“Padhi likhi hai, Dilli ki ladki hai, ek Maranda se aayi hai,” is how Sheila Dikshit’s grandmother-in-law described her, wrote the three-time CM in her autobiography, Citizen Delhi: My Times, My Life, last year. Like the city she made her own, Dikshit’s life too was peppered with highs and lows.
From “playing pitthu, gitte and devouring Enid Blyton’s Famous Five” to watching “cricket matches of arch-rivals, Hindu and St Stephen’s College” and meeting her husband Vinod in Delhi University — Dikshit’s early years were a far cry from the political life she led.
Congress leader Kiran Walia told The Indian Express, “She once told me that if she hadn’t been a politician, she would have been an interior decorator.”
Politics happened by chance, when she began assisting her father-in-law Uma Shankar Dikshit, a senior Congress leader. In 1984, Rajiv Gandhi asked her to contest from UP, and in 1989, Sonia Gandhi asked her to contest from East Delhi constituency.
Pawan Khera, her political secretary for 15 years, said, “In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, whenever there was a power outage, people would call the CM. She had instructed the receptionist to let all calls reach her. She would then note down the areas and call officials about it in the morning.”
Behind a tough exterior was a woman who enjoyed solitude and was deeply emotional, said Walia. “After her husband passed away in 1987, she would cry in isolation. But she never made her sorrows public and stayed strong for her kids.”
Dikshit’s enviable collection of handloom saris became her signature. “When I didn’t know her taste too well, I gifted her a sari with a big border once. She called me the next day and politely asked if anything could be done about it as she only wears saris with thin borders,” Walia said. Dikshit was also famous for her “breakfast meetings,” where she invited officials and experts to exchange suggestions. “She’d have soup, eggs and toast for dinner, while watching TV,” said Walia.