‘An Extraordinary Life: A biography of Manohar Parrikar’ penned by veteran journalists Sadguru Patil and Mayabhushan Nagvenkar takes you through the life and times of Goa’s ‘Nayak’. The authors share more with NT NETWORK
DANUSKA DA GAMA | NT NETWORK
Former Chief Minister and Defence Minister of India, Late Manohar Parrikar continues to live in the hearts and minds of Goa. And now veteran journalists Sadguru Patil and Mayabhushan Nagvenkar have come out with a biography of the blunt, witty, and astute politician.
Titled ‘An Extraordinary Life: A biography of Manohar Parrikar’, the book, published by Penguin Random House India, which was to release in April, is now slated for release on July 7
“‘An Extraordinary Life: A biography of Manohar Parrikar’ examines the life and times of Manohar Parrikar, through the eyes of his family, friends, party colleagues, and foes that all panned through our collective experience as journalists who have covered Goa and its politics over the years,” says Nagvenkar, adding that it is the story of a man who has influenced Goa and its politics to a very large extent for a little more than 20 years
The book, spanning across 10 chapters, dwells on Parrikar’s good and bad times in politics, years of adolescence, first flush of love, promises, betrayals, the food he ate, his interesting relationship with the media, his IIT and Delhi days, his return to Goa, and the countdown to his demise. The end also presents the take of both these journos on the legacy he leaves behind.
“It’s the story of Goa’s tallest politician yet; tallest in terms of tangible political achievement. Before Parrikar, and in the brief period after his death, no Goan politician has ever been appointed as a full-fledged Union Cabinet Minister,” points out Nagvenkar, adding that Parrikar scaled that peak despite the obvious handicap of belonging to a politically less significant state (on the national canvas).
“So it was a story waiting to be written,” continues Patil. “We started on the project a few weeks after his demise.”
In fact, Patil had already written Parrikar’s biography in Marathi. With this new book, the duo sought to expand the scope of this biography to a much wider audience. “The book is a great read for youngsters, not just because of the easy style of narration, but also because it represents a slice of history they are familiar with and have lived through,” says Nagvenkar.
The book also narrates incidents of how Parrikar dealt with the media too. Throwing a little light on the other side, that they, as journalists, got to witness, Nagvenkar discloses that Parrikar often said that Anil Kapoor’s film ‘Nayak’, where the actor plays chief minister for one day was one of his favourite films. “When he was in the opposition, Parrikar was a ‘Nayak’ in the truest sense ie as true as politics can allow. In his later years in power, he ceased to be that. One of the key takeaways of the biography is our attempt to decode these paradoxical elements about his personality and its impact on the decisions and choices he has made,” says Nagvenkar, adding that it will take some years to fill the vacuum his absence has generated.
Parrikar, he states, emerged as a leader of significance and stature after years of slugging it out in the political pit. “It was this struggle which helped him embody the necessary qualities. He wasn’t born with them. Folks used to say, that after Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP would fall short on propping up a leader with mass support. But now you have Prime Minister Narendra Modi filling that slot,” he says, while Patil mentions that in Goa, Parrikar’s death was regarded, by many, as a death-knell for the BJP. “But the party has survived. Its legislator strength has in fact gone up,” says Patil.
And while writing may come easily to the two who are only too familiar with meeting deadlines, writing a book had its own challenges. Nagvenkar shares that indeed it is always difficult to gauge or put a finger on what one leaves behind after moving on. “So the chapter which deals with his legacy was a tough one and took the most amount of time to pen down,” he says.
Planned and written methodically, there were several aspects that were considered. This included maintaining the element of balance in the biography. Nagvenkar says: “When we set out to write it, this was the single most important benchmark we had in mind. We never set out to write a hagiography, but we did not intend this book to be a tar brush either.”
“It wasn’t easy, considering that someone like Parrikar either (still) has die-hard fans or die-hard detractors,” adds Patil.
From deciding on penning the book, to collecting and collating information, the two authors worked in tandem having their duties in place. Sadguru put in a series of solid shifts collecting the data and inputs for the book, while Nagvenkar’s role was to collate the data and draft the manuscript accordingly.
“We would meet regularly; compile detailed questionnaires for the persons we intended to interview. On most occasions, Sadguru met our respondents on multiple occasions, to fill up gaps in the information chain that we may have missed,” shares Nagvenkar. Based on the information compiled, the two kept plugging away at the manuscript every day. “It took us around six months to complete the draft manuscript,” recalls Patil.
And according to Nagvenkar, the first chapter ‘Cancer and the King’ is a heart-wrenching one. “It deals with his last year in power as Chief Minister. It was not only a disturbing and painful time for Parrikar, his family and friends, as he battled with pancreatic cancer; it was also one of the worst periods for the state, because governance and virtually all critical decision-making came to a standstill. Sympathy for his debilitating condition aside, it was a case of one man, holding a state to ransom on account of his ill-health. That act went a long way in whittling away his goodwill, among his own fans and supporters,” says Nagvenkar.
So, does ‘An Extraordinary Life: A biography of Manohar Parrikar’ have everything people would want to know about Parrikar or only bits and pieces? Nagvenkar says a biography is less about relaying everything about a person’s life. “It involves a process of curating a selection of events, personality traits and portrayal of relationships, so as to convey an account of one’s life, which is as accurate as it can get,” he maintains, adding that the key remains- getting the selection right.
Excerpt: Chapter 1 – Cancer and the King
While Parrikar’s death was formally announced by the President of India Ram Nath Kovind on Sunday evening, the chief minister had already slipped into a coma twenty-four hours earlier. He was on artificial respiration. Nearly forty-eight hours before the announcement, Parrikar had stopped responding to treatment or to his family members or to the doctors around him.
‘Both his lungs failed first because of fluid retention. Doctors had drained the fluid in the lungs three to four times, but it kept accumulating there despite efforts. That was when we gave up hope. When his end was imminent, the team of doctors asked us if they should keep him on a ventilator. But there was no point,’ his brother Avdhoot said.
Jyoti had met him a few days ago. She had never seen his legs swollen the way they had during that visit. Knowing there was very little to cure her Manohar, she offered to massage his legs to give him some relief.
‘He was awake. His eyes were open. His legs were swollen, but I decided not to cry in his presence. I turned away from him in order to hide my tears and started massaging his legs. He fell asleep soon,’ Jyoti told the authors.
Jyoti was actually one of the many well-wishers who had expressed concerns about Parrikar’s health when he was still in Delhi during his stint as the defence minister. One day, while channel surfing, Jyoti saw him on a TV news channel. She sensed something amiss. Jyoti immediately phoned her brother and told him he looked like a tabla. ‘His hands and legs appeared unusually thin, but he had a bloated stomach shaped like a tabla. I even asked him if he was suffering from gas-related issues. But Manohar said, he was fine,’ Jyoti said.
Another time, during Diwali, Parrikar, who was still the defence minister, was in Goa for a few days. ‘He landed at Avdhoot’s house in Porvorim and incidentally I was there too. He asked me to make some dudh poha [stamped rice in flavoured milk]. When I served it to him, he only drank the milk and left the poha in his plate.
Maybe that was a red flag too,’ Jyoti said. It was apparent during the interview that Jyoti had been churning her memories of the last few years looking for signs. Signs, which, if spotted early, could have helped her save her brother’s life. Just like she once had when they were young.
Close friends and fellow party members like Dr Shekhar Salkar and late Madhav Dhond—the latter was one of Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) founders in Goa—had asked him to undergo a thorough physical examination because his appearance seemed off.
These were gentlemen who had known Parrikar for nearly three to four decades. While Dhond hailed from Panaji, the Salkar household and their friends in Bicholim sub-district in north Goa had been associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and BJP for a long time too.
Salkar rued the fact that he could not do much for Parrikar, despite being an established oncologist. It was Salkar who had detected Parrikar’s wife Medha’s leukaemia in 2000. She died in a matter of days after she was rushed to Mumbai’s Tata Memorial Hospital for further examination.
Salkar, who heads the oncology department at Manipal Hospital in Goa, sensed something amiss in his friend’s health too, since the latter’s return to his home-state in 2017.
He kept begging Parrikar for a drop of blood so that he could scan it for clues. Salkar had assured him that he would quickly facilitate all the tests and keep the findings secret from the hospital staff. But Parrikar kept avoiding it.
According to Salkar, Parrikar’s reluctance to cooperate with him could have stemmed from his anxiety of heading a coalition government—any sign of weakness could have been exploited by alliance partners or by ambitious Brutuses within his own party.
But Salkar did not give up on his efforts.
‘One day, a friend of his was admitted to Manipal Hospital, so Parrikar dropped in to meet him. I insisted on at least checking his blood pressure, but it was normal, like that of a youngster. I asked him again for a drop of blood, but Parrikar refused. He said, “I have just eaten. You will find my sugar count high and then you will lecture me about eating right,”’ Salkar said.
Before Dhond died, he too had cautioned Parrikar about the dark circles under his eyes and his teeth, which had become excessively stained due to smoking and chewing tobacco.
In fact, concern over his health among friends and family wasn’t new, because his sugar levels would often spike. After he suffered a minor heart attack in 2005, he also had stents implanted in his arteries after an angioplasty at Apollo Hospital in south Goa.
Salkar claimed he had complained of indigestion on and off in his later years, but with Parrikar refusing to submit himself to a thorough examination, there was little one could have done by way of diagnosis or treatment.
The first real signs of discomfort surfaced just before the budget session of the state legislative assembly on Valentine’s Day in 2018, when Parrikar complained of abdominal pain and was rushed to Goa Medical College, a top government hospital, for examination.
The team of doctors that examined him included his son Utpal’s father-in-law Dr Mahesh Sardesai. The tests were conducted in utmost secrecy, but the outcome worried the medical professionals.
The tests showed signs of pancreatic cancer, but the doctors advised Parrikar to travel to Mumbai urgently for a thorough check-up.
Perhaps one of the reasons behind Goa’s fluid political environment is the verdant and flourishing grapevine, which started buzzing soon after Parrikar’s departure to Mumbai. One whisper even suggested that the chief minister had had food poisoning after he ate mutton curry prepared by the wife of one of his aides. But truth can be graver than fiction…