Arun Jaitley
Arun Jaitley | Graphic by Arindam Mukherjee | ThePrint
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The flood of “My Friend Arun Jaitley” obituaries today will tell you much about the life — regrettably a short one — of a remarkable public figure. Please do read those, as I shall. And if they don’t tell you that personal friendships transcended political rivalries for him, then I will remind you up-front that in his study, for years now, he had only two framed portraits on his desk: Madhavrao Scindia and Lalit Suri.

With this, I will take a break from politics today and write about the most inspirational side of his personal life.

In a mere 15 years, between the young age of 51 and 66, Jaitley faced more serious sickness than any public figure we have known. Did anybody see him complain? Betray a trace of self-pity? Or an exasperated why the hell is all this happening only to me?

You have probably seen a person make light of battling the most crippling, terminal sickness before, but only in the movies. Like Rajesh Khanna’s Anand. In real life, not many would be dealt such a cruel hand by the health gods.

A quadruple heart bypass after he collapsed while walking in the Lodi Gardens (2005, when his big troubles began), a crippling ‘hospital’ infection in the chest after his bariatric surgery to reduce weight and control diabetic complications in 2014, a kidney transplant last year, and a large and long procedure at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering for excising a connective tissue cancer from between his knee and thigh this year.

It was, as we understand, a particularly nasty, aggressive cancer, a ‘clear-cell carcinoma’. American surgeons thought they had removed the monster. All this, happening to a human body which was still learning to accept new kidneys, and surviving with rock-bottom immunity. Organ transplants are followed by heavy steroidal medication to suppress the body’s immunity to prevent organ rejection. A body on heavy steroids, with new kidneys, now had to endure a long and difficult cancer surgery and all that came with it. Imagine and shudder.

Yet, when Jaitley returned a couple of months back, he was still the same smiling, compulsive ‘gup-shup’ (not the same as gossip). It isn’t as if he didn’t want to talk about his sickness. His wasn’t an act to hide his trauma. He talked about it more than you would dare to ask, and in great detail. It is just that it was all about how brilliant his doctors were, how great modern surgery and modern medicine were, how dedicated the military doctors and nursing officers looking after him 24×7 were. This, because he was a former defence minister.

He talked about how his kidney transplant was over like a breeze, no pain, no trouble. You don’t believe me, ask Sushma (Swaraj), he’d say. These AIIMS doctors are so brilliant. And then, he would reel out the numbers of transplants successfully done by them compared to the most famous American surgeons. Almost as if comparing some cricketers’ scores and averages.

This cancer treatment, however, didn’t work. Some rogue cell from that awful cancer had survived the Sloan-Kettering surgery and invaded his lung. Within a couple of months, AIIMS doctors, led by its formidable director Randeep Guleria, among India’s foremost chest specialists, noted a large and growing fluid formation in that lung.

The surgeons at Sloan Kettering had failed to drain and clear the lung. Jaitley had returned nevertheless. He was, however, already on a very aggressive and new chemotherapy.

Yet, the last time I met him at his personal residence in New Delhi’s Kailash Colony (his family leaned on him to vacate his official residence, 2, Krishna Menon Marg as they thought its Vaastu was bad for him), there wasn’t a flicker of pain or pessimism. “I am now only on oral chemo, intra-venous is gone, all dietary restrictions are gone so I have ordered a samosa each for you and me, these AIIMS doctors are so wonderful, the best in the world, they took out that fluid in a 10-minute procedure what Sloan Kettering couldn’t, or wouldn’t, dare to for two weeks, another six weeks and we will have clarity on how well my chemo has worked ,” and so on.

He was now a bit distant from day-to-day politics though he did mention with great affection the fact that even now Prime Minister Narendra Modi called to check on him almost every evening, no matter in which time zones they were. He said he only met four visitors a day, people he wanted to spend time with. “Just before you”, he said, “(economist) Arvind Panagariya was here”.

What did Jaitley talk about when he was done with politics, cricket (which he ran for a long time) and personalities? It was Hindi films, and even more, old Hindi songs. We will be eternally grateful to him for making such a radical difference to our evenings and to de-toxify them from prime-time claptrap.

Don’t watch news at prime time, he said, watch the channel called Sony Mix. Between 9 pm and midnight, they run this fantastic programme called “Raina Beeti Jaaye” where they seamlessly play old Hindi songs. They have a great inventory from the fifties to the seventies and it is the best thing you can watch. He was right.

In gratitude, the gift I took to him at our last meeting was the definitive biography of Sachin Dev Burman, by Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal.

Also read: Arun Jaitley: BJP’s Lutyens’ link who helped Modi-Shah get a grip on Delhi


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  1. It is one thing to eulogizea person after they are gone, and another thing to watch how a person gradually dies die to factors many people would not generally think about…. My personal assessment of Shushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley along with few others were totally different. It were based on the Neuro Linguistic Programming, a science that gives insight on human minds and behavior, and it’s impact on health and wellness…. My observation was that, Jaitley went down so quickly, was due the conflicts he was going through from within, when the person has to adjust to the issues that conflicts with their value system or belief systems. This applies to all humans… It has a direct impact on the body… And if not sorted out quickly then, it starts to show up the signs through various sicknesses like diabetics, cancer, hypertension etc. And I observed that conflict increasing since 2014 onwards…. Otherwise why would a person die with the best of medical assistance available to their disposal….

  2. Arun Jetly has given us message how to leave after such traumatic suffering from multiple disease .Even under such circumstances he never showed his sufferings to us. Brave man with brave heart has shown us to leave a graceful life under such circumstances. GOD give peace in his longest journey.

  3. SG, haven’t you taken too many words to just say that you were one of the four men Arun Jaitley wanted to meet in his last days?

  4. Print editor is an astute guy , jaitley must have had many admirable qualities , and to pick on one that was made in to a movie “anand” , a nicely written obit about a ‘nice’ man .

  5. Shekar Saab every human being who has heard about the demise of Arun Jaitley expresses their heartfelt condolences to his family and pray for the departed soul. That aside I suspect there is a trait in you Journalists that provides you this aura of being an expert in every topic under the sun and that your opinions are always facts. One Lakshman Rekha that you have crossed and violated something sacrosanct called patient confidentiality. Maybe you wanted to boast that you were privy to his medical condition but this is a universal law like in the west whenever a celebrity dies they donot even mention the cause of death. We have a long way to go.

    Secondly you talk as if you are a medical expert. In this age googling information on the internet makes every Tom, Dick, and Harry an expert. With all due respects to our doctors at AIIMS your conclusion that what Sloan Kettering doctors could not drain the fluid from the lung was done in a jiffy by our doctors at AIIMS is just ridiculous. Medical decisions are not at simple as it is made out by you journalists.
    Like all professions that have lost credibility today, I think the journalists are the ones leading the pack on a slippery downhill.

    • When a movie based on a true event is made ,some liberties are taken , similar are journalistic liberties, as far as patient doctor confiditentialities are concerned, the doctor is bound not the patient, the anecdote about jaitley’s comparison with Sloan doctor s highlight s jaitley’s positive attitude,it is not a comment on anybody’s skill level.

  6. For once , I am with you! You have written an excellent Obituary straight from the heart. I had met Arun ji , a couple of times in 2014, when he used to come to Lucknow regularly. Inspite of being such a learned and towering personality, I found him always smiling and in good spirits. Never showed any inkling about the trauma he was going through. Shraddhanjali! Om Shanti! Shanti! Shanti!

  7. Well he might have been a great fighter but he will be remembered for supporting demonizing India that lead to loss of many lives and immense suffering caused to the poors without any gain. There a many Indians who are suffer from multiple ailments but don’t get even primary care and die every day without a word being said about them. While I pray for his soul , my thoughts are with teeming poor Indians who are suffering and are like to suffer even more because of the policies of the present dispensation of which he was a part. RIP

    • Demonitisation was good ultimately for India. It broke the back of black money and fake note mafia in India.

  8. Fine column in The Quint by Ms Puja Mehra, which answers some of the questions that have been in my mind about Shri Arun Jaitley. Early in his tenure as FM, he submitted a proposal for privatisation of most PSBs, which was turned down. Genuine respects for two former FMs, Dr Singh and Shri Chidambaram. He favoured a more open approach to both the Opposition and the media, leaving space for negotiations rather than domination. Helpful and courteous to people placed far below him in life. I think the first term would have been more productive if some of his moderation and liberalism had pervaded the administration.

  9. A great person in more ways than one. His absence will be felt by one and all. A pity life didn’t give him a longer innings. May he rest in peace and his soul be blessed by the almighty God for AJ was a great human being. Ask those who had the chance to interact with him. Even the opposition members respected him and envied the BJP …..🙏💐

  10. Written from the heart, truly fantastic obituary, my condolences to the family and to Shekhar Gupta for his loss.
    Om Shanti

  11. It would always puzzle me how a very brilliant man like Arun Jaitley could so unconditionally remain faithful to a retrograde group like the RSS. Now the person who could answer the puzzle has left us. Rest in peace, Mr Jaitley.

    • It always puzzles me how could a brilliant man like Tharoor could be subservient to a woman whose academic credentials did not cross the school mark.

  12. A lump in the throat moment while reading this from you sir .amazingly well written and with such clarity you have described Jaitley ji’s issues yet how he handled the finance ministry and troubleshooting work for the govt nonchalantly ! People who complain too easily in life should reflect from his struggles ! What an amazing personality.

  13. RIP, You will be remembered as a Finance Minister of India during his tenure, Most economic blunders done in the Independent India including Demonetisation, Fraudulent GDP calculations to show his master doing great work, GST mess, Loot and Scoot scams.

  14. As a ordinary citizen, I fondly remember jwhen he came to my Sri Venkateshwara College in South Delhi campus to gather support to participate in agitation against Ms Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi’s Maruti small car project. As a student union member my self and few of us participaed in the agitation with slogan MA BEKAR BADATHI HAI BETA KAR BANATHA HAI. It is a different matter Maruti is now one of top brand on Indian roads. RIP AJ

  15. This man was a monster, he despite the pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat enabled the RSS butcher to rise within the ranks of the BJP.
    We must not be so enamoured with those who have held power to forget the ugly politics and deeds they bestowed on INDIA.
    An RSS man to the core, INDIA will have a future heavy price to pay for bringing these criminals to power.

    • The pogrom happened because people like yourself burned an entire train bogey, full of Innocents.
      Your hate wasn’t enough to –
      Convict modi in SC or
      Stop him from being PM once or
      Stop him from being PM again.
      This unending hatred and anger at your own country men is a punishment you give only to yourself.
      Peace be upon you.

  16. I once read that Shri Arun Jaitley knew 490 out of the 500 most important people in Delhi. Wondered how the remaining ten got missed out.

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