Meeting the bachelor

The other day, I had been to the local Nirmala College and happened to come across a big picture of the late V K Krishna Menon. It was of him speaking at a college day function. This took me down memory lane and I remembered meeting VKK Menon, the then defence minister of India. The year was 1960 and I was doing my post graduation in Political Science from the newly started Kirori Mal College in Delhi University.

VKK was dressed in a spotless white jubba with a Kerala-type dhoti to match, and carried a walking stick. He had probing eyes and a hawkish nose. Straight away, the defence minister hastened to the auditorium where he was supposed to inaugurate the college union. The stage was shared by other prominent persons like the then Vice Chancellor of the Delhi varsity VKRV Rao (the founder of the Delhi School of Economics) and the college principal Dr Sarup Singh (who later became the governor of Kerala) and Dr M V Pylee, the former Vice-Chancellor of Cochin University.

There were many skits and other performances and Amitabh Bachchan (who was a student there at that time) took the lead in arranging the show. But what we were all waiting for was VKK's speech. When he finally took the stage, he gave a half an hour oration on the duties of the young generation, especially the university students. He told us that there was no substitute for hard work. He exhorted us to dream big and of making India one of the strongest and greatest countries in the world.

Next was Bachchan's turn to entertain us with an English play, The Death of a Salesman. After the show, Bachchan received loud applause and VKK Menon congratulated him on his acting prowess. Those were unforgettable moments.

I had taken permission from the principal, Dr Sarup Singh, to speak with VKK. I wanted to impress Menon by speaking to him in Malayalam. But he wanted me to speak in English to know my proficiency in the language! He said that Malayalis speak too much and do not concentrate on what they speak. However, he added that they were efficient workers and made a good impression wherever they worked. He remembered great Kerala leaders like EMS, Kelappan (known as the Kerala Gandhi) and former finance minister of India, Dr John Mathai.

During the short talk, I asked him what it was that made him remain a bachelor. With a wry smile he said, "Perhaps I could not meet a woman with a temper to match mine." Menon was known for his quick temper and unpredictable behaviour. His tiffs with Acharya Kripalani were very famous.

R K Karanjia, the legendary journalist and editor of the famous tabloid, Blitz Karanjia, and Menon were close friends. Former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had reposed great faith in VKK and together they worked out the foreign policy of India which was based on peaceful coexistence. Indeed, my meeting with V K Krishna Menon is seared into my memory even to this day.

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