‘The man of my dreams’
The most surprising thing that I learned about Natwar Gandhi was that he was
no boring bean counter; he was a romantic, says Panna Naik.
met Natwar Gandhi about 35 years ago.
Suresh Dalal, the late distinguished
Gujarati poet and a dear friend, was visiting
the United States. I took him to Washington.
Gandhi had just moved to Washington on a
one-year fellowship from Pittsburgh where he was
on the faculty of Pitt Business School. He was our
host in DC and had arranged a literary program for
Gandhi’s fascinating literary introduction of
Suresh showed a deep familiarity and understanding of Gujarati poetry. He even selected a beautiful
poem from Suresh’s vast oeuvre and recited it so
well that both Suresh and I were impressed. He
had dabbled in poetry in his college years.
While I wrote poetry in blank verse, Gandhi’s forays into poetry were in classical mode and in difficult Sanskrit meters. He showed an amazing grasp
of Sanskrit meters and mostly wrote sonnets.
It was only later that I learned that he was an
accountant by profession and had never studied literature.
I thought I should get to know him better.
In the years that followed, we collaborated to
establish the Gujarati Literary Academy of North
America of which he became the founding secre-tary-treasurer and I became president. In the
process of organizing the Academy’s many programs throughout the East Coast, we visited each
other often and developed a close family friendship.
While I devoted myself to developing a literary
career, Gandhi concentrated on his professional
career — first in academia and then in government.
His one-year fellowship in Washington turned
into a government career in senior positions first at
the US General Accounting Office and then in the
government of the District of Columbia.
Gandhi is credited with playing a significant role
in the District’s financial transformation from a near-insol-vent, junk bond-rated jurisdiction into a financially stable,
I got to know Gandhi better in the last few years as we
drew closer for we both had lost our respective spouses a
few years ago after decades of marriage.
The most surprising thing that I learned about him was
that he was no boring bean counter. He was a romantic!
Despite his stern reputation (Dr No!) as the District’s
Chief Financial Officer responsible for its $12 billion budget and perennially obsessed with its overspending and
deficits, Gandhi was a romantic at heart with choice poetry
on his tongue.
Natwar Gandhi with Panna Naik at the India Abroad Person of the Year Awards last year.
He knows I like roses, so he never fails to bring me roses
every time he visits me.
Recently on a cruise, he would habitually wake up early
around 4 am (a most annoying habit!) and write a sonnet
for me every day. When I would wake up, he would read the
day’s fresh sonnet to me as we relished our morning tea in
balcony overlooking the Caribbean Sea.
What could be more romantic for a woman?
Gandhi is a driven man. He came from a very humble
background and reached the pinnacle of his profession, yet
he never takes himself seriously. He often says if you take
your work seriously but not yourself, you get a lot done in
What I like best about him is his quick-witted, self-deprecatory sense of humor. He has hair jokes (he is
bald) and government jokes (he has been a civil servant most of his life) in equal number. He is famous
among friends for his uproarious laughter.
Above all, he makes me laugh, and I like that in a
I also like his venturesome nature. He wants to try
out different things, away from his 24/7 job and the
Late in life he rejuvenated his love for poetry and
published three well-received collections of his
poems. He often goes around the country giving poetry recitals. We just returned from giving such
recitals in the United Kingdom.
As if this is not enough, last year he played a lead
role of Mahatma Gandhi in a two-hour play about
India’s independence movement and the Partition.
The play had performances around the country,
including one in Washington’s the prestigious Shakespeare Theater with the District’s political establishment, including the mayor, in attendance.
This thespian venture was his first ever, yet he did
not hesitate to take such a demanding role in a highly intellectual play. Only recently, he began learning
Last year, we were in India giving poetry recitals.
The Indian trip brought us together, and we talked a
lot about our life together and committed to each
In preparation for our future together, he decided
to give up his prestigious CFO position. He said he
wanted to spend more time with me and travel and
do things together that we both like.
He sent shockwaves in Washington by resigning
the position to which he was nominated and confirmed for a third 5-year term only in July last year.
(He has been the longest serving — 13 years! —
municipal CFO in the country).
The Washington Post carried the story of his resignation
on the front page of its A-section above the fold February 1,
As I look forward to being with him in my golden years, I
feel extraordinarily lucky.
At last, I have found the man of my dreams. ;
Panna Naik is a distinguished Gujarati poet who has been
active on the Gujarati literary front for about four decades.
She has also done pioneering work in the teaching of
Gujarati language and taught second-generation students
for years in her capacity as adjunct professor at the
University of Pennsylvania.
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