It has been just over a year since my father-in-law left us for (hopefully) a better world. For us it has been a year spent reminiscing his presence (or lack thereof) and the influence that he has had on our lives.
I recollect the first time that I had met him. My then friend (and now wife) had taken ill at work and I had volunteered to drop her home and my first impression of him was that of a jovial man, who liked to live life fun-sized. Over a period of time, as my good friend graduated into the love of my life, I got to know her father better. He was a born story-teller and a veritable treasure-trove of movie trivia. Having a rich lineage in the world of movies – his father being one of India’s leading movie distributors – it was only natural that he too would get into a related profession. For most part of his life, he was the manager to some of the biggest theatres across Bombay (this was before the multiplexes destroyed the single-theatre culture). On any given occasion he would regale us with funny incidents of the insouciant childhood spent in the company of equally vociferous siblings and of his social encounters with movie people. One of his favourite such episodes was how he confronted a legendary (now aged) superstar. This was the time when just a few of this star’s movies had been released (all box-office duds) and he was a regular visitor to my father-in-law’s theatre. Being tall and lanky (no guesses please), he preferred the premium last row seats, which had more leg-room. But he would buy a ticket for a regular seat, and while the movie was playing, would surreptitiously slip into an empty back-row seat. My father-in-law once saw him do this and berated him about it, and this “star of the millennium” (stop guessing!) being the thorough gentleman that he was, quietly went back to his original seat. Another time he refused entry to the then Traffic Police Commissioner (another famous personality) for bringing his minor daughter to an adult movie. These filmy tales and accounts of his nonage, he would recite with a deadpan look, a lot of mischief in his eyes and genial gusto. It was only natural that he loved watching movies – and the same trait seems to have rubbed off on his descendants too! In fact, there is a running joke in his family that if you slit the vein of any family member, a film reel would pop out! In the latter years even when vision started failing him, he would still insist on being taken to movies so that he could experience the ambience of a theatre and enjoy the dialogues. At home too, the TV would be tuned almost all-day to some Hindi movie channel, mainly comedies. Once while watching the Kamalhaasan-starrer Pushpak, he actually fell off the bed laughing – after this incident every time this movie would play on TV, he was prohibited from watching it, lest he takes another tumble.
He was also an inveterate foodie, with a penchant for sweets. He knew almost all restaurants in the various nooks and crannies of not just Bombay but from all over India. He would remember a restaurant or shop in the locality we were visiting, and ask us to get some gastronomic delight from that area. Some sweet to lighten the mouth was a must after every meal. Even on days when there were no sweets at home (which was a rarity), a cream biscuit was the reluctant substitute. He also loved to travel – even with failing health my father-in-law was game to travel all over the world. He was always keen to know more about the place he visited, asking affable questions about the people, sights and local culinary specialties. Other than a pacemaker for the heart and his failing vision, he had no other health-related issues, so all kinds of food was welcome. He was also known for being short tempered – a trait that he seems to have passed on to his progeny. But just as easily as he would flare up, he would also cool down and luckily for me the same is the case with the two lovely ladies in my life. A natural corollary to his anger was his quality of being blunt about something that he was uncomfortable with. My wife remembers an occasion where he had chided a famous magazine editor about his nonchalant and cavalier sense of dressing. My father-in-law gave the editor a virtual “dressing-down” saying that a role model for aspiring young journalists should wear clothes in keeping with his stature. The only thing that could melt him like butter was his grand-daughter. She could get anything that she wanted from him – much to the chagrin on my wife and her sister, who would remind him of innumerable times during their nonage, when he refused to get them what they wanted! Though a hard-core traditionalist, he was a modernist when it came to couples in love. He and my late mother-in-law have helped quite a few couples get into holy matrimony (including their daughter and yours truly).
I still remember the last time I said goodbye to him (when I was going back to Dubai in December 2014 after recuperating from my surgery) I told him to plan his trip to Dubai for the coming year, and in his dismissive way he said that he is now too old to travel (how prophetic)! He would have made it too, had the angel of death not kept his appointment a month later. He left as he had lived – with his two loving daughters on either side. I always thought that his character attributes of anger and bluntness did not sit well with a few of his friends and family members, but this was belied by the vast numbers who turned out to pay their last respects on his passing. It proved that these very same individualities also made him unique and respected.
You are sorely missed Papa, and these words can never substitute the sense of melancholy that prevails every time your memories play like a film-reel in our minds. I believe that you would even now be delighting denizens of wherever you are with amusing anecdotes from your youth, and from our crazy filmi duniya.