Saturday, June 16, 2007

A Gandhi without the Gandhi Cap

Ramu Gandhi, I would often joke, was my inspiration and role-model at the IIC..... Bar.

He would unfailingly make his entry into the bar at the dot of
7.30 every evening, 360days of the year ( the remaining 5 being "dry
days"....including, notably, the birthday of his grand-father – the rare occasions when he probably tippled at home ) – after completing his daily walk and evening meditation in the Lodi Gardens.

He would come in with his own plastic chair ( which he carried around all over the IIC - including the haloed tea-lounge ) and place it in a pre-assigned
corner at the end of the bar-counter against a pillar, which was
reserved for him by tradition and grant audience selectively to
a favoured few (one for the archives was when, a few months back,
his brother Gopal - the Governor of West Bengal came calling upon him
- in his full gubernatorial attire and ADC in tow - he was made to
stand at a respectful distance). He always ordered 3 drinks at a time
(usually Old Monk Rum ) and mixed them in some patented proportion
with water and soda. He would be the last to leave the bar - long
after the final call and the closing bell.

After that, he would adjourn to the portico (with his chair ) to have
a pre-ordered packed dinner from the main kitchen
before setting off for the day to, what I have been told, his tiny abode near Bengali Market.

His untimely and sudden departure has left me, and many others of a similar disposition – I suspect, nearly orphaned, even before I was able complete my full induction. Or probably - he was only too relieved at finally finding a worthy apostle in whom he could safely hand-over his mantle, nay the bottle....

It was only befitting that, he passed away at the IIC which in
many ways had become his home and last port of call. I saw him only
last week before leaving for Pune....and, didn’t imagine he won’t be around when I return.

I am sure, many like me would out of sheer force of habit look for him each time at his appointed corner, while entering the IIC Bar... Anywhere else in the world, for someone who had become a veritable institution like him ( and of such distinguished lineage - the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and C Rajagopalachari - from his mom's side ) , the gentry would have no doubt proposed, keeping his chair in the same corner and his photo above it on the wall or even rename the Bar after him. But, bureaucratic constraints and political proclivities of the IIC apart, Ramu certainly would never have approved of such a proposal ( and, probably would have gone on a Satyagraha from whichever world he has been transported to).

In a touching obit – Sanjaya Baru – the PM’s Press Advisor, described him as an “Iconoclastic Icon” – A Gandhi but not a Gandhian. He couldn’t have summed him up better.