Amitabh's Precious Gift: Remembering Harivansh Rai Bachchan

In the 70s-90s, I cherished attending Bachchan family events at 'Pratiksha.' Invited personally by Amitabh for Diwali and Holi, each celebration was a privilege... Ali Peter John

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Birthday Special Harivansh Rai Bachchan

In the 70s, 80s, and 90s, I was a part of all the important and eventful functions, festivals, and birthdays of the Bachchan family. Most of the functions were organized and celebrated in the big garden outside ‘Pratiksha’ and Amitabh was mostly the host and sometimes it was both Amitabh and Jaya. I was also a part of the Diwali and Holi celebrations and felt very fortunate to be with Bachchan, which he ensured by sending me a personal invitation.

Amitabh was disappointed with politics

Amitabh left politics within months after winning the Lok Sabha elections from Allahabad, where he defeated the most powerful politician of UP, Shri H.N. Bahuguna, and became the strongest leader of the Congress party. When his name was dragged into the Bofors cannon scam, he was so disappointed that he called politics 'a meaningless fool'.

But, if he thought he could wash his hands of politics, he was wrong. The Bofors scandal continued to haunt him and his name was in the headlines every morning, afternoon, and evening, until his old father, Dr. Harivansh Rai Bachchan, called him to his waiting room and asked him, “Munna, all this I am hearing, is that true?” Amitabh had left his father's room promising that he would see his father again only after clearing his name from the Bofors scam. It was only after the World Court dismissed all charges against him in the Bofors case that he kept the oath he had taken and returned from his father's room.

Amitabh had also made some friends in politics and they included Samajwadi Party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav and his then 'right' man Amar Singh. This was a part of the political game being played by the Samajwadi Party and some like-minded parties and they had chosen Pratiksha as the meeting place I was also invited as usual, although Amitabh knew that I was interested in politics only till Sunil Dutt and he were same as me.

But, I went to Pratiksha on a hot afternoon and saw some of the most prominent political leaders in the garden of Pratiksha. High tea was served with some of the most delicious snacks from different parts of the country, served by men in white uniforms.

Amitabh was careful during those meetings

I had no interest in talking to any politician, who I believed was what I always call dirty politicians. On the other hand, I saw Amitabh standing alone or walking alone, which was a clear indication that he was not interested, but was careful that nothing wrong happened at an important political event in his house.

I knew that Dr. Harivansh Rai's new book, his autobiography in English, 'In the Afternoon of Life' had just been released. And I went to Amitabh and asked him if I could have a copy of the book.

Meeting Dr. Bachchan for the first time

Amitabh did not say a single word to me or anyone else present there. He had just come out of a meeting and I could see him going up the stairs and I knew he was near his father's room on the first floor. I got busy with my breakfast and tea, I was speechless when I saw Amitabh bringing my father down in the wheelchair. I quickly went into flashback and remembered Dr. Harivansh Rai Bachchan when he was young and he recited his poetry like a prophet on a mission to earth and the way he had complete control over Amitabh and Ajitabh's work and other activities. And now here he was, lost and seeing a faint shadow of that active and agile Dr. Bachchan.

Amitabh called me and I had no idea what was waiting for me until I saw a copy of 'In the Afternoon of Life' in Dr. Bachchan's lap, holding it tightly in his weak hands.

Amitabh pulled the wheelchair towards me and asked me to come closer. The eyes of all the important guests were fixed on this unexpected scene. Amitabh introduced me to Dr. Bachchan and said, 'Babuji, this is Ali, he is my very good friend'! Dr. Bachchan took out his pen and signed an autograph for me saying 'Bachchan' and the date he remembered and handed over the book to me. I thanked both father and son and Amitabh took his ailing father to his room.

And I kept looking at Dr. Bachchan's picture and could not believe that such an incredible thing could happen to me, that there was nothing (no hollow politeness) between two benefits of two different generations.

That evening, I celebrated myself with the best snacks and ‘special tea’ in one of my favorite Udipi hotels.

I still have my copy of the book and whenever I feel that I have done nothing in life, I take out the book from my little library keep looking at the signatures, and consider myself one of the luckiest people in my world. Dr. Bachchan went to that other world about which no one knows anything. Amitabh is now as old as his father once was. Amar Singh too is gone and the country and the world have changed so rapidly, but that signature of Dr. Bachchan on my copy of the book still stands like a royal insignia that cannot be erased as long as I breathe.

My life is full of such beautiful and immortal incidents, O God, thank you millions. Such accidents have never happened before, nor will they happen again in my life. If I ever feel even a little proud, it might be because of this accident. And if I get arrogant, please forgive me.


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