“Time as he grows old teaches him many lessons”
I’m learning . . .
Top cop, prolific writer, meditation junkie, doting mother - there are many sides to Kiran Bedi. Vatsala Kaul meets the woman behind the uniform June 1974, Bara Hindu Rao, Delhi: Seventeen women and children are trapped inside a haveli in the Walled City in Old Delhi. Rioters have set the building on fire. The only entry is up in flames. The IPS officer in charge asks the head constable to break open the gate; he balks. Then she moves in a way that is to become her trademark. Sitting under a hand pump, she drenches herself and smashes the gate open with a kick. The other policemen imitate her actions and soon everyone is safe. Kiran Bedi has been tested, literally, by fire and she has passed. She's 'madam' now. And soon, she is going to be addressed only as 'sir' - her gender forgotten, only the police officer in evidence.Now, three decades later, Dr Kiran Bedi, former Special Commissioner, Delhi Police, is uncharacteristically flustered. Her BlackBerry has gone kaput, taking with it her address book. "What is this tamasha?" exclaims the 56-year-old. "It is writing 'abcd' on its own!" She darts from one room to another, switching off the fans and lights as she goes, jabbing away at the unresponsive BlackBerry. Trophies and shields are displayed all over her Talkatora Road government bungalow in New Delhi. "Each is a memory, each symbolic of an internal victory," she says. There have been many accolades - including the Ramon Magsaysay Award, the UN's Serge Sotiroff Memorial Award for drug abuse prevention and two honorary doctorates, one from Guru Nanak University, and from the City University of New York's School of Law for prison reforms. There is also the current 1000-strong global list of women nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize of which 91 are Indian - one of them is Bedi.Bedi has been up since 6 am. She has meditated and worked out in her personal gym. It's a rainy morning and she is looking for a shaded spot in her garden where she wants to be photographed. While everything about her is crisp and clipped - the signature pathan salwar suit, the neatly buttoned-up jacket, the close-cropped auburn-tinted hair, and stolid black sandals - there's restlessness about her, like a chef dicing asparagus on a television show. But she laughs a lot, and her face softens in a trice when a car drives in with her daughter Saina - she calls her 'Guchchu'. "That's a cover picture, now that's really glamorous," says Bedi, the doting mom. Saina could well be the inspiration for Bedi endorsing jewellery from Nayaab Jewels, a Chennai-based company, who contacted her last year on the recommendation of her friend Leela Poonawala, while Bedi was posted in New York as the Civilian Police Adviser in the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. Its print campaign shows Bedi in uniform, a sparkle in the background.Bedi doesn't like to pose, but has never really been camera-shy, often courting the limelight. "She was always media savvy," says Gautam Kaul, member (full time) at the Public Grievance Cell in New Delhi, whom Bedi calls her mentor. Bedi trained under Kaul, then the SSP, North Delhi. "At 5 pm in West Delhi, she would be out in full uniform, pistol holster in place, leading a posse of 15 policemen, patrolling the main road, making roadside gamblers and bootleggers scurry into the shadows. It was like a movie, it looked great on camera."The quintessential pin-up police officer, Bedi's unconventional methods turned the existing approach towards crime and criminals on its head. But not everyone was thrilled at her lack of deference for those in power. While many magnified her into a hero, some labelled her an attention-grabber. "Kiran proved that crime control is officer-centric, but she paid a price for it, depriving herself of the pleasures of a family life," explains Kaul. Bedi has no regrets, though. "My family kept pitching in, coming in exactly when they were needed, because they knew this job is what I had grown for," she says. Husband Brij Bedi, a businessman based in Amritsar, agrees. "She was always on call. With her job it would be foolish to expect her to look after the home," he says.Bedi's most talked-about posting was as inspector general, Delhi Prisons. She turned Tihar Jail into a model for reform. It won her worldwide acclaim. Her seminal work on prison reform, It's Always Possible, was published in Italy, Indonesia and now also in America. Her other two books, As I See and What Went Wrong¿ and Continues, based on her experiences, continue to be quickly picked off the shelves and I Dare, her biography (released in 1996) was declared by India Today as the biography of the decade in the 1990s. But if one ran the 'bookshelf test' to graph Bedi's interests, it would be cleanly divided into spirituality, leadership, sport and human values. There's not one work of fiction, though as a young girl she liked Ayn Rand. "That's a stage of life... one can sometimes overstretch a stage." She shows off her collection of spiritual books - the Vedanta Treatise by Swami Parthasarthi, and her favourite, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait. Bedi harbours a dream of going into a spiritual retreat, "to be one with nature and the divine". But even she knows how far-fetched that sounds. Even when she retires from the police in 2009, even if she chooses to live at her farmhouse in Haryana and cycle to Damdama Lake 7 km away, she is likely to be found working away at one of the many causes close to her heart - surrounded by her books, laptop, spiritual music, mobile and newspaper of the day. And some prunes to eat when hungry.