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Updated: April 9, 2013 02:04 IST

Thatcher, Chandraswami and I

K. Natwar Singh
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How a future Prime Minister of Britain warmed to the godman with an Indian diplomat playing the reluctant translator

India House is among the better known diplomatic establishments in London. I first set eyes on the imposing building in 1952, when I was a student at Cambridge University. Thirty years later I entered India House as Deputy High Commissioner. One of my less attractive duties was to meet the unreasonable demands of visitors from India. Not all were disagreeable but many were.

Early in the summer of 1975, Mr. Chandraswamy telephones me. He was in London. The late Yashpal Kapoor had asked him to contact me, Chandraswamy invited me to meet me at his place. I said if he wished to see me, he should come to India House. This he did the next day. At the time he was in his late twenties. He was in his “Sadhu” attire. He did not speak a word of English. Now he does.

At this, our first meeting, he dropped names. After a few days he again come to see me. He invited my wife and me to have dinner with him.

The food was delicious. After dinner he said to us, “I will show you something you have never seen”. He then produced a large sheet of white paper and drew lines from top to bottom and left to right. Next he produced three strips of paper asked my wife to write a question on each strip, make a ball and place each one on a square on the chess board. My wife wrote the questions in English. He closed his eyes and went into a trance. I was, by this time getting restless. Suddenly he asked my wife to pick up any of the paper balls. She did so. Opened it. Chandraswamy then told her what the question was. He was spot on. My wife, who is an amateur astrologer, was sceptical at this stage. When Chandraswamy got the next two questions right, she was amazed and interested. I was intrigued. I could not, as a rationalist, accept mumbo-jumbo. Neither could I dismiss Chandraswamy as a complete hoax.

A few days later Y.B. Chavan, the then External Affairs Minister was on his way to the United States. I went to meet him at London’s Heathrow airport. He confirmed he knew Chandraswamy well. I also told Chavan that Chandraswamy had asked me to arrange a meeting with Lord Mountbatten and also with Mrs Thatcher. Should I arrange these meetings? To my discomfiture and surprise, Chavan sahib saw no harm in Chandraswamy meeting Lord Mountbatten or Mrs Thatcher.

I rang up Lord Mountbatten. He said he would have been glad to meet “your friend”, but he was leaving for a holiday in Northern Ireland the next day. I was quite relieved. I informed Chandraswamy. What about Mrs Thatcher?

She had been elected leader of the Conservative Party six months earlier. Doubts still assailed me about Chandraswamy meeting Margaret Thatcher, not yet the iron lady. Suppose Chandraswamy made an ass of himself. I would look a bigger ass. I sought an appointment with the Leader of the Opposition. She promptly obliged. I met her in her tiny office in the House of Commons.

Her response was, “If you think I should meet him, I shall. What does he want to see me for?” “That he will tell you himself,” I said. She agreed to see him in her House of Commons office early the next week. “Only ten minutes, Deputy High Commissioner,” she announced. I thanked her and left.

Chandraswamy was on cloud nine when I gave him the news. I cautioned him not to do or say something silly. I was putting my neck on the line for him. “Chinta mut kareay, (don’t worry”) said the sage. So, to the House of Commons the two of us proceeded. Chandraswamy was dressed in his “sadhu” kit, with a huge tilak on his forehead and a staff in his right hand. Rudraksha malas round his neck. He banged the staff on the road till I told him to stop doing so. I confess, I was feeling self conscious. Not Chandraswamy. He relished the attention he was inviting. Finally we reached Mrs Thatcher’s office. With her was her Parliamentary Private Secretary, Adam Butler, M.P. son of Rab Butler, the Conservative leader.

Introductions over, Mrs Thatcher asked, “What did you want to see me for?” Chandraswamy spoke in Hindi. I translated. “Tell her she will soon find out.” His tone was arrogantly respectful. Mrs Thatcher — “I am waiting.” The clock was ticking away. Chandraswamy was in no hurry. He asked for a large piece of paper. Went through the same routine as with my wife. He gave Mrs. Thatcher five strips of paper and requested her to write a question on each. She obliged, but with scarcely camouflaged irritation. Chandraswamy asked her to open the first paper ball. She did. He gave the text of the question in Hindi. I translated. Correct. I watched Mrs Thatcher. The irritation gave way to curiosity. Next question. Again bull’s eye. Curiosity replaced by interest. By the fourth question the future iron lady’s demeanour changed. She began to look at Chandraswamy not as a fraud, but as a holy man indeed. My body language too altered. Last question. No problem. I heaved a sigh of relief. Mrs Thatcher was now perched on the edge of the sofa. Like Oliver Twist, she asked for more. Chandraswamy was like a triumphant Guru. He took off his chappals and sat on the sofa in the lotus pose. I was appalled. Mrs Thatcher seemed to approve. She asked supplementary questions. In each case Chandraswamy’s response almost overwhelmed the future Prime Minister. She was on the verge of another supplementary, when Chandraswamy regally announced that the sun had set. No more questions. Mrs Thatcher was not put out. She enquired if she could meet him again. I was entirely unprepared for this. Very coolly, almost condescendingly he said, “On Tuesday at 2.30 p.m. at the house of Shri Natwar Singh.” I told him that he was over reaching himself by dictating the day and time without taking into account her convenience. This was not India. He was unmoved “Kunwar sahib, Anuvad kar dijiye aur phir dekhiye.” Please translate and then see. I was astounded when she asked me, “Deputy High Commissioner, where do you live?” This was not all. What followed was something out of a weird novel. Just as we were about to leave, Mr. Holy Man produced a talisman tied to a not so tidy piece of string. He then pronounced that Mrs Thatcher should tie it on her left arm when she came to my house on Tuesday. I was now on the verge of losing my temper. I said I would not translate this dehati rubbish. Mrs Thatcher intervened to know what the holy man was saying. “Mrs Thatcher, please forgive me, but Chandraswamy would like you to wear this talisman on your left arm.” She took the talisman. We were saying our goodbyes, when Chandraswamy produced his sartorial bomb. Turning to me he said “Kunwar Sahib, kindly tell Mrs Thatcher that on Tuesday she should wear a red poshak. I felt like hitting him. He was overdoing this. I firmly told him it was the height of bad manners to tell a lady what she should or should not wear. Mrs Thatcher looked a bit apprehensive at this not so mild altercation between a distraught Deputy High Commissioner and a somewhat ill-mannered holy man. Very reluctantly I said to her that the holy man would be obliged if she wore a red dress on Tuesday. I was looking down at the floor as I said this.

On Tuesday, at 2.30, Mrs Margaret Thatcher, leader of the Conservative Party, arrived at Sun House, Frognal Way, Hampstead. It was a beautiful day. She was wearing a stunning red dress. The talisman too was in its proper place.

She asked many questions but the most important related to the chances of her becoming Prime Minister. My wife was also present. Chandraswamy did not disappoint Mrs Thatcher. He prophesied that she would be Prime Minister for nine, eleven or thirteen years. Mrs Thatcher, no doubt believed that she would be Prime Minister one day. Nine, eleven, thirteen years was a bit much. Mrs Thatcher put one final question. When would she become a Prime Minister? Chandraswamy announced — in three or four years. He was proved right. She was PM for eleven years.

This narrative should have ended here. But there was an aftermath. The Commonwealth Summit was held in Lusaka, Zambia in 1979. Mrs Margaret Thatcher had by then become Prime Minister. I had been posted to Zambia in August 1977. Along with other High Commissioners I went to Lusaka airport to receive Mrs Thatcher. When she greeted me and my wife, I gently whispered “Our man proved right.” For a moment she looked flustered. She took me aside, “High Commissioner, we don’t talk about these matters.” “Of course not, prime minister, of course not,” said I.

(Extracted from K. Natwar Singh’s new book “Walking with Lions — Tales from a Diplomatic Past,” HarperCollins)

More In: Comment | Opinion

This is a very interesting anecdote... Natwar Singh is famous for his anecdotes and it seems he has handpicked many of these to make an interesting book... His accounts give a wonderful insight into the other side of the great leaders and politicians and others that we would never know otherwise... Thanks for publishing this extract... I hope to see such articles more and more in the Hindu...

from:  V. Raichandran
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 00:15 IST

Nice article.

from:  skandshiv bhardwaj
Posted on: Apr 10, 2013 at 21:26 IST

As always some ambassadors found it distasteful to look after ordinary
people, although 'ambassador' actually means 'servant'.

Mrs T is being soundly criticised in various UK media for impoverishing
ordinary people.

from:  bharati
Posted on: Apr 10, 2013 at 20:41 IST

I wished Mr. Natwar Singh had kept quiet about the incident while receiving the greetings from Mrs. Thatcher on the airport, and waited to see if she recalled it herself to him; which, however, now seemed to be unlikely in the light of what she told him taking him aside.

from:  Murtuza
Posted on: Apr 10, 2013 at 17:03 IST

Wonder if he told Mr Singh that he would face many problems due to his involvement
in the "Oil for Food " scheme.

from:  P.N.Shreeniwas
Posted on: Apr 10, 2013 at 15:13 IST

Mr K Natwar Singh, as a former diplomat, is entitled to share such an
anecdote with the public. He has published it after Mrs Thatcher's death, as "such things were not to be discussed" as per the lady's caution to the diplomat, at the airport. As for marketing Chandraswami by Mr Natwar Singh, after reading the piece, it is very clear as to what esteem the former was held in by the latter.A good anecdote to show the weakness of even powerful people for such so called 'godmen'.

from:  ramesh
Posted on: Apr 10, 2013 at 13:08 IST

I am a fan of Natwar,so did was my father. Natwar writes well and
impressively as a seasoned writer, but most literary critics treat him
otherwise.Watch Dynamo,the magician impossible on the History
Channel,you feel that what Chandraswamy had done before Thatcher was
nothing.Dynamo is treated like God by his fans all over the world as
he walks on water and performs many more unbelievable actions which
most of our ancient sages were famous for.Yet Dynamo considers himself
not as the famous Moses of the Bible but as an ordinary human being.

from:  M.SOMASEKHAR PRASAD
Posted on: Apr 10, 2013 at 12:04 IST

Intriguing and interesting.

from:  Sankar
Posted on: Apr 10, 2013 at 11:50 IST

The irrational conclusions of a self styled rationalist

This has reference to the extract from the book Walking with Lions- tales from a diplomatic past by K.Natwar Singh published in the Hindu of the April 9th on the OPED page which refers to the encounter of a so called Nemi Chand Jain aka Chandraswami with the late Ms.Margaret Thatcher who has recently passed away.
The write up refers to the meeting between this godman and Ms.Thatcher and is a very good example of how a self styled rationalist can be taken for a ride by cheap tricksters. While Ms.Thatcher is a politician who has to act like one- if we go by the examples of our very own, Mr.Singh should have exercised his faculties of reasoning before he could believe the abilities of this trickster. It has been claimed that Mr.Jain does not know English and in fact his so called powers are also ascribed to his having not known this language because in the narrative the function of Mr.Singh has been that of an interpret

from:  Narendra Nayak
Posted on: Apr 10, 2013 at 11:09 IST

the events that have been quoted as happened, are not cherishable either to thatcher or to natwar singh.it shows the emissary in the bad light that he had brokered a meeting between the so called godman and the then opposition leader of britain and stood guard for such an unsavory incident. i've been under the impression that the embassies abroad would all be doing some good work in improving the relationship of the countries; more so the timing of letting the cat out of the bag is not in good taste and it doesn't auger well for the then emissary of high stature.

from:  ashok
Posted on: Apr 10, 2013 at 10:12 IST

Curious, did Chandraswami predict Natwar's fall from grace?

from:  P Kumar
Posted on: Apr 10, 2013 at 07:35 IST

Very interesting. I did not know that Mr. Natwar Singh was a good
writer. His narration of events is peppered with good humor.

from:  Madhu
Posted on: Apr 10, 2013 at 05:43 IST

Chandraswami has perhaps pushed Natwar to post this untimely,
irrelevant piece to get back into the limelight,after he had himself
become irrelevant all these years with nary a squeak out of him.Is he trying to send out feelers to the Queen to test the waters before he
pulls another of his Chessboard Square Drawing and his famous paper rolled into balls with questions stunts?Whatever,one must admire this Jester's derring-do.Or is it Nattu's tricky effort to get back into the good books of Her Majesty and revive his dead political career?Anyway,it should be interesting to read the sequel.

from:  Raj Kumar
Posted on: Apr 10, 2013 at 01:28 IST

I have read Natwar Singh's article about how he played host to Rajaji in New york. A very interesting account. At that time Natwar was a rookie in diplomacy indeed and Rajaji was wise jackal that India could boast of.

from:  subbanarasu divakaran
Posted on: Apr 10, 2013 at 00:39 IST

MT and Reagan were close buddies and the President and wife were good friends with an astrologer, leading to a few embarassing moments. The "we do not talk about these matters" attitude continues to deny the reality of a predetermined future, if not 100% then to a degree. So the point in the story for me is the GREAT light on MT, that her leadership of UK was in some measure preordained, even in length! Come on guys, there nothing to shame here and everything to celebrate and especially the DHC's decision to share now. May MT RIP, trusting she kept touching base with her destiny, thru Chandraswamy and others. Its a life choice of many great leaders.

from:  Proud Africa
Posted on: Apr 10, 2013 at 00:24 IST

Even the so called leaders of nations, Oxford educated smart women, can be tricked by
a low brow Tantrik. Gullibility and greed for power can drive people to fear and respect
godman and charlatans. Somehow they switch off the area of reason in the brain and
fall for them like children fall for toys.

from:  P.N.Shreeniwas
Posted on: Apr 10, 2013 at 00:07 IST

Not sure what is the intent of publishing the article at time of the
Mrs. Thatcher's death, but I enjoyed reading it. It was funny in a way.
Also, no matter at what level or position of authority you are at but
all human beings I think are anxious to know if they will succeed at
their plans. Mrs. Thatcher was no exception I guess :-)

from:  Jagdish
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 23:20 IST

That's a very interesting and enjoyable article. Forget Mr. Singh being
a politician or diplomat, the style of writing is very nice and
readable. Thanks Mr. Singh

from:  Desikan
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 23:11 IST

Mr.Singh writes he set his eyes first time on the India House in 1952.Then he says he set foot into it thirty years later as Dy High Commissioner.But, his narration begins with early summer of 1975.You see the chronological discrepancy.
I looked into Wikipedia on his diplomatic career and education.Though it confirms his studying at Corpus Christi in Cambridge, it is silent about his being Dy High Commissioner in London and again High Commissioner in Lusaka;though he was there in Lusaka in 1979 for the Heads of Commonwealth meeting.
Chandraswami was close to Mrs.Indira Gandhi,I have read.One can take his story for an interesting piece of writing.But ,the truth,none knows.

from:  K.R.Chandrasekharan
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 23:05 IST

I wonder why some people comment as "what is the purpose of this information" it is an interesting information narrated in good style. What is worth noting is not only Indian Politicians go for Godman their angresi counterparts also do the same

from:  P.R. Srinivasan
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 22:22 IST

Great sense of humor. I liked reading this article. Interesting all through.

from:  M.VIJAYA CHAMUNDI
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 22:21 IST

In India we call them Godmen and in the western world the are just
magicianes like 'Dynamo

from:  P.N.Kumar
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 21:06 IST

Readers of my generation recall the undue influence that this swami had on Indira Gandhi.
That a Dy. High Commissioner would write such trash and that Hindu would publish it is
beyond me.

from:  Ramakrishnan
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 21:00 IST

This is a definitely an interesting post

from:  Subbumahalingam Ramani
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 19:42 IST

This article speaks far more about Natwar Singh than it does about
Chandraswami or Lady Thatcher. To say the least, it does him no credit.

from:  Krishna Moorthy
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 18:51 IST

What an Article! Sometimes Truth is stranger than Fiction.

from:  Ramprashanth
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 18:09 IST

An exhibition of an inadvertantly rude but uncivil and ungentlemanly mind - not withstanding the position in political and diplomatic life that he held - a willfull hasty grab for publicity at the expence of breaking the request for discretion that was explicitly and apparently conveyed by the words "High Commissioner, we do not speak of these matters" ....

Ever more so appalling as the iron lady can now neither refute nor accept these stories of her associates or their self styled "guru" who has a record of affinity only with the rich and powerful?

As pointed by another, the Hindu at least should have exercised the discretion of not circulating this grab for publicity through their widely respected and circulated medium.


from:  r n iyengar
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 18:01 IST

Interesting insight into the life of a diplomat, readers should stop
being judgmental on the time and purpose of the post and enjoy it for
what it is...'a good read' and move on

from:  Hrishikesh
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 15:28 IST

Interesting Read, but nothing more than a "Diplomatic Gossip"

from:  A.Rahim
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 15:06 IST

Natwar Singh's vivid discription events 30 years ago is very interesting .Pl. engage Mr Natwar on regular basis .
If THE HINDU is made available in Pune / Mumbai also daily in the morning , we will be able to enjoy . Mumbai edition in particular is a must . We are waiting , waiting waiting endlessly .

from:  Victor F
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 15:04 IST

The narrative is very funny. I enjoyed.

from:  Rajesh
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 14:40 IST

Though seems superstitious for the UK PM, but a very good, attention gainer article narrated by Mr. Natwar Singh

from:  Shalabh
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 14:33 IST

What is this article about? Should Indians start believing in magic? Why
was Natwar Singh arranging meetinga for fake babas & swamis? Did not
understand why The Hindu is giving prominence to an article which
doesn't serve any purpose? Ridiculous to say the least!

from:  sanjay
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 14:02 IST

Never knew that the job of Deputy High Comissioners was to fix appointments for "common indian man" with the rich and powerful.
In a book, an essay like this would've gone unnoticed. Its highly inappropriate for the Hindu to publish this. What does this go to say, and whom does this article benefit?

from:  Akanksh
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 12:04 IST

I do not understand what Mr. Singh is trying to convey. Is he trying to market/ promote Chandraswami? We should appreciate Mr. Singh for accepting (i) He had underestimated Chandraswami, (ii) he has not understood how Chandraswami managed the trick and (iii) in spite of being in the post of Dy. high Commissioner, he did not have any clue about Mrs. Thatcher. And lastly, he is narrating an anecdote which does not show the great leader in good light on the day of the leader's death, which is bit disrespectful.

from:  Ilango
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 11:51 IST

A good insight into the life of a diplomat. Also it gives a glimpse of the life of Mrs Thatcher before she became the iron lady.

I am sure recent demise Mrs Thatcher would have rekindled old memories of the author to publish this article.

from:  Aravind
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 11:27 IST

What a refreshing and interesting post. Thank you.

from:  Siddharth Pandit
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 10:57 IST

"High Commissioner, we don't talk about these matters"... and then the
High Commissioner goes and writes about it. Thank you The Hindu.
Diplomacy being unravelled for the common man.

from:  Sundar
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 09:23 IST

I wonder what is the special in this article to be published in public?
Its one of the few hundred stories of Indian magicians turned
politicians, making the country victim with the gimmicks. Only
difference is that this so called 'holy man' made it in overseas with a
foreign politician.

I will be happy to learn if someone teaches me or tell me the specialty
in this incident.

from:  Lakshmanan B
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 09:20 IST

Wow!!

from:  anil kotwal
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 08:01 IST

Natwar is destined to be lucky for his reluctant involvement deserves appreciation for his sincere revelations. The mistery of these godmen is not even comprhended by almighy himself ! Jai Hind!

from:  Vyas K Susarla
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 06:07 IST

Interesting reading but what did Chandraswami get in return? Would seem
strange if he returned empty handed.

from:  Balajee Shrikanth
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 05:02 IST
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