I was curious and excited to attend the Make In India – Defence Manufacturing Conclave in Hyderabad in February 2015 for two reasons. One, because it was hosted by the think tank I am part of and two, I was going to get an opportunity to hear India’s Raksha Mantri, Manohar Parrikar.
The conclave proved to be a different one altogether. For the first time, I saw a Defence Minister sit among the audience, attentively listen to all the speakers, make notes and ask questions. I was introduced to him in my capacity as an office bearer of an Ex Service Men (ESM) organisation, Akhil Bharatiya Poorva Sainik Seva Parishad (ABPSSP) and also as an entrepreneur. We exchanged a few pleasantries and I told him that I would like to brief him about our activities for Veterans & their families, from time to time. He said he would be in touch and that was that.
I initially thought that he would restrict his meetings to the President & Secretary of ABPSSP to get regular briefings about ESM welfare and certain critical issues pertaining to OROP, which had become an agitation at Jantar Mantar at that time. Imagine my surprise, when one day I get a call from him, asking me when I would be in Delhi next and could I meet him! It was a jaw drop moment for me.
I made a trip to Delhi from Bangalore to meet him and shared an update about skill building for veterans and their families through ABPSSP. He asked incisive questions about how many actually benefit in terms of employment, self employment, what kind of opportunities are presented by the corporates. I answered his questions with data and he smiled & said, “I like the fact that you are stating numbers.” Thus, began our work towards the welfare of the ESM community. During the course of our association, he once remarked, “I appreciate your never say die spirit and I hope you continue to be Jhansi ki Rani, fighting for causes you believe in so strongly.”
From then on, our meetings became regular and he always had questions & suggestions. He asked me if I travelled to different states to meet the ESM & their families and I said, “Yes Sir, I do. We have adopted a few places, especially villages where our bravehearts come from and we are now focusing on developing them as Adarsh Graam under the Veer Sainik Graam Yojana project of ABPSSP.” He helped us a lot in approaching the local authorities & state governments in Jharkhand, Odisha & Chhattisgarh.
My trips to Delhi became more frequent as my daughter moved back to the capital from UK. I could now ask for frequent meetings which I did for purely selfish reasons – I got to learn so much from Manohar Parrikar. He became this mentor, elder bother and friend all rolled into one and the more I got to know him, the more fascinated I was by his memory, sharp grasp of complexities and result oriented approach that saw many a change in the Ministry of Defence. I discovered the humane side of Mr Parrikar. His quiet visits to families of martyred soldiers, action towards their problems that were stuck in the bureaucratic labyrinth of the Ministry, ensuring quick decisions were implemented & cross verification of the same, his simple approach when he interacted and easy manner of communication, are all traits that made him differently unique in the world of politics. When he decided to work with you, he did with complete trust. No halfway measures for him.
During one of our conversations, I requested him that he must come home during my stay in Delhi. He said,”Let’s talk when you land in Delhi.” He gave me a second jaw drop moment when one evening, he announced that he is coming over for some simple “ghar ka khana”, chilled beer & masala peanuts. It was an evening to remember with my parents, daughter and a couple of close friends with whom he was also familiar. My daughter told him, “Uncle, I thought as Defence Minister you will have guards surrounding you, black cat commandos will come home and do a thorough check of our place, something like a James Bond movie.” He laughed heartily and said, “I am not James Bond and I am coming to meet a friend and the family. Why would I need security to surround me?” That was Manohar Parrikar for you.
I was extremely hassled when he had to go back to Goa as Chief Minister and felt (countless others also would have felt the same) that we were losing a Defence Minister to gain a Chief Minister. He very patiently explained why it was necessary for him to go back to Goa. The last meal we had together at his Delhi residence where he asked me if I had read Robert Greene and I said, “I have read one book of his – The 48 Laws of Power.” He gave me a copy of 33 Strategies of War and said, “Read this. You will understand much more about power & politics.”
He was very happy when I wrote to him about getting my book of poems published in August 2017 and called to tell me that he wanted an autographed copy. I told him only if he gives me sometime when I came to Goa. So, when I did make that visit to Goa, he did spend an hour, despite an unimaginably busy schedule. His personal secretary, Upendra Joshi, remarked that “It is amazing how Sir makes time for everything.” That was how Manohar Parrikar built relationships – he gave people time & listened to them. Subsequently, when he read the book, he called again to congratulate me on the poems I had written about soldiers.
Very recently I messaged him about my daughter getting engaged and invited him for the engagement. He declined stating health does not permit him to travel, but, if he got better, he would try to make it for the wedding.
Now, that is not going to happen. The void you have left, Manohar Dada cannot be filled. A deep felt gratitude to the Almighty for having given me the opportunity to get to know you and work with you for a while.
God speed and rest in peace. Till we meet again.
Cancer took my inspiration, guide & friend away, don’t you see?
Time was a ticking bomb thrust decisively.
If cancer had any idea what beauty lay within your soul,
I can promise it would have seen the glow.
Silence began moments ago,
When a voice said its time to let go.
Even though you are gone now,
Your memory will always remain in our hearts.
Your smile and face will never fade.
We will think of you as we go on each day.
The good times we remember
And the days spent together, will be in our memories forever.
When I sat down to watch the TV tonight,
And I started to cry…
I thought of your strength & then your pain
And asked Lord Almighty why?
I’ll just leave it at that and know you’re in a better place.
Your heart is right with God.
So, Manohar Dada we love you & we will miss you so much.
I also know you are at peace today.
So watch over us and make sure we’re okay.
And I will see you again someday.