In October 2011, a few days before Deepawali, I took a chance and hesitatingly dropped by at the temporary office of Dev Sahab, at Bandra in Mumbai (his studio cum office, Anand, was under reconstruction). I was wondering how he must have taken the adverse reviews, and the dismal response to his last film, Charge Sheet, that released some weeks earlier.
Visibly delighted that I had come without an appointment for a change to surprise him, he welcomed me warmly. He began telling me about his preparations to script a sequel to Hare Rama Hare Krishna, his second directorial vehicle, which opened to enthusiastic welcome in 1971. Charge Sheet was now in the past for him. The present and future were on his mind. “You give me your wish list of the cast I should consider. Let’s see if it matches my list. Who knows it may be my last film, nobody knows the future. I will work as I have always worked, savoring every moment of the experience”, he said excitedly, while observing my reaction.
After a cup of tea and pleasantries, I told him that I had to leave. A lot of work awaited me with Deepawali round the corner, I told him. I did not ask him what he intended to do for Deepawali, knowing that he seldom celebrated festivals and birthdays. Of late, he slipped away to Panchgani or Lonavala to celebrate even his birthday. …”Why?” …. “I can’t have too many people walking into this office. The space is limiting. Let me move into my new office next year, and I will welcome everybody”, he grinned.
As always he insisted I visit him again. “Come without hesitation, this is your place. By next year I will move to the new office which you will love, for its contemporary architecture and elegance”. The perfect gentleman, he rose from his chair, held my hand chivalrously in his soft hand and saw me off, after cheerfully teasing me: “Don’t forget we have to meet in January. May be around 13th.”
Towards the end of November, I came to know that he had left for his favorite city London. Suneil, his son, had persuaded him to take a holiday and also to get a health check up done.
On December 3, 2011, I woke up a trifle late. I was happily slurping my first cup of filter coffee when I received the shocking news that Dev Saheb had passed away peacefully, after he went to bed the previous night in the hotel he was staying in. Like many who knew him closely, I just could not come to terms with the reality that he had gone away. That I will never again see him or feel the genuine warmth of his soft hand in mine.
I knew I was not alone. Thousands of men, women and children who had interacted with him were jolted by the news flashes on that calm Sunday morning. Radio stations, TV channels and web sites announced that Dev Anand who had inspired them to love and value the gift of life, was no more.
I have had the good fortune to meet and interact closely with Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar at the peak of their stardom. From each I have learned lessons of value, but it is from Dev Saheb that I imbibed the secret, that there is no healthier way to live than by looking forward in life.
Earlier, in May 1978, I had lost my paternal uncle who was the editor of Screen and a close friend of Dev Saheb. I was a Leader Writer of Screen then, and the loss impacted my emotions and aspirations personally and professionally. Dev Saheb, at the time, was canning reels of his second directorial venture, Des Pardes then. At a Press meet to announce the completion of a long filming schedule, he noticed my absence and casually asked my colleague whether I hadn’t returned to work. The colleague told him that I was still in grief and stubbornly reluctant to get back to work.
Late in the evening, the phone rang and when I picked up the receiver, it was the much mimicked chirpy “Hello” at the other end surprising me. “ I am sending you my car tomorrow to fetch you. Come over, let us get together. Tina ( Tina Munim) will be there. She is looking forward to seeing you too”, he said. I made excuses in vain.
Next morning the car drove me to Sun N Sand where Dev Saheb had a suite permanently booked in his name, where he quietly worked and met his technicians. In the forty five minutes that I spent with him, he overhauled my mental make-up and charged me with a vigor and zest to meet the volley of challenges awaiting me at work. I was no longer wallowing in the sorrow and dwelling in the past: I was bravely looking forward.
“He is an elixir, a rejuvenating tonic. I am known for my positive thinking and my refusal to cling to the past but Dev Sahab is a mile ahead of me”, Rekha had responded spontaneously when I had narrated the experience to her once.
I seized an opportunity once to ask Dev Sahab what made him the optimist and positive thinker that he was. He said: “Imagine arriving at Bombay Central one fine morning with no one to receive you and take you anywhere, and you realise soon enough that you have no choice but to survive on sheer gumption and optimism. I not only learned my skills but also my lessons in life as I adjusted to my life, in an environment far from the comforts and security of the home, that I had voluntarily left behind to chase a dream.”
It was during a visit of Ashok Kumar to Lahore that Dev Sahab, who was studying in the Government Law College, saw the craze of fans to get a glimpse of the actor, who had swept the viewers emotionally with his acting in Kangan. The scenes of mass adulation he witnessed fired his imagination and, before he knew it, he was getting drawn to the medium that had just begun to manifest its power, as a mass medium of entertainment.
During an interview I asked him the clichéd question “To whom do you owe your success?”
“Whatever I am, I owe to my mother“, he replied without delay. “She had immense faith and she prayed that I should succeed in fulfilling my dream. She was proud of me and encouraged me”, he revealed and stopped. His voice was heavy and his eyes were moist. He excused himself and it took a couple of minutes for him to regain his composure.
I was speechless ,too, for it was the first and only time, that Dev Anand was letting his deepest feelings show.