When was the last when you met a freedom fighter, a business tycoon, an innovator, a dashing pilot, a science aficionado, a true philanthropist, a visionary and a politician who was a romantic? Where on earth would you find a combination, so scarce? It is certainly hard to believe that it could be found in a place like Odisha, perennially suffering and poor. Odisha, a few decades ago, was a different story.
Even today, with all the development, affluence and progress, can you find a romantic in public life? Frankly, no. His life was straight out of a silver screen blockbuster. Action, glory, defeat, flight of a phoenix, humiliation, treachery but all in the common thread of die-hard romance. The power to smile at life, to be unaffected, to be eternally at ease.
He never lost romance in the humdrum of politics: We’re all different combinations of spirit and matter. In the pursuit of political gains, we have seen many leaders lose humour and grab dreariness in their lives. Biju Babu was always proud of the twinkle in his eyes. In a famous national TV interview, he had said, “My body might not permit, but my eyes still twinkle.” He never ever compromised his ready wit and undying jocularity. When asked what he would do if he retires from politics, his ready quip was, “I would be a taxi driver in NY.” Fantastic sense of humour, bereft of ego or guile, global man, nothing and nothing could cow him down. A true romantic. In the file of a dreaded but reformed criminal seeking pardon from life sentence, he had remarked, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” The criminal was granted pardon. The expanse of Biju Babu’s thoughts was intoxicating. It was beyond my normal sense.
In 1995, he had lost the elections and was sitting in the assembly building gathering details of the election results, unfazed. I didn’t see a trace of self-pity, sadness or remorse on his face or in his tone. As “calm within” as always. He was rather discussing the weaknesses in the strategy, which led to the party’s defeat. He knew he was betrayed by his own acolytes but expressed no regret or the bitterness of having played into the hands of treacherous intrigue. He never had any enemies. He had his detractors but never spent time hunting them down or planning their downfall. He was much above vindictiveness.
Once a dreamer always a dreamer: He drew undying strength from his dreams. His dreams were lofty, audacious and immune to the vagaries of “win-loss” political one-upmanship. He had suffered major setbacks in his life, but nothing could stop him look high with chin up. The irrepressible spirit, the high self-esteem, the “saintly” forgiveness, perched him at a level where he worked with almost three generations of national polity. Dreams know no border. He knew no limitations. In the last seven decades in India, I would not know of many who demonstrated the power of dreams in realpolitik with such impunity. He knew no left or right. His dreams were central for his people. An electoral loss couldn’t erode his dreams. It was too small for his dreams, for he was always soaring high much above pettiness. Once on a flight he asked, “Do you know why the shape of India is what it is? I said to myself, Sir, you are the epitome of “big thoughts” and only you can mull over geographies, continents, populations from a height, I can’t even imagine. Imagination is an asset not many are blessed with and not many can preserve even if they possess.
How can you ground a large heart? He was constantly suffering at the hands of petty, scheming, self-serving politicians who were his protégés. He was aware of his own Secretariat playing Brutus. Heckled inside the Secretariat, lampooned with canards at Delhi, surrounded by time servers, woefully gullible, not once did he take to mean levels or machinations of politics to score points with his adversaries.
Too largehearted, unbelievably magnanimous, he was immersed in his thoughts for the state development and the growth of his people. Looking at the vast sky, this King of Vastness, once muttered to himself on his terrace, “When is Odisha going to fly?” He has always been a star, up there, beyond our small lives of claims, publicities, ego, material benefits, compromises. Where on earth can you meet a political figurehead spending money from his pocket and running a party? Many join politics to make money, he joined politics and renounced the life of a wealthy, successful business magnate. He was also an innovator in business, many firsts to his credit. In all the trials and tribulations, Biju Babu never ever became small. He was not meant to be. You can’t kill a large heart, a genuine large heart, no matter how much you try.
A romantic colossus
Biju Babu dumped his riches because he was so rich within. I must have met over 300 people so far in different parts of India and from completely diverse backgrounds and every time it is a new story about him or getting emotional about him, as if the patriarch of the family is gone. The protector, the family head who is only a giver, a rare selfless. He relished giving. Never given to publicity, he didn’t know how many students, households, helps he had supported throughout. He didn’t care. Romantics don’t care for material hoardings. Romantics are more naturally attuned to the world of spirit than matter, although they may not know it. They perceive the deeper realities of life more easily, the innate worthiness of others. He gave away his millions to be with millions. His romance with people is legendary. A youth, the youth’s mother, the youth’s father, the youth’s siblings who didn’t like him? A simple, naïve, guileless, straight speaking, statesman, who was the king of hearts. Millions walked from Bhubaneswar to Puri in his last journey to be with him. You know why? Lest, I miss the chance to walk along with the colossus who would smile, nudge you, provoke you, rebuke you to rise above mediocrity and above self.
A rare romantic who defied the mundane.
Bow to the King of hearts who rests at Swargadwar and every time I cross the road, I have to believe that such a soul lived among us.
Do I need to be so small?