Last week, Lady Sonia Congress went to tea at knight-in-nuclear-armour Atal BJP's house.

Now, this was the first time the lady was visiting the knight. She had heard of him before, heard that he had become a big man, but the opportunity never came to seek him out -- as you know, ladies of the old school never go around knight-hunting just like that.

Anyway, there were a triple of big, big bangs on May 11, in Rajasthan's Pokhran, all engineered by the knight-in-nuclear-armour, which had a certain rolly-polly-jolly gentleman falling out of his bed -- he was sleeping at that time, we are told -- in faraway America.

"Hah," thought the lady of 10, Janpath, "This is my chance come. If I don't meet Knight Atal now, I won't meet him ever!"

So off she went, arranging for the meeting... should she wear this saree, or should it be that one? Should she take daughter Priya or should it be son Rahul? No, on second thoughts, no, she would go alone, she wouldn't even take aides Sharad Pawar and Manmohan Singh...

And thus was it how the lady stepped into the knight's 7, Race Course road residence this week.

It being their first time-together, Lady Congress was a bundle of nerves. But Knight Atal, a richly experienced man, was calm and collected and charming. The lady's main concern was how to conduct herself if the knight started talking about the Pokhran bangs, its consequences, and how he planned to handle the rolly-polly-jolly American. But the knight, probably sensing the lady's tension about his adventure, steered completely clear of it. He turned on his charm full blast and proceeded to put the lady at ease...

"There was small talk, big talk, light banter, dark banter -- but absolutely no politics, divisive or consensual," revealed a source close to 10, Janpath, "You see, the knight was a gentleman... he could sense what a lady wanted."

Over tea and snacks, the ice was broken between the two, as the knight's foster family played gracious hosts to the lady. The tricky business about the how and why of the Pokhran bangs was left for the following day's meeting the knight had with the lady's two aides, Pawar and Manmohan Singh.

"It was a pleasant experience for the lady and the gent," our sources said, "Both of them got along fine..."

Which is why the lady's family has now softened its stand on the knight's big bangs in Pokhran.

Polyglot budget

With two formidable men as his immediate predecessors, Union Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha is hard put to make his budget speech as media-friendly as were those of P Chidambaram and Manmohan Singh. So when he rises on June 1, expect a heavy dose of contrived humour and shero-shayarri.

If Singh had quoted Urdu couplets to break the monotony of his dreary text, Chidambaram in his Dream Budget had fallen back on the Tamil poet and sage Thiruvalluvar. Now Sinha wants to do one better: he has directed his officials to introduce suitable couplets from at least three regional languages in his speech! So don't be surprised if Sinha quotes Oriya, Punjabi and Bengali couplets!

That should keep some of the BJP's regional allies quite happy, shouldn't it?

The call of Quattorochhi

Mysterious, very mysterious, this sudden departure of two Congress employees a couple of days ago. Where on earth could they have gone?

Well, our investigations reveal that the birds have flown to Manila. Their assignment there is as much your guess as ours -- in all probability, it might have something or the other to do with Italian businessman Ottavio Quattorochhi.

One of the employees is the son-in-law of a state governor, and is generally known to be a fixer in the capital's political circles. CBI sources revealed that he had personally escorted Quattorochhi to the airport two years ago when he decided to flee the country following Bofors allegations.

"Quattorochhi," the sources said, "may have found lucrative assignments for his factotums abroad. These two are privy to his shady deals -- maybe he is trying to relocate them so that they cannot be interrogated."

The sleuths also do not rule out a connection between Quattorochhi and the recent opening of an office of the cash-rich Rajiv Gandhi Foundation in, of all the places, Seychelles!

Earlier, the RGF had opened an office in London.

Appoint and disappoint

It's a typical case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing.

A couple of days ago, Ashok Tandon, diplomatic editor of the Press Trust of India, joined the Prime Minister's Office as an officer on special duty with the rank of an additional secretary to the Government of India. The idea was that within a few weeks, Tandon would take over as the Principal Information Officer to the GOI when S Narendra retires on attaining the age of superannuation.

Unfortunately for Tandon, the government raised the age of retirement from 58 to 60 years. Which means that Narendra will now continue in service for another two years. So what to do with Tandon? Maybe Narendra will now be moved to some innocuous slot so that Tandon can take over...


BJP circles are gung-ho with the Pokhran spirit. Among the many reactions which has puffed up the BJP chests, this one from a Harayanvi Jat was particularly pleasing to the ears of senior Hindutva votaries:

"Vajpayee ney koi motohi kaam kiyo hoga, key woh Clinton bhi us sey naraj hain (Vajpayee must have done something great, it has even angered the mighty Clinton)!"

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