My father was let down, he was a lone warrior: Priya
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My father was let down, he was a lone warrior: Priya

Priya Dutt feels her father really brought Gandhiism to the people long before his son brought Gandhigiri, writes Neelesh Misra.

india Updated: Sep 27, 2007 22:51 IST
Neelesh Misra
Neelesh Misra
Hindustan Times

Priya Dutt, the daughter of legendary Bollywood stars Sunil and Nargis Dutt, and the sister of Sanjay Dutt, has written a book with her elder sister Namrata about their parents. "Mr and Mrs Dutt: Memories of our Parents", published by Roli, will be released on Friday by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at a ceremony to be attended by ruling coalition head Sonia Gandhi. Priya Dutt is also a Congress party member of Parliament from Mumbai.

Excerpts from an interview:

What was it like revisiting the journey of your parents?

The whole process was a healing process for us. We got to know so much about our parents. And specially their relationship, which was so beautiful - my father had preserved thousands of photographs, letters and little things and it was really nostalgic to go through them. It was a beautiful feeling. It gave us an insight into our parents' lives as well, apart from our memories. We realised that their entire life was a romance with each other - even after her death.

What are your recollections of him as a politician?

He never regarded himself as a politician. But I think he was the finest. That padyatra with him - that completely changed my life. It was not a politically motivated padyatra at all. He did it at a completely personal level and I joined him at a completely personal level. For me, it was the last year of my college and it was a great opportunity for me to see the country. It was a great adventure for me. We walked for 78 days across 2,800 kilometres.

I was 19. It was the final year of my college. At that time my world was limited to my college, my friends. I was oblivious of what was happening in the world, or beyond the city. This expedition opened my eyes and broadened my horizons to what India was, how diverse our country is. For me to really walk through different states, meet people, see how different they were from each other, their costumes, their food - it was an amazing journey.

We used to walk all day, about 30 kilometres. We were stopping to meet people who had lined up to meet Dad. And it was so funny that people didn't even know who he was. In the remote areas, there were no movie theatres, they didn't know - all they knew was that one man was walking - for peace. They used to wait outside to see who this man was. That was quite a humbling experience. They used to bring us water, fruits from the fields, anything.
I think my father really brought Gandhiism to the people long before his son brought Gandhigiri!

During the riots, was he angry at the state of affairs?

Yes, he was angry. He was angry that something had to be done to stop the fury. Many people claim he was pro-Muslim and anti-Hindu. That was not true. He would have helped anyone.

Yet, whether you like it or not, the minorities were the ones most affected. These kind of incidents really shattered him, in a way. That brought about greater determination in him to do something. Like when he undertook the Punjab yatra .. many people warned him. He said I don't care. He just took off. But that's the kind of man he was.

Did he feel let down by his party?

There were many times when he did feel let down, when he felt his voice was not reaching the right places. He was a very different sort of a person. Even if he was in politics, the priority was his people.

My father was a very staunch Congressman. And he believed in the ideals of the Congress, he believed in the philosophy of the Congress. I wouldn't say that every single person in the Congress was with him - obviously not. He knew that. But that didn't deter him from what he believed in. I always say that in politics, you make more enemies than friends, even if you are the most non-controversial person. Somehow or the other you make enemies for no reason … but my father was never bothered about these things. And he would never ever think of joining another party, because he did not have that ambition.

All this never affected him. He was a lone warrior. He did what he did because he believed in it - and he realised that he would not get support from so many quarters, for whatever reason … He was a man completely connected to his people, and that was his crowning glory.

What about when Sanjay was arrested and jailed? Did he have similar thoughts then?

Sometimes he did blame himself for what happened to Sanjay. He felt `maybe Sanjay is suffering because of me' - I don't know, because of politics, he is caught up in all this.

Would you elaborate on that? <b1>

I think he paid for being a Dutt. People might say anything - that he got special treatment, people were not there when this happened. How he was treated like any other common prisoner. My father was a member of Parliament at that time but he was treated like any other common man. He used to sit outside the police (detention) area for hours together. We had never seen our father like this. My sister and I used to be waiting for hours outside the mulaqat (meeting) area.

It is easy for everyone to say he must have got good treatment. Even now, there are little little things ... the media has become huge, there are so many channels, everybody wants their pound of flesh. I think we are used to it now (laughs).
When you are a famous personality, everyone wants to know about you. There are thousands of people languishing in jail - there are so many people in jail because they could not pay a thousand rupees as bail money. Why doesn't the media write about them?

I truly feel that when a matter is subjudice, there should be restraint on the media as well.

I don't know if being a Dutt worked against him when the terrorism charge was brought - how it was done, what the politics was. But I think the biggest relief was when the judge said he was not a terrorist. I have seen my father suffer for 13 years. That was like a burden he was carrying.

There is a famous image of Sanjay hugging you before getting into the car and heading to the court. What did he say at that moment?

Nothing, I said "don't worry, we are there with you."

Tell me about when you met him in prison after the sentencing.

It was difficult, but he was very strong. First time I met him at Arthur Road, where they took him right after sentencing. I was sitting and talking to him. But when we all really broke down was when he was leaving and he was being led inside, and we knew we wouldn't meet him.

Then I met him in prison, and that was quite an experience. He was wearing his jail clothes. It was a very difficult moment. But we have been strong, we knew we have to fight it through. He has been very strong.And we all know that we have to do it on our own as Dad's not there. He was a sheltering factor for us.

What happened when you met Sonia Gandhi?

I never went to Sonia Gandhi for anything. It was blown out of proportion.I was not there to seek help. I knew we had to do this the legal way. Mrs. Gandhi has always been very supportive of us, my father and the family. But you know, when I went to see her, it was really funny, because the media was all there. And they said I had this half an hour and 45 minute meeting with her, and this happened and that happened. And I thought - how the hell do they know what happened in there? Because there is a whole room where people sit and wait to meet her. And I was sitting there for half an hour. And when my turn came I went and met her for five minutes. And I said "Ma'am, I am here and I have come for Sanjay's case - of course I briefed her on what happened - and I said I won't be able to attend Parliament for this reason. But I didn't ask for help.
I informed her, and me being a member of parliament, it was my duty to do that.

Sanjay has transformed over several years, hasn't he?

I feel after my father passed away, he has gone through several changes. He is more in control. He never had so much temper. He's sobered down for a while now. Now he has become more of a home body, more settled down, more focussed, a person who has to take control.

Is there fear?

I think fear has been there, it was a very difficult time. But at the time of the conviction, I think the fear went away. The whole thing of not knowing is scarier. Once you know, then you have to figure out how to deal with it. That way I feel he has been very strong.

It's none of the media's business, but does he look forward to rebuilding his life, possibly getting married anytime soon?

I don't know, I really don't know. But I see him more at home. He loves spending time with my son. He enjoys that. He enjoys his work; he is not doing too many films. These are the things that have become more important … I think life has become more precious to him.

Do you know if he plans to get married?

Not that he has mentioned anything (laughs). I don't know about marriage and stuff. But he is happy, and I think that is important - as long as he is happy, that's what matters.

Does he need dependence?

He does, he has always been like that. He needs anchors. He is that kind of a person. And unfortunately many times it happens that people take undue advantage of that. He is a very open, giving person and I hate to see him get hurt.

First Published: Sep 27, 2007 18:41 IST