Ali Peter John
Whenever someone is kind enough to thank me for the contribution I have made (what contribution?)to journalism or cinema and whenever some people are over kind to me and call me a legend, a phenomenon or an institution, a strange smile comes to my face and I look back at the life and massive contribution made to life itself by my guru Abbas sahab and I feel very small and infinitesimally tiny before him. K.A.Abbas was not just an extraordinary human being, a legend, a phenomenon or an institution,he was way beyond all those tags and brands.
There are times when I find it extremely difficult to believe that I spent some of my most glorious moments with a very simple man who was greater than hundreds of great and so called great men or women. I sometimes wonder if there would or could be another Khwaja Ahmad Abbas in this life or even in the many more lives to come .I don’t normally challenge anyone, but in this one case I would like to challenge anyone to be even an iota of what this man who for me is the greatest man I came across and knew and learned from-and will always be till the last breath I take….
Why am I going mad when praising this great man who came into my small life and changed it upside down ? What do I do if I don’t sing his praises ? How can I ever thank a man who was my first and last university of life, the university where I learnt in two years what I didn’t learn in all my days in school and college and the University of Bombay where I still feel I wasted six of the best years of my life ? How can I dare to not be grateful to a man who for me was the ultimate meaning and celebration of life and learning ? I keep repeating and will keep on repeating that he is the only miracle to happen in my life, the kind of miracle I know and I am sure will never happen again ?
I used to find it difficult to believe how this one man could be so amazingly unbelievable and I still (at seventy )find it difficult to believe that I walked behind him and worked with him, a man who was a shining landmark of the times he lived in and will always be a landmark as long as time lasts….
A young man brimming with ideas came to Bombay from pre-partition Panipat in Punjab with a degree in English Literature and with a degree in law. He was a die-hard fan of Pandit Jawarharlal Nehru who was a leading freedom fighter before Independence.
He started writing a column in “The Bombay Chronicle ” with the name “Last Page”which he transferred to the “Blitz “weekly and wrote the column in English, Hindi and Urdu for the next forty years without a break. The column was to be a landmark in the history of India and journalism.
He had written the review of a film called “Padosi”made by V.Shantaram, who didn’t like the review and challenged the critic to make his own film. The young man accepted the challenge and started his own banner, “Naya Sansar”and kept making one film after another and he was a leading name among filmmakers with films like
” Dharti Ke Lal”, “Munna”, “Rahi”(one of the first few films of Dev Anand as a hero), “Chaar Dil Chaar Rahein”with leading stars of the time like Raj Kapoor, Meena Kumari, Shammi Kapoor, Kumkum and some of the best actors from theatre, “Shahar Aur Sapna “,which got him the National Award, “Do Boond Paani “in which he introduced new actor like Kiran Kumar, Simi Garewal and Jalal Agha among many others,
“Faasla”in which he introduced Shabana Azmi,”The Naxalities ” which he shot on actual locations in Naxalbari in Calcutta when he eighty years old, with stars like Mithun Chakraborty and Smita Patil who agreed to work on his terms and conditions which included no secretary, no make- up man, no conveyance and sharing the same food with the unit .”Saat Hindustani “which will go down in history as the film which introduced Amitabh Bachchan to films and his last film, “Ek Aadmi “made with Anupam Kher and Rohini Hattangadi, a film which was semi-
during the making of which he suffered three heart attacks in one day and accepted the reality of the attacks and went to hospital only after he had finished his work for the day.
Should I say anything more about the man who made even the most difficult task look so easy ?
He had written thousands of articles, hundreds of short stories, any number of books,the best and most powerful among them being “Inqilaab”in several languages and “I Am Not An Island “,his autobiography.
Can any one man do so much of extraordinary work in one life ?
And ,the man who was a tough competitor for the best of men and machines made some of the most daring documentaries and short films which have or should have found a place in the history of this genre of films. His documentary, “A Tale Of Four Cities ” created the kind of controversy no other documentary must have. He had to fight right upto the supreme court to get it passed,a step taken by one brave man which will always be a help to present day and future short filmmakers and documentary makers.
He was the leader of several Indian delegations to festivals and other meetings in different parts of the world.
He had personal equations with some of the leading celebrities and legends of different fields. He was the only Indian who had met President Nikita Khruschev of Russia twice. He was the only Indian journalist who was given an interview by Charlie Chaplin. He was also the first Indian to interview the first astronaut Yuri Gagarin. He was a cult figure in Russia and even made an Indo-Soviet film called”Pardesi “
and the number of causes he fought for and championed are countless.
How much more proof should I provide to let people of all generations know how great my guru ,K.A.Abbas was ?
And how did the story of this great man end ? He was honoured with the Padmashri when today even a fraud actor is honoured with the Padmabhusan and a fourth-rate singer is also honoured with the Padambhushan. And when he was lying in hospital,there was a debate about who paid for his treatment, Raj Kapoor or Amitabh Bachchan. He was buried in the most common grave in the Santacruz Kabristaan according to his last wish.
The day he died, I had to drink two bottles of strong beer early in the morning on the sands of Juhu Beach to have the courage to face a dead man who was so full of life and a gift to life.I tried touching his feet for the last time, but I stopped because I knew he would not like it and would have scream at me (like he used to scream at Raj Kapoor and other well-known figures whenever he found them doing or saying something wrong)If I touched his feet.
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