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Order in the houses

People who watch the proceedings of our two houses of Parliament on their TV sets must have noticed how different they have become from those in the recent past, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Sep 07, 2009 13:06 IST
Khushwant Singh

People who watch the proceedings of our two houses of Parliament on their TV sets must have noticed how different they have become from those in the recent past.

There is much less of rushing down to the well of the house, shouting slogans and forcing the speaker to adjourn the house. We had begun to despair that the parliamentary system of government, patterned after the British, did not suit our temperaments and that we should go in for the presidential or some other form of democracy that functioned more smoothly.

The comparative decorum maintained in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha has rekindled hope that the outlook need not be so gloomy and if our MPs behave themselves, the present system can work. Credit for this must go to the opposition because it is usually the opposition that creates hangama, which brings proceedings to a halt.

I have only one reservation i.e against the habit of staging walk-outs. It is like children who fall out with each other and put their thumbs under their upper dentures and shout kuttee — I am not talking to you any more. Houses of legislators are meant for meaningful dialogue, a give and take of different points of view. The refusal to talk defeats the very purpose for which they were designed.

Another point I wish to make; I have noticed as many others must have noticed, our legislators do not address the speaker or the treasury benches as they should, but the press gallery and the media, particularly TV channels which give them nation-wide coverage.

They make outrageous statements designed to make headlines of front pages of next morning’s papers. The more outrageous their statements are, the better their chances of making the news.

We saw parliamentary democracy in its ugliest form in the proceedings of the Jammu and Kashmir assembly: the grim and never-smiling Mehbooba Mufti wrench the mike from the Speaker and being pushed out of the house; Mehbooba holding aloft a piece of paper, dramatically tearing it up and flinging to pieces on the floor; Muzaffar Baig bawling his head off at somebody. And worst of all, the speaker yelling back at members of the house using unparliamentary language. Poor Omar Abdullah, the young chief minister, almost reduced to tears over charges which are manifestly untrue, and trying to walk out of the assembly. It is time J&K MLAs learnt lessons in decorum from the present Lok Sabha.

Leela Naidu

I knew her since she was a 12-year-old school girl in Paris. Her father, Dr. Naidu, was a colleague working in UNESCO. She occasionally came over to have her mid-day meal with her father in the cafeteria. So did occasionally her French mother. The combination of sharp Indian features of the father and a white mother were reflected in her complexion and features. At times, her right hand and cheeks had smudges of ink as she did not have time to wash after school. She was a surpassingly beautiful school girl.

I had little doubt that in a few years she would blossom into a ravishing beauty and be sought after by rich young men or go into the film world. I was not wrong.

The Naidus returned to India and settled down in Delhi. Leela once came to see me and asked me to give her some literature on the Sikhs. I asked her why this sudden interest in Sikhism. She told me she was going to marry a Sikh, a clean-shaven Sikh, son of a rich father, Mohan Singh Oberoi, founder-owner of the Oberoi chain of hotels. They were married with Sikh rites (Anand-Karaj) and she moved into a suite in the Imperial Hotel, then run by the Oberois.

Leela bore Bikki Oberoi twin daughters. Then their marriage began to fall apart. Bikki was a hard- drinker and highly temperamental. It is said that one night he got irritated by the street light in Janpath facing his bedroom window and took out his revolver and shot it. The police came and had to be squared.

One afternoon Leela rang me up and asked me to come to her aid immediately. I went armed with my wife. The bedroom was in a turmoil. The couple was sitting in silence and glowering at each other. We were with them for one hour. The worst had passed.

Leela abandoned Bikki and moved to Bombay to try her luck in Bollywood. She was crowned India’s beauty queen and counted among the ten most beautiful women in the world. Her looks assured her many roles. She made her debut with Anuradha and later The Households. Other films followed. I never saw any of them.

She hitched up with a childhood friend, the poet Dom Moraes. He was writing a biography of Mrs Gandhi. I asked Mrs Gandhi how she communicated with Dom who always mumbled his words and was at times barely audible. “Leela acts as my interpreter,” she replied. However, when Mrs G was published and presented to her, instead of patting Dom on the back, she snubbed him. He was shattered. The couple moved to Hong Kong.

Once I stayed with them. Leela helped me to do my shopping, which included bras for my wife and daughter. They appeared to be very happy. Dom once confided to me that Leela was pregnant and he was looking forward to being a father. To my question Leela replied, “I am not aware of being pregnant.” The couple was back in Bombay and drifted apart.

Dom ditched her and went to other women. Leela was never able to come to terms with his betrayal. She went into depression, began to drink hard and perhaps take drugs as well. The end came on Tuesday, July 18. As they say, god gives with one hand and takes with the other. He gave Leela good looks and talent. He deprived her of happiness.