Remembering V P Singh
Had it not been for my ego, my first book would have been V.P. Singh’s biography. Hours and hours of tapes. Reams of words. All ready to be put together. Till I came across the statement, “Great. He is superb material.”
That did it. This would be about selling a commodity that was pretty much up for grabs because it had already been tried and tested. I wanted my first imprint to be about me. I wanted to see if I could sell my journeys.
I mentioned it to him. He was happy for me, but occasionally he did talk about “your next book”.
He ceased to be a subject the moment I first met him. Ever since that day eight years ago we talked at least twice every week, unless either of us was travelling, and lately since he took badly ill.
These are personal moments.
The time he surprised me with a call, “Where are you?”
“I am lost.”
“What do you mean? Where are you?”
“In Bombay. I can’t find your place.”
“What? Why? I mean why are you coming…why didn’t you tell me?”
“Had I told you, then you would never have allowed it.”
This man who had to undergo dialysis every alternate day and was suffering from myeloma had flown down from Delhi, gone to the hospital for his dialysis and was on his way to meet me. Only because I had undergone a minor surgery.
He did this for people. People who would give him nothing, who had no name or fame.
How he dipped the whole Marie biscuit in his tea cup and waited for it to soften and then daintily took it out with a spoon. I told him it was easier to dubao (dunk) it. Unlike the impression he gave with his crumpled kurta-pyjama, he was in fact extremely polished. Lunch, though painfully restricted for him (he had to get every morsel weighed on a machine, it was that bad, and every drop of water was counted), was indeed a perfect cutlery-crockery-linen mix. And it was served in courses.
Him sketching…I sat there and watched and just felt so connected with it. He asked, “You really think it is good?” I said, “Not good; it just seems so silent.”
Months later he had an exhibition in Delhi. When we talked he told me that it was the first of his works that had a red mark. Sold. I knew it would reach out.
A few weeks later he was in Mumbai. I met him at the Sahyadri Guest House. He brought out the sketch and gave it to me. “But it was sold?”
“I said there was red mark. I put it on so no one could buy it. This is for you.”
“I can’t take it. I just said I liked it.”
“When have you ever said that you liked anything I have done?”
Yes, it is the monochromatic work that lies above where I type. There are traces of him in some of my blog posts. I have been reluctant to throw his name around.
Incidentally, the first time I had refused to meet him. He found that intriguing. The reason I had given was that I did not meet politicians socially. He liked flattery but it is rare for someone of his position to take brutal honesty. He could.
This might seem strange but he was not as sharp a political shooter as he is made out to be. Since I have an opinion on everything I told him the political party he was starting in 2006 was a stupid idea. We had a bit of an argument over that (he did sulk a lot). Then he put up Raj Babber as President. “Terrible.” I said. “Could you not find anyone else?”
“What is wrong with him? Years ago when I visited Bombay he took me around.”
“So, if someone plays tourist guide you make them the head of political parties? I can show you around…”
“You will be a terrible politician. Eik din nahin tikogi. (You won’t last a day.)”
Sitting with him and his best friend at the latter’s house and these two talking like old schoolboys about the past.
He was obsessed with the past. Not about details but just the idea.
It is difficult for people to even fathom that writing a biography is one thing, understanding a person quite another. The latter helps in the former, but the person is not just a character. If I got to know a lot about him, and discover a lot more, then he knew much more about me. I shared every little detail.
Can one be objective when you share your life’s moments with someone? I hate the term objective. I can only say I was more aware of his flaws than many because he exposed them. For one who had been written about so much, he was curious about my take. Why? Wasn’t he aware of his life? “Haan, lekin tumhare interpretation se dar lagta hai!” It certainly wasn’t fear (he once sent me copies of all the nasty stuff written about him which I put away saying that he could not decide what nasty stuff I should choose); he was mimicking my use of perception/interpretation.
Him taking the phone in the ICU just a few months ago. He said the doctors did not think he would make it. And in the past few times he did broach the subject of the book. The last time he seemed peppy. “I think I am getting better.”
It was never quite that. Last week, he sounded down. This time he said, “Ab tau kitaab likh hi do. I want to read it.”
I regret this ego of mine. I regret not being able to fight over my interpretation with him.
However, if there was anything he was prepared for it was death.
That hospital room at Apollo and how he would tilt his head and empty a sachet of sugar in his mouth as his blood pressure fell towards the end of the dialysis session. I usually left before I had to see him in that state when his eyes would become heavy and his face drained.
“Ab khusi-khusi sui jao,” were the Bhojpuri words I learned from him.
That is all I can say now…
- - -
ab chor ban raha hoon
uss bhare bazaar se
Yahan wohi cheezein sajee hain
muflis ho chuka hoon.
(From VP's ‘Ek Tukda Dharti, Ek Tukda Akash’)
- - -
I took this picture in May this year when I was in Delhi. It is at his house and the painting behind him is one of his favourite works.