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Lest we FORGET...



The Lal Bahadur Shastri Memorial in New Delhi.

A SHORT-STATURED man with a lean body, clad in dhoti-kurta, sporting a Gandhi topi, simplicity personified. This is how we remember the great political leader and India's second Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. The nation celebrates the centenary of the devout Gandhian this year on October 2, which also happens to be Mahatma Gandhi's birthday. Even as the Government gets ready to organise a number of events in the coming year, people will get the chance to have a glimpse of his life and lifestyle when his memorial re-opens for public in the coming year.

The residence of Shastri, where he stayed as Prime Minister, now hailed as Lal Bahadur Shastri Memorial, at 1, Motilal Nehru Place (formerly 10, Janpath), is being spruced up.

Some precious moments of the former Prime Minister stand still at the memorial .The abode, still has in its primal form, the original mosaic floors and vanilla walls. The kitchen, dining room, pooja room, bedroom and the porch are all intact, as is the Fiat DLE 6 parked in the garage.

Homeless minister

Known as the homeless home minister (he always stayed in a rented house), the earthy leader in his 17-room palatial mansion, occupied a mere 3 x 4.85 m room. His room opened into a backyard porch and a huge mango tree where his children got married. His wife, Lalita Shastri, a beautiful lady who used to wear a big vermilion bindi and a glittering nosepin, stayed in a slightly bigger room adjacent to Shastri's.

The place is being renovated but one can see his arm chair, wooden badminton racket, a plank-bed, an array of books, a globe, photographs, paintings and Nataraj idols, Lalita Shastri's pooja utensils and other precious remnants, including the wheat crop which Shastri produced in the garden of this very place. A photograph of him tilling the land inside the complex strikes one immediately as do photographs with army men and farmers, people he admired and coined the famous slogan: `Jai Jawan Jai Kisan'.

Born in a middle-class family of Moghalsarai in Uttar Pradesh, Shastri had a humble childhood and came up in his life braving severe hardships. At the age of 17, he joined the Non-Cooperation movement of Gandhiji. After Independence, he became Minister of Police in Nehru's Cabinet. He held various ministries in his political career, including the Home ministry and rose to become Prime Minister in 1964, after Nehru's death.

But he remained a simple man in spite of the offices he held. Dr. Savita Singh, daughter of Shastri's close friend, the late journalist D. N. Singh, talks about his plain lifestyle and is particularly reminiscent of one evening when she saw a dishevelled and seemingly upset Shastri walked barefoot from 10 Janpath to the residence of then Industries minister T.N. Singh at 16, Ashoka Road , which was quite a distance.

URMILA RAO

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