Shimla: "Age cannot wither her nor can custom stale her infinite variety," is what Shakespeare wrote for Cleopatra. The same, it seems, could be true for Himachal Pradesh`s `iron lady` and leader of opposition Vidya Stokes, who has been on a non-cereal diet for 50 years.
No grains for this doughty, energetic 84-year-old, who eats salads, soups, vegetables and dal.
And the octogenarian is growing stronger.
"This is the power of food," Stokes told reporters in an interview.
It began some five decades ago when Stokes, a Congress leader and a long-time administrator of women`s hockey, was holidaying in Europe with her husband (the late Lal Chand Stokes).
"During the vacation, I decided to forgo grains," said Stokes, a prominent apple cultivator in the region.
"We were invited by an Indian friend for a dinner during our stay in Germany. A number of Europeans were also invited. One of the Europeans remarked that `Indians are literally crazy for grains. They are obsessed with sugar and white flour. They eat a lot of trash most of the time`."
"Thereafter, I encountered a book written by American nutritionist (Gayelord) Hauser in a bookstore in Germany. As I was going through the book, I was making up my mind to forgo grains as they cause obesity, excess release of fat-promoting insulin and trigger digestive problems," she said.
She returned to India, astonishing everybody with her decision to stop eating grains. No more rice or chapatis for her.
"Initially, I had to face a lot of problems, especially from my husband. He was quite upset with my decision of not savouring even non-vegetarian dishes. My family members used to laugh at me," recalled Stokes, whose family is credited with pushing Himachal Pradesh`s apple boom.
"This is my secret of staying fit and active. There are a lot of people who are regularly consuming grains that make them sick... I still don`t take medicines," she said.
Stokes, who was power minister in Himachal Pradesh from 2003 to 2007, loves a banana or an apple with yoghurt or low-calorie biscuits in breakfast.
Her lunch is usually baked vegetables and a soup. And dinner comprises `dal` and salads.
But she indulges her sweet tooth, even eating a gulab jamun now and then.
"After dinner every day, I yearn for a low-calorie sweet dish," she said.
Stokes believes: "If you`re not ready to give up grains, make sure you eat the best quality grains, especially organic. These can be eaten in sprouted or soaked."
Stokes` father-in-law Satyanand (Samuel Evans Stokes Junior), an American missionary, first introduced high quality apples in the Kotgarh-Thanedar belt in upper Shimla in the early 1920s.
Stokes now manages most of her family`s orchards.
She also loves collecting dolls, some rare ones handpicked from across the globe. She gifted some of them to the International Dolls Museum in Chandigarh.
After putting in more than four decades in state politics, Stokes, who is known in political circles for her proximity to the Gandhi family, said: "I think I should have another term. If you are physically and mentally fit, there is no harm in continuing."
"I am a soft-spoken politician... It`s my strength, not weakness. By the way, I am stronger than many others as I have no vested interests in politics," she said.