Author: Udaya Tara Nayar, ex-Editor, Screen. Author of the Biography of Legendary Actor Dilip Kumar
Very recently, on September 24, a video clip was circulating in WhatsApp groups reviving the memory of the same day in 1982 when a pale, exhausted Amitabh Bachchan returned to his Juhu residence after a long stay at the Breach Candy hospital in Mumbai following the fatal accident on the sets of his starrer Coolie. The audio visual contains a recording in which Amitabh thanks the countless men, women and kids who prayed for his life to be saved and recounts how one morning the Breach Candy doctors had declared him lifeless and quite providentially wife Jaya noticed his toe moving. She alerted the doctors who instantly started to revive him and they were successful in their efforts because of the prayers of countless people who wanted him to live.
I was a senior correspondent of Screen weekly then and I have a vivid memory of that day. I had reached the office at Express Towers early and I was settling down at my work table when the news editor came up to me and whispered: “Amitabh Bachchan is no more. They are saying that the doctors are trying to revive him. Have you prepared what I have been telling you to prepare?”
No, I hadn’t prepared what he had been telling me to keep ready. The obituary. I hadn’t for the simple reason that I believed in the power of prayers. Especially the power of collective prayer. I was over a decade into the job then and I could claim that I knew Amitabh and Jaya well. If not the collective prayers of thousands of simple frontbenchers who happily spent the last rupee of their monthly or daily wages to buy an admission ticket for the first show on the first day of the release of his starrers and cheered him when he single-handedly beat up the ruthless villain, I was sure God would listen to Jaya’s prayers. It was common knowledge how Jaya was praying for him, walking barefoot to Siddhivinayak temple every day and praying to the deity for her husband’s recovery. Every morning in the ladies compartment of the local train I overheard working women and hawkers exchange information about Jaya and her dedicated prayers. There were women who claimed that they had seen her walk into the temple.
By noon or afternoon the news was spreading that Amitabh was alive. The crowd outside the hospital was growing and there was celebration and more duas were being offered in gratitude.
The news editor was busy instructing the photographers to get candid pictures of the celebration outside Breach Candy hospital known to the common man even today as the hospital where Amitabh Bachchan got his life back.
I telephoned the hospital and the receptionist who was now familiar with my voice and my request to speak to filmmaker S Ramanathan every day to get a first hand update handed the receiver to Ramanathan who right there.
Ramanathan’ s voice was quivering with happiness. ‘God is great. God is kind. God is merciful’ …he was unable to say more.
A fortnight or so later, it was Amitabh’s birthday and I wanted to wish him personally with flowers. Like millions of fans I was very happy he was back home to celebrate his birthday.
Along with a colleague I reached his house. I was ushered in by his polite staff-in the film industry the staff in a star’s office or residence usually behave like they are the stars – and I was asked to make myself comfortable in the tastefully appointed drawing room.
I heard the sound of steady footsteps and lo and behold the real star of the house was before me. Dr. Harivanshrai Bachchan! The poet I idolised. He guessed I was there to wish his son. I rose from my seat. I was holding the flowers with both hands and I could just manage to say ‘ namastey’. He returned my namastey with a smile and folded hands and said. ‘Baito, Munna abhi ayega…’
I have cherished the moment in my memory always. It was great for the glimpse I got of Bachchan Saheb and greater for the fact of life that surfaced before me. For a father his son is just his Munna no matter how celebrated he is to the world.