Morning walk, birthday ritual at Lodhi Gardens: Delhi will remember Arun Jaitley
At 6 am every December 28, a motley group of politicians, lawyers, journalists and businessmen used to assemble at the green coloured benches across the Bada Gumbad in Lodhi Gardens to celebrate Arun Jaitley’s birthday. Usually dressed in a branded woollen jacket with a golf cap, the BJP leader would begin his birthday with his Lodhi Garden morning-walk friends and with sweetened milk tea, lemonade, cake, bread pakoras and an assortments of sweets. Even though he was a diabetic, for many years, Jaitley would not let the opportunity pass and used to dig into pakoras and sweets. For the past five years, though, the cakes were sugar-free and he would barely partake of the goodies.
In 2014, after he took over as defence and finance minister, and around the time his health issues cropped up again, Jaitley decided to walk in his 2 Krishna Menon Marg residence, although he would still make the occasional appearance (like he did a few years ago on his birthday). Before that, he would be driven by his close lawyer friend and neighbour Ranjit Kumar, solicitor general in the Modi 1.0 government, from his Kailash colony residence to Lodhi Gardens in a white Mercedes SUV.
Former solicitor general Ranjit Kumar recalls how he inspired Arun Jaitley to start morning walks. The two initially started walking together in a park opposite Sama Nursing Home after Jaitley moved his residence near Kumar’s in the Kailash Colony house. “Jaitley never knew how to drive, so he always came along with me in my car,” he told HT.
Later in 2014, the two became regulars at Lodhi Gardens due to security concerns. “Jaitley had then become the LoP and security officials asked him to move to a more secure location,” he recollects.
Kumar first got to know Jaitley in 1974 when he joined Hindu College and in the same year voted for him when he contested the Delhi University Students’ Union polls for the president’s post. The two, however, became close friends only in 1989 after Jaitley was appointed as the additional solicitor general during VP Singh’s tenure as prime minister.
“Jaitley had an elephantine memory. He could recollect a movie of the 1960s, word by word and scene by scene,” Kumar recollects.
As a person, Jaitley had malice for none. On the professional front, Jaitley was brilliant with court craft. “He always used to tell me to be patient with judges and not get overexcited during arguments,” said Kumar.
Others who used to walk regularly with the former union minister included former attorney general Mukul Rohatgi. “We three (Jaitley, Kumar and Rohatgi) were the lawyers. We were accompanied by a Mr Grover, who would bring tea and biscuits. Jaitley stopped coming regularly when his health deteriorated and his security was stepped up,” said Rohatgi.
Members of the opposition parties, senior police officers, doctors, bureaucrats, lawyers, businessmen, and journalists would also accompany the walking group at times.
Regulars say the walk itself was more in the nature of a stroll and that Jaitley, when he was around, would hold forth on a range of issues.
Bhushan Narula, chairman and managing director, Orosil Smiths India Limited, has been a part of the Lodhi Garden walking club since 1986. “ I have know Arun Jaitley since my college days. Jaitley started coming regularly for walks from 1988 and we were a close group who walked together and gossiped a lot. Jaitley seldom talked about politics during the walks, but we did discuss burning topics. He was a good friend and talked about nature and the history of the Lodhi Garden during walks. His passing away has left a gap.”
After the stroll, during which he stopped many a times to emphasise on a point, Jaitley would have a glass of milk tea with biscuits with his friends. Jaitley was mulling writing an autobiography; the morning walk would have been a substantive chapter in it.