Erudite and elegant, never boastful, but a demeanour of intellectual aesthetics - Uma Vasudev was more than a mere author, columnist and researcher on music. She was a perfect personification of an individual who did not need to put on an act - her work spoke for itself. Her track record as a writer was impeccable.
Uma Vasudev was the first editor of the "India Today" magazine. She was also author of two best selling biographies, both on former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. I used to meet Uma at the home of Khushwant Singh at Sujan Singh Park over cocktails and there would be intricate, albeit humorous conversations on politics and the art of deception over diplomatic cadences and innuendoes. Her smoky voice had a sexiness that was indeed appealing. Uma was a writer of rare immensity and sensitivity.
In 1971 she wrote "Indira Gandhi Revolution in Restraint". This fascinating, illuminating biography, containing over 150 rare and exquisite photographs, was remarkable for its intellectual quality and richness of material.
In 1977, she wrote "Two Faces of Indira Gandhi" in which she exemplified her accuracy and analytical prowess as a well-known political commentator. She analysed the metamorphosis of the most important woman in power in India, at one time a leading international democrat, at another an emergent dictator.
She often reminisced with great nostalgia about "Revolution in Restraint". "I had spent about six years to come up with the book and would not want to change anything in it," she said when it was reprinted in 2012. "I used to travel with Indiraji and whenever she would get time, we would sit and chat for hours. She was a charismatic leader. But at the same time, she was very friendly with people. However, it is true that when she hated or disliked someone, she would deal furiously with them," Uma Vasudev said.
The book narrates Indira Gandhi's life from 1917 to 1971. "The period where the biography ends was a crucial time in her career," Vasudev states. The Prime Minister had led the Indian National Congress (R) to victory in the general elections and later that year, the Indian Army completed a decisive victory over the Pakistani Army in what was then East Pakistan that led to the creation of Bangladesh.
No one has been able to write another book on Indira Gandhi like Uma Vasudev, other than former editor and minister M.J. Akbar. Other than being a popular Indian novelist and a well renowned columnist on political issues, she had also written, produced and directed several documentaries and television serials. Her lesser known books are "The Song of Anasuya", "Shreya of Sonagarh", "Satish Gurjal: Where the Silence Speaks, Paintings", "Kranthijia" and "Hariprasad Chaurasia" among others.
Uma Vasudev had decorated the Indian political scene for so long that she was often considered an authority who was objective and impartial to the core.
One evening I remember clearly was all of us meeting at Taj Mansingh Road for R.K.Laxman's book launch by Penguin. David Davidar had invited all of us and Khushwant asked me to accompany him. Uma sat between Khushwant and me and how we chuckled over small witty remarks made by Khushwant as well as Laxman himself. It was heartwarming to see Laxman bow and shake Uma's hand.
She was respected and admired by many wherever she went. Persevering and sophisticated in a quiet way she stood for the literati of Lutyens, but one who did not ever scream from the rooftops. She was also wise about the way she wielded her pen in her columns. She made a point firmly and with a grace that was rare. Her writings, as well as her conversations, were always evocative and vivid and full of a class that comes from maturity. In her passing away India loses a writer and conversationalist of immense realism as well as a rare distinction.
(Uma Vasudev: Born June 18, 1931; died March 27, 2019)
(Uma Nair is an art critic and curator. She is author of Reverie with Raza" and "Paresh Maity - 25 years)
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