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).
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”?
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.)
- The Day I Met… Bill Bragg
- The Day I Met… Gerry Adams
- The Day I Met… Telly “Kojak” Savalas
- The Day I Met… Frederick Forsyth