Sonia, averse to politics then, reluctantly agreed to launch the project on a condition — she would not speak at the event.
But Murli, a close family friend and head of the Bombay regional Congress then, whispered to Rajiv insisting that Sonia say a few words.
Rajiv, not realising that the microphone was on, told Murli: “You will get an instant sack.”
While everyone present at the event had a hearty laugh, Murli passed on the scissors to Sonia and told Rajiv that he was like the Duke of Edinburgh, she (Sonia) was “the real boss”.
This anecdote and several others were part of a coffee-table book brought out recently by Murli’s wife Hema and son Milind.
Titled Under the Streetlight, the pictorial book is a collection the Deoras have gathered over nearly half a century. Apart from anecdotes and some rare photographs, the book has articles by the President of Iceland Olafur Grimsson, corporate veteran Ashok Ganguly, industrialist Adi Godrej, HDFC chairman Deepak Parekh, doctor Farokh Udwadia and others.
Sonia, though, was not the first Gandhi that Murli tried to persuade to speak at an event.
When Indira Gandhi lost the 1977 elections, most senior Congress leaders from Maharashtra left her as the dominant view then was that Indira’s political career had ended. Murli had another reason to quit Indira’s side as it was rumoured that Sanjay Gandhi did not like him.
Risking his political career, the businessman and politician sided with Indira.
Murli organised a high-level meeting at Mumbai’s Taj Hotel to get the beleaguered leader to interact with captains of industry. Indira was overwhelmed. When she was requested to speak, the former Prime Minister said: “I am out of practice.”
Murli then told Indira: “Please say hello and goodbye.”
She replied: “I do not believe in saying goodbye, but as the French say, ‘à bientôt (see you soon)’.”
The septuagenarian leader voluntarily resigned from the Manmohan Singh government in July 2011 on health grounds.
Wife Hema recalled their first meeting when Murli was on the selection panel to pick peace volunteers aspiring to visit the US. “Each and every member of the committee approved my application. But only one person rejected, disapproved and pulled all strings to keep me back. That was my future husband, Murli Deora,” Hema has written in the book. According to her, for Murli, it was love at first sight but for her, it was a fight for her rights.
Finally, after four years of Murli’s patience, perseverance and wit, Hema consented when he sang Down the Street Where You Live from My Fair Lady over the phone. After marriage, she realised that Murli’s first love was a game of bridge. She picked up the game so well that she became a national champion.
In her account, Hema has written that a great marriage was not that of a “perfect couple” coming together. It was when an imperfect couple learned to enjoy the differences.