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.

I remember.

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.

I remember.

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.

I remember.

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.)”

I remember.

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.

I remember.

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.

I remember.

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…

Sleep well…

- - -

Muflis se
ab chor ban raha hoon
uss bhare bazaar se
churaoon kya
Yahan wohi cheezein sajee hain
jinhein lutaakar
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.


  1. FV:

    A very poignant take indeed. VP Singh has been one of my earlier political heroes, for someone in his late teens. His time was a defining one for the Indian political scene, much before people though that politics began and ended with Vajpayee and Sonia.

    I can only empathise with you for the kind of personal trauma that you must be going through with the two happenings -- terrorist attacks and VP Singh's demise. Nothing can compensate for the huge loss.

    Perhaps a fitting tribute to VP would be completing the book. I personally look forward to that.

  2. good riddance...a man who divided the society.no wonder the jehadis like him..

  3. a so called messiah of the poor,used to go to London for his treatment.He shld have insisted on being treated in a govt hospital by doctors who were selected on the basis his reservation policy...Rest in Hell,VP singh

  4. A rare and great man passed away. Rest in peace.

    Thanks Farzana, for sharing your thoughts.

    You must publish that work in progress.


  5. That says more about him than anything he ever did in public domain. I am sure that book would be great..

  6. This man was difficult to understand and so I can't wait to read your book.The personal memories were interesting and different from other obitueries

  7. Thanks PS, Zeemax, Atul, KB...he was a very complex man and flawed...at least his flaws were visible.

  8. Dear Farzana ,

    I got to read your Article about V P Singh through mail. I liked the Article so much for its depth and its grace as also for its inner content and remembrance of one of the most important figures of post-independence India that it forced me to go deep. There by I reached your blog site to know so much more about you.
    Thanks for presenting such an in-depth assesment of this great person who changed history.

    Dr Nutan Thakur,
    Nutan Satta Pravah,

  9. Dear Nutan:

    Thank you...for your words and your understanding of VP. As you are from Lucknow, your knowledge of his role in UP politics must count for something.

    With the article and these personal reminiscences I hoped to capture a bit of the man and his politics.

  10. Thanks Farzana, for such an insightful piece. It shows another aspect of a most misunderstood person of Indian politics. I was a kid studing in Allahabad when i had seen him on a two wheeler wearing a white helmet campainging with others, for his Lok Sabha elections in 1989.
    Perhaps your book will be of great help for the coming generations.

  11. Thanks, Sanjeev:

    It is always good to know of people who see beyond a unidimensional image. I hope I can capture some of the many layers.

  12. hi Farzana,

    I have followed this man's career since my college days in late 1980s and early 1990s. I have truly admired this man every time I read more about him despite all the venom spread against him.

    Of course, I had a selfish agenda because I fall into so-called OBC category so I saw him as a savior for my group. But, I was also amazed at his ability to pursue principled agenda in such a corrupt country as India.

    His son has been attacked by the same Yadavs who he helped bring to power. I am not sure if Ajeya Singh is cut out for the politics and whether he will succeed in it or not. I also hate dynastic politics but wish Ajeya Singh well.

    Above all, I would really like someone preserve the legacy of this wonderful leader and a unique individual.

    Finally, I don't know why most Indians behave like children when think of their leaders as some Godly beings that have no personal ambitions, desire for wealth etc. Partly, you can attribute it to Gandhi's legacy. He created this myth of an infallible leader (Mahatma and so on).
    Jinnah lived a good life and was not defensive about it. I hope someday all indians learn to see their leaders as human beings instead of angels.

    that is all for now and thank you for writing about him.


  13. Thanks, Hitesh, for stopping by and commenting. Given the venom one encounters regarding VP, yours was a refreshing departure, although, as you rightly, point out, infallibility is not the deal. Unique, he was. And warts he had.

    I don't think Indians believe politicians are angels, but they ought to be at least saints. Now how much leeway we give saints is another matter!


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