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Sunil Dutt Had A Place For All Those In Trouble

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Ali Peter John

He had miraculously escaped from the jaws of death which was not the first time for him. He was travelling in a small aircraft with just a few co-passengers on one of his usual missions to be of help to suffering humanity. The aircraft had suddenly developed a snag and within minutes, it crashed in the fields a few hundred kilometers away from Mumbai. He was the typical man of the moment and he realized that if something was not done soon all the passengers on board would be burnt to ashes which included him. He decided to do something no ordinary man could dare to even try…

He kept pushing out all the other passengers one by one and they were on safe grounds but they all kept worrying about the messiah who had saved people in different ways at different times, the most daring attempt he had made to save another human being was when he was shooting for his first film, “Mother India” with his fellow-struggler Rajendra Kumar and the heroine of the film, Nargis. It was to be a scene in which Nargis had to be trapped in a fire in a large hay stack which was a set Mehboob Khan had put up at Billimoria, the place in Gujarat where Mehboob Khan was born. The fire started and Nargis walked into the hay stack like the brave woman she was always known as. But all of a sudden, the hay stack was in flames and the entire unit kept looking on helplessly as the greatest Indian heroine Nargis was being left to her fate. It was an instant decision Sunil Dutt took and jumped into the raging fire and walked out with a badly burnt Nargis in his arms. She was playing his mother in the film, but that one brave act of the young man who had not even started his career had put his life to risk to save her life. Their association grew into friendship and gradually to love and finally to a small and solemn wedding of a Hindi bridegroom and a Muslim bride which raised a major controversy but neither Sunil Dutt nor Nargis cared about what people said and began life in a building on Marine Drive called Le Chateau and soon had their first son, Sanjay who was followed by his sisters Namrata and Priya. Nargis took a long break from acting and Sunil Dutt grew into a major star and a producer with his own banner, Ajanta Arts and was also a notable actor…

Anyway, to come back to the air crash, Sunil Dutt kept saving one passenger after another and there was panic all around as he was the only one left. He rescued the last passenger and it was just a few seconds for the aircraft to go up in flames when Sunil Dutt finally jumped out but not before receiving serious burns and he was recognized by the labourers working in the fields as Sunil Dutt the actor and all arrangements were made to take him to the Breach Candy Hospital where he had to spend three months in bed and could come out of his room only for his physiotherapy treatment early in the morning when this writer together with the now late wrestler Randhawa, younger brother of the legendary Dara Singh and the actor-social worker Ram Mohan visited him almost every morning.

He was finally discharged and had to take the help of a walking stick if he had to walk for something that was an important cause for him. It was during this time that I was admitted to one of the private hospitals in Andheri because of various complications of my body. Sunil Dutt, the messiah and the “Vishwashantidoot” came to know about my condition and came rushing to the small hospital with his walking stick and some of his close friends. It was during his first visit that he gave me a piece of advise which I can never forget. He said, “you can overcome and conquer any crisis with the power of your mind”. He kept visiting me almost every morning at 7.30 am sharp and when he could not make it due to some emergency, he appointed some kind of a committee to take care of my health and continued to take care of me till I was discharged after a month. I often think it was his support and the support of a man like Subhash Ghai that kept me alive through one of the gravest crisis of my life.

We kept in touch and met almost every week in his office at Sunrise building or at one of the best eating places as he loved good food wherever he could find it. It was during one of these meetings that he came up with an idea. He asked me to keep myself free the next day as he had a plan in his mind. He did not tell me what the plan was, but his request was a command for me…

I reached his Pali Hill bungalow at 7.30 am and we had a very grand breakfast of toast, butter and his favourite kheema and paaya. He said, “khaa lo abhi jo bhi khaa sakte ho kyunki din bhar khaane ki fursat milegi nahi”. He even had his wit in its place before we were to set out on our mission. A senior journalist passed a comment about the kheema that was served and said, “Dutt Sahab aapka kheema ka baas bahot achcha aata hai”, Dutt Sahab stopped him and without thinking about the journalist’s seniority or power said, “abe bewkoof insaan, achche kheema ki kabhi baas nahi aati, khushbu aati hai, tumne toh kheema khaane ka mazaa hi udaa diya”. The journalist who was known as “the superman among journalists” had been silenced till Dutt Sahab said, “chalo jaane bhi do, tumhara kaam ho gayaa na, ab humko hamaara kaam karne do”.

We drove together in an Ambassador car which he said was the most comfortable car to travel in and before it was eight, we had landed in one of the most crowded lanes in Parel. He was still walking with a stick and climbed the two wooden floors without any difficulty as I kept following him like a snail. A huge crowd had collected to see him and he kept waving out to them. His secret was out only when I entered a dingy little single room in a chawl in the area. I was in for a bigger shock when I saw the one-time great comedian, actor and filmmaker Bhagwan Dada sitting on a wooden chair which was also his make shift toilet. He had been completely paralyzed and could hardly speak. He however recognized Sunil Dutt and tried to dance his favourite dance movements in his chair. His face however lit up when Sunil Dutt showed him a bottle of whisky and he took the bottle, kissed it, placed it on his head and kept swinging. This was the same Bhagwan Dada who had a bungalow of his own, a filmmaking company of his own, a fleet of the best of cars and hundreds of servants and other workers all of them in uniform! He had taken a few wrong decisions and made films that flopped and to add insult to misery, his own relatives cheated him of all that he had…

We kept talking about Bhagwan Dada till we reached the Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital. It was a great feeling to see an entire ward of the hospital named after Nargis Dutt, his wife who together with her husband had raised crores of rupees for the treatment and the equipment needed for the treatment of Cancer and had finally succumbed to Cancer herself on May 3, 1981. It was only when we reached a particular ward that I knew that Sunil Dutt had made it a point to visit the one-time popular villain Rajan Haksar who was dying of brain cancer. We were not allowed into the ward, but Sunil Dutt left a message for the actor and asked his family to let him know if they needed any kind of help…

We kept driving towards Chembur and reached the house of the great actor Ashok Kumar. It was a shock to see the forever smiling and joking Ashok Kumar sitting in a corner with his face gone all black and his curly hair showing signs of receding. The actor who was known as one of the best homeopaths in the country and was even known for curing cancer when diagnosed in the initial stages was himself now dying of cancer. He tried his best to hide his pain and told us stories about the early days of Sunil Dutt and Nargis and how he had seen Raj Kapoor dressed in shorts and going to school in Chembur. We however were not allowed to leave till we had a very delicious lunch. That was the last time we could see Dadamoni as Ashok Kumar was called alive, I was in a desperate state when he died and could not make it to his funeral however hard I tried. It is one decision I will always regret…

It was while we were walking out of Dadamoni’s massive bungalow that we came across the veteran actress Nalini Jaywant who was living in the bungalow opposite Dadamoni’s bungalow. She had worked with Sunil Dutt as his heroine in the fifties but showed no signs of recognizing Sunil Dutt and we had to leave her as she was. We later came to know that she was suffering from Alzheimer’s and had lost her memory. Soon we heard that she had gone missing and was never heard of again…

It was nearing evening when we reached a chawl somewhere in Chembur. There in the corner of a room we saw the figure of an elderly man dressed in ordinary pyjamas and a banyaan sleeping with his face towards the wall. That man was the one time most scary villain, K.N Singh who had also lost his memory. He only slept all day and all night and only woke up at exactly 7.20 am to have his two pegs of rum and then went back to sleep again only to wake up for his next round of whisky at 7.20 the next morning, it was difficult to believe that this man who used to put the fear of the devil into heroes like Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor and till the emergence of Rajesh Khanna was the same man lying all by himself, lost in a world of his own and not even knowing whether he was alive or dead…

That whole day I learnt one of the greatest lessons in my life from Sunil Dutt who I had the privilege of knowing very closely, a leader and a star who loved being in the company of an ordinary man like me and who even sought my support when he was fighting his greatest battle to save his son Sanjay Dutt. He deserved a much better life. He was one of the most honest politicians and when the party he represented decided to recognize his contribution, they appointed him as the Union Minister of State for Sports and he didn’t mind it and worked his heart out till the day he was in Kanpur to promote Sports and returned to Mumbai and asked his family and staff not to wake him up early as he was very tired. That morning did not dawn for him. Sunil Dutt, the kind of Indian India will always need is born just once in a way and it would do all our leaders including our Prime Minister and his entire cabinet to know more about the life of a precious life of an Indian like Sunil Dutt, it would do them much more good than all the new slogans they form almost every second day to divert the attention of Indians who can only be saved if we had half a dozen leaders with the zeal to work for a better India and for a better life for Indians like Sunil Dutt, the man who once slept outside a hair cutting saloon in Central Mumbai and later became an announcer on Radio Ceylon which gave him his passport to a world which he tried to change to the best of his ability and till the last breath of his life.

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