While many will laud Arun Jaitley’s political career and address his public persona, the true measure of a man is how he gave of himself to others. It is an intangible, unquantifiable quality. Especially, if he himself never boasted about what he did for others. When my father’s soul left his body, dozens of strangers came out of the woodwork to tell us amazing stories of how he had helped them. We did not know. Quietly, he had been paying for someone’s college in the US, another said he came to him during the Partition wearing only a vest, a woman who said he had intervened to stop a forced marriage, too many to list. Similarly, it will be impossible to find a friend of Arun Jaitley’s who does not have a story. Although, he loved to talk about anything and everything, full of fascinating stories, one never heard him tell a story about how he helped someone.
Every person in Jaitley’s office was helped to buy or build their own home. He paid for their children’s education. A junior clerk’s son is now a practicing lawyer. Legal interns were paid with expensive legal books which they could not afford. He followed and mentored scores of young lawyers, advising them carefully on how to chart their careers. He kept track of their personal lives. Young politicians sat in AIIMS speaking about how he had mentored them. He picked up medical bills for countless people, especially children. Arun had a special fondness and joy in children. His only return was their respect and love.
Even when he was a powerful minister in the government, he made the time to visit a home for the arrival of a baby, with a specially crafted gift chosen by his wife, Dolly. An embarrassed mother watched as her two-year old gave Arun a basket, ordered him to look for Easter eggs and he gamely played along. Arriving at my daughter’s eclectic wedding in Goa, he sportingly followed the dress code of lungi and kurta. His outwardly perceived status never changed the true, big-hearted Punjabi friend he remained.
When I argued with him about riots in Gujarat in 2002, he had the innate decency to hear me out. I think back and the contrast is obvious compared to many who lose the self-awareness to listen to differing points of view. But, his unrelenting curiosity about how other people think, made him an easy person to argue with.
Arun’s tendency to see the humour in any situation made him a great storyteller. His curiosity about any given situation and his sense of wonder led him into surprising areas. At his daughter’s wedding, he marveled at the cottage industry and business weddings generated. No detail was too small for him. If a friend was sick, he knew every aspect of the treatment and followed it assiduously.
The list of Arun being there for us in times of crisis is too long to enumerate. When I was charged with contempt of court by the Supreme Court, public and private crises, he was there. There was no question of him asking for anything in return, not even gratitude. He just moved on. The magic and natural grace of Arun was he never allowed us the anxiety of asking for help. We never had to.
Arun Jaitley was there for us and for countless others. Everyone who visited him in the hospital was there because he had been there for them. The measure of the man was his innate altruistic character. Though nothing can bring back the splendour of the friendship, we will grieve not. We will find strength in what he gave us: himself. (Apologies to William Wordsworth). Many will now say, he is no more. Yes, he is irreplaceable. He was always there for us. He will be within us as we learn to be for our friends as he was. He will always remain here with us. Forever.
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