It was a cloudy morning after three hectic weeks of high level activity. The Government of France had invited a high level Defence delegation from India, headed by the Defence Secretary, to come to France and and start a new phase of defence procurement. A long line up of French military hardware was laid out for us to inspect and be impressed about. We were dined and wined well. The hardware on offer were all technically excellent. We had not really talked about prices, but of course these items were all expected to be expensive. It was indeed an exciting visit. I was a member of this delegation. I was at that time employed as the Project Manager for the induction of Jaguar Aircraft into the Air Force. My office was integrated into the Ministry of Defence.
At the end of the visit the delegation returned home, but I had some more work to do before I could come back. From Paris I went on to London. Another hectic week followed. At long last I was done and was ready to go home. I was booked into an Air India flight from London to New Delhi. On arrival at Heathrow Airport, I found that there was a delay for the departure of my flight. I resigned myself to the inevitable boredom of an additional wait and sat down on an empty seat in the waiting hall clutching my briefcase. I was traveling dressed in my uniform. A little later the crew of my Air India flight came in and passed through the waiting hall. The Captain of the flight was an ex-Air Force guy and we knew each other. He spotted me in the waiting hall and came over to say hello. He was happy to see me as a passenger on his flight. After another thirty minutes or so, an Air India ground hostess with a pretty smile came to me. The captain of my flight, she announced, was pleased to upgrade my ticket from economy to first class! I was now entitle to move to the first class lounge and wait in a little more comfort. Needless to say, I was very happy to be the recipient of this courtesy. I re-positioned my self in the lounge.
A few chairs away from my seat a young lady was seated. She was engrossed in a magazine open on her lap. Her two children were seated nearby. The girl was the elder and sat quietly in her seat, but the boy was fidgeting about. The lady looked familiar and I looked again. Suddenly I realized that the lady was Jaya Bhaduri Bachchan. She looked up and caught me staring at her. I was embarrassed and tried to apologize through my eyes. Jaya gave me a smile of graciousness and I was relieved. One is not expected to be socially incorrect while wearing an uniform. I walked over and introduced myself. Jaya was very easy to talk to and we exchanged pleasantries for for some time till her husband came back from where-ever he had gone and joined the group. I was introduced to him. He too was socially very pleasant. Some time passed and Amithabh went out of the lounge. I had picked up a paper back I had hoped to read through in my flight. I immersed myself into that book. A few minutes later AB came back and spoke to Jaya about something that I did not connect to. I looked up and Amitabh caught my eye. ‘Chalna Hai? ‘ He said. I did not quite understand what he was trying to say. I got up from my seat and walked over to him. Amitabh explained to me what he was saying. Sri Ghanshyam Das Birla was also traveling from London to Bombay that day in another Air India flight and he was seated in the Maharaja Lounge of Air India. Sri GDB was a senior family friend of the Bachchans. Protocol demanded a courtesy visit and a namaste to him from Amitabh. If I was interested in a darshan of this star of our economic firmament then he would be happy to take me along. I of course held Sri GDB in high respect. On the spur of the moment I tagged along with AB and went for a darshan of the great one.
The Maharaja Lounge was very plush and Sri Birla was seated on a large divan. We approached him. AB bowed his long frame and said Namaste. I hung back discretely. The old man inspected us for some time. No glimmer of recognition was seen on his eyes. After a long scrutiny he turned to a companion sitting close by and said ‘Mai Pehchaanaa Naahi’. There was a brief embarrassed silence. The companion moved closer to Sri GDB and whispered loudly – ‘Yeh aapna Haribansji ka beta hai ji, Amit naam hai. Aaj kal sanima anima karta hai. Aachchhaa ladka hai.’
Recognition slowly percolated Sri GDB’s countenance. He nodded his head, looked at AB and asked a number of questions about the well-being of the Bachchan family. AB was polite and courteous in his responses. We paid our respects again and left.
When I now recollect this incident, my star is obviously Sri GDB. My deep respect for him was duly enhanced by that first and only direct sighting. His presence was impressive. For my children however, the center piece of their excitement related to this incident is the clutch of Air India postcards that I had got signed from Jayaji and AB addressed to my children by name.