From the desk of Adam Rizvi,
Editor in Chief, The India Observer
Rest In Peace, Hon. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Bharat Ratna. It is with profound sadness and terrible grief that I was informed by our Bureau-Chief Shirin Abbas this morning about the sad news that you had passed on. My memories with you just flooded my mind and for a few moments, they all poured forth, as the memory of a witty, intelligent, intellectual and compassionate human being that I had the privilege of interacting with on several occasions. She said, “I suggest you write a personal tribute in an editorial on his death” I was silent for a brief moment, taking in the news. Finally, I said, “Yes I will’ and while I confirm here that the former Prime Minister of India Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee is no more, I know that legends like him live on in public memory forever.
It will be incorrect to say he died suddenly or young, or I am floored, or I can not believe he’s gone, or he was a normal, friendly and jovial person or extol the simple way he lived. I was not always in consonance with this charismatic BJP leader, not completely agreeing to the policies of the party of which he was the founding member. But for sure, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee was not a flashy leader either. He was a man of principles, he worked hard and for me, it was an honor to have known and met him on several occasions. Our acquaintance was not political, simply because of my background of Lucknow, and my meeting him there as a child and maintaining that bond with him.”
He died at the ripe age of 93, ailing for over a decade and in and out the hospital through much of the last years of his life. In the hospital, the clock was ticking, his supporters and followers knew his death was imminent but he fought that certainty like the soldier he was at heart. But finally, it came.
You will be remembered in history Atal Ji as an awesome leader, a man who was humble, kind and generous.
I knew him well personally and he would talk to me every time he visited the USA. The subject he would always pick in our conversations would almost always start with his query, ” Lucknow jatey ho ya nahi?
Me: “Jee jata hoon.”
Atal ji: “Toh batao kya khabar hai?” he would quip with a twinkle in his eye.
Me: “Bas aap hi nai khabar hain,” my reply would be.
Atal ji: “Tum nahi sudhrogey. Shaadi kab karogey? “ he would ask me.
Me: “Bas apkey baad,” would be my tongue in cheek reply.
Atal ji: “Phir karo intezar, karo ant tak.”
I recall Mr. Wakanakar who was the Consul General of India in New York, at that time, calling and telling me “Rizvi, please make sure you are here in the consulate today I had sent you an invitation but you did not RSVP,”
I said sure, all well?
He said, “Yes, and your seat is next to Shri Bajpayee. Please, Mr. Rizvi, make sure you are here. There are very limited invitees and I don’t want anyone missing from his table.”
Me: “Oh he is coming? I will surely be there.”
Wakanakar: “Yes Mr. Vajpayee is here as an opposition leader.”
I reached the consulate and yes, had the privilege and the honor of sharing his table and sitting right next to him discussing all Lucknow but politics.
The moment he saw me, that wide smile would light up his face, “Ab yaha shaitani mat karna,” he would admonish in jest.
Me: “ji nahi”
Later I wanted to leave the table to meet other known faces and give my seat and a chance to others who were desperate to talk to him and to sit beside him, but he held my hand and stopped me. “Tum yahin baithey raho, kahi janey ki awashyakta nahi hai…” he said, pulling me back to sit beside him.
Later he was asked to come and speak and Shri Shivraj Patil, who was the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the Lower House of Indian parliament had just finished his speech. Looking down at his plate he whispered to me, “Ab mai kya bolu?” I smiled and said to him, “Arey jo Lucknow may nara lagta hai wo to aap yahan keh nahi saktey— ‘Pait ko roti hamko do warna gaddi chor do,’ he said, “Yeh sahi kaha”
He then got up and said in his inimitable style, “Dekhiye ab to aap logo nay khana khila diya hai, pait bhara hai. Mai sirf bhukey pait bol pata hoon, agar kuch bulwana tha to khana khilanay say pehley kahtey, phir mai bolta…” The hall broke into thunderous clapping and all laughed, I was amazed at the way he repeated what I had mentioned to him as a joke…“Pait ki roti hamko do, warna gaddi chor do” a slogan that I had heard so many times during local processions in Lucknow. His presence of mind was extraordinary. The Consul General Hon Wakankar insisted that he must say a few words, on which Atal ji got up and said, “Dekhiye , Bharat mai jab Speaker bol leta hai toh or koi nahi bol sakta hai unkey baad, The Speaker has spoken, nobody can speak after he has spoken. (Shivraj Patil ji has spoken, who is the Speaker of the House, now I cannot speak.) Again big laughter. That was his charisma.
I met him everytime he visited the USA and every time he would hug and give ‘ashirvaad’ (blessings). Once people were touching his feet and I looked at him and started to walk towards him to shake hands..a man standing near him, said “Rizvi saheb charan chhu kar ashirvaad lay leejeye,” I said sure, but Atal Ji interrupted and held me, hugging me, looked at the man and said “Arrey aapko itna to pata hona chahiya… Musalmano mein pair chhuney ka rewaj nahi hota,” and asked me to sit on the next chair. Such was the love and consideration of this man, It always amazed me….once Mr. Habibullah, who was the minister in Washington with the Indian Embassy while talking to me over the phone mentioned “Aap bhi single hain aur Atal ji, woh bhi single hain. Tabhi aap dono may khoob banti hai.”
Again I was invited by the consulate during his visit as a PM of India to the USA, I met him during the reception at a Hotel in New York, under high security, I remember he was suffering from pain in his leg and could not stand for too long, he was greeting everyone while sitting he had also published a book of his poems. Again I was standing away from the crowd with a friend when someone tapped my shoulder and said ‘Sir apko bula rahey hain.’
I said, “Who?” and he pointed towards the PM Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, I was touched and proud and walked towards him, cutting the lines with this guy and reached him. His usual question, “Kya ho raha hai Lucknow mai, gaye thhey ki nahi?”
He was just super amazing. What a personality and memory, that was the time he presented me with a signed copy of his book, saying “Yaha rakh kar bhool mat jana, samhaal kar rakhna, padhna aur sabko kahna padhey,”
“ji,” I deferentially replied.
I have to look for all those photos, which usually were given by the photographers. It was not the age of selfies. Many a time I tried to see him but never had the time or did not know how to contact him. I also felt that I should not disturb him, he was old and weak and suffering, I decided my trying to visit him won’t help him. He was now in a different world mentally.
But the distance did not alter my great respect for this man. I recall the statement he once gave as a Foreign Minister, when people used to struggle to get their passports made. He said, “Agar ham naukri nahi de saktey to passport to de saktey hai, taki log bahar ke desho may ja kar kaam kar sakey.”
I have not read much about his foreign policies or his views or his role with RSS. All I know is that he was a good man with principles and had respect for all Indians and did not segregate people on religious lines. He never spoke anything which was subversive to Muslim ideology which perhaps is why the social media tributes pouring in on his death come from all Indians who feel an era has passed in Indian politics with his demise.
I consider his period as Prime Minister of India, a Golden period, just like the third and greatest ruler of the Mughal Dynasty in India. Akbar. Emperor Akbar’s period 1556-1605 was known as a Golden period of medieval India.
Rest in peace Atal Ji. In your passing, we have lost not just a great leader but a true statesman who did not shy from giving credit to his predecessors when talking about post-Independence Indian politics. I can truly say, they don’t make ‘ em like you anymore. Along with my country, I condole your death as not just a national but a personal loss of a wonderful statesman I had the privilege of knowing. Now your existence is eternal. Freedom & Peace.