My grandmother is a fanatical autograph collector. Over the last 60 years, Usha Jain has stalked every person worth the name, from boxing legend Muhammad Ali to Nobel laureate physicist C.V. Raman and sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar. The pride of her collection, however, is a single small page that contains, in chronological order, the autographs of (most of) the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty: Jawaharlal Nehru, followed by Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.
Hat-trick: The Nehru-Gandhi page in Usha Jain’s autograph diary.
At 84, her memory isn’t as good as it used to be. She thinks she got Nehru’s autograph when he visited Lucknow in August 1940. How and where in Lucknow, she doesn’t remember. Indira Gandhi’s was obtained by her daughter when she’d gone to receive the Nuffield Scholarship in 1966. And Rajiv Gandhi’s came through the offices of his powerful personal secretary, Vincent George.
It’s no longer easy for her to get around, but the hunt for autographs continues. She often wonders why I refuse to ring Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s doorbell and ask for his autograph. I’ve tried explaining to her that times have changed and that I’d probably be arrested if I did that. But if she were ever to ask me to get Rahul Gandhi’s autograph on that page, I might just go knocking.