Circa 1961. In a darkened theatre in Poona, a ten year old lad settles down to watch one of his first Hindi movies. The film is `Hum Dono’, one of Nav Ketan’s better efforts, and the excitement in the boy’s impressionable mind is palpable.
|Abhi na jao chhod kar...|
Barely ten minutes into the film, as the song `Abhi na jao chhod ke, ke dil abhi bhara nahin’ - arguably the greatest ode to romance ever - warbles on the screen, the lad has already made two life changing decisions.
One, that for the rest of his life, he will walk, talk, dress and wear his hair exactly like Dev Anand. Two, that as soon as is physically possible, he will marry Sadhana!
The first resolution was easy, and was clung to with the steadfastness that only a ten year old madly in love can muster. Although the `walk' would later become the bane of every drill ustad in IMA, the talk, the dress and the well coiffured `puff’ did brand him a ladies man of sorts, walking the hallowed portals of Fergusson College.
As for the second, he didn’t stand a chance. He lost the battle, not to the charms of a `Main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya’ Dev Anand or even to a `Aap yun hi agar hum se milte rahe’ Joy Mukherjee, but to RK Nayyar, the portly, bespectacled director who had directed her in `Love in Simla’, her debut film!
Like a million others, the ten year old too was heartbroken. Even scarred for life! Surely, she could have waited.
But ten year olds have a resilience that is the envy of their elder peers. And an ability to bounce back from the hardiest of put-downs. Sure enough, the walk, the talk and the puff that Sadhana had so heartlessly tossed aside were up and running again, and back in action!
|The Dev Anand puff!|
More heartbreaks, however, lay in store for our young Galahad. By the age of 12, he had received his first `Dear John’ – the friend’s sister, to whom he had effusively handed over his heart, let’s call her Ms R, had returned it, unopened and unused. Apparently, she didn’t quite look at him in `that way’!
So he reversed tacks. From friend’s sisters, he switched to sister’s friends! Providence, and a deep rooted animosity that existed between his sister and mathematics and general science, conspired to ensure that the sister – almost two years his senior – and he, passed out of school together.
Although he joined the more studious and elitist Fergusson College and she the more laid back Wadia, a handful of her class mates from St Anne’s School found themselves in the same class at Fergusson as our young lothario.
And that’s where he met her. His first `true’ love, Ms S. Many a lunch break was spent sharing the tiffin their respective mothers had made for their kids. Many a free period was spent exchanging sweet nothings on the steps behind the Geology lab.
They even bunked classes once to see a movie at the Alaka theatre, where they furtively held hands. Love was definitely in air, palpable, like the exhaust of a DTC bus!
They had formed a society called Dramatique. They read poetry, discussed literature in the college Amphitheatre. They performed Arthur Miller’s `All My Sons’ in the FTII Auditorium, where he played Chris, the softer, more romantic of Joe Keller’s sons. Dammit, he was the `hero’, the romantic lead, for crying out loud!
But all that was to no avail. The paths of true love never did run smooth. He left college to enrol as a Gentleman Cadet in the Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun. There, in his final term, he received a letter, announcing Ms S’s impending nuptials. It was heartbreak time all over again.
He seemed to have developed an uncanny habit of receiving Dear Johns! Must junk this annoying practice, he told himself. Not even twenty, and he had already notched up a couple of them! Wouldn’t make for great or inspiring reading in his memoirs..
Circa 1973. His ambitions hadn't been sky high, he hadn’t asked for the moon, he reasoned. He had just wanted to be a famous writer, and here he found himself in crisp olive greens, a subaltern in the Indian Army’s Corps of Signals!
He had pledged to marry Sadhana, then Miss R, then Miss S, and they had all ditched him in quick succession. It was a conspiracy, he felt! The Bible had got it all wrong - it wasn’t the meek that inherited the earth, but the RK Nayyars, the Mr R’s and the Mr S’s of the planet!
But hearts heal, twenty year old hearts probably faster than others. And hindsight is a fantastic tool, even though it always comes when it’s too, too late.
The delectable Sadhana passed away last week, embroiled in court cases, fighting a losing battle with cancer, both of which had emaciated that once heart achingly lovely visage. Mr Nayyar had, of course, abandoned her long back. Would he have done any better, he wondered?
The others too had moved on. Ms R had morphed into the splitting image of her mother, and he wondered how he could possibly have been so smitten. Sadly, all his efforts to track down the elusive Ms S failed. Rumours that she had had a bad marriage were just that – rumours. There was no way of knowing. She had simply vanished into thin air!
Four decades later, thankfully the hair is still in place, even if the coiffure isn’t quite the same. He’s still struggling to be a writer. `Mitti Pao!’ has notched up 85 posts to its credit. Ok, not the great big epic or novel that would be translated into fifty seven different languages and be grabbed up by Spielberg for a movie version, but hey, it’s a beginning, and maybe he is getting somewhere..
As for the R’s and S’s, those dreams always came with a shelf life. Not to mention that he too is fast approaching his `Use By’ date. Has he left it too late? He doesn’t think so. He’s convinced that the vision he’s spotted on the horizon yonder, is no mirage.
He walks on. Looks up at the sky. Urges it to do its bit. A handful of sky is not too much to ask for.
Dil hai chhota sa, chhoti si asha..
It will happen!