Having written about Arun Jaitley’s diverse facets today in two other dailies, let me write more anecdotally about the human being. He was punctilious about financial matters and extremely careful about not squandering or receiving state largesse. Someone present at Nainital, when Uttarakhand High Court was being inaugurated, narrates the incident when as Law Minister, Arun reached the official accommodation. He asked the caretaker about the stay charges. The caretaker, thinking that it was only a query on a point of information, told him that for a guest it was Rs 200 per night while for a government servant it was Rs 100. Arun immediately fished out Rs 300 for himself and the friend he had brought along and insisted on paying. The caretaker later told the friend that this man would go far, since this was the first time he had seen a minister insisting on paying for boarding and lodging!
His support to his staff — financial, economic, moral, medical, educational — is legendary and it would be an understatement when it is said that his death has orphaned at least 25 families. A mutual friend told me how, in London, when a staff complimented Arun on how smart he looked in a blazer, Arun took him to Marks and Spencer and bought him a blazer and tie. As he put on his new attire, he was told jokingly by Arun that “Raju ab ban gaya gentleman”, ie. Raju has now become a gentleman. The clerkage collected for senior counsel by his office was converted into a trust and used to build houses for almost all his staff and also to educate their children, even abroad. One of them, I am told, is a partner in India’s top law firm. He made a qualitative difference in their lives.
His favourite pastime was eating food and watching old movies, the hot favourite being Waqt. It is said that on a cruise which stopped at Dubrovnik, while the family went out to see the beautiful city, Arun preferred to stay back and watch Waqt and some other earthy Punjabi comedies!
“Foodotes” is a better word than anecdotes as far as Arun and food are concerned. Mutual friends recount how he spent three hours searching for Saravana Bhawan/ South Indian food in Vancouver. He was one of the few who would be specific about planning the items for next day’s lunch at the previous day’s breakfast. The same friend tells of how he left a famous Indian-food Michelin-rated restaurant in New York because he was unable to find “Nimbu Achar” and “Hari Mirch”, though later the owner and he became good friends and exchanged recipes. He also recounts Arun’s travel to and fro over 5 hours from Zurich to Lausanne and back to pick up Indian food from a Sardarji, very highly regarded for his tasty home-cooked delicacies in Lausanne.
His friendships were deep, abiding and unconditional. One of our colleagues at the Bar, a close college friend of Arun’s, suffered a seemingly serious medical condition many decades ago. Arun, then a minister, left everything and stayed day and night at the Mumbai hospital where he was being treated. Despite huge official preoccupations, Arun took the colleague’s mobile phone and stayed put, answering all his calls personally. That colleague’s eyes welled up with tears as he recounted the incident to me.
We have lost a decent man, a good human being, a large heart, a magnanimous disposition, a piercing intellect, a great orator, an even better communicator, an able lawyer and a pillar for his party.
The author is a senior Congress MP