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The Brown Tea Set & the Gandhis!

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By Kulbhushan Kain

Having led schools for nearly 30 years, I have met many celebrities. We often seek them out for our annual functions, inaugurations, or just candid conversations to encourage students. I have met Waheeda Rehman, Shashi Kapoor, Vinod Khanna, Rajendra Kumar, Kapil Dev, just to name a few.

I found Shashi Kapoor and Vinod Khanna “impossibly” good-looking. That said, I have always wondered why so many people found Rajendra Kumar good-looking.

When I met Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi I found him classy and good-looking. Kapil Dev at his prime was the most dashing man I ever met – he had an aura around him. Natwar Singh appeared like an Oxford University Professor.

However, my most memorable meeting was with Sonia Gandhi, and Rahul Gandhi.

In August 1999, a convoy of white Ambassador cars pulled up outside my office at DPS, Jagdishpur, where I was the Principal. Mr Verma, a very amiable SSP looking after Mrs Gandhi’s security, told me that she was likely to land in her chopper in the school. She was campaigning for the elections that were to follow.

‘Are you married?’ he asked. I told him that I was.

‘Then maybe your wife can join you in your office and have tea with Mrs Gandhi,’ he quipped.

I told him my son would love to meet Mrs Gandhi. He refused – he did not want to crowd the room, saying that my son could come to the field and have a close look at her.

As a parting shot, he said ‘Rahul Ji will also be there!’

It was mid-afternoon and I still remember that it was a cloudy day with intermittent showers. The school had given over for the day and there were security men all over the place. Sangeeta and I kept giving final touches to the room – a photograph to be aligned here, a memento on the table to be shifted there, the calendar’s page reflecting the correct month, dust to be wiped off the window sill, etc.

Suddenly there was a lot of noise. Some cars drove into the school. They carried in them some influential politicians. Their arrival coincided with the drone of the helicopters. We hurriedly walked the corridors that led to the field. It took Mrs Gandhi and Rahul about 15 minutes to alight from the choppers. The pilot of the chopper walked behind them.

As I greeted Mrs Gandhi and Rahul, the pilot asked in a whisper, ‘Are you Kulbhushan Kain from Clement Town?’

I was pleasantly surprised and nodded my head in agreement. He was Rupi Mahal, my childhood friend from Dehradun. He was flying her in a Pawan Hans Helicopter for which he worked.

Mrs Gandhi walks very briskly – and talks very little. All this while, Rahul sauntered along with her. When his supporters shouted slogans, he was visibly embarrassed and told them to avoid it.

‘Hum maidaan mein nahin, school me hain,’ he counseled.

He is terrific-looking and has an easy smile.
At the end of the corridor, Pratique, my son, was waiting to catch a glimpse of the Gandhis. I told them about him. Both of them singled him out and beckoned him. As he came forward, Mrs Gandhi shook his hand and ruffled his hair.

Rahul did the same and said, “Hi. How are you?” The security quickly ushered them into the Principal’s room.

I sat there with both of them, while Sangeeta supervised the making of the tea in the adjoining kitchenette. We had brought our tea set from home –it was a beautiful one, dark brown. We served them tea along with Bourbon biscuits. Rahul used the washroom. He was wearing a kurta-pajama with white sneakers. His kurta was soiled and so were his pajamas. It was obvious that he had been to some place where there had been heavy rainfall. Mud does not stick otherwise. As he came out from the washroom, Sangeeta said, “I hope it was clean.”

With a lovely smile, which accentuated both his dimples, he said ‘Yes, but now it is dirty,’ pointing to his shoes and clothes. I even addressed him as Rahul when I asked him ‘How is it in politics Rahul,’ to which he replied ‘Theek Hai. Interesting.’

Mrs Gandhi got up to look at some paintings that adorned the walls. Then someone came and told her it was time to move to the rally at a village near Jagdishpur. She thanked us profusely –as did Rahul. In a short while, they had got into a car and were off.

They were to return after about 4 hours. They never did. They took off from some other place as a part of security protocols I guess.

I don’t have photographs of their visit. Those days there were no smartphones with cameras.

But we do have the lovely brown tea set in which we served the tea to the Gandhis! Used only once!

(Kulbhushan Kain is an award winning educationist with more than 4 decades of working in schools in India and abroad. He is a prolific writer who loves cricket, travelling and cooking. He can be reached at kulbhushan.kain @gmail.com)