When Papa died, everyone tried to show me the good in it. It is a common tactic to sympathize with the bereaved. They said he died a good death. There was no pain and no suffering. But you know how untrue all of that is. What’s good about dying? You can argue, what is the alternative? But that’s besides the point.
After losing my father I was hell bent on really finding something good in it. And the reason was him. He always found the good in every bad. And I wanted to challenge his philosophy. In a way I was asking him: “now you tell me what’s good about you not being here with us today?” And once again, he was proved right. It took me a little while, but I did find something good in his death. It was the new bonding that I discovered with my Mom.
Suddenly, she became the centre of my universe. I shamefully admit that she was not that until he died. I really worshipped my Dad as my hero. Every child does. My mom was always there for us. But she was never my go-to person. Of course I regret that now. But if an analogy helps, while my Dad was my Batman, my Mom was his Lucius Fox.
After his death I started connecting more with her. Perhaps I was selfish and I needed a parent I could share my insecurities with and she was all I had. I started speaking to her almost every day. We chat about what’s on top of our minds. Be it about Lychees that are Rs.100 a kg or about corruption in India or the new MCD siren-blaring truck that causes more noise crap than the crap it picks up on its way. She tells me the latest news in India as she understands it. Her’s is the more gossipy version. I have a point of comparison because my FIL also loves to share the news with us and his is the more factual and sarcastic version. I love how I can sit here in the US and get a kaleidoscopic view of news stories developing in India.
So.. when the news of Rajesh Khanna’s death reached my ears, I could not help but think about how they are all going together. I don’t know why our mind thinks like that, but it just does. My dad, Dev Anand, Dara Singh, Gandhi Uncle, Jagjit Singh, Anand Uncle, Pataudi and now Rajesh Khanna. And then slowly I started thinking about what an impact this is going to have on my Mom. These people were her contemporaries. Such a thought could have never even occurred to me, if Papa was still with us. She is a die-hard Rajesh Khanna fan. I wondered if she was feeling nostalgic about all her memories of watching RK movies with my father. They used to watch three movies a week, all in theaters. And in the era that she got married, Rajesh Khanna was at his peak.
When I called Mom that morning she sounded her cheerful self. She asked me how my day went and how Agam was doing. And then I brought out the elephant in the room. I asked her about RK’s death and if she had been following the news. She said yes, it was all over the news channels. She talked about all the lovely songs from his movies. And then she talked about his stardom and how crazy people were about him back then. I was still waiting. And I felt like she knew what I was waiting for, and then she said “Your father was also a very charismatic man.” I knew what she meant. He really was a very charismatic individual.
She then tried to change the topic and started reading the news headlines to me as they flashed on the TV channels. She gave me a detailed commentary of the proceedings at the funeral ceremony in Mumbai that was being aired live. Every word that she said was full of reflection. I wondered if in her mind she was reliving the proceedings from my father’s funeral ceremony. She tried to induce some humor amidst all of this, but it was all a cover. The topic went back to my Dad. and she mentioned how much my Dad enjoyed movies of RK, especially Anand, Aradhana and above all Amar Prem. I agreed.
After a long pause, and with a heavy voice, she shared with me how my father would repeat the lines of Amar Prem to her sometimes: “Pushpa, mujhse ye aansu nahi dekhe jaate, I hate tears .” And with that, we both wiped our tears that had been rolling all this while, we sighed at our fate, and then started talking about all the other things under the sky, like the neighbour’s son who is visiting Delhi these days and works for Cisco.
After that phone call, a thought struck me. Bear with me, as I am still resolving it in my mind. But here is my first take at putting it down on paper. Each of us is married to someone who is our interpretation of Rajesh Khanna. RK defined romance and expression of love like no one else had ever done in Indian Cinema. Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand were close contenders, but their movies mostly represented the pain and suffering that came with love. Rajesh Khanna’s movies represented the celebration and excitement and most importantly, the melody associated with being in love. He defined romance in Indian cinema, at least for me and perhaps more so for my Mom.
My mom remembered her RK as she grieved the loss of a superstar we all loved. And I understood my mother’s love a little bit better.