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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 43, October 18, 2014

Remembering Bhupesh Gupta

Monday 20 October 2014, by Abu Abraham

The late Kenneth Tynan, theatre critic, once wrote in the course of a review of one of Brendan Behan’s plays: “The English hoard words like misers; the Irish take them out on a drunken spree.”

Mr Bhupesh Gupta never drank, but when he spoke he took words out in the Irish manner. Words in his mouth achieved a kind of inebriation and they flung themselves out like a mob pursuing an enemy of the people. He spared no one, yet everyone (almost) had a soft spot for him. There were exceptions, of course. Khushwant Singh clashed violently with him during his first session as a nominated member in the Rajya Sabha. Bhupesh made certain personal remarks about Khushwant. Khushwant lost his temper and took words out on a Punjabi spree, causing much expunction.

But, as I was saying, when Bhupesh was on his feet, no one left the Chamber. They sat and listened. One marvelled that such a small head could carry all he knew. When he was in full spate, not even the Chairman could stop him. ‘Your time is up,’ was seldom, in my experience of the Rajya Sabha, said to Bhupesh. The Chairman had to find more appeasing phrases than ‘please wind up’ when dealing with him.

There were deceptive turns in his speeches, such as when everyone thought he was winding up, only to realise a moment later that he had merely ended one chapter to begin another. Chapters were like paragraphs to him, but he was no windbag. He used his words with maximum effect, both in their precising and their velocity.

Adjectives followed adjectives until they formed a heady cocktail, the verb being only the cherry or the olive. ‘Where did you learn all these adjectives?’ Dr Radhakrishnan (as the Vice-President and Chairman of the Rajya Sabha) once asked him. Bhupesh smiled and said: ‘I was your student, sir.’

I remember, on my first day in the Rajya Sabha (in April 1972), as I entered the House in the morning, there was Bhupesh asking a question. It was like a little speech and the actual question was slow to come. ‘Come to the question, Bhupesh,’ said the Chairman, and Bhupesh answered: ‘I’m coming to it, Sir, everyting must have its evolution.’

The very same afternoon, as I walked in, Bhupesh was up making an intervention. It was a long one, and when the Deputy Chairman requested him to come to the point, Bhupesh replied: ‘Sir, I’m coming to it, gradually. One bead doesn’t make a garland; it has to be a rounded thing.’ He made a fine, circular gesture with his hands, and carried on.

During my six years in Parliament as a nominated member, my affection and admiration for Bhupesh grew. We never had any long talks or discussions in the Central Hall, but he would often put his hand on my shoulder and speak to me like an elder brother. He had great charm. Conversation was difficult with him because his hearing was poor. When it is an effort for someone to listen, why burden them with one’s own thoughts?

A few weeks after my induction into the Rajya Sabha, Mrs Gandhi asked me how I found the place. Among other impressions I mentioned the phenomenon called Bhupesh Gupta, and the Prime Minister remarked (jovially): ‘Have you noticed that when Bhupesh has finished his speech he removes him hearing aid?’

Parliament educated me on a good many things, above all on Parliament itself. I learnt something of the efficacy of talk. When purposeful, when founded on facts, it is the creator of ideas. It is the most basic and natural vehicle of argument. Talk is not the clothing of democracy, it is its very essence. It is the only true test of liberty.

We are reminded from time to time of how much one minute of Parliament costs the nation. All i can ssy is that without Parliament, that one minute would cost the country a lot more. Of course, I found out in Parliament that 90 per cent of the talk—whether in the House or in Committees—is useless in the end, but I also realised that without that 90 per cent of chaff, we would not get the 10 per cent of grain.

It is a characteristically Indian phenomenon that Bhupesh, a Communist, should have been one of the pillars of our parliamentary system. While Bhupesh was in action, one felt that the system worked!

(Courtesy: The Sunday Observer)

The author, who is no more, was a leading cartoonist and author. He was a nominated Member of the Rajya Sabha in the 1970s.