A Very Common Man Who Was The Most Extraordinary Man!
Ali Peter John
I will say it again and again, I will say it till the last breath of my life. How can I forget how that one postcard I wrote to an unknown man called K.A Abbas changed my life totally? How can I forget how I saw hundreds of letters coming to him everyday and how he chose my postcard which I had just scribbled in my most horrible handwriting for which I normally got two out of ten even if I worked very hard and even asked God to help me? How could he know what difference his one glance at my postcard and his split second decision could turn my life upside down? Now, when I look back, I wonder how two letters, the first written by me to him and the second and the last,a letter written by him to me.
In my letter, I had only thanked him for setting my heart on fire and he had decided to encourage the fire in me to spread and to grow. I had his blessings and I reached a stage where he had to find me and see that I could find some time for him because he had a project to discuss with me. The letter I had written changed my life and the letter he wrote to me some years later could have changed my life completely, but I had grown so BIG that I didn’t have time for him and when I found the time to meet him, it was way beyond all time because he had gone into some place where time had no meaning….
I will once again go back into the time I spent with him which was more precious than spending time with any mahaguru, Sadhguru or any guru beyond all gurus, a man who for me could be the best alternative to God. That was what I thought about K.A Abbas forty-eight years ago and that is what I still think about him in a much stronger way today and I know I will keep thinking about him only more strongly with the passing of time. I was young and mischievous when I was with him only for two years and I am an old and toothless foggy man today who looks much older than he was when he bid goodbye to this world so many years ago, but my admiration, love and respect for him only keeps growing stronger and I am thankful to God for it. I would not have been so grateful to God for any other thing he has given me in this life….
How can I forget that first interview (or was it just a chat?) with him in which he asked me how I only knew all the rogues in the industry, how I knew men who had cheated great writers of lakhs of rupees and how I could know a writer like Rajinder Singh Bedi and how at the end of that interview/chat he had asked me if I would work with him and how I had jumped with joy even though I had starved the whole day and how my heart leaped up with joy when he said he could only offer me hundred rupees a month and that too without any guarantee…..
How can I forget the breakfast of a hot cup of tea and a banana and how he didn’t have any breakfast till he had finished writing a column, a short story or some scenes from one of his own films or the films he was writing for other producers and directors, how he would work continuously till one and then go down five floors to have his frugal lunch of two rotis and some sabzi and sometimes some rice and a non veg dish and then have a short nap and then climb the five floors again to start work only to end at around ten o’clock in the night and how he would walk down all alone and reach home to have a snack and then start work again till he fell asleep, to dream of a better tomorrow for India and his fellow Indians? This was his daily routine when he was in Bombay and was not traveling to far away places and not shooting in the deserts and forests of India.
It took me very little time to know the common man in him. The first time was when he was invited as the chief guest to an international Book Fair at the Oval Maidan and how he had sent me zooming to the sky when he asked me to accompany him, provided I had a clean shirt to wear and I had borrowed a yellow shirt from a canteen boy called Krishna and chappals from a neighbour who claimed to be a writer and who was actually a salesman of Urdu magazines which came from Lucknow. I had reached his office much before time and he asked his man, Jafar to prepare two hot cups of tea and then asked me to follow him. I was fully convinced that he would have a car, but he led me to the nearest bus stop from where we took a bus (231Express) to Santa Cruz station and then took another bus (84 Express) to Flora Fountain and discussed his next film all the way to Churchgate and he then pointed out a small Irani hotel which was in the lower portion of the Eros theatre where he said we could get the best tea in the world only for twenty-five naya paisa. All this while, I was thinking I was living in a dream till I heard his name being called out on the microphone and we still had half an hour to go for the function to begin. We walked on the main road as his name kept being called louder. When he reached the entrance, the voice was still being heard as the organisers never knew that he was an extraordinary man who could be the chief guest of an international event even by traveling by a bus and then by having a hot cup of Irani tea. He was undoubtedly the hero of that night and it was the first of the many events I went to with him to feel proud about myself for having such a simple and great guru.
This was in contrast to another scene the following morning. He said he had to go to Chembur which was a remote suburb but close to the studio of his best friend, Raj Kapoor. He asked me to go with him and could I say no to him? It was another long BEST bus ride and when we alighted, it was the beginning of a long walk into a slum. He kept asking people for a man called Prabhakar who was his make-up assistant and who was not reporting for work because of his drinking. Abbas Saahab saw Prabhakar dressed in a dirty lungi and sitting on a charpai. He fired him, but called for his wife and handed over a cover full of money and told her it was her husband’s salary for the month and he was still not sacked and he could come back to work if he promised not to drink. Prabhakar was back to work the next morning and he was very sober and never came to work in a drunken state again….
He had his own ways of paying people who worked with him and for him, whether they were stars, technicians or ordinary workers on the sets. He didn’t pay them much but he made it a point to pay them in time “so that they are assured of their roti kapda aur makaan”. It was this principle that made some of the greatest actors and technicians work with him. I remember how Amitabh Bachchan who was earning three and a half thousand rupees a month agreed to do the entire film, “Saat Hindustani”for five thousand rupees and agree to have the same meals as the entire unit and sleep in the same dormitory and how Mithun Chakraborty and Smita Patil who were stars volunteered to travel second class to Calcutta to shoot for “The Naxalites”and also agreed not to ask for any conveyance money or extra payment for their make-up man and other personal staff.
The great man was always a common man. He was the favourite tenant of the Corea family which had a bungalow opposite the now popular JW Marriott called Philomena Apartments where they had given him a room on a rent of rupees hundred, where he lived for more than fifty years and till he died. They were privileged to have him as their tenant. He still had problems even to arrange for the hundred rupees, but whenever he got some money, the first thing he did was to pay his rent. The bungalow had been demolished now and there is a massive Philomena Apartments and his room has been kept under lock and key ever since he died in 1988. It looks as if the room is waiting for him, but the bitter fact is that he had a nephew who he had brought up from his childhood, whose name was Anwar. Abbas Saahab got him the best education and then helped him get a very good job with Air India. But the nephew changed into a devil in the day Abbas Saahab died. He sold the room back to the owners for an instant sum of rupees five lakhs, he sold off all the best books, trophies and even the National and International awards he had won in the Chor Bazaar and fled to Pakistan. The room in which the livewire Abbas Saahab lived is now like a haunted house.
One of his nieces who is a big shot in the Tourism Department of the Government of India recently did him a favour by bringing out a collection of some of his best works which was released by Amitabh Bachchan, otherwise, there is very little material available on one of the most prolific writers of India….
I had to pay back for the great favour he had done me by giving me a new life. I sought the help of another great man, Sunil Dutt to get a road named after him. It took me one and a half years to see my dream come true, but I saw to it that it came true and I feel thrilled when I see his name on the plaque on the road opposite the JW Marriott….
The common man who was an extraordinary man has made the lives of many extraordinary, like Raj Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan and it is difficult to put all their names here, but I must mention that I will always owe my existence to this amazing Indian, the kind of which we ask not so lucky to have as many times as we need them.
The common man who was extraordinary had the amazing courage to take on the greatest (?) leaders of any party and could expose them without any fear.
I can go on and on about this amazing man, but the photograph I have of him on my desk will speak volumes whenever there is any talk about you.
I was lifeless the day he died and came back to life only after having three bottles of beer on Juhu Beach and I couldn’t believe the man who had given life to do many was so lifeless and so dead.
For the first time in my life, my hands trembled like the leaves on a wild and wintry evening when I wanted to touch his feet and I hesitated because I knew he would not like it. I knew Khwaja Ahmad Abbas was against such traditions and he would certainly not like me following what he called“a very inhuman tradition”.
A few days before he died, he was coming back from the funeral of a friend when he heard the Mulla screaming on the latest microphones and in his typical sarcastic but truthful manner, he said, “lagta hai aajkal allah bhi behra ho gaya hai”. Allah must have agreed with him totally that he had never asked man to scream out his prayers till his prayers could turn him (Allah) deaf.
For more Bollywood updates, follow Bollyy!
Tags: Bollywood, Bollywood News, Bollywood Updates, Television, Telly News, K.A Abbas, K.A Abbas Biography