Note: This obituary was published in the "Haribhoomi" newspaper (22.08.06)
Pt. Rajendra Prasad Shukla, the first Speaker of Chhattisgarh, was cremated this afternoon with full state honors. He was 77. I was to have called on him today, at the Apollo Hospital, with a pre-publication of my prison-poetry. Fate willed otherwise: that meeting, like so many others in my life, now belongs to an unrealized saga of aborted possibilities; instead I've just returned to Raipur after having attended his funeral.
Shukla 'uncle' came to visit Papa sometime before my arrest. His hair was white, like silk, and he could walk, only with the help of a trusted servant. I remember asking him why he didn't dye his hair anymore. That, I believe, was the last time I saw him. Again, during the time I was granted leave by the Supreme Court to visit Papa at the Escort Hospital, he was good enough to telephone me: in jest, he offered to fight my case, reminding me that he was an ace lawyer before he was chosen by Destiny to carry forward his uncle, Pt. Mathura Prasad Dube's political legacy. I told him that coincidentally, his compatriot from Madhya Pradesh- the veteran White Tiger of Rewa, Pt. Srinivas Tiwari, with whom he had fought a proxy-war for Amarkantak, the source of the Narmada- had also made a similar offer. I joked that both my lawyers would be more preoccupied with fighting over whether Amarkantak should be in Madhya Pradesh or come to Chhattisgarh- rather than in defending me!
However the image that will forever remain with me is this: him swinging on the white wrought iron hammock of the Speaker's House, as he interviewed the twelve defecting MLAs one by one before recognizing their merger with the Congress, to 'satisfy' himself that they weren't doing so under duress. At the time, I thought the exercise wholly unnecessary: after all, wasn't he a Congressman too? Now I see things differently. For him, the Constitution was more than a legal treatise: it is a hard-fought Victory, for which countless people had laid down their lives, and therefore, as sacred as the Ramayana , yet another epic that he had mastered and loved quoting from, in chaste Sanskrit.
His first duty was to his Office. He discharged it with a rare honesty and sincerity of purpose to the very end.
May God grant rest to his soul.
Monday, August 21, 2006
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