The seriously funny man
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Jaspal Bhatti understood the problems that confront the aam aadmi better than many politicians
I met Jaspal Bhatti for the first time on a cold evening of December 2003 at the Chandigarh Press Club. I was sitting with Prabhjot Singh, my senior colleague at the paper I worked for at the time, The Tribune, when in walked Jaspal, a regular at the club, I later got to know.
He saw Prabhjot, his friend of years, and walked up to our table and sat down. Even before he could settle down, a waiter brought his drink, a single malt. And then he introduced himself — as if he needed an introduction. Prabhjot told him who I was. I asked Jaspal if he always had the same drink at the club. His reply: (Single malt) only if somebody else is paying!
Two hours later, he got up and went out. We sat for one more hour, but he didn't return. Any guesses on who settled the bill?
The first impression, it is often said, is the last. Not in this case, though. After that winter night, I had many more sittings with Jaspal and got to know that he always drank single malt and always insisted on picking up the tab. And he became a friend.
Having grown up watching him on Doordarshan — his satirical comedy series Ulta-Pulta, followed by Flop Show — you expected him to be always cracking jokes, always being the funnyman. But, in real life, Jaspal was a serious person, who understood the problems that confronted the common man much better than many politicians.
Decades before the superhit film 3 Idiots commented on the scam in our education system, Jaspal, in an episode of Flop Show, had already done so. Decades before "policy paralysis" became the buzzword, Jaspal, in his inimitable style had highlighted the problem of bureaucracy refusing to take decisions in a time-bound manner. When he (playing a bureaucrat) is asked by a reporter while emerging from a meeting, "Sir, aaj ki meeting mein kya decision hua?" Jaspal replies in all seriousness, "Bada important decision hua hai. Agli meeting ki date fix ho gayi hai (A very important decision has been taken. We have fixed the date for the next meeting)."
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