Sunday 26 August 2012

Stars and Strives

I grew up in India loving movies. It was our family tradition to go to the movies every Sunday evening, and that love for movies continues even today. When I immigrated to the US in 1983, my interaction with Indian cinema reduced considerably. In 2001, I started visiting India more often and worked across India as part of large philanthropic projects. During one of my trips to India, I was travelling from Bombay to Delhi. I was in the last bus that drives you from the terminal to the plane, and there were only a handful of people in the bus. As we approached the staircase, I saw an old man in a white khadi churidar and kurta, making his way slowly and painstakingly up the stairs. An airlines employee was carrying his bag while giving him a hand. The old man was shaking slightly. I waited patiently at the bottom of the stairs till they reached the entry to the plane, as I did not want to hurry them. When I entered the plane, I glanced casually at the older gentleman who was settled in business class. He looked familiar but I could not place him. Almost an hour into the flight, I realized that the old man was Rajesh Khanna and it really shook me. And this is why.  

Rajesh Khanna (Photo credits TOI and SamayLive)
My 25 years in the US also included working in Hollywood and meeting stars. I don’t claim to be close friends with any of them but I worked with them in close quarters and learned to treat them as equals. I got to see them as human beings with their own mood swings and faults. So, I was not in awe of them. But the Indian cinema of my childhood was different. I remember my older sister and her friends debating Rajesh Khanna vs. Dharmendra. I remember the splash that Rajesh Khanna made with movies like Aradhana, Anand, etc., I remember his innocent yet mischievous eyes, the tilt of his head, and the unique way he spoke. “Babumoshai” became a household phrase and I can still hum the lyrics to many of the songs from his movies. Being in Hyderabad, I never saw the glitz and glamour of Bombay and never witnessed the crowds of girls who would threw themselves at any film personalities. To me, people like Rajesh Khanna were only characters on a screen. So, when I saw him in that flight, I witnessed the aging of a star and our own fickle nature – how we adulate someone and not even care about them once they pass their prime. It pained me to see him sit a lonely man in that business class with people passing by without even noticing him. That moment to me was not about Rajesh Khanna per se but about the fleeting flow of fame and the loneliness that comes from it. 

Personally, it also made a difference to my re-entry into India. I realized that even though I acknowledge all the changes in my life in America, my life in India was frozen, as it was when I left it in 1983. The music, the actors, the teachers, the schools  - everything seem to be better in 1983 ... NOT because it was truly better but because that was all I knew. I stood still and the scenario around me passed by and I was complaining that it was not keeping pace with me. The truth was that I have not kept pace and did not notice the passing of time. That encounter with Rajesh Khanna dismantled the romantic memory of the India of yester years. Looking at his frail figure fast-forwarded my experience of India and placed it in the present time frame. 

As I read about his death, I thought of that day a decade ago when he played a silent role in my education of India. I also remembered something else. His hands were shaking and head had a slight tremor as he walked up the staircase slowly but his khadi kurta and pajama were starched to perfection and there was not a fold out of place. And the way he placed himself on the seat and sat upright showed a man who was ready to face the crowd and not someone who was hiding from the crowd because he knew that he was no longer famous. He carried himself with confidence and like a star and in some ways, that’s all that matters. 

Photo credits : TOI and SamayLive 

Monday 20 August 2012

Farewell to my father from Portland

I have three sets of parents – one, my biological parents from India; second, the parents of my friend Karen - Hank and Gerel Blauer who took me in as their fifth daughter during my life in Portland and finally, parents of my friend Audrey - Esther and Jerry Daniel who adopted me when I moved to California after leaving Portland. Each of them brought a unique set of values and lessons into my life. I got my positive attitude, my love of culture, importance of education from my biological parents; value of hard work, savings and making it on ones own from the Blauers and the essence of design, the importance of aesthetics from the Daniels. My three sets of parents met one another, enjoyed getting to know each other across geographies and were all there to dance at my wedding in 1995.

Part of growing up is also facing the painful experience of losing ones parents.The other side of having three sets of parents is to go through the pain of losing them that many times over. It was my biological parents who went first, then Esther and now, I lost my dad Hank in June 2012. I was in Bali when I got the news and I could not make the international flights to make it back in time for services. So, I got to visit my mom in late July, for the first time after she lost dad. They were married for 58 years and that number kept coming up multiple times during my stay. It was as though mom was saying it because she could not believe that he was no more, that he would come around to celebrate the 59th and the 60th. I did not try hard to make it to the services or even to send any message to be read out. I felt that the only way I could pay homage to him would be to spend some time with mom after she settles down a bit.

I went to Portland and spent time with her and stayed at their home. The first thing that hit me was the emptiness of the spaces that once belonged to him – the chair by the fire place in the living room where he would always be seated, the bar where he would insist on making me a gin and tonic; the dining chair where he usually sat and then the voice, the laughter, the mocking tone as he teased mom. I missed dad terribly but I also thought of mom – how lonely it must be for her to go to an empty bed, to eat alone. They were inseparable for 58 years. I don’t think that mom spent more than 30-40 days away from dad spread across all those years that they were together. They had their own set of disagreements but were always a team. He, at 92 and she in her 80’s played tennis regularly, dad went to office, mom grew a spectacular garden and made all the meals herself. They were a team. I could not convey my condolences to mom because words seem insufficient.The only thing I could think of was to spend time with her walking down her memory lane.

I visited her in Portland and we planned out our day together. We started it with a walk on Fairmont loop. We parked our car in front of the home where she grew up. As a young lady in her 20’s, this was where she met dad for the first time. We stood on the front lawn as she pointed to the window that was once her room. As we walked, we ran into women who knew her, who would ask how she was coping and she would introduce me as her fifth daughter and invariably, I would find something in common with everyone we met. It was as though we
were blending our individual pasts in Portland into one happy giant story. We stopped by at a couples’ home where Karen and I baby sat their teenagers almost two decades ago while they went on vacation. I saw photos of the teenagers, now grown ups, with their own careers and children. As we walked, we had a long chat about mom and dad. Mom shared how they first met, some of their dates, the subsequent marriage and four daughters over six years and now seven grand children who are all boys (including my 8 year old). It was great to go back in time when they were youngsters and meet them there. Our conversation would often be interrupted by history of some of the homes on the loop, stories of their past or current inhabitants. We took twice as long to finish the loop but it was totally worth it. I wanted to have a unhurried, relaxed time with her and that is exactly what I got. Mom did not cry at all during our entire time together because she said that she had to be strong for all of us. So, I did not cry either till an hour before we left home.

Mom asked me to take a shower in their bathroom as it was larger and more comfortable. When I went into the bathroom and saw two tooth brushes in the stand, two sets of towels hanging side by side, I just broke down. It was a stark reminder of his absence in the presence of his stuff. And then we went out to lunch at my favorite “Al Amir” restaurant. At the end of the meal, I wanted her to take home the left over fatoush salad and the kabob and she instinctively almost said “Your dad would enjoy this at night,” and in catching herself, there
was that understanding that this was going to take a long time to come to terms with his absence.

Dad died with an unexpected cardiac arrest at 92 and left this Earth without being a burden to anyone. And my job is to keep thinking of dad in a way that it puts smile on my lips. So, here is what I remember him by. Whenever mom would be talking about someone’s demise and refer to the widow as “She lost her husband”, he would say something to the affect “How careless to lose a grown up? Did they finally find him?” and make a joke of losing someone as through a child lost in the zoo. So, when we think of dad, we are not thinking as losing him but finding him in all the little details and memories he left hidden in each of us.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...