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The Rediff Special / M D Riti in Bangalore
April 19, 2004
Aap ki biwi baahar khadi hai kya?" (is that your wife standing outside?) an elderly Muslim woman asked Anant Nag. She pointed towards me, as I stood outside the barred window of the small living room of her home, peering in desperately, trying to catch a glimpse of what was going on inside.
Anant looked out at me and grinned broadly. "Nahi, woh meri dost hain! Meri biwi mujhse naraaz hokar Abu Dhabi chali gayi hain holiday ke liye. Usne mujhe is election mein shaamil hone se manaa kiya tha!" (No. She is my friend. My wife has gone to Abu Dhabi on a holiday. She had told me not to contest this election)
He was in the heart of Chamrajpet constituency in Bangalore on a hot summer morning, campaigning door-to-door at a blistering pace.
Nag, once a popular leading man and now a popular character actor, is the Janata Dal candidate from this assembly seat. His main opponent is Karnataka's Chief Minister S M Krishna of the Congress.
Also see: Will Mukhya Mantri defeat the CM?
Anant is an old friend. When I called him the previous night, he said, "Just wait outside your gate at 8.30 am tomorrow morning, and I'll pick you up on my way to my constituency." I agreed readily.
The next morning, I waited at the spot at the appointed time. Only, I was accompanied by some unexpected baggage: my eight-year-old daughter Amala, who had decided that it was far more interesting to watch a political campaign than play with friends or attend a summer camp.
An autorickshaw carrying a lone passenger puttered past us. "That must be him," I said excitedly. It was more than a year or two since I had met Anant.
"Don't be silly. No ex-minister would ever turn up in an autorickshaw," said Amala, looking down her nose at me.
The autorickshaw stopped some distance ahead and a slim, tall figure in a dark blue kurta, cream churidar and a long saffron dupatta jumped out. "Sorry, I shot past you," yelled Anant.
We ran up to the auto, jumped in and were off. Half an hour later, we arrived at an old temple in Chamrajpet where Anant was to perform a puja. "Remember I was groomed to be a matadipathi (head of a religious institution)?" Anant said to me.
"Does that mean Mutt head?" asked Amala, a gleam in her eye.
As we came out, a man wearing a BJP badge ran in front of us shouting, "Bolo Bharat Mata ki Jai!"
Anant's campaign manager looked at him benignly. "These people are so gung ho about you," he remarked.
"What the hell do you mean?" demanded Anant indignantly, in Kannada. "That is a BJP slogan, not one of ours!"
The would-be Dal campaigner was promptly summoned and chastised. He covered his badge with his hand, sheepishly apologised for his goof up and whipped out an autograph book for Anant to sign. After Anant had finished, he promptly passed it to me and said, "You must sign too."
"Look, I'm just a journalist, not a film star," I protested.
"Give it to me, I'll sign it for you," said Amala grandly. Before I could recover my composure, the child was actually signing on books and pieces of paper for a small group of autograph seekers!
"Lets have breakfast before we begin," said Anant.
We went to a tiny hotel, where Anant ordered idli vada sambar for everyone. His cell phone rang.
"Saar, where are you?" asked a voice. "We are your campaigners and we are just starting out from home."
Anant's quick temper flushed his face. "Nimmajji maneliddivi!" (At your grandmother's house) he roared and disconnected the call.
The tardy campaigners called on the campaign manager's cell phone and began whining, "We never expected a film star to come so punctually…"
Anant snatched his manager's cell phone and switched it off.
"I am not going to wait for those fools!" he said firmly and briskly walked out of the hotel. An aide quickly ensured the campaign manager got back his cell phone.
"We can't go like this, without a group of campaigners around us to raise slogans and wave flags," protested the manager.
"I don't want a crowd cutting me off from my voters: can't you understand that?" Anant patiently explained, walking on.
As soon as we emerged from the hotel, Anant got into his act immediately. He would walk up to passers-by, make eye contact and ask them, in a warm, intimate tone of voice, for their vote.
Amala scurried along by his side, smiling equally warmly and distributing pamphlets.
"We are not part of his group of campaigners!" I hissed at her. "You are not, but I am," she replied smugly, smiling pityingly at me.
"Are you his daughter?" someone asked her. Amala just grinned and left him guessing.
Suddenly, I found myself right in the middle of a very Muslim neighbourhood. Wouldn't we be mistaken for BJP campaigners, I wondered, looking at Anant's and my saffron dupattas. I even had a saffron tilak on my forehead that morning, and our foreheads were covered by kum kum, remnants of the visit to the temple.
Anant seemed perfectly unconcerned by all this and walked straight into the Muslim homes. The residents of those homes seemed equally unconcerned by these in-your-face religious symbols and received Anant very warmly.
An hour of keeping pace with Anant left me thinking longingly of my cross trainers back at home.
"We will go on for another five hours at least," said Anant easily.
I weakly wished him good luck, dragged a reluctant Amala into a passing autorickshaw and headed for home.
Photographs: M D Riti