My Tribute To The One Man Who Is Next To God For Me
ON THIS DAY, JANUARY 4, 50 YEARS AGO, A GREAT MAN CALLED K.A ABBAS PICKED ME UP, A BOY FROM A SLUM AND SHOWED ME THAT A PEN COULD ALSO BE A TORCH AND LED ME ON A JOURNEY WHICH I CONTINUE TO TRAVEL
It all started one morning when I was driving with the messenger of peace, Sunil Dutt. We were talking about various serious issues affecting the city of Mumbai. We were in the midst of discussing the growth of the underworld and how various dons, goons and ruffians were taking over the city and ruling it, when I suddenly saw a huge black marble plaque with its borders done up in gold and the words in gold on the plaque read, “Shaheed (martyr) Vivek Deshpande Marg”. I asked Dutt Sahab if he could ask his driver to stop for a few minutes. He did and I told him, “Do you see this wonderful plaque, Dutt Sahab? It says it is built in honour of a “Shaheed”, a martyr. It is a blatant lie. The man was an extortionist and a hired killer who had killed so many, only for money.” What I told Dutt Sahab shocked him and he asked me how I knew so much about the man. I told him I was his neighbour before Khwaja Ahmad Abbas rescued me from the area which was dominated by dons, dadas, drug peddlers and bootleggers. I had an idea floating in my mind and I felt I had the right man with me to share it with. I told Dutt Sahab, “If they can have huge plaques for such dangerous human beings then why not at least a tin plaque for my guru, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, a great Indian, a patriot, a secularist and a great human being who dedicated his whole life to the cause of the common man?”
It was Dutt Sahab’s turn to be silent now. He then said, “Arre yaar, humse itni badi bhul kaise ho gayi? Chalo kuch karte hai ek mahaan Hindustani ke yaad mein” and he forgot all about the breakfast we were to have at “The Leela”. He asked his driver to turn back and drive to Ashok Bhau Jadhav’s (the local MLA’s office). Without wasting any time Dutt Sahab told Ashok Bhau to get into his car and we drove down to the North Bombay Housing Society in Juhu where Abbas Sahab lived and died. Dutt Sahab had a good look of the area and then just told Ashok Bhau that he wanted a proper plaque erected in honour of Abbas Sahab. He also told him that I would be in contact with him and he should take up the matter on a priority basis.
But, it was not as easy as I thought it would be. There were all kinds of problems which were placed before me and I could make no head or tail of what I was told by Ashok Bhau who was once an auto rickshaw driver before becoming a MLA. Then one evening I was talking to a friend in Ashok Bhau’s office and telling him how Abbas Sahab was the man who gave Amitabh Bachchan his first break in “Saat Hindustani” and how he was the man who Raj Kapoor called his “voice” and his “conscience”. Ashok Bhau was suddenly interested. He asked me if Amitabh Bachchan would come to the unveiling function of the plaque. I told him, “Pehle patthar toh lagne do, bhau”. He said, “Aap Amitabh ko laane ki guarantee do aur main apko patthar khada karne ka guarantee detaa hoon.” I took a blind risk. I said I had accepted his offer. That was all. Ashok Bhau and his entire team went to work on a war footing and I saw my dream taking rapid shape. I then talked to Amitabh who was shooting for S Raamanathan’s “Zamaanat” in a place far away from Juhu. He worked out his schedule with “Raamanathan Sir” and promised me that he would be at the function at 11 sharp. Sunil Dutt who was in Delhi flew to Mumbai to be in time for the function. Rishi Kapoor represented the Kapoor family and all the members of IPTA and friends and associates of Abbas Sahab and the residents of the society he lived in packed the quadrangle of the society where the function was to be held.
It was that anxiously awaited morning for me. Ashok Bhau and Ram Mohan, the ever so energetic and active actor and social worker (genuine) had made all the arrangements for the occasion. Sunil Dutt was the first to arrive to make sure that everything was in order. Amitabh Bachchan arrived as usual ten minutes before the scheduled time (11 am). He literally walked down memory lane as he walked from the entrance of North Bombay Society to the building where Abbas Sahab had his office on the fifth floor. Amitabh walked up all the five floors and told people and the media that it was the place where he first faced Abbas Sahab for a marathon two days interview before he was finally signed by Abbas Sahab to play “the seventh Indian” in his film, “Saat Hindustani”. He walked back and kept talking about the man who made him what he is today and without whom he would have been “nowhere and a no body”.
Amitabh later spoke about Abbas Sahab as a one -man institution, a great writer and a filmmaker who wrote and made films as he wanted even at the risk of loosing all his money which he had earned by working very hard, writing scripts, short stories, articles, plays and a number of books. Dutt Sahab spoke about how he and his wife, Nargis Dutt were very close to Abbas Sahab and had fought many battles for the common man. There were many who remembered the immense contribution made by a simple man who could have lived like a millionaire but opted to live the life of a common man.
My dream was fulfilled. There was a “Padmashri Khwaja Ahmad Abbas Marg” in Juhu. I felt fully satisfied and I feel grateful every time I passed that site. Then one day someone rang me up and told me that some drunken boys had banged their Mercedes against the pole holding the plaque and knocked it down. I rushed to the place and went up to Ram Mohan who single- handedly put the plaque in order. I had asked some of my friends who lived close by to keep an eye and also clean up the place and the plaque. There were times when I with my friends took up the task of doing the job.
Every June I have been making my humble efforts to organize some function either on his birthday or his anniversary which fall in the first week of June. Some days ago, I had a close look at the plaque. The iron had rusted and the marble was showing signs of cracking. I asked Ram Mohan if we could do something to save it. Ram Mohan is a man who never says no. He approached Ashok Bhau who offered all his help, but it was Dhananjay Shetty, a young and dynamic hotelier who had taken over the “J – 49 Disco” and built his own Juhu Residency Boutique Hotel just near the plaque who took up the responsibility of erecting the plaque in its very new avataar. The dynamism of the man and the inspiration of Ram Mohan and sometimes this writer encouraged him to come up with the plaque in just two days, ready for the 99th birth anniversary of Abbas Sahab. Ashok Bhau had made all attempts to make the atmosphere look festive. He had banners put up all over the place and I could almost see Abbas Sahab smiling at all our attempts which I know he would have surely called madness but what could we his ardent admirers do?
Amitabh was in Bombay and was very keen to be present at the function but he just couldn’t make it. In a message sent to me at twelve midnight he said he was caught up in a complex shooting schedule for which he had to wake up at 3.30 in the morning, report on the sets at five and then sit before his makeup man who worked on him for four long hour to transform him into someone very different from what he was. The film he was shooting for was “Pa” in which he plays Abhishek’s son. The plaque was finally unveiled by Ashok Bhau, Ram Mohan and this writer in the presence of a small and distinguished gathering of Abbas Sahab. Prominent among those who were present was writer Javed Siddiqui and his son Sameer who is also a writer, Ramesh Talwar, Javed Khan, Aroon Bakshi, Shelly Sathyu, daughter of M S Sathyu, (whose birthday also falls on June 7th), Sheetal Jain, one time secretary of Amitabh and now Abhishek’s secretary who incidentally has a great passion for good writing and poetry and Raman Khanna, the hero of “Faasla”, a film made by Abbas Sahab in which Shabana Azmi made her debut and Akhtarbhai, who was a neighbour and a close friend of Abbas Sahab who performed the last rites of a man who really did not believe in religious rites but……..
I don’t know if what I keep trying to do every June is right or not and I don’t care about what people have to say. I only know that I do whatever I can only in sheer gratitude to thank a man who not only made me what I am but so many others, a man who showed so many the way in the midst of darkness and I will keep doing what I do till the last breath of my life, and with the active support of men like Sunil Dutt once, Ashok Bhau Jadhav, Dhananjay Shetty, Krishna Hegde and above all Ram Mohan, I know I will be able to keep a promise I have made to my “guru” without his knowing about it.
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