WHAT A PRECIOUS GIFT GOD HAS GIVEN ME AS A SISTER – LEELA BHANSALI
ALI PETER JOHN
The first time I saw her was in a physiotherapy clinic, one of the best in the suburbs (which are the only places I really known) run by the multi-talented doctor Indu Tandon who is the daughter of Madan Prakash, one of the most humble and gentle technicians I know in the industry, a man who has given the best years of his life to the world of Hindi films. She was a striking and almost angelic looking figure among all those who were undergoing treatment for different kinds of ailments and the consequences of serious accidents, broken bones and the resulting depression, most of them young people. She had some problem with her back and it was not surprising as I realized that she was now in her early eighties. She had a constant smile on her face in spite of the pain and other kinds of misery she was going through because of the pain.
Her grey hair looked glorious, combed to perfection by her caretaker who was said to be the chief of a village in Maharashtra once and who was an expert in local dance and music and I must say it right now, that some of her tunes and Marathi songs have also formed the basis of some very popular songs. She was like the lady in grey’s Friday, Saturday and Sunday and looked after the lady in grey with all the love and respect. I was going through a session of physiotherapy for my broken foot and some of the exercises I was made to go through were very painful, but there was some magic in this lady in grey which made me keep looking at her and forget my pain.
I was introduced to her by Mr. Madan Prakash and we began an instant and spontaneous conversation which led to a very warm relationship which only kept growing stronger with very day of the exercises at Dr. Tandon’s clinic. She was 83 years old and I could see nothing of the sadness for the sorrow, the regret and the pain of missing out on the best years of her youth. It was only after I had called her my “girlfriend” that she looked happier and she perhaps didn’t know how much happiness she was giving me in the short time we were together at Dr. Tandon’s clinic. Every evening, she brought with her flasks full of hot tea and some snacks for e everyone in the clinic and when she came to know my weakness for tea, she made sure that I had at least two large mugs of hot tea.
It was only much later that I was told that she was Leela, the Leela in the name of Sanjay Leela Bhansali, one of the greatest filmmakers we have and who had her, his mother as his major source of inspiration and that was the reason why he had not taken his father’s name as his middle name, but his mother’s name and that is how he got his name, Sanjay Leela Bhansali which is a name now synonymous with all that is good, great and glorious in Indian cinema. She was 83 and going on 84 when she seemed to realise that my calling her my “girlfriend” was too frivolous and she took me by one big surprise when she invited me to the room of Madan Prakash who was one of her accepted brothers and now she asked me for permission if she could make me her brother, and was I happy! I never had a real sister. I had many “moohboli” sisters who used to fill up almost both my hands with raakhis on Rakshabandhan Day and not one of them knew what being the sister of a brother who was not really their brother was. I was sorry that I had such sisters who only had their own interests in making me their brother.
God must have seen my condition as a brother who was literally looted by sisters who were not fit to be called sisters, real or otherwise. And here was the most precious gift God had planned to give me at my age, a sister whose one smile and one flying kiss and one hand on my shoulder could be worth several million crores, unlimited love and unconditional love, she was
I was overwhelmed when she performed a pooja for me during the last Rakshabandhan Day and when she touched the vermilion mark on my forehead with her old but very strong fingers with a touch of a few grains of rice and fed me with a piece of barfi, I could feel her blessings and prayers seeping through my entire being. We talked for a long time after the pooja and I found her to be a 83 year old who still had the spirit of a 23 year old girl and in her own way which was more out of humility than anything else, she told me the story of her struggling days and how she pursued her passion as a singer and dancer into a profession to make a reasonably good living for herself, her son, Sanjay and her daughter, Bela. And was I impressed with this woman who was certainly no ordinary woman and not even an extraordinary woman, but a woman who was directly under the grace and shade of the good God himself…
A year had passed since that Rakshabandhan Day and it was another Rakshabandhan Day, I had stopped to going to Dr. Tandon’s clinic for crazy and unexplainable reasons of my own, the lady in grey had also stopped and had a mild heart attack in between, a lot had changed in the world and in her world specially. Her son had overcome some major problems and had a huge hit like “Padmavat” and the daughter of her daughter Sherwin had made her debut as an actress in “Malaal” and even though the film had no so well at the box-office, it was a appreciated and both Sharmin and Meezaan, the son of Javed Jaffrey who had made their debut in the film were appreciated by one and all…
The lady in grey called me a week before this Rakshabandhan Day (through her other brother, Madan Prakash) and had asked me to be free on August 15, for the Rakshabandhan pooja she wanted to perform, I was moved and I kept waiting for August 15 to happen for many other reasons, Independence Day is one of them, but more than anything I waited to see the lady in grey who I had seen in a year. I have just returned after the pooja performed by the lady in grey who is now 84 and the grey in her hair has grown more glorious and the deep wrinkles on her face tell many other stories which only she knows, it was the same pooja with the vermilion mark and the grains of rice and she almost screamed when just one grain of rice slipped out of my forehead and she made sure that the grain of rice was back on my forehead. I have almost stopped going to any kind of rituals and to any other places worship, I don’t have to as long as I have people who wish me well and keep me in their prayers with which they bless me and certainly as long as I have this God’s gift as an elder sister and her blessings with me .
They say that a man or woman tends to forget things and happenings, but Leela, elder sister forgets nothing and even if she does, she has her caretaker who remembers everything that she may forget. Even as we were talking, Leela, my elder sister also came up with bits and pieces of information like the song,” Aaichi Shapath” from ” Malaal” becoming a hit and which she even sang the first few lines for me to my eternal joy. She was like a reporter giving me information about her son, Sanjay working very hard on his next film, “Inshallah” in which she told me Salman Khan was working with Sanjay after “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam” (even though she had made a guest appearance in “Saawariya”). A box full of sweets awaited me and I made the best of it by having two delicious pieces even though I was not supposed to eat anything sweet. It was my most memorable Rakshabandhan experience with Leela Bhansali, a sister I can say with my hand on my heart is and will always be the precious gift of God to me as long as I live.
Behen, Leela teri leela gajab ki hai aur main kitna khushnaseeb hu ki teri leela meri zindagi ka amulya hissa ban chuki hai aur banni rahegi, jab tak hai jaan.
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