When he was a child, former Union minister Jagmohan Malhotra’s mother, Draupadi, had a tough time trying to stop him crying. Only the sound of a railway engine would make him smile. Thankfully, his father, Amir Chand Malhotra, worked in the Railways and their house was located right next to the rail tracks. Therefore, it is not without reason that it is said that he was born “with a whistle of an engine”, an anecdote he confirms.
Like other children of his age, Jagmohan used to play along the tracks. But the image that is etched on his mind is of a semi-clad woman who would wait near the tracks to collect coal, which she later sold for a few rupees. Jagmohan finds a similarity between his life view and that of TS Eliot, who wrote: “Life revolved like ancient women gathering fuel…”
Despite the books he has written on Delhi, governance and Kashmir, Jagmohan says he is a poet at heart. He makes sure that he takes time off from his daily engagements and library visits to read poetry. When he was the Jammu and Kashmir Governor, he started the ‘Faiz Club’, as a tribute to poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. He has also tried penning poems. A sampler: “I am a little fellow/an orphan of these streets/learning to cry and crawl/along the ditches stagnant shawl” (Rebuilding Shahjahanabad). But mention “romantic poetry and he dismisses it with contempt. More a “thinking poet”, Jagmohan switched to prose several years ago.
On dropping his surname, Jagmohan says: “It remained till my father was alive”. “He dropped it because he did not want to appear casteist or clannish,” says his wife. Till they were in Amritsar, he spent his evenings playing badminton or seeing movies with Uma. A confirmed workaholic, he “worsened” over the years. But he never forgets birthdays. Uma claims that the only time he goes shopping is when he has to buy a birthday present for her. She, on her part, buys “pink, pink and only pink” shirts for him because it’s his favourite colour. “If pink trousers were in vogue, he probably would be wearing one,” she says.