Updated: Jun 7, 2021
I visited Prague, the capital of Czechoslovakia, around 35 years ago. I was part of the press party representing All India Radio and accompanying President Zail Singh on the three-nation tour of Qatar, Bahrain, and Czech Republic. As you know, these are goodwill visits and are not expected to yield much news.
I had pitched for an exclusive interview with the then President Mr. Gustáv Husák but my request had been rejected. Had I got the interview, it would have given me a good lead news. Not in a mood to give up, I decided to try one more time. A meeting had been scheduled between the presidents of the two countries. The meeting had just begun and I noted the Press Secretary of President Husák standing alone in a corner.
I took my chance and introduced myself to the Press Secretary and repeated my request for an exclusive interview. I pleaded with him that I completely understood that the President had a very tight schedule, but all I needed was 5 minutes of his time. He looked at me for a second and said let me check. He was back in 10 minutes and said just 5 minutes were allotted, and asked me to be ready with the equipment.
I told him that I just have a tape recorder (It was a square-shaped Phillips tape recorder, which was popular those days). The Press Secretary was totally shocked when he heard this. I assured him that its sound quality was excellent, and I had recorded several dignitaries with the same voice recorder. As Giani Zail Singh came out of the room after his meeting with the President Husák, I was ushered in. He asked me to sit down and offered me a cigarette.
I politely refused his offer and informed him that I was a non-smoker. ‘What a coincidence!’, he exclaimed. He said he offered a cigarette to my President as well, but he also refused the offer and he in turn advised Mr. Husák to give up smoking. The interview continued and lasted, 40 minutes against the allotted five minutes. On hearing that I had been successful in getting an interview, all the 15 journalists who were in the press party wanted the story bytes from me. I agreed but only after I had filed the story to the General Newsroom at AIR. AIR was first with this exclusive interview.