The Day I Met… Indira Gandhi

She even has her face on stamps

This week’s entry in The Day I Met… Competition takes place in sunny Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. It used to be famous as the only home of the Dodo. Since then a more reilient resident has been roosting there – guest blogger Padmini Natarajan in Chennai, India. The dodo is extinct, but Padmini and her blog This & That, There & Here is still going strong. She and I met a few months ago at the Royal Academy. (Click for her photo.)

According to Padmini – actress, writer and cultural ambassador to the world – she and her husband have met many celebs over the years. But the one who sticks in her mind is a very formidable woman – an international figure – controversial, some would say notorious. We’re talking about bestriding the world stage here, not some reality show Z-lister (though stories about encounters with them are also welcome).

You know – Indira Gandhi. She had a famous relation too. Can you guess who? I’ll tell you after Padmini’s story.

But just to fill you in on Indira – she was four times prime minister of India, led country to military victory over Pakistan in 1971 leading to the creation of Bangladesh, was called a witch by Richard Nixon (so she can’t have been all bad), oversaw the Green revolution in agriculture, was convicted of electoral corruption, imposed a state of emergency, ruled by decree, suppressed a Sikh separatist uprising, was assassinated by a Sikh guard in retaliation, as was her son Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi (this time by the LTTE – Tamil Tigers). 

All of which makes her a pretty prestigious encounter. But guest blogger Padmini can tell the story of…

The Day I Met… Indira Gandhi

 As expats in Mauritius, sent on a government initiative to build the Mahatma Gandhi Institute, we [Padmini and her husband] were always in attendance at the MGI or the embassy when political bigwigs visited.  The then prime minister of Mauritius Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam was a cultured and civil person who would see us to our car when we visited him at home. [He may have led his country to independence, but I’m afraid he’s not quite famous enough for Padmini – she has a very high threshold.]
Indira Gandhi was visiting Mauritius. This was just around the Emergency period and she had already developed the nervous tick in her eye.
A huge crowd of Indians and others were waiting for her to come into the garden to meet us. She walked out with a rigor mortis smile stuck to her face and with her characteristic rapid stroll (an instruction given to her by her security people that is copied by Sonia Gandhi even today) walked around greeting people with her hands held in a Namaste.
She was speaking very quietly to the High Commissioner. [What secrets were they exchanging? The mind boggled.] As Mrs Gandhi approached us, suddenly we were able to hear what she was whispering quite distinctly. [Aha! Revelation time. State secrets and hidden diplomacy to be laid bare.]
We could hear her muttering to the High Commissioner: “How long do I have to do this, for Heaven’s sake”?

"Yeah, yeah, great to meet you too. can we get out of here?"

Oh dear Padmini. She should have been a bit more pleased to see you. Perhaps she and Richard Nixon have something in common after all. (I’m thinking of the photo of him shaking hands with a member of a crowd while looking at his watch and clearly wanting to get away.)

Still… It was worth it, wasn’t it Padmini? Just to be able to share your story here. And after reading Padmini’s story, you may want to send in one of your one. Lovely. Email it to me at – hopefully it will involve a celeb (or Z-lister – the choice is yours) and be a bit funny. If it’s calamitous, that’s even better. (If you want a longer version of the rules click here.) And you’ll even win a glittering prize. (Aka, a book.) 
I haven’t yet heard what book Padmini has chosen as her glittering prize. But when I do, I’ll pop it in the post to India. In the meantime, thank you very much for your story Padmini. 
You can check out past celeb encounters by clicking on these links:
There’ll be a new The Day I Met… next Wednesday. But you’re also welcome to check back in before then too.
Meanwhile, did you guess Indira’s famous relation? Sorry. No. She’s not related to the Gandhi – the Mahatma – Mohandas K. Gandhi – the guy they made the big film was about. Her grandfather and father were Nehrus – independence leaders.  But if Indira is not the Gandhi, she’s definitely the other Gandhi. (And she got to meet Padmini, which is more than the supposedly more famous other bloke ever managed.) 


Filed under Guest Posts, The Day I Met... Competition

16 responses to “The Day I Met… Indira Gandhi

  1. Good job Indira Gandhi didn’t have the gift of James Molyneaux (he always talked through his teeth making it impossible to hear from a distance or lip read!), or we would not have this wonderful story from Padmini.

    • blackwatertown

      James Molyneaux always seemed to be pursing his lips too – in disapproval of something or another.
      Though he came into his own at the cenotaph as the only party leader who had actually fought in a war.

  2. Maybe it’s good that Indira Gandhi had a quick pace, no telling what the prime mininster would have said had she stopped to chat.

  3. Thanks Paul for the plug. I enjoyed your Irish blarney a lot. I have many more stories of Indira Gandhi–my husband as an engineer with the Central government was looking after all the VIP’s homes in Delhi from 63 to 66 including PM’s and prima donna’s!.

    • blackwatertown

      If he is not sworn to secrecy, he’s welcome to share a couple of stories here.

      • I will have to do the telling–he is a bricks and mortar man and only politically motivated to blog!!

        I shall collect my book when I see you next so as to save you horrendous postage charges. Thanks.

  4. Padmini, that was a fascinating story and one, it seems, of many more you have. Thanks Paul for hosting such a cool series. Not only are the stories entertaining, but I’m meeting, albeit virtually, some interesting and talented writers.

  5. Padmini – I thoroughly enjoyed reading your story. Wow!

  6. Folks I am having problems with my laptop!! Sorry for the typos!!

  7. Thank you for sharing this story, Padmini – the things people say when they think no one can hear them!

  8. Barbara–do we learn at all to be prudent with our words? Another blog idea for Paul!!

    I do suffer from the foot-in-my-mouth disease:)

  9. Nice,

    Thanks for your greatful informations, working in, ASIAN AFFAIRS MAGAZINE.

    Try to post best informations like this always

    Interview : In the name of Indira

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