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The Non-Violent Fighter And Vishwashantidoot


I once saw Mother Teresa and Sunil Dutt on the same platform and believe me, I couldn’t take a decision about who was greater, the Mother or the man who had fought any number of battles, mostly in the service of humanity and I left the decision to time.

They called him the apostle of peace, but when I look back on his life, I cannot but help thinking about him as the first entirely non-violent man who had nothing but battles to fight on every front….

He was only five years old when his father had died in the times when India itself was fighting a grim battle against those who wanted to own and rule India.

Balraj Dutt as was his official name spent the early days of his youth in the lanes and gullies of different parts of Punjab. His only source of inspiration and strength was his mother, Kulwantiben….

Film star Sunil Dutt and Mother Teresa. Express archive photo

His fight became more intense when he landed in Bombay and joined the BEST and could only live outside a saloon in Central Bombay where he could only spend the night and leave as soon as the saloon opened.

He found a job as an announcer with Radio Ceylon and one of his jobs was to interview some of the big stars like Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor who were destined to play a very important part in his fight to survive and ultimately make it as an actor. It was Dev Anand who once told him that he was handsome and had a good smile and a strong voice, besides having a striking personality and said to him, “Balraj, why don’t you try your luck in films”? That question was a constant reminder for him to know that he had a long way to go and he couldn’t be satisfied with the odd jobs he kept doing to keep his fight to live alive and he finally succeeded in being an actor.

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His first big fight, besides making a living was when he forgot all his ambitions and dreams and jumped into the ragging fire that broke out during the shooting of Mehboob Khan’s“Mother India”. He was still a struggler, but he jumped into the fire to save the big heroine of the film, Nargis and he succeeded. This event led to the small actor becoming a friend of the heroine who had the record of doing more than fifteen films with Raj Kapoor and was considered one of the pillars of RK Studios. Their friendship led to love even though Nargis was a huge star and was even a few years older than him and besides there was the problem of his being a Brahmin and she being a pucca Muslim and the daughter of the well-known actress, dancer and singer, Jaddanbai. But their love won their fight over every obsticle and Nargis who was at the peak of her career quit films to look after Dutt who was now known as Sunil Dutt and their three children, Sanjay, Namrata and Priya.

Dutt had shown the first signs of being a fighter when he formed his own Ajanta Troupe to entertain jawaans fighting in the most precious fronts on the border after the Indo-China war of 1962 in which he had the whole industry with him.

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Dutt had firmly established himself as an actor who could play any kind of role free a dacoit in “Mother In India”,“Mujhe Jeene Do”and “Reshma Aur Shera”to playing the Prince in the life of Amrapali to the actor who was the first to do a one character film in “Yaadein”. It was at this happy time of their lives that Nargis was diagnosed for cancer. It was time for Dutt to put up one more fight to try his best to save his wife. He put all that he had at stake and even spent several months at the Sloan Kettering Institute for Cancer. He could save her and get her out of hospital, but she died at home soon after she had celebrated Diwali with the family. Dutt was a shattered man, but he remembered the dying wish of his wife who wanted him to do something on a war-front to help poor victims of cancer. This led to his fighting of battles against cancer and he was perhaps the only one-man organisation which raised hundreds of crores of rupees, dollars, pounds and any other currency to fight the battle against cancer. His work for the jawaans and the victims of cancer got him the Padmashri from the government of India, but he had so much still to fight for the poor and the slum dwellers and victims of various aliments and diseases for which he raised funds by having dinner nights with millionaires in America every year.

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But, his fights did not show any signs of ending. He had to fight the biggest fight of his life to save his son, Sanjay Dutt, first against his falling a victim to drugs and then the bigger battle of fighting to save him from spending all his life in prison for being involved in the Mumbai blasts case and being charged with acts of terrorism. The man who had never bowed before any power, spent days doing what he had never done before, only to save his son. However, his fight got his son free after years, but he was not alive to see the moment he been fighting for. Sometimes, I wonder if Sanjay Dutt would have been the free man he is today if he did not have a fighter of a father like Sunil Dutt.

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It was a desperate Rajiv Gandhi who got him involved in politics and he proved what a fighter he was when he won the elections from the North Bombay West constituency in Mumbai five times consecutively. He had to face the wicked political games of his rivals, especially the Shiv Sena whose candidates kept getting defeated by him, mostly because of the work he has done and at times even without campaigning during the problems his son was facing and still winning with thumping majorities. The Sena even tried violence to put him down. They were such cowards in the face of his non-violence that they sometimes even used women to provoke him, but nothing could shake his belief in non-violence.

It was this firm belief he had in non-violence that made him go on a peace march from Bombay to the Golden Temple in Amritsar in spite of being surrounded by the forces that were all for the Sikhs, but not one of these men tried to obstruct his walk for peace. He had badly damaged both his feet and had suffered from wounds that had gone septic and faced gangrene, but nothing and no one could stop him.

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He proved to be the true apostle of non-violence when he walked through Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan which still reminded people about the bombing of these places and the decimation of lakhs of people. There were many forces which advised him against both his marches in Punjab and in Japan, but nothing could stop his fight for peace.

Dutt was not very happy with the way his own Party treated him, especially the men who he had made what they were. There were many who told him stories about how they were angry with him because he did not tolerate any kind of corruption or misdeeds in the name of politics. Those petty politicians literally waited for him to die, so that they could indulge in all the corrupt acts he was stopping them from.

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The Party finally realised his worth and appointed him Minister of State for Sports and Youth Affairs. He put his life into his new challenge and had to pay with his life for the long hours he worked in the heat of the sun in different parts of the country. It was after one such long walk in Kanpur that he returned home to his new house in Imperial Heights, one of the two complexes that came up after he was“inspired”to sell off his bungalow which he had built more than fifty years ago. That night, he told his man not to wake him up in the morning as he was feeling very tired. There was no reason to wake him up the next morning. He had gone to sleep forever, to earn his well deserved rest. The massive crowds at his funeral with people coming from all over the world proved what a great man he was and how he had given up his whole life for peace and for the betterment of India….

He had other causes to fight for, causes like women empowerment by practising it and not by preaching about it, he relentlessly fought against dowry system and even made a feature film based on it called “Yeh Aag Kab Bhujhegi”.

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He had fought for the collective good of his people and even for individuals, like he had done a lot of things for me, the best being listening to my request to get a road named after my guru, K.A Abbas who was also his guru and the guru of Nargis and the best things he did for me was coming to my house with his best friend and in-law Rajendra Kumar for a cup of tea and attending my marriage reception even though he was in the thick of campaigning for his Party and himself……

The best thing about Dutt Saahab was that he was very human and down to earth. He loved traveling to the most interior parts of India and abroad. He never forgot the birthdays and anniversaries of friends and relatives(I have all his letters wishing me on my birthdays and my wedding anniversaries).

He could eat the most ordinary dal bhat and relish the best continental and other kinds of food. He used to love his drinks in the evenings, but had to drastically cut down and just have a couple of vodkas and used to joke,“dekha, neta banne ke liye kya kya pyari cheese chodni padti hai”?

He however had not lost touch with films and had launched two films on one morning, “Maseeha”with his son-in-law, Kumar Gaurav and“Ajanta”with Sanjay Dutt.

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I had the great privilege of seeing his most human side when we together went to the studio of the renowned photographer, J.P Singhal. He was aware of Singhal’s weakness for taking nude photographs and had a collection of nude pictures of girls who had made it as stars. Dutt Saahab who wanted to talk about the designs for his new films,leaned over Singhal and said, “Singhal Saahab, zara humko bhi dikhao aapke jalwe.M.P ban gaya hoon, khuda toh nahi”. Singhal was embarrassed, but had to show Dutt Saahab some nude photographs of Mandakini and Dutt Saahab said, “kya nakhre dikhate ho, Singhal Saahab, humne bhi zamaana dekha hai aur isse bhadkar badiya tasveerein dekhi hai”.

I have started missing some of the greatest human beings who were a part of my life and Sunil Dutt was certainly one of the best of them. Even the Creator cannot create another model of the Vishwashantidoot!

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