The Unseen Indira Gandhi: Through her Physician’s eyes
By Dr K.P. Mathur
Price: Rs 595
Indira Gandhi’s personal physician of 20 years, Dr K.P. Mathur, has penned a book on his Numero Uno Patient. The title of the book aptly reads The Unseen Indira Gandhi followed by a catchy tag caption “Through her physician’s eyes”. The good doc regales the reader with many a story having seen the late Prime Minister from not only a physician’s eyes but as a friend who blended into the family as a major member of sorts. The reason for Priyanka Gandhi having provided an affectionately warm foreword to Dr Mathur’s offering — for a flourishing offering it is!
The “Doc”, as he is fondly referred to, as mentioned by Priyanka, speaks of Indira more as an everyday person and less as a Prime Minister with exceptional appreciable concerns revealing a very humane and down-to-earth lady. A Principled and Practical Person. Someone with empathy and compassion who insisted on visiting Ladakh situated at a breath-perforating altitude of 3,000ft in the bone-chilling winter as opposed to the splendid summer, just to see what our jawans had to endure. Her prompt and determined response to Mathur’s dissuasion: “Look doctor, everyone wants to visit Ladakh in summer but someone should also visit it during this time of year to find out how our jawans fare in such a snowy climate and at that height.”
There are many vibrant anecdotes on Indira Gandhi’s running her household. Yes, the Prime Minister was a Housekeeper as well! The servants were addressed by their names — in other words, they had an identity, were not nameless cooks and cleaners hollered at when some service was required. (To wait on hand and foot, was quite out of the question!) According to the Doc, “Instructions were given though never in the form of orders or commands.” Interestingly, he notes that two of her old Anand Bhawan retainers held their own ground when they were not in agreement with their Mistress. Here, one deduces that Indira was their malkin not the mulk’s Pradhan Mantri.
Rajkumari, the maid in this duo, would address the lady of the house as bhaiyyaji not behenji, a carry-over of the Avadhi tradition of according male status to the first born. Indira would speak with ease in the local Allahabadi dialect with the mentioned two, while at the same time with child-like pleasure revel in the fact that her fluency in French and English “had not detracted her from her facility with her own tongue”. Indira led a simple and spartan lifestyle, and the adjoining verandah to her bedroom had been converted into a residential office-cum-sitting room where with deft fingers she could be seen spreading a fresh sheet on the diwan when the older one had to go for a wash.
There are more such endearing or call them heart-warming snippets. A stickler for rules, grandmother Indira went one Diwali to Dehradun since the children were not allowed to come home from their boarding school for the festivity. Diwali was celebrated at the Prime Minister’s camp well before dark with an early dinner and her beloved grandchildren were handed over to the housemaster at the slotted time. On domestic tours a simple breakfast of vada, chutney, sandwiches and some seasonal fruit would be served with coffee catered by the South Indian Coffee House in Connaught Place.
Indira Gandhi’s personal physician of 20 years, Dr K.P. Mathur, has penned a book on his Numero Uno Patient. The author speaks of Indira more as an everyday person and less as a Prime Minister.
To change gears, it is a well-documented fact that Indira was gravely superstitious. The author substantiates this reality in one of his narrations. When Pandit Nehru had decided to shift residence to Teen Murti Bhawan, his daughter ensured that they moved into the new abode on a specific date and hour down to the last second as prophesied by a pandit from Allahabad whom she reposed her blind faith in. The agnostic father had no option!
Then there is the visual of Indira walking in the slush and ice of Moscow, her feet safely encased in gumboots while Madam Thatcher, better known as The Iron Lady, struggles behind in her stilettos! Regarding the then American President, Ronald Reagan, she was privy to the fact that the former Hollywood star fibbed in Time magazine about not wearing make-up before giving TV interviews. Another revelatory nugget, as opposed to a gossipy one, made by her was that the U.S. President needed the aid of an earpiece while being interviewed, for providing prompted answers posed by journalists.
One major mishap, if it can be phrased so, is how the Prime Minister’s physician deals with Sanjay Gandhi’s death in a brief, cut and dry, matter-of-fact manner — sweeping it away as a footnote.
Undoubtedly, Dr Mathur has had a ringside view of the real Indira, and thus his book is flowing to the brim with enthralling tales that let the reader delve into her psyche, but a doctor necessarily cannot do justice to the art of weaving a story without recurrent stammering. Perhaps, the Doc should have shared his treasure trove with a Writer who could have crafted the experiences to make it to the unputdownable list of books.