Tom Alter Birth Anniversary: ​​The unheard story of Tom Alter

Tom was in his late sixties but was as active as any of the best young cricketers (next to films and theatre, Tom loved cricket and was an encyclopedia - Ali Peter John

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Tom was in his late sixties and still as active as a young cricketer (after films and theatre, Tom loved cricket and was an encyclopedia of the game in his own right). At the age of just fifteen, he was the first person to interview Bharat Ratna Sachin Tendulkar. He also made a great prediction for him. He was also a great admirer of Sunil Gavaskar, who helped India win its first series against the West Indies in the West Indies. Whom he said that he would rather be remembered as a cricket commentator than as the Little Master, who used to beat the mighty West Indies team of that time, who used to play without wearing a helmet even against fast bowlers. 

He was also very close to Amitabh Bachchan. He never liked to remain idle and hence he was called a one-man show in which he played Gandhi, Maulana Azad, Kabir, Sahir Ludhianvi and many other important historical characters. He was born to act, theatre came naturally to him

While shooting his first film as a director, he injured one of his fingers. Like a normal player he kept playing despite minor injuries, he continued shooting during the day and performed his most difficult plays in the evening. His passion for theatre was so intense that he even performed Maulana Azad at an apartment in Pune on my request and more pleasurable than anything else was that he read my autobiography "Zindagi Tukdo Mein" (Life-Bits) in Hindi. Even after knowing me for forty years he did not know my story. When he read it he was so impressed by my story that he booked the Met Auditorium in Bandra and arranged refreshments for all the guests at his own expense and performed a one act play based on my autobiography. His doing a play on my life gave me what I had never imagined. Hoardings with my face came up at prominent places in the city and his name was mentioned only as the director and actor of the play...

I remember he read my autobiography 'Zindagi Tukdo Mein' in Hindi while he was in Khajuraho and told me that he wanted to do a play based on my early life! He was a personable person. He wanted to visit my village and the jungle where I spent my childhood and early days. He had tea at the same small hotel where I used to have tea in those days. He also had a good look at my house, which was still there. It had been renamed from M Ali House, the house I had named in honour of my mother, to the three words, 'Jai Shri Ram'. He spoke to some old villagers who had seen me grow into a successful person. Only when he was satisfied with all his homework, he agreed to do the play.

Despite the serious injury to his finger, he continued to work as if nothing had happened. He started every show by bandaging the injured finger and kept moving forward...

It was when he was performing one of his plays in Bangalore that he first realized the seriousness of the injury. The doctors in Bangalore said that he had neglected the finger for too long and it had now developed gangrene and the only way to save himself was to amputate his finger and he did so, but he never stopped working

Matters worsened when the doctors at Saifee Hospital, Charni Road (which was near his house) informed him that the cancer from the finger had spread to his hand and reached his lungs. He fought bravely against the most painful disease, cancer and finally succumbed! He will always be remembered as the boy from Dehradun who made it big but could have made it bigger. He was not an Englishman or an American, the basic thing is that he was very much an Indian who could speak better English than any learned English man or woman and he was an authority on the poets, writers and scholars of Hindi, Urdu and even Persian with his command over these languages. This industry has a very bad habit of branding some of the best actors and Tom Alter who used to pay the best of them became the worst victim of this bad habit...

But no one can forget some of the roles he played in films. How can one forget the contribution of a person whose important plays made the stage active and alive and at the same time, in the performance of the plays, he used such a language which was a weapon to win any kind of 'war'!

Tom Alter is being forgotten today but all his films and plays stand to defend his existence. P.S.-Tom never used footwear in life and walked barefoot under any circumstances. His attire was always white khadi pyjama, matching kurta and a scarf around the neck. He never bought a car and always travelled in a taxi driver's cab for forty years.

He often used to say that the younger generation has made a habit of forgetting all the great leaders of India including Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi and this love for history may be one of the reasons why he played characters from history and great literature in plays. Not only this, he was also conscious of the history and pure form of the language, he spoke Hindi like the Pandits and Urdu like the poets in the plays! He believed in keeping himself busy all the time without thinking about the materialistic things of life. Long ago his prayer meeting in a church in Kumbla Hills with eminent personalities from all religions was like a celebration of his life and all communities came together to remember him, while praying for him I felt that I was paying tribute to a man who was very different from the thousands of men I have met in this life. We had many things in common and we were even born in the same year (1950) and same month (June), but when he came into this world on 22nd June he beat me by a week and I followed him exactly 1 week later, on 29th June.

This morning as I was watching what was probably his last interview on Doordarshan, he spoke very openly and I kept looking at that fateful finger which looked like an innocent and decorative piece which was going to be very precious but it didn't!

What Tom Alter thought of APJ In my 41 years in the Hindi film industry, Bollywood has blessed and cursed me with meeting every kind of person this universe could ever produce. One day I will sit down and tell you about the Big Three (Dilip, Raj and Dev) who were no less than a blessing to me, I will also tell you about those who were the biggest frauds and onlookers, and some in between - but today, on this humid and sweaty afternoon in Mumbai, I want to write about a man who had a revolutionary personality and broke the norms and traditions of even a rigid industry like the film industry.

Ali has been associated with screen journalism for decades - he has seen and written about the rise and fall, dreams and realities of all comers and goers on the film screen - from Rajesh Khanna to Amitabh and Amitabh to Shahrukh - he has felt their glory and their pain deeply and has written about it with much insight and sensitivity.

Ali and I meet every ten years, sometimes at a function, or a muhurat, or a premiere. Each time, that amusing smile with a tilt of the head, that probing and then tearful eyes - a question or two, a story or two, and we say goodbye to each other for another ten years.

Recently, I met him at a film festival in Khajuraho, when 'Alex Hindustani' was being screened - a film I had the pleasure of acting in along with my son, a film that is still on its way to release, a film of immense potential, but a film in the eyes of many others, that is struggling to reach its final destination - the cinema halls of our great country.

It was a perfect time and place to meet Ali - because he understands the journey of the film like no other, and more importantly he gave me a copy of his book - "Life in Fragments" - which is the story of Ali, his parents, his brother in Bombay and his struggles and triumphs over problems, K.A. Abbas and all - a tribute to the city where Ali was born, where he lives, works and where he and we will move to one day. 

The parts he writes about are as unique as his name! They are parts of truth, courage, pain and hatred, prejudice and injustice, poverty and poetry, people and places. Who am I? I am nothing. But people have been saying and thinking about me. I have never said anything to them, and I will not say anything today either. In time they will all know who I am and what I am.

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