an electric toothbrush, Lalu threw a fit. It was no match to his “good old datun”. It had no flexibility. For Gupta, however, the toothbrush is a ‘must’, except when he is touring the interiors of India. He has often run into problems in villages where electric supply is erratic or non-existent.

Gupta says he loves dogs, but calls in his secretary to find out what breed the ‘puppy’ at home is: “Shaayad pom hai,” he is told. As for his “passion for wildlife”, Gupta speaks of peacocks in the lawns of his government bungalow and parrots in its backyard. Gupta’s business partner, whom he calls “a mad Swiss billionaire”, loved horses. He had, Gupta says, a large collection of “jumping horses”, whatever that may mean.

Gupta used an astrologer, Pandit Sharma, to track his future. His prediction: “Videsh” (Abroad). Given the fact that Sharma had predicted film producer Ramanand Sagar’s comeback with his teleserial Ramayana, Gupta took his word as gospel truth.

Gupta’s fascination with “vilayat” began with pictures of Queen Elizabeth in the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) ad-campaign, which influenced him to visit London. Gupta applied for a passport and joined a flying club to train as a pilot. His gameplan: either follow his country cousins and take up a small-time job abroad, or use his flying skills to get into the BOAC. The first, he thought, would take him to where the Queen lived, and the second may give him an opportunity to fly the Queen some day.

None of this happened, however. Instead of the United Kingdom, Gupta landed in Hong Kong, less than 24 hours before the Immigration Act took effect. But he did board a BOAC flight via Rangoon, gazing at Queen Elizabeth’s poster.

Today, as Gupta shows off his Patek Phillip watch, memory takes him back to his days abroad, selling watches in a carry-bag, the cheapest less than a dollar each. Back home in India, watches were in short supply and the government-run HMT watch manufacturing unit could not meet the growing demand. “I recall that a minister’s influence was needed to jump the quota queue to buy an HMT watch,” says Gupta, who took up then Defence Minister Bansi Lal’s offer to set up a watch manufacturing unit in India.

Gupta doesn’t like to buy expensive watches: “Once you know what is inside, brands are meaningless.” But what about the $ 15,000 Patek Philip? “My wife bought it for me,” grins Gupta, “I have no choice but to wear it.” But mention shoes and clothes, and he will buy the best: “Only Givenchy, Dunhill and Dior outfits… Cartier and Mont Blanc pens and Louis Vuitton accessories.” At least that is what he would have us believe.

First Published: Oct 13, 2006 00:03 IST