Atal Bihari Vajpayee | Photo: Wikipedia
Way back in February 2006, when the former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was conferred the "8th SIES-Sri Chandrasekarendra Saraswathi National
Eminence Award" he could not travel to Mumbai owing to certain health issues.
He suggested to Mumbai South Indian Education Society (SIES) President V Shankar to hold the function at his New Delhi residence, and also made a surprise special request - "to organise the best of South Indian cuisine dishes for the evening".
Since Vajpayee was known to be a connoisseur of good food, the SIES authorities rushed to comply and ordered the choicest of the delicacies from the Saravana Bhavan, Connaught Place, in the capital.
"He relished the food immensely that evening, and seemed to have had a little more than his normal intake," reminisced SIES spokesperson K A Viswanathan on Friday.
In fact, Vajpayee later expressed surprise that such delicious South Indian food was available in the heart of New Delhi about which "he was not aware", and wanted to know how many waiters had come from that restaurant to serve for the evening.
"He magnanimously assembled all the eight boys on the lawns for a group photo session with him, followed by individual shots with each of them. Then, he called for Rs 100 currency notes, autographed each of them and presented them to all the excited servers," Viswanathan said.
The boys were thrilled and overjoyed when Vajpayee smiled and decided to have "one more cup of nice South Indian filter coffee" with all of them before they left the venue.
During the formal award ceremony, of the several mementos presented to him, was a portrait of Vajpayee sketched by a Class I student of SIES School.
The late Prime Minister was highly impressed and wanted to know who had done that sketch.
After the SIES authorities informed that it was a young student Nirman Olwe, Vajpayee immediately said he wanted to meet him and asked that the student should be brought along with his parents to New Delhi.
A few weeks later, the boy accompanied by his grandmother who was also a teacher in the same school, his mother and Shankar, went to the capital and Vajpayee warmly received them.
He presented a return memento to the delighted boy who cherishes those memories till today, Viswanathan said.
Now grown up, that little boy from Antop Hill area of central Mumbai, completed his schooling, HSC and is now pursuing engineering studies.