The former defence minister George Fernandez was in bed with his eyes open but without any expression in them. The face registered no emotions. The mouth looked distorted due to a curved lower lip at the right end of his mouth. Touching his bare arm suggested lower than normal body temperature but it could have been due to the air conditioning in the room. He did not respond to touch. Dr. Bruce Lipton an American biologist claims in his book ‘Biology of Beliefs’ that the unconscious mind of humans receives every second eleven lakh messages. In the case of George Fernandez even a single message was not carried. Physicians attending on him were unable to state positively what the dreaded Alzheimer’s had done to the man.
Normally it is said that the first stage of the disease is indicated when the man forgets to zip up his trousers on emerging from the washroom. The second stage is indicated when he overlooks need to unzip his trousers on reaching the washroom and the third stage is indicated when the man forgets at the door of the toilet whether he was going in or coming out. In case of George, every stage had passed. He could not even move his hands.
Leila Kabir escorted the former Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani and long time socialist Sharad Yadav to the bed of George Fernandez though her steps betrayed her reluctance to disturb her husband even in that condition. She had been attending to her ailing husband in the last four years. She could not escape courtesy for both as well as fifty others had turned up at their home that has virtually converted to be a private room in a hospital to celebrate the 88th birthday of George Fernandez.
The occasion was also converted into launching a website so that the world would come to know what kind of lively being he used to be. Leila deserved all credit for her devotion to her husband whose mind was always filled with concern for the masses, particularly the poor and deprived.
George was rarely in an expansive mood for he was always under the burden of too many worries. Friends have seen him grab two slices of bread in his hand for his lunch. Feeding his belly was not as important as filling his mind with new ideas and more effective ways to inspire others to right action. Even Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia had to recognize that George was a mass leader. He had the unique ability for rabble rousing and that too without using decorative phrases and words. His language was simple but words penetrated the hearts and minds of his audiences.
He appeared very hard and harsh in his use of his words. He would never care for public image or sentiments of people he dealt with. He was kind hearted and would not bear the thought of children of his workers on strike going without food. If the strike persisted beyond a week, he ensured that striking workers’ families got their three meals a day. His problems were two trade union leaders. RJ Mehta always sought the easy way out if he was able to manage under the table compromises. And Datta Samant would not seek cooperation of others for his intense dislike for the Communist controlled trade unions. He would fight long drawn battles as his unions were of unorganized sectors in which workers were in constant and perennial threat of losing their jobs.
Only later as the defence minister in the Vajpayee government he realized that the situation can be tough if the system is caught in dire need. Then men in the offices have to take decisions regardless of the risks involved of allegation of inept handling or accusations of corruption that keep coming. He needed to get secure coffins for use of armed forces in the Kargil conflict. He could not haggle over prices due to the urgency of need. He had boldly taken the decision and had faced the consequential risks.
When asked why he did not involve others in the decision, he quipped, “Look here man. Our conscience is not something to hold in our hands or put in a showcase for inspection, verification and certification by others. You are welcome to believe or disbelieve that my conscience is clear. In public life, it is a part of risk and I took it.”
Such a firebrand leader was now reduced to immobility. In a conscious stage, his decision would have been totally different. But his incurable disease had deprived him of mental agility at the age of 88 years. He was helpless. Yes, he was suffering but was out of pain. He lay there suspended between life and death.
Others who came to participate in the celebration of his birthday were apparently not even conscious of his condition. They had merely come to bask in the setting sun’s glory.