WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE would have also said of Arun Jaitley, ‘the elements/So mix’d in him that Nature might stand up/And say to all the world, ‘This was a man!’’ He truly was. A man of deep humanity, of tremendous sensitivity and great grace. Never to lose his head when everyone around him was losing theirs. Never to speak ill of anyone despite the provocations and always to gently check on the welfare of all and sundry. No man I know has treated his staff with the care and affection that Arun did. No one I know has ever been so giving as Arun was. A devoted husband, a brilliant father and the perfect 2 am friend. Arun Jaitley may have physically left the world but then what he shared with us as friends, with his family and with all whose lives he touched, is what we will live by every day of our lives. I will always remember with fondness and trepidation his desire to go for walks in Lodhi Gardens, which were more about anecdotal chitchat than about any serious exercise. No one I know spoke with as much authority about Devdas and Derivatives or about Lamhe and Law or for that matter about Tendulkar and TADA.
Many years ago, Arun Jaitley was very, very excited. Not because he had won yet another case in his path-breaking career as a lawyer; not even because of some political goal he had scored. But only because his stenographer’s daughter had topped her college and found herself a job with a multinational in the US. It was an education that Jaitley had funded. Much like the education of every one of the children of his staffers. Much like the housing he had provided each of them: not in some staff quarters, but in independent MIG housing colonies.
At a time when most senior lawyers would usurp the clerkage that was meant for their staff, Jaitley would not only hand it over but also supplement it with a lot more. On January 31st, 2015, Jaitley, his wife Dolly and the two children made their way to an orphanage close to his home, a ritual that happened on every special occasion in the Jaitley household. It was his son Rohan’s birthday and instead of the ubiquitous party, Jaitley, like he did every year, spent time with kids at the orphanage—not just feeding them but supporting them in multiple ways as he had always done.
Gopal Bhandari is not someone most people would know. Nor would you have heard of Surender or Padam. These people didn’t just work for Jaitley; they were his family, treated with the greatest respect and care. Last year, when Jaitley had his surgery, upon returning home he was in the care of a doctor and a nurse. I still cannot recall any lunch or dinner I had had with Jaitley when both of them hadn’t been with all of us at the table.
When my father took ill owing to a brain bleed and subsequent surgery, it was Jaitley and his family who took greater care than one could have imagined. I remember Jaitley was leaving for Davos on the evening of January 20th, 2015, but his thoughts all day were with my father and he must have made several calls to check about my Dad’s tests and health.
His wife Dolly is an elegantly caring woman. For her, much as for both his daughter Sonali and his son Rohan, the family always comes first. And their friends are subsumed within that family. There have been innumerable instances when, from seeking out recipes to getting information on food and clothing, I have made calls to Dolly and she has taken pains to ensure every thing works out smoothly.
Arun was and remained to the very end an avowed nationalist. I had never ever seen him lose his cool over anything. And I had known him since 1999. Not once had I heard any despicable utterance from him. I don’t think he had it in him to be either vindictive or compromising. For him, family values were critical; loyalty was always at a premium and care for one’s parents stacked up very high among his principle benchmarks.
HE WAS ALWAYS very clear about what was good and what was not. For him, his friends were friends, no matter their station or place in society. And he believed in his friends. Defended them ever so often. Many years ago, Virendra Kapoor and I used to walk with Jaitley in Lodhi Gardens, and I remember once I had written a vitriolic piece on Sushma Swaraj and that too from New York. Jaitley knew nothing about it until he was perhaps told by her. I recall Jaitley telling both Virendra and me that what we were writing about the then National Democratic Alliance Government was getting him into trouble because people assumed we were doing it at his behest. And then he would simply laugh it off.
And one final personal story: many years ago, the Jaitleys and my parents and I had gone on a cruise. One of those really middle-market cruises, and thanks to his inherent distaste for vanilla sightseeing, Jaitley would stay back on the ship (and not do those onshore excursions) just so that he could be company for my Dad. He needn’t have done it, but then he was cut from a very different cloth. So while we were exploring islands, my father and he would gorge on those comedy serials and old Hindi movies.
Jaitley was a student of St Xavier’s, Delhi. That school was his alma mater, so he was no stranger to the exemplary education that missionaries have provided to millions in this country. And he almost always laid a huge premium on education. Nothing would give him greater pride than in sharing the academic successes of the children he knew and he did it like a doting parent would.
Jaitley loved children and was an avowed believer that education in any society is the first pillar of a more opportunity-laced and equal society, which explained the emphasis on education and employability in his first Budget. And then there was his nature of being utterly fair. No matter what political differences he may have had, personally he cut across party lines. Be it the Badals or for that matter Nitish Kumar, or even a P Chidambaram, Jaitley maintained relationships of healthy mutual respect because he never possessed a grain of arrogance. But then again, he was not afraid to call a spade a spade. Jaitley was never a streetfighter. His weapons were his mind and wordplay. His oratory was matchless and his debating skills legendary.
He was not afraid to call a spade a spade. Jaitley was never a streetfighter. His weapons were his mind and wordplay. His oratory was matchless and his debating skills legendary
Share this on
In order to explain his perennial angst against black money (and consequent support for Demonetisation) and his belief in ethics, I will leave you with one more story. Many years ago, when Jaitley was the Union Law Minister under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, he went to Nainital to inaugurate the new high court that had been set up there. Since I was a student at St Joseph’s, Nainital, he asked me if I wanted to visit the place of my childhood and I readily agreed. He had arranged for me to stay at the Raj Bhavan, upon payment of course, and he too was staying there. We entered the Raj Bhavan and the caretaker asked for the required fee. Jaitley took out the money and paid it without batting an eyelid. The caretaker was a man called Tewariji. In the evening, while I was lolling around, Tewariji came to me and said he had served so many ministers and VIPs but not one had ever paid the ridiculously low fee of Rs 200 per night and he always had to cough up the cash from his own pocket. And that Jaitley was the first man to ever pay for it himself. Tewariji then added that this man, Jaitley, would go very far. And he had. But, thankfully, not in his own eyes.
Jaitley remained rooted. Not a whiff of arrogance and no recrimination for those who may have slighted him. He was unarguably the most principled man I knew and this country is poorer without him. In many ways he was the moral compass and the bridge perhaps to a saner world. That bridge has gone. Many in the Cabinet today owe their existence to him. Some have forgotten that but that didn’t matter to Jaitley: he never felt there was a need to look back in anger.
MY WIFE AND I spent several evenings with him in New York in February 2019: he was undergoing treatment at Sloan Kettering, but nothing ebbed his energy or for that matter his desire to keep working, be it tweets or blogs or even the launch of the late Kuldip Nayar’s book. Every evening when the wound specialists and the caregivers arrived, they’d do their work but wouldn’t be allowed to leave until they had been fed with Indian street food, which Arun arranged from Long Island. One evening, I invited my good friend Nouriel Roubini, the famed economist, to meet him at the apartment that Jaitley was in for recuperation. Nouriel spent almost two hours and when I went down to see him off, I still remember the words he used for Arun Jaitley: he said, “This man is so incredibly bright and so incredibly compassionate that he could be, and perhaps is, the world’s best finance minister and finance humanist.”
Three weeks ago, my mother, my wife and I went to see him at his Kailash Colony home. As always, the television in the room was on: it was the day the
International Court of Justice was delivering its verdict on the Kulbhushan Jadhav case. Jaitley, as always, was switching between conversing with us and commenting on the verdict. He then turned to me and joked about my impending fatherhood saying that it was a tangential version of Badhai Ho, the Hindi film that has a reasonably older woman giving birth.
I could go on and on. I could tell you tales about the holidays we took or for that matter the many food trips we went on. Or how he brought the famed Amritsari kulcha to national prominence or for that matter the arduous discussions we would have on the perfect chhole bhature. I could talk about the many soliloquies he delivered, be they on Kashmir or India’s cricketing trajectory. But it is all now in vain.
One of the finest human beings to walk this planet is no more with us. He lives on in what we all shared together and for that alone we must be grateful. Grateful that we had him amidst us, grateful that he did what he did for the nation, family and friends, and grateful for his enduring love and elegance of mind. I am sure the heavens will sooner than later reverberate with the fragrance of food, the fire of debate and the fondness for goodness.