Dilip Kumar Turns 88
By Ishtiaq Ahmed
The great thespian Dilip Kumar turned 88 on December 11, 2010. I had wanted to pay tribute to this larger-than-life megastar of Bollywood in my column but the tragedy in Stockholm made me postpone it till now. Thanks to YouTube I could follow some of the highlights of the birthday party from Stockholm. Among the many guests were veteran character actor Pran, 90 (started his film career in Lahore in a Punjabi film), and Dharmendra (also a Punjabi).
His wife, once the beauty queen of Bollywood, Saira Bano, made very gracious remarks about her remarkable husband. The most touching was the warmth and feeling with which she narrated that 400 students of Khalsa College, Mumbai, where Dilip studied as a young man many, many years ago, donated 89 bottles of blood — one more than the 88 years that Dilip has completed — as a pious gesture to wish him a long life. For a very long time, Dilip sahib has been actively involved in charitable and philanthropic causes. On his first visit to Pakistan he was the guest of a blood donation organization. Later, he has visited Pakistan to take part in Imran Khan’s campaign to raise funds for the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital. In India, he is constantly involved in rendering service to movements dealing with the blind and other physically challenged human beings. He is truly a man with a golden heart.
As an actor there is hardly anyone who has attained so much fame and won so many laurels as Dilip sahib. He was awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1994 for lifelong contribution to cinema. Mian Nawaz Sharif, like the late General Ziaul Haq, is very fond of Indian films. As prime minister, Mian sahib indulged his artistic self by conferring the Nishan-e-Imtiaz on Dilip Kumar. Those were the days when Mian sahib was considered a peacenik and had developed close rapport with another Punjabi, Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral (originally from Jhelum).
I remember being in Lahore in February-March 1999 just after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Mian sahib had reached the Lahore Declaration, which was to usher in peace and prosperity between India and Pakistan. At some of the social gatherings the atmosphere was extremely positive to India-Pakistan trade. One industrialist convinced me that we would benefit most because while the Indians will get a market of 150 million we would get a market of one billion. Somebody must have been listening to all this and wanted to subvert such economist argumentation. So, the Kargil mini-war broke out in May 1999.
After the Kargil showdown, Shiv Sena’s Bal Thackeray and his goons carried out a hate campaign against Dilip sahib, alleging that like all Muslims he is at heart a Pakistani. They demanded that he must return the Nishan-e-Imtiaz because Pakistan had committed aggression against India. Dilip did not give in to such blackmail. He retorted, “This award was given to me for the humane activities to which I have dedicated myself. I have worked for the poor; I have worked for many years to bridge the cultural and communal gaps between India and Pakistan. Politics and religion have created these boundaries. I have striven to bring the two people together in whatever way I could. Tell me, what does any of this have to do with the Kargil conflict?”
I had the rare privilege of spending some three hours with him late evening on October 20, 2001. The famous actor of the 1970s, Raj Babbar (parents originally from Jalalpur Jattan, northern Punjab), had on my request arranged the interview. Originally it was meant to last not more than half an hour. However, once I was inside his sitting room and met him I could feel that Dilip wanted to talk to me more and more.
To my very great surprise he wanted to conduct the conversation in his native Hindko, which to a Lahore-born like me was hundred percent Punjabi, but with a peculiar accent. We went over his long life, starting with Peshawar of course, where he was born as Mohammad Yusuf to the family of a fruit trader, Lala Ghulam Sarwar and his wife Ayesha. That trade brought his father to Maharashtra. Some years later Yusuf Khan became Dilip Kumar.
He convinced me to have an omelette, saying that this way he could also join me otherwise Saira Bano was against him eating fatty stuff. I enjoyed watching him as he shared his heartfelt views about some people that I wanted him to comment on. He dispelled the rumor that he and Raj Kapoor had at any time been estranged from each other or been against each other. On the contrary, he told me that Raj Kapoor was always a steadfast friend and their Peshawar roots cemented that relationship on the family level. About the great Rafi sahib he told me that a gentler human being than him was difficult to find. He and Sunil Dutt (originally from village Khurd, Jhelum district) were next-door neighbors. Their families also met regularly and were very close to one another. He spoke very highly of Sunil Dutt, calling him a man of great courage and a very pure conscience. Equally he showered praise on Pran, calling him a man of lofty principles and integrity.
I was tempted to probe his feelings about some of the female stars he had worked with, with some of whom rumors about amorous relationship had circulated. Then, I thought it would be trespassing into his private life and I would be abusing his hospitality. So, I did not broach that topic. I could however easily understand why so many women fell in love with this very fine specimen of Pakhtun ancestry.
Politically he appeared to be very well informed. The Americans had just started aerial bombing of Afghanistan in retaliation for al Qaeda’s 9/11 terrorist attacks. He expressed great concern for the loss of life that such conflict entailed. Being from that region himself, he was worried that if the conflict escalated, the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would suffer the most. It is amazing that at such an early stage he could foresee what was in the offing. I was quite surprised by his extensive reading of both Urdu and English literature and his interest in philosophy.
( The writer is Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University. He is also Honorary Senior Fellow of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. Courtesy Daily Times)