Dilip Kumar said his mother tongue was Pashtun

Mir Ayood Ali Khan

‘Urdu and English are not my languages.  Pashtu is my mother tongue. You may speak in whichever language you wish.’

It sounds clichéd but I don’t know any other way of saying it.  The passing away of Dilip Kumar is the passing away of an era. That’s what has happened on July 7th morning.

When we are talking about Hindi/Hidustani/Urdu cinema in free India, we come across three great actors who lived in the same era and ruled the minds of cinegoers–Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand.  Surprisingly, all three were born in the area that is in Pakistan today.  Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor were born in Peshawar and knew each other since childhood while Dev Anand was born in Shakargarh Tahseel in Punjab.

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Like most other teenagers of the late 1960s, I too was crazy about films.  Starting from Hindi films in Morning Shows in Krishna I grew up to watch English films in Tivoli, Paradise and Plaza.  As my interest in watching films grew, I decided to complete the list of great film actors.  At that time Dilip Kumar was on the top of the list.  I think I have watched, barring few exceptions, all his films and became his diehard fan. Incidentally, he had worked in about 60 films.

Javed Akhtar has described Dilip Kumar a couple of years ago as the first Method Actor in the world. He said though the credit of Method Acting goes to Marlon Brando, in fact it was Dilip Kumar who had adopted this route a few years before him.

I do not remember which of Dilip Kumar’s film I watched first.  But I do remember an incident. In the early 1960s when Mughal-e-Azam was released at Palace Theatre near Abids circle, my father had taken the entire family to watch the movie in his huge Plymouth. On our return journey home I could sense that my father’s mood was off.  When somebody among the children asked him about the film, he said, “Non-sense…How come a shahzada fall in love with a kaneez and go to war against his own father?”

As he finished that sentence, a deafening silence fell in the car.

I was too young to understand the difference between fiction and facts. I had loved the songs—Pyar kiya tho darna kiya and Zindabad zindabad. I had also liked the performance of Prithiviraj  Kapoor and believed that Akbar the Great was exactly like him.

By late mid 1960s I was sneaking out for films on some pretext or the other. Dilip Kumar left a deep impression on my mind. He had started with Jawarbhata in 1944 but by the time I began to appreciate his acting, I could remember Ganga Jamuna which I had perhaps watched on its third or fourth re-release in theatres in Hyderabad. Then there was the whole list.

Though I liked movies, I did not crave to meet any film personality. But the luck does not care what you like and what you don’t. It does things what it has already planned. Therefore, as luck would have it I met Dilip Kumar In January 1978 in Bombay. I was part of the BCJ (Bachelor of Communication Journalism) student group that had been taken to Delhi and Bombay on an Education Tour. In Delhi, I remember meeting with Prime Minister Morarji Desai, Information Minister L K Advani and former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.  In Bombay, our next stop, I remember our teacher and guide Mr Abdur Rahim taking us to a Breach Candy Hospital late in the night to meet Dilip Kumar.  Dilip Kumar’s brother, perhaps it was Nasir Khan, was admitted in that hospital. It was a short meeting. I and many of my batch mates were awe struck.  I was not looking at his persona. His profile is etched in my mind as a silhouette in white clothes. But the funny thing is that I do not remember what all he said. 

The second meeting was in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in the middle of 1980s. I was working with Saudi Gazette. We came to know that Dilip Kumar was staying at Hyatt Regency Hotel. He was accompanied by his wife, Saira Banu, Mother-in-Law Naseem Banu and Khan Lateef Khan, the late businessman, owner and editor of Munsif Urdu Daily of Hyderabad.  KLK had not taken over Munsif yet but he was a known personality because of his stories of daredevilry during his student days at Osmania University. I and a good friend and colleague at Saudi Gazette Mahmood Saberi went to Hyatt Regency on the appointed time. We were asked to sit in the lobby.  After sometime Dilip Saheb, as he was called, walked in. He was wearing his trademark white bush shirt and trousers. He looked fresh and the interview began without loss of any further time.  Mahmood and I were in happy that we were sitting in front of a legend and also taking his interview. The first question we asked as inexperienced journalists was: Shall we talk to you in Urdu or English?

The answer was quick, curt and unexpected.  Aapki jo marzi ho. Yeh dono zubaneiN meri nahiN haiN.  Meri maadri zuban tho Pashto hai (Your wish. Both these languages are not mine. My mother tongue is Pashto).  Mahmood and I looked at each other and decided to use our skills both in English and Urdu.  His style of response was neither conventional nor conversational.  It had a philosophical overtone. For every question he would go into silence. And speak slowly.  At one point the pause became too long and his eyes went shut. We simpletons thought he got bored with our questions and had slipped into a nap. I quietly asked KLK whether we should wake him up. With an angry look he said, ‘Wait, Saheb is thinking.’

Oh my God, I murmured. 

We thought given the snooze breaks and long periods of quiet, we should enjoy the silent moments we were spending with the legend. We began looking at his dress, his footwear and his hair. We did the same exercise again and again and wondering about the legend sitting before us. The interview was fantabulous or that is what we thought and came away to Saudi Gazette.

The next chance arrived when I went to Bombay to cover the aftermath of communal conflagration that had battered the Commercial Capital of India following the demolition of Babri Masjid in December 1992.  Dilip Saheb along with a lot of other well known personalities was busy dousing the inflamed passions and consoling the battered souls.  With great difficulty, I could get him on phone.  He expressed his sorrow and pain at what had happened in Bombay. He said it was unprecedented and too painful. We had never witnessed fear even after the partition riots, he had said.

He advised me to speak with Bachi Karkaria, a prolific writer and activist. Which I did.

The world will miss Dilip Saheb.  And as an ardent admirer, I will miss him too.

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