The bald, witty, democratic “Tughlaq” no more!

His mentee Jayalalitha passed away yesterday and even before people could pour Earth over her coffin and the Earth settled, her mentor too passed away!

I knew about Cho always because my dad was a huge fan. The only magazine that he would buy was “Tughlaq”. Dad accepted his political view without debate because Cho was non-partisan for the most part. He was also a visionary and saw many trends that we didn’t. The best part of Cho was – he would strongly criticize politicians but in such a humorous way that one got the message and didn’t feel bad about it. He was an ardent critic of Indira Gandhi and her policies, but she gave an interview to his magazine “Tughlaq” and spoke for two hours, one hour for the interview and another hour off the record !! What she said to him off the record, stayed off the record and that quality is why politicians across party lines respected him.

Jayalalitha never listened to anyone, but Cho was the closest advisor she had. He could say anything to her and she would listen but like he would say “she will listen and still not act on it”.  But the very same Cho would meet Karunanidhi the next day and they would talk too. Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi were rivals, but had a common friend in Cho.

Cho was the first to see the potential of NaMo as the prime ministerial candidate….. and even spoke to Advani about stepping aside and letting NaMo lead the charge. What prophetic advise!! He was friends with Advani since the time of the emergency and still spoke his mind. Here’s what he has said in an interview to TOI, in 2013 –


Cho’s landmark drama was “Tughlaq”… where he acts as the crazy (or genius), Mohammed Bin Tughlaq who ruled Delhi Sultanate from 1325 to 1351. The original Tughlaq moved his capital from Delhi all the way to Aurangabad and even tried to replicate the Taj Mahal there as “Bibi ka Maqbara” :). Historians are unable to decide if he was a genius or just plain crazy.

Cho is definitely a witty genius. Please watch the “Tughlaq” play made into a movie at this link – Its in Tamil and thats the only challenge. For all the non-Tamilians, this play was first enacted in 1968. The plot is a simply about how two friends decide to fool the entire nation. They dress themselves as Mohammed Bin Tughlaq and the Moroccan visitor to his court Ibn Batuta and get into a casket and bury themselves in an archaeological site where a professor is digging at that time. Then they are discovered and act as though they are the originals and get into politics, fight an election and get elected as the Prime Minister. Its a political satire on how easy it is to fool people and the wonderful behaviour of politicians when they want to get elected. At one point in the play, he says all people who join his party will be made deputy prime ministers and every elected MP jumps ship and joins his party. It is in this famous play that Cho, as Tughlaq says “make Persian the national language or even better, every month have one Indian language as the national language”. In the 60’s there was huge unrest in TamilNadu because of Hindi language being imposed as the national language and this was his retort to that.


There are two enduring images of Cho for me – one, his distinctive walk which was a walk+jump as Mohammed Bin Tughlaq and the other of his shaking his co-star K.R.Vijaya in the  movie “Thanikudithanam” after giving her a medicine that said “shake the bottle and then use”… he ends up giving the medicine to her without shaking the bottle and goes on to shake her instead. Hilarious and something that makes me smile overtime I think about it.

As Krishna says in the Bhagwad Gita –

“vaasaamsi jeernaani yathaa vihaaya navaani gr.hnaathi naro’ paraani |
thathaa sareeraani vihaaya jeernany-anyaani samyaathi navaani de’hi ||”

“As a man casts off worn-out garments and puts on new ones, so the embodied soul casts off the worn-out body and enters other new ones.”

Cho was inimitable, truly funny, a political visionary and his satire was the best…. Heaven must have a laugh riot today.  Till Cho’s soul finds new clothes .. we will miss him and may his soul find “mukti”.


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