A.K. Antony a bit of a miser, suggests book

July 3rd, 2008 - 12:02 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Sonia Gandhi
By Sanu George
Thiruvananthapuram, July 3 (IANS) He is widely known for his simplicity, but India’s Defence Minister A.K. Antony is also a bit of a miser and a stickler for rules, suggests a book of funny anecdotes penned by a Kerala legislator. Titled “Kumbalangi Varnangal”, the book has been written by senior Congress leader K.V. Thomas, who was part of the state cabinet when Antony was Kerala chief minister during 2001-04. It is to be released next week.

The book takes its name from Kumbalangi, a beautiful island that lies a few kilometres away from Kochi and is the native village of Thomas. It contains interesting tales from the place as well as stories of politicians.

Among the anecdotes is an encounter Thomas had with Antony, titled “Vyathyasthanam Antony”, which in English means “A Different Antony” and suggests that the defence minister can be stingy.

The chapter dwells on an incident at the Brahmaputra Apartments in New Delhi where Antony stayed after taking over as defence minister in October 2006.

“On a cold December evening, I reached his apartment shivering and upon seeing me he asked, ‘Oh, you are shivering! Shall we have a glass of hot black tea?’ Soon he called Prathapan (his secretary of two decades) and said, ‘Get us tea and biscuits’.

“I looked amazed, so he asked, ‘Why am I looking like this?’ I reacted, “I can’t believe this. I have known you for a very long time and this is the first time you are offering me a glass of black tea and biscuits.

Upon hearing this, Antony started laughing.

After a cup of tea, Thomas left the apartment and reached the Delhi Press Club to join senior journalist friends from Kerala.

“I told them that Antony had offered me tea and they also expressed surprise. They said that something good was going to happen to me as I had got a cup of tea from Antony and I had to pay the bill at the Press Club!”

Thomas narrates another interesting encounter that took place last year to show how tactful Antony can be.

“Over the years, I arrive in Delhi with Onam gifts like banana chips and Kerala Onam sweets to give to people like Sonia Gandhi, the prime minister and other senior leaders. I was in two minds whether to give a packet to Antony.”

A group of journalists told Thomas that he should give some Onam goodies to Antony. But he wondered if the defence minister would accept them.

“So I half-heartedly reached Antony’s home at 9, Krishna Menon Marg. When he saw me, he said, ‘Oh, you are making your customary Delhi visit during Onam.’ He complimented me for the excellent PR job. Soon I breathed easy.

“I have brought one packet for you also. Shall I put it on the table? But Antony soon called his younger son and said, ‘Thomas Mash has brought Onam gifts.’ (Mash is a word to show respect to teachers in Kerala and Thomas is a retired college professor).

“I saw how shrewd Antony was - he did not oblige me by taking the gift, but did not disappoint me either,” Thomas narrates.

Another incident shows how Antony is a stickler for rules. After finishing his work during a Delhi visit, Thomas asked the protocol officer at Kerala House to book a return ticket to Kochi.

The protocol officer said since Antony would leave for Kochi the next day on a special aircraft, Thomas could go along with him and save Rs.8,000.

“See, don’t you know how strict Antony is about following rules? Why ask him and be embarrassed?” Thomas asked the protocol officer. However, the officer insisted.

“I spoke to Prathapan and he connected me to Antony. He asked me why I had not gone back. I said, ‘I heard that you were going to Kochi on a special flight tomorrow.’ A polite Antony asked, ‘Don’t you know the rules? This is a special aircraft. Moreover, you have been in Delhi for a long time, don’t you know no one else can be taken?”

Thomas, who represented the Ernakulam Lok Sabha constituency from 1984 to 1996, has been a member of the Kerala assembly since 2001.

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