Pune: Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had a soft corner for Pune city and specially for Shreyas Hotel, which was the place he always loved to stay and eat at whenever in the city.
Hotel owner Dattaprasad Chitale told Sakal Times, “He was a person of great political astuteness and ready wit. He would get a whiff of the political happenings even before they happened. I remember one incident when he was called as chief guest for inauguration of Sawai Gandhrava Smarak near Rahul Talkies by Bhimsen Joshi in the year 2003-04. Vilasrao Deshmukh was the chief minister and he was prime minister. He had accepted the invitation six months before the actual incident. He asked Joshi whether he would attend it even if he doesn’t stay as prime minister by then, to which Joshi had said certainly. Vajypayee poked Vilasrao during the function and told him how difficult it was to stay at the helm of the affairs when the government is based on a coalition.
Coincidentally, the next day Vilasrao was removed from the post of CM,” said Chitale. Chitale’s father Balasaheb and Vajpayee were friends since both were in the same platoon of ‘Sangh Shiksha Varg’ in Nagpur.
“He was a very fond of ‘kanda poha’, and ‘puran poli’ with a spoonful of ghee over it,” recalled Chitale. He said, “Whenever he would come to stay with us he would ask us to make these two items. He loved to talk over a variety of subjects except politics during his stay here.
“I remember once he had come here for the 75th birthday celebration of Bharat Ratna Bhimsen Joshi and inauguration of a bank in 1996. He had stayed at Blue Diamond, but ordered ‘kanda pohe’ from Shreyas. In fact, he also packed a parcel for the next day for his journey,” said Chitale.
“Once while returning from a political rally in 1980-82 we were passing through Balgandharva Rangmandir at around 10 pm. He asked me to stop the car to watch a play at Balgandharva Rangmandir. He was also fond of Marathi movies,” said Chitale.
“He last came to Shreyas when my father died in April 1996. He became prime minister in 1998 and continued visiting the city, but then he did not visit Shreyas. He used to stay at Raj Bhavan,” he said.
The renowned Dr KH Sancheti was one of the team of doctors who operated upon Vajpayee way back in 2001 at Breach Candy Hospital, Mumbai. Expressing grief over the demise of Vajpayee, Dr Sancheti said, “The former PM was very polite and kind to the group of surgeons who operated upon him.
“He was also a very good patient. He followed all the instructions given by the doctors and though he was a former PM, he was very polite to all of us. This incident time and again underlines how down-to-earth Atalji was,” said Dr Sancheti.
‘He was a true patriot’
Expressing immense grief over the demise of Vajpayee, renowned singer Padmaja Phenani Joglekar said, “It was a very weird coincidence that Vajpayee has passed away on August 16, a day after we celebrated our Independence Day. He was a true patriot who would not think anything beyond the country. He always used to say: Bharat zamin ka tukda nahi, jeeta jagta rashtra purush hain, iska kankar kankar Shankar hain, iska bindu, bindu Gangajal hain, iske liye marenge aur iske liya jiyenge.”
“I remember he said to me that his poems have got lost in the desert of politics ‘Rajkaran ki registan mein meri dhara kho gayee hain’. Apparently, Padmaja had sung eight poems composed by Vajpayee in an album named ‘Geet Naya Gata Hun Mein’.
“I was over-whelmed when I first met him at late Gopinath Munde’s Mumbai house. It was August 9 (Kranti Din), 1997. Munde’s wife Pradnya who knew that I sang his poems had arranged this meeting. When I told him that I sing his poems, he said: Meri kavita gana toh mushkil hain kyonki who toh sari Muktchand mein hain’, (My poems are difficult to get musically composed as they all are metered in ‘Muktchand’),” said Padmaja.
“When I sang his poem before him, he gave a standing ovation. He said: This appreciation is for your singing and not for my own lines. Then he granted permission to make an album of his poems and we selected eight poems from his collections. In December 1997 we made the album,” she said.
‘He was an artiste’
Reminiscing about the relation between his father renowned vocalist Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and Vajpayee, Shriniwas Joshi said, “They knew each other for five to six decades, since the time before my birth. Although he was a politician, he was an artiste, a poet. I remember he and my father shared the dais at several events across the country. On my father’s 75th birthday, that was celebrated with grandeur in the city, Vajpayee was present as chief guest. Also, the Sawai Gandharva Smarak built by Arya Sangeet Prasarak Mandal was inaugurated by Vajpayee on a special request by my father. He once even mentioned in an interview that Bhimsen Joshi was his favourite vocalist.”
Talking about his memory of Vajpayee, Joshi expressed, “Once while he visited Pune, while he was prime minister, I accompanied my father to Raj Bhavan, where Vajpayee was residing, to meet him. While there, he suddenly asked my father if he could sing and I remember we waited as the necessary instruments were arranged for, and my father performed.”