Some vivid moments with I K Gujral on Rotary’s centennial in India

Former Prime Minister I K Gujral at Nari Niketan.
Former Prime Minister I K Gujral at Nari Niketan.

Former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral passed away just five days before his 93rd birthday on Dec 4, 2012. We felt we had lost a family friend. My father-in-law F C Sondhi and Avtar Narain Gujral (father of I K Gujral) struck friendship as ­Rotarians. In 1971–72, Sondhi as ­President of RC Jalandhar, 3070, visited the Nari Niketan which was run by Gujral’s parents.

After the passing away of A N Gujral, my husband P C Sondhi and I got more involved in the working of Nari Niketan, helping Pushpa Gujral in running the institution as all her children, including I K Gujral, the eldest, were in Delhi.

Later, when his mother could no longer manage, Gujral himself got more involved in managing the institution. We had the good fortune to spend more time with him, working together in Nari Niketan.

Gujral was a humble and warm-hearted personality, despite his growing status in the society. One of my early memories is of him coming to our home, in an old, run down car, driven by his mother’s old retainer. I remember him laughing as he stepped out of the car.

Gujral in the factory of F C Sondhi.
Gujral in the factory of F C Sondhi.

Then we used to meet him sometimes in Delhi, and he always offered transport to us, which we never needed. Once I went to meet Gujral at his residence in Maharani Bagh to discuss about Nari Niketan. After our chat and tea, I was about to go, but my driver was not there. Before I could say anything, Gujral volunteered to drive his car to drop me at my house in Greater Kailash in the Capital.

In 1989, Gujral and his family were camping in Jalandhar for a month-long canvassing during the general elections. After the results were announced, one day we got a surprise visitor — Gujral himself. We were hosting a hockey customer from England as part of our family’s sports business. As we didn’t have domestic help, our two children scurried around and helped me make and serve tea to the surprise guest. The Doordarshan crew turned up at our house to interview the newly-appointed External Affairs Minister, a memorable incident that we still cherish.

In 1998, Gujral had a three-day election campaign for the Jalandhar seat. His team told me he was not visiting the industrial clusters in the city. I was disappointed and said so to Gujral when he was presiding at a Rotary meeting. Hearing my grief, he readily agreed to visit our area. In 24 hours we had to prepare the factory premises for the visit of the Indian Prime Minister and his entourage. It was quite a mammoth task, but we did it happily.

After the election results, Gujral again dropped in at our house to thank us for our support. He was preceded by a busload of security personnel, and we had black cat commandos who took positions on our roof, while armed security men took guard outside our home. In spite of heavy security, a person managed to barge into our room to invite Gujral to a breakfast event the next day.

Neena Sondhi with Gujral.
Neena Sondhi with Gujral.

Once we were waiting to meet him at 5, Janpath as we had an appointment. The door opened and PRIP Rajendra Saboo came out as we were going in.

When we met Gujral a year or two before he passed away, he was not very well. However, he greeted us with the usual warmth. We talked of Nari Niketan and he expressed his gratitude for our involvement. We were about to travel to Taiwan from Delhi. On learning this was our first visit to Taiwan, he mentioned that he had enjoyed the food there when he had visited Taiwan. Finally, when we were about to go, he got up and escorted us, though slowly, to the front door, as he always did. How can one ever forget such a warm-hearted and genial personality, a man of such high stature, whose was also born in 1919, the year Rotary was born in India. We pay our homage to him.

The writer is past president of RC Jalandhar South, RID 3070.


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