Such was Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s love for food that it once took a wily plan by his aides to deploy Bollywood star Madhuri Dixit to draw him away from gulab jamun at an official lunch.
As Vajpayee breathed his last today, close aides and journalists recalled his fondness for gastronomical delights particularly sweets and sea food, his favourite being a platter of prawns.
Senior journalist Rasheed Kidwai remembered how while attending an official lunch, Vajpayee, then the prime minister, was headed for the food counter even though he was on a strict diet.
Anxious aides then struck on a plan.
They immediately introduced him to Dixit who was in attendance, and soon the film buff in Vajpayee took over as the two went on to talk about movies.
“Meanwhile, the aides quickly removed the desserts from his line of vision,” recalled Kidwai.
Bureaucrats who worked with Vajpayee said that wherever he went he insisted on tasting the local cuisine.
“So it was puchkas in Kolkata, biriyani and halim in Hyderabad, Galoti kebabs in Lucknow. He specially liked his pakodas with lots of chat masala accompanied with masala tea,” said one bureaucrat.
Those close to him recalled how he relished every meal he ate.
Another senior scribe told PTI that on numerous occasions he and his fellow journalists were treated to dishes cooked by the Vajpayee himself.
“He would cook at least one dish for us. It could be a dessert or something non-vegetarian,” she recalled.
A close aide said that Vajpayee used to pop in salted peanuts throughout Cabinet meetings and wanted his plate to be replenished each time it went empty.
While Lalji Tandon, known as his protege, was tasked to bring him kebabs from the Chowk area in Lucknow, Union Minister Vijay Goel brought him bedni aloo and chaat from Old Delhi. Vice President Venkaiah Naidu would bring him prawns from Andhra Pradesh, said a close aide.
A journalist who went on trips with Vajpayee recalled how he was the “most relaxed” PM she had ever travelled with as compared to his successors.
“For him these trips were not just about work. He was even not averse to the idea of extending trips. He ate his food and enjoyed, even while at work,” she recalled.
Another aide, recalled how, despite being unwell, Vajpayee would keep having kaju and samosas.
“He wasn’t spartan and he didn’t pretend to be one. That is why he was so loved,” he said.