Srinagar: Four days before India’s first woman prime minister, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated by her guards outside her residence in New Delhi 33 years ago, Srinagar’s Ghulam Rasool Siah, a famous houseboat owner, received a call from the then director tourism Mohiuddin Shah. He asked Rasool to keep his houseboat ready as Gandhi wanted to have a cup of tea in a houseboat.
Rasool told Kashmir Reader that being the end of October, it was a cloudy afternoon. Clad in a pheran, he shared his remembrances in the lawn of Alif Laila, one of the top quality houseboats the Rasool family owns.
“I had just a few hours left. So I hurriedly summoned the cooks and told them to prepare Lipton tea and scones, one of the top British delicacies made by the combination of eggs, milk, sugar and wheat,” recalls Rasool. “I just wanted things to be perfect as I was going to host the Indian PM. It was a matter of pride but also a responsibility.”
Four days later on October 31, 1984, Rasool heard that the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, Bharat Ratna awardee and the President of the Indian National Congress had been murdered by her guards at her residence in Safdarjung Road, New Delhi. This week was her 33rd death anniversary.
According to Rasool, Gandhi was on a visit to Kashmir and Ladakh but decided to stay at the houseboat after her flight to Leh was cancelled. Rasool said she told the then chief minister of the state to arrange a stay.
“She was brought under high security cover from Nehru Park. I and my brother Mohammad Sultan Siah received her. We had a warn discussion about the houseboat business, its history and Kashmir culture. We showed her the entire house boat. She went on the lawn that was set up in the house boat. Later she sat in the sitting room for nearly 2-3 hours.”
Rasool has inherited the trade from his father. At present, the family owns a group of Siah houseboats, nine in number, all luxury category. His houseboats have been host to the commander-in-chief of the former USSR, the governor of South Carolina with 25 parliamentarians, the king of the United Arab Emirates, former Indian Information minister V C Shukla and Indira Gandhi’s son and former Indian PM, the late Rajiv Gandhi with his wife, Sonia Gandhi.
“I was invited because of my quality houseboat. Ours was the only one with tiling and was designed by an Australian architect. She stayed in Kashmir for six months to finish the work,” said Rasool, who was later awarded by the tourism department for the best facilities, service and food that the houseboat provided.