A Doomed Love Affair
By Dr Asif Javed
Dev Anand arrived in Bombay in 1943 from Lahore. He was almost penniless and travelled third class in the Frontier Mail. It took him many years and a lot of struggle before he managed to find a niche in the highly competitive and cut-throat film world.
Suraiya was at the peak of her popularity at the time. Although both of them were Punjabis, their backgrounds were different. Suraiya had come from a humble blue-collar family from Gujranwala. Gujranwala these days is known for its wrestlers and good food. But in the years gone by, it had produced some outstanding personalities in the field if music, literature and journalism. Just look at the names to have come from this area: Ustad Jandhay Khan (Naushad was his assistant once), Roshan, Kidar Sharma, Noon Meem Rashid, Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, Raja Mehdi Ali Khan, among others. There must be something in the water. An esteemed writer of Pakistan Link, whose father Col. Amjad participated in the later stages of Pakistan movement, is also from Gujranwala.
Back to Suraiya: she had accompanied her mother and grandmother to Bombay in the early 1940s where her maternal uncle Zahoor was a struggling actor. One never hears about her father. He may have died young, or perhaps, her parents were divorced. Suriya had a melodious voice, but unlike Noor Jahan and later Lata, had hardly any training in music. But what she also had was the biggest asset of all for a heroine: good looks. Singing actors were in demand and, before long, she became a huge star.
Dev Anand was born in Gurdaspur, Eastern Punjab. His father was a lawyer. He spent four years at Government College, Lahore, completed his bachelor’s in arts with English literature before moving on to Bombay. Two of his brothers, Chetan and Goldie, were also well educated and both of them made a name in the film world as directors.
As fate would have it, Suraiya and Dev were cast together in Vidya. They were young, good looking, and before long, the love bug had bitten them. Now, it was no ordinary infatuation. It was the real deal. Here is how Dev Anand reports it in his autobiography:
From good friends to close friends, and then to lovers….and our love affair became the talk of the town…she and I were secretly talking of getting engaged…the granny who controlled the ethical, moral and religious code of the family, as also its purse strings, became the main opponent to our relationship, though I always felt that Suraiya’s mother was sympathetic to our cause…Suraiya had no say in her own life; its sole arbiter was her granny...I read the note scribbled by Suraiya. It read, “I cried as I read your (DA’s) letter. It is mutual. I love you. I, too, am dying to meet you.”… we held each other in a long, hot embrace. She did not utter a word, nor did I. After a long silence that said everything, we looked at each other. As I stroked her hair, she held her lips to me, ready for a kiss. The kiss lingered till eternity….I went to Zaveri Bazaar and bought one of the costliest rings that would adorn her finger… Suraiya had wept and wept and finally yielded to the pressure mounting on her …They prevailed upon her. She took a solemn oath to throw me completely out of her mind. Later, as an act of desperate frustration, she took the ring I had given her to the seaside, and looking at it for the last time, with all the love in her heart for me, threw it far into the sea, to sing songs about our romance to the rising and falling tides…My heart sank, and my whole world shattered. There was no meaning to existence without her…I cried on the shoulder of my brother Chetan, who knew the extent of my involvement with Suriya who consoled me, “Life teaches its own lessons at every step. This chapter is closed for you forever, and you must start a new one”.
Dev Anand followed the advice of his brother and moved on. In 1954, he got married to Kalpana Kartak, his heroine in Taxi Driver. That his marriage survived speaks volumes to the resilience of his wife. Dev Anand was a flirt by nature. It is hard to know what the outcome of his marriage with Suraiya would have been. What is widely known—and he freely admits in his autobiography—is that he had had numerous affairs over the years. Some were highly publicized, like the one with Zeenat Amman in the 1970s. She was almost thirty years his junior. She was happy to use him to get a foothold in the movies. Once established, she ditched him.
For Suraiya, it was different. Although she continued to act and sing for a while, she started to live with the memories of her doomed love affair. She took early retirement from films in early 1960s and lived a quiet and relatively secluded life thereafter. She had numerous marriage proposals over the years, including one from M. Sadiq, a successful director, originally from Lahore, who had made a name with hits like Chaudween Ka Chand. He later migrated to Pakistan and made Baharo Phool Barsao. I vaguely recall a comic episode when a young diehard fan of Suriaya from Lahore, who was desperately in love with her, turned up at her door. He was dressed up as a groom and refused to leave until his beloved accompanied him. He had to be forcibly removed. Suraiya never married.
Dr Omar Adil, a famous TV personality in Lahore, narrates a strange episode: he spent some time with Suriaya in her apartment on Marine Drive, Bombay. As the interview finished and he was about to leave, Suraiya suggested that her visitor better leave from the side entrance, to avoid inconvenience, since there were always too many of her admirers on the front door. A surprised Omar Adil found an absolutely deserted front entrance with no one in sight. It seems that the unfortunate Suraiya had been living in the past, totally oblivious to the fact that the life had moved on, and that she had been almost forgotten by the public. Her mother and infamous granny had died years earlier and the rest of her family had immigrated to Pakistan. She died in 2004, a lonely and forgotten person. Dev Anad, the love of her life, was in Bombay, was informed of her death, and chose not to attend her funeral.
Another aspect of Suraiya’s life is also worth mentioning: it is said that she had an infatuation with Gregory Peck, the American actor. Frank Capra, the famous Hollywood director once visited Bombay and Suraiya met him. A picture exists of her sitting with Capra along with her mother and granny. It is said that Suriaya told Capra of her fascination with Gregory Peck and also asked him to pass on a picture of hers to Gregory Peck. As fate would have it, Gregory Peck was once staying in a hotel in Bombay, on his way to the Far East. Al Nasir, another actor in Bombay (one reads in name in Manto’s piece on Sitara, the dancing tigress from Nepal) apparently managed to persuade Mr Peck to visit Suriaya’s home. Gregory Peck may have also recalled that picture from years earlier and agreed. Suriaya was woken up from sleep and was thrilled to see her idol. The meeting was brief, lasting barely as hour. There is a suggestion that Suriaya’s love for Dev Anand may have been due to his resemblance to Gregory Peck.
Suriya’s last movie was Rustam aur Sohrab in 1963 in which the music was scored by great Sajjad Hussain. The music was superb but the movie flopped and this turned out to be the swan song for both Sajjad and Suriaya. In that movie, Suraiya sang one of her evergreen songs Yeh kaysee ajab dastan ho gayee hay. She may not have realized that her own life had become the epitome of the same song.
(The writer is a physician in Williamsport, PA and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)