Thursday, November 25, 2004

Chapter I

I am fortunate to have become acquainted with the beautiful Mrs. Sahni, and I hope to become her friend.

Just down the road from where I live, where the road turns a corner, is a house. The house that Balraj saab built. A house that I have passed hundreds of times, a house that looks desolate and lonely, badly in need of a coat of paint, with a garden that looks like it needs tending. I just see one or two lights there when it gets dark. I have never seen anyone going in or coming out, nor have I seen anyone inside. There is nothing to indicate that Mrs. Sahni and her daughter live there, alone.

I first met Mrs. Sahni about a year ago, although I have met her step-son Parikshit several times, we have common friends. I am part of a social service group that is involved in the local area management, and she came to attend a meeting.

She is a handsome lady. Very very tall, very dignified. Straight as a ramrod. Her silver hair was tied neatly at the nape of her head, and she wore a simple, cotton sari, with the pallav over her head, and a full-sleeved blouse. Everyone in the room stood up when she entered, that is the kind of respect she commands. Her voice is soft, yet, it is a voice one listens to.

She was very aggrieved that the tree that was just across the road from her, had been chopped down overnight. “Balraj saab and I planted that tree with our own hands”, she said sadly, “It was like a child to us, and he had told me I should look after it”.

Typical of one who lives in her own world, I had not even noticed the tree no longer stood where it once did. It was a magnificent tree, very old, tall and straight, somewhat like Mrs. Sahni herself. In fact, it had been adjudged one of the best trees in Mumbai.

I ran into her at a few more meetings after that. We have still not solved the mystery of the tree, but she feels it is a political move by people in cahoots with the owners of the vacant plot behind where it was. The taxi drivers who have a stand there, told her not to worry, they would plant another tree – and they did. It is coming up quite well. The stump of her old tree, has started getting new shoots as well, and the little fresh green leaves are a sign that you cannot kill something as enduring, that easily. She steps out and waters both, every day.

Then a few days ago, I met her again, as she was slowly walking down the road. Her smile broadened as we came closer and she recognized me, but the smile in her eyes had got there faster.

“How are you? And where are you going to, all alone,” I asked her.

“There is a very nice south Indian restaurant around the corner, and they make very good coffee. I sat there by myself, and had some. I am now on my way home”, she replied.

“You went alone? And you walked?” I was really surprised.

“I don’t think anyone is going to kidnap me. And I need the exercise” she replied, with a twinkle in her eye, “I go there often”.

“Well, the next time you feel like it, please give me a call, and I will take you”, I volunteered.

“No, no,” she said, “Please come over to my house, we will have tea together, and we will chat. I will show you my writings”. She is a writer, and writes in several languages.

I noted down her phone number and decided I must do that.

She seemed lonely. As we said our goodbyes, she held my hands with both her hands and said, “I will wait for your call”.

Mr. Balraj Sahni was a legendary actor who won over the hearts of Indian viewers with his dignified, graceful and understated performances. He was a true professional and at ease with both art and commercial film.

His most memorable portrayal is that of a rickshaw-puller in ‘Do Bigha Zameen’ (1953). His other films are, ‘Anuradha’ (1960), ‘Kabuliwalla’ (1961), ‘Haqueeqat’ (1964), Waqt (1965), Do Raaste (1969), Ek Phool Do Mali (1969), Mere Humsafar (1970) and ‘Garm Hawa’ (1973), among others.

He was also a screenplay writer and journalist.