Fidel Castro believed brandy was “as good a food as anything else”, but complained that his doctor was not allowing him to have it. In his autobiography Roses in December, Mahommedali Currim Chagla, former chief justice of Bombay High Court and a top diplomat, describes his first drink with the revolutionary icon, who breathed his last on Saturday.
Chagla, who was India's ambassador to Cuba during 1958-61, says he invited Castro and the whole of his cabinet for dinner to a restaurant in Havana that was “made famous by Ernest Hemingway”. Firebrand communist leader Che Guevara was also a part of the Castro cabinet.
Taking a light dig at South Americans' sloppy attitude to punctuality, Chagla quips, “They are somewhat like us, and they consider time as a rather insignificant and irrelevant factor in the scheme of things.” Castro didn't turn up to the 9 o'clock party even after 9:30, and Che sought to convince Chagla saying he would surely join them.
The dinner started at half past 10, but Castro turned up only after they had finished eating and were smoking cigars over coffee and brandy. Castro sat next to Chagla who had kept a chair vacant for him. “I asked him whether he would not like to eat something first. He said, 'No. Brandy is as good a food as anything else',” he writes.
Castro was very humorous during the party and he did not spare even his doctor. “That man does not permit me brandy or a cigar. He thinks I am overdoing it. Doctors are usually wrong,” the 'maximum leader' was quoted as saying, by the former union minister in his book.
According to certain reports, Castro had special fondness for Havana cigars, but he quit smoking in 1985 for health reasons.
The author narrates how the fiery apostle of revolution, who defied the US for nearly half a century, interacted freely with common people. When two violinists came to their room and played some of his favourite tunes, “Castro talked to them most informally, not as prime minister but as a fellow Cuban.”
It was nearly 1 o'clock when the party ended, but Castro was still talking to a crowd that had gathered there. Chagla, who was waiting to see Castro off first, was told by somebody that if he waited for the leader, he would have to wait till 4 o'clock.
“I learnt the next day that what I had been told was perfectly correct, for it was four in the morning when Castro left the crowd and went home,” Chagla writes in his book.