Grapes of wrath
Madhya Pradesh Governor Balram Jakhar got engaged when he was 10 days old. Married before he turned a teenager, he set eyes on his wife only when he reached college. As a child-groom, he rode a horse and used his sword to shoo away barking dogs. He also danced in the wedding procession, little knowing that the festivities were his own wedding celebrations. Even during the wedding ceremony with Rameshwari, he did not realise what the vows meant. It was only as an adult that he saw the unfairness of being tagged on to someone he had never set his eyes upon. Apart from protesting against child marriages, Jakhar did not impose the hereditary practice on his children.
On a flight to the US, Jakhar was served red-flame grapes. On enquiring, he learnt that the grapes came from San Fransisco, he decided to head there. He spent three extra days learning how Americans grew the fruit Indians could not, and carried home a few saplings to sow in his village Maujgarh. The elders, of course, branded him a spoilt brat hellbent on wasting his ancestors’ legacy. The same way they had when he experimented with oranges on land where berries don’t grow. Oranges were a far cry. But Jakhar proved them wrong. He, in fact, set up a vinery in Pune in later years.
Of his two mothers, Ghotibai and Pato Devi, he was his stepmother’s favourite. “Bari ma” to him, she saw no logic in her husband’s insistence on sending the young Balram to school against his wishes. “If she had had her way, I would have remained uneducated,” says Jakhar. ‘Balla’ to her, Ghotibai kissed the ground he walked upon. She spoilt him endlessly and protected him from the wrath of family elders. Even today, only two women can bring tears in Jakhar’s eyes: the memory of bari ma and that of his wife.
His fondness for good things often landed him in trouble electorally. In the 1970s, the Opposition painted him out to be a murderer whose car crushed men and dogs alike. A check revealed that he drove a Cadillac, which, in the hands of a hapless mechanic — who couldn’t operate the automatic gear — rolled on, injuring a pedestrian. Posters branding Jakhar as a “killer” were pasted all over his constituency. As Lok Sabha speaker he did what he calls a “school master’s job” of disciplining MPs instead of students: a poor substitute for his unfulfilled ambition of being a college professor. Politics also cramped his affluent lifestyle, as it did his temper. Ask Sunil and he has instances galore of how, in a fit of temper, Jakhar has sent saucers flying across the room. Politics mellowed him and demanded diplomacy. Often he would force a smile when he was ready to kill: “Gussa peete peete bure ho gaye” (restraint has aged him), quips Sunil, his youngest son.