I am sometimes amazed at people’s desperate attempts to gain riches, power and fame at any cost. While there is nothing wrong with making money, acquiring power or seeking recognition, what galls me is the overriding effort to attain them at the cost of health, happiness, freedom and personal relationships. And I wonder if material comforts and titles are really worth the effort especially when people are unable to appreciate the beauty of their environment, the warmth of their family hearth nor able to attain peace and contentment of mind.

Far too many youngsters and corporate jet setters today are unhappy. Despite blessings like a loving family, a secure roof above their heads, good job along with supportive friends; they live not for themselves but for invisible, inanimate corporations, becoming mere cogs in a chain. As wrinkles increase, they are shocked to note that all their material comforts and titular positions only helped them obtain only greater number of ulcers, tensions, malfunctioning heartbeats, debilitating body and an unsatisfied mind. Unfortunately, remorse can neither put the clock back nor help regain the simple, innocent pleasures that were once within reach but lost due to foolish decisions.

For ages, it is well known that people become unhappy when they are out of sync with the bounties of God since every moment is a blessing that must be cherished and experienced; be it a rainbow, the moonlit night, birdsong or the close presence of our parents and loved ones nearby. The mere fact that our faculties, limbs and senses are working should make us feel grateful to God since there are countless others who don’t have even these basic gifts of nature. Yet we never deem ourselves fortunate for such extra-ordinary mercies and instead, waste our lives in despair and self-pity.

Believe it or not, happiness is the meaning and the purpose of Life, the whole aim of human existence. If only we take it easy, appreciate nature and do what we really enjoy rather than what society expects us to do, we can experience true happiness. Life is fragile and extremely short, yet human beings fail to realise it as a bubble of water that could blow apart at any moment. People take life for granted and fritter it away in worthless pursuits, just to be in step with the ways of the world and unfortunately, not many have the courage of convictions to do what they excel at and do not understand that work is necessary only to keep us alive so as to enjoy the “beauty and pleasures” of life. Life has to be a harmonious blend of work, play, music, ethics, family and personal contentment and each person has to decipher priorities without sacrificing spontaneity and instinct.

Yet we continue to neglect our health; ignore our personal relations, fail to appreciate our special hobbies and abilities, not realising that all our efforts at being top-notch achievers only end up on pages of yesterday’s newspaper at the bottom of a dustbin. None understands that awards and achievements are forgotten on eternity’s vast canvas and the world’s evaluation and applause decay after a few moments. And that long after accolades are buried and certificates wear out in the cupboards of memory, what ultimately matters is your own self-worth, your own sense of contentment of having been a worthy human being on this planet.

To me personally, if you can’t appreciate your own self as a good, caring, sensitive human being and cannot recall making a difference in the lives of your loved ones or people close to you; then your life is not worth recounting. The best people are not those who have the highest riches, majestic titles or immense power but those that spread cheer in the lives of people with their noble doings. So, it matters little who has won the maximum awards or has the biggest bank balance or has the largest empire if their hearts are devoid of love and spontaneity and their souls languish in discontentment. Obviously, then they are the world’s biggest losers and paupers.

I pray everyone be rich in contentment and happiness of the soul rather than lose their way in earning the riches of the world as nothing is worse than losing one’s own esteem and self-respect.


Me and my brother Rajan (extreme left) at home with Salim Durrani in 1970

Me and Salim Bhai at Singapore in 1996.

A tribute to the handsome and graceful all-rounder on his 87th birthday today

Blessed with languid grace, earthy wit and handsome physique, few could match Salim Durrani’s cricketing genius when he was in the mood. So weighty was his talent that the man could make the willow and the ball talk as per his dictate. He was undoubtedly the Prince Charming of Indian cricket but had he been born in this era; he’d have become the King of ODIs and T-20s especially since he could hit sixes at will and also make girls swoon with his smile!  

Statistics do no justice to his mercurial ability but connoisseurs know that greater the challenge, the more tumultuous and fiercer was his response. His breezy century in West Indies in 1962 against the dreaded pace of Wesley Hall and Charlie Griffith is still talked about with awe, while his demolishing of Garfield Sobers and Clive Lloyd in 1971 is a story of daredevilry since he took the ball himself from his unwilling captain Ajit Wadekar. Never before and never thereafter has a cricketer aroused mass hysteria like Salim Durrani did in his heyday and it is a pity that selectors did not do justice to his volcanic talent.

Though I had seen many of Salim Bhai’s exploits, I came in contact with him only in February 1970. An avid cricket aficionado, Mr. J. C. Sharma, invited him to play for Bright Star Cricket Club (BSCC) in Jaipur in a tournament organised by North-Western Railway. Run with clock-work efficiency by Mr. Sharma (fondly called “JC” by cricketing fraternity), BSCC was the inter-district champion in Rajasthan for several years. Many noteworthy players like Suryaveer Singh, Laxman Singh, Tilak Raj and Vijay Mehra played for BSCC only because “JC” was dedicated to cricket. Since I happened to be Mr. Sharma’s fondest next-door neighbour (he later became my uncle-in-law), he included me in his club’s elite 14 from the age of ten when I started representing Saint Xavier’s A team, giving me a chance to rub shoulders with eminent cricketers!

Apart from winning the trophy, Durrani also won our hearts. I remember I had to perform in my class drama in the evening of the concluding day of the title clash and was worried as to how I’d reach the theatre in time as it was too far away from the Railway Stadium. But hearing my dilemma, Durrani not just bowled out the opponents in double-quick time but also hit a brisk 42 with 6 sixes to finish the match around 2pm! A few days later, he came over for dinner on the eve of Holi festival and played tennis ball cricket with all youngsters with gay abandon. So friendly was his disposition that he gleefully joined everyone in the colony’s Holika Dahan ceremony (Sacred Fire).

That week of cricket and the visit created a bond between us. Though our interactions were spread over years, each occasion would lead to a lot of merriment. Two happenings would suffice to illustrate Durrani’s humility and greatness as a gentleman. In a Ranji Trophy match at Chaugan Stadium in Jaipur, Durrani got out for a naught and came back livid in anger. To sooth the sulking cricketer, Chauth Mal, the baggage man, went up to offer some lip sympathy but in a fit of rage, Durrani slapped the man and went to sleep. An hour later, Durrani called for Chauth Mal and not just apologised to him in front of the entire team but also hugged him in a tight embrace. And despite his meagre financial resources, he also gave a hundred rupee note to make Chauth Mal a lifelong fan!

The other incident happened in 1996 when me and Salim Bhai were doing a commentary stint at ESPN’s Asian headquarters in Singapore. Though I was always put up in a penthouse in a beach hotel, I opted to move to Albert Court… the boutique hotel where Salim Bhai was staying as this enabled us to go for long walks around the city as well as spend time together. One evening over dinner, I complimented Salim Bhai for his wonderful leather slippers and sought the address of the shop from where he had purchased the said merchandise. In between gulps of food, he promised to take me to the concerned mall the next day. However, when my doorbell rang early next morning, I was surprised to see him standing outside with a small packet. Barging in, he asked me to try the slippers that he had brought for me of the same brand and colour. The affectionate gesture overwhelmed me and the gift fitted me perfectly!

Every meeting thereafter was a boon as well as a reminder of our life’s chariot hurrying towards its zenith. Each time, I saw his body had shrunk in size but his spirits remained cheerfully bright though immensely saintlier than before. But what always struck me was his overriding concern for me, my family as he would invariably enquire about everyone’s welfare especially “JC”. Our last meeting was a few years ago when we were taking our respective flights from Chennai airport. He had been awarded a large cheque by the BCCI the previous night but looking into his eyes, I perceived he was amused by the doings of the administrators!

Having learnt my cricket literally at his feet, I can say Durrani’s carefree, dare-devil attitude rubbed on me too and though I have respected my seniors in every sphere, I have never been too overawed by anyone’s stature so as to cripple my individuality. If someone, somewhere would remember me with as much affection as I remember the great Prince Charming of Indian Cricket, my life would have been well lived!

Actress Saira Banu and her husband Dilip Kumar after the thespian received the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke award. Photo: The Hindu photo archives   | Photo Credit: HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES

Published in The Hindu
Dated : 05 December, 2013 (View)

A rare peek into the life of the legendary actor Dilip Kumar.

There are actors and then there is Dilip Kumar. Like Mount Everest, he is beyond comparison. His one-film-at-a-time rule means his body of work is meagre. But is it astounding! As the creator of film acting grammar, Dilip Kumar has not only endeared himself to masses across all continents but also set benchmarks that have become difficult to surpass.

While Dilip Kumar’s public persona, extraordinary performances and achievements are part of folk lore, his personal domain remains largely untouched since he is fiercely protective of his privacy. However, by a wonderful quirk of fate, I recently chanced upon several fascinating facts about his personal life which revealed that he is a devoted home bird. The peep into this thespian’s life, courtesy his gracious and charming wife Saira Banu, only reconfirmed that ‘Sahab’, as Saira fondly addresses her hubby, “isn’t just a synonym for excellence but also a man of incredible traits”.

Inspecting the vast memorabilia of Saira Banu’s personal collection of photographs and videos, I discovered that the actor, who gave face to many Mohammed Rafi melodies on screen, is a fine singer himself. He may have enacted the bhajan “Sukh Ke Sab Saathi” in “Gopi” to perfection but he also sings the same with great relish at home. Sharing a video where Dilip Kumar sings in harmony with Kalyanji-Anandji’s harmonium, Saira confides, “Crooning Rafi Sahab’s love songs as well as recitation of Urdu couplets are Sahab’s way of teasing and romancing.” An old photograph makes her declare that Rafi magic rules their household and that she is one-up on her husband since she has sung a duet with Rafi Sahab in “Aman”! But she is convinced that none can beat her hubby at ‘Antakshri’ “since he remembers many old film songs… he knows an apt couplet for every occasion”!

Urdu and Persian poems acquire a spiritual eloquence on Dilip Kumar’s lips. Each word and inflection is adorned with such perfect caress and delicate throw that the simplest of couplets adorn a heavenly charm. Videos of his overseas tours show how he mesmerises audiences with his profound and extempore oration in English and Hindi and like his dialogue delivery; his repartee is equally stunning and enjoyable. “Contrary to his image of a serious man”, Saira discloses, “Sahab is a fun loving person who can keep you in splits for hours”. Videos of family functions show him regaling friends and relatives with witty anecdotes and his emotive eyes come into full play even in ordinary conversations.”

She reveals, “Sahab is like a child at heart who loves to live every moment”, even as we witness scenes from Kashmir where he playfully targets his wife with a barrage of snow balls! The beauty queen remembers “shooting outdoors with him was a lovely affair” as Sahab would “always take extra care of not just my comfort but the needs of an entire film unit”.

Saira says, “Sahab always had a penchant for cricket” but how good a cricketer he was is revealed on tape by none other than the sterling Indian cricket captain of yesteryears, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi. Recalling the era when film stars and cricketers frequently collaborated for charitable causes, Pataudi elaborates, “Dilip Sahab was a difficult batsman to dislodge and once even hit the first ball of an established first class bowler for a six at Brabourne Stadium!” This vehement desire to excel made Dilip Kumar learn sitaar for “Madhuban Mein Raadhika Naache Re” song sequence of “Kohinoor”. While that effort is well recorded in media, not too many are aware that he is an equally proficient exponent of the trumpet. Not only does he play the difficult instrument in complete tandem with the local brass bands whenever the mood takes him he is also a robust dancer at family celebrations; some of his moves could surely make Shammi Kapoor or Helen envious!

As Saira shares pictures and stories of Dilip Kumar’s long and dedicated work for the National Association for the Blind (NAB), an old family aide tells me how the thespian never missed the annual event of the NAB train run for fund raising. Sipping tea and glancing at a TV advertisement, Saira informs “Sahab refused to model for many an august brand, despite lucrative offers over the years” since he deemed it “a demeaning way of money making”.

Going over the treasure chest of Saira’s sacred memories, I was surprised one day to find Dilip Sahab walk into the penthouse lounge. The affection with which Saira and he greeted each other showed how their celestial bond has grown stronger and fonder over the years. Even though I was meeting the legendary actor after several years, I felt time had not been able to dim his cherubic smile and spirit despite his poor health. Time stood still for me as he held my hand and patted my back; and though the silences were longer, his measured sentences were still worth their weight in gold. Like the whole nation, I wish and pray that this coming birthday (December 11) is one of many more to come in Dilip Kumar’s memorable journey.

Published in TheWeek
Dated: 23-Nov-2003

ALWAR: Bhanwata village is not easy to find on the map, even for a Rajasthani. Embedded deep in the Aravalli tract in the Sariska region of Alwar district, its terrain is tough.

A stroll with the prince: Rajendra Singh, Charles and Mahaan

On November 2, I found myself standing there alongside the ‘water man’, whom The Week featured as Man of The Year in 1998-Rajendra Singh of Tarun Bharat Sangh. We were awaiting the arrival of Prince Charles, who was keen on visiting the arid zone that had turned into a water surplus area through people’s perseverance.

Singh had invited me to play translator as I had made the documentary film River Reborn on the incredible revival of the Aravari. As Charles stepped out of the helicopter, he admiringly told the Magsaysay Award-winner that he had read a lot about him. Shaking my hand, he wanted to know if I, too, was part of the water conservation movement. I told him that as a film-maker and writer, I had documented its progress. Pumping my hand, Charles said, “That, too, is a great service as the world wouldn’t know of Rajendra’s work if it weren’t for people like you.”

As we walked into the Aravalli tract, we told him the history of the water movement and the difficulties it faced along the way. The water table lies deep below the earth’s crust in most areas in Rajasthan, and no river flows throughout the year. Charles was amazed that water was now available in the Aravalli tract at just ten feet below ground level.

He listened attentively as Singh recounted the two-decade-old efforts to make water conservation a people’s movement. I could see him glowing with the sense of a work well done as I translated the gist of the story for the royal ears. Singh used traditional wisdom for the project: villagers built and linked a number of johads (earthen check dams) and water bodies along the Aravari basin to prevent water wastage. Once recharged, the water bodies helped raise the water table and gradually, a river that had vanished 60 years ago came back to life. “It’s similar to what the Israelis did to save themselves from a water crisis,” said Charles.

Charles had read about the democratic moorings of the movement. As Singh’s ‘voice’, I explained how an Aravari Sansad was formed; how village committees abided by its rules. How self-discipline became the key to economic prosperity as people stopped cutting trees and polluting water bodies. How this led to empowerment of women and education of children, who no longer had to trudge long distances for water.

“Rajendra is an amazing man,” said the prince. In a spontaneous gesture that took us by surprise, Charles took off some of his garlands and put them on Singh, M.S. Rathore (who provided the technical information about the project) and me. After a long walk, we reached Bhanwata lake, where members of the Sansad welcomed the prince. As he went for a round of the lake, Charles was full of warmth for the bearded ‘water warrior’.

When we returned 90 minutes later, Charles acquiesced to the villagers’ request (despite his secretary’s hesitance) for an audience. Singh and I bid him farewell at the helipad. He held Singh’s hand and said, “I love India and I’ll cherish this visit for a long time.” Turning to me, he thanked me for the copy of the documentary. “I look forward to seeing it as soon as I can,” he said, waving goodbye.