More than 30 years ago, I was in a bus in Delhi riding from Jawahar- lal Nehru University to the Indian Council of World Affairs’s headquarters at Sapru House,
Barakhamba road. I was sitting next to my
JNU friend Digvijay Singh — a tall, big built
man, who we affectionately called Dada.
During the long bus ride, in the tortuous
heat of Delhi, I asked Dada to read my hand.
I do not remember why I asked him to do
so. Perhaps I had heard that he knew palmistry. But I remember this part of the story
like it happened yesterday. Dada held my
right hand and told me two things: that I
would have a long life; and that my parents
would be there with me for a long time.
Last week I woke up to read on Twitter
that Dada had passed away in London.
Earlier I had learnt from another JNU
friend Chandrashekhar Tibrewal that Dada
was in coma having suffered a brain hemor-
rhage while on a visit to London.
I now wonder whether Dada had ever read
his own hand. He was one year older than
me. He died at the young age of 54. Could he
foretell that his life was going to be relatively short?
I met Dada at JNU in the late 1970s. We
were from two very different worlds. I
was born and educated in Delhi and some-
what politically naïve, but engaged in the
capital city’s strange blend of Western liber-
al and yet conservative North Indian cul-
read his read his
glimpsed the other
India through his
Singh who recently
Digvijay Singh, then India’s minister of state for external affairs, with Sonal Shah, India Abroad
Person of the Year 2003, at the inaugural event in New York, December 12, 2003
group and the FTs always strategized and
then voted together.
A year later we both contested again. He
was the candidate for the president’s post
while I contested for the vice president of the
students’ union. The political climate at
JNU had changed and this time we both
I left India in 1981 but followed Dada’s
political career in later years and his rise
through the system. I heard from other JNU
friends, who sometimes approached him for
favors, that he would use his political stature
to get the respective jobs done. But I did not
see him all those years.
Then a few years ago, when he was the
minister of state for external affairs, he was
invited as a guest at India Abroad’s Person of
the Year ceremony in New York City. After
the program, as guests mingled, I walked up
to Dada and asked if he recognized me.
His face lit up, just as I always remem-
bered. “Arré, of course, Aseem,” he said,
grabbing my hand, as if we were long lost
friends. And commenting on the weight I
had gained in the twenty plus years since we
had last met, he added laughing, “Tum
bahut chauray ho gaye ho [ You have become
He then suggested that I should come visit
him in his hotel room. I went to his room
later that night, with another JNU friend
Arshiya Sethi. That night Dada asked why I
continued to stay in the US. I explained to
him that I had a child in school, and then
there was my writing career.
“You should come back to India,” he said.
“More people will read your writings. And
right now I am in the government so I can
easily get you placed at one of the newspa-
pers in Delhi.”
Arshiya stepped in to say that it was
important for me stay in New York to be
with my son. “Arré the child lives his moth-
er,” Dada responded. I had told him that I
was separated from my son’s mother. “The
mother can bring him up, and you can see
him during his vacation.”
Soon after we ended that conversation.
Later heading home, I thought about the
fact that Dada and I had come from two very
different Indias. I had the opportunity to
sense the other India through him, but now
our worlds were even further apart.
His death came as a shock. I miss the man
who once told me that I would live a long
life. And I can hear his voice in my head. ;